la Grande Ours

Sun-bleached in the town of Visan. photos © Kristin Espinasse. What do you see in this photo (and, re the word of the day, I promise you won't find a bear--or even a Big Dipper--hidden behind those lacey curtains!). Share your observations in the comments box.

At the not-so-enlightened age of thirty-four, I learned that the Tooth Fairy did not exist least not in France. Here, they call that toothy thief in the night "La Petite Souris". The Easter Bunny disappeared next... only to resurface, this side of the "pond" as a bell! So why should any of us be surprised at how the French "see" the Big Dipper?  Read on, in today's story column. (More about France's version of The Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy in my book).

la Grande Ourse (lah grahnd oors) noun, feminine
    : "The Big Bear" (The Big Dipper)

turn up the volume and listen to the French word "la grande ourse" & quote below:
Download (wave)   (mp3)

On donne le nom d'Ours à deux constellations de l'hémisphère boréal qui sont proches du pôle arctique, et dont une s'appelle La Grande Ourse et l'autre, La Petite Ourse...  Dictionnaire de l'Académie françoise by Académie français

Help interpret the above quote. Write your translation in the comments box. Merci!

by Kristin Espinasse

Home renovation has recommenced here at the wine farm and, with it, the reassignment of chambres.* Our eleven-year-old is now sleeping in her brother's room, bunking with Braise-the-Dog, Jean-Marc and I have taken over the guest room, and Max has claimed Grandma Jules's cool digs (the lit de camp* beside the window in my office).

"Bonjour, Maman. Those are water chickens!" Max informs me, as he wakes from a deep slumber. I am at my desk, reading email during the quiet morning hours. Water chickens? I wonder if Max is still dreaming.  That's when my mind recalls the odd echoing from moments before...

"'Poules d'eau'!* So that's what that noise was!"
I think about the birds and their funny French name. I picture them, like ducks, out there on the water, where soon bright yellow "irises of the marais" with push up like pâquerettes.* Spring is in the air!

"You see so many things from here!" Max continues, thoughtfully, and I realize that my son is indeed awake. He is looking out the window toward Monsieur Delhomme's potager, just beyond the ruisseau* where record rainfall recently threatened to flood the potato, leek, and lettuce patch just beyond.

"...comme la constellation de la Grande Ourse," Max says, citing an example.
"What's that?" I say, returning my gaze to the sleepy boy.
"La constellation de Grande Ourse? Oh, those are the stars that line up to resemble a casserole.

"Casserole?" My mind soon registers a pan with a long handle. "Ah, yes! We call that the Big Dipper ..."

"La Grande Ourse... The Big Bear..." I mumble. "Why don't they just call it a casserole--if that's what those stars look like?"

"Parce que les Français sont bizarres!" Max answers and, just for the record, he said it, not me!

Feedback, corrections--and stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box. Merci d'avance!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la chambre (à coucher) (f) = bedroom; le lit (m) de camp = cot; la poule (f) d'eau = moorhen; la pâquerette (f) = daisy; le ruisseau (m) = brook, rivulet


Ours-brun Read to a child in French (and improve your own français while you're at it! Enjoy the classic Ours Brun, dis-moi...

Le Petit Prince: French language edition (or enjoy this story in English).

Savon de Marseille : a classic in many French households!

In Music: C'est L'Amour: Romantic French Classics

Fred Birthday 148
Loitering in France

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


When we use the Latin name for those constellations we call them Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
In Spain there is no tooth fairy either, teeth are exchanged for money by Ratoncito Perez (The little mouse Perez)
I would like to hear more about an Easter Bell!

Jules Greer

MAX !!! THAT IS "MY LITTLE COT IN YOUR MOM'S OFFICE" you must pay me one kiss a day to use it...I knew anyone who spent the entire night in that little 'dream-cot' would be hooked. Kristi's office is on the second floor looking over the creek, neighbors garden, and entire vinyard on to the beautiful Mt. Venteou (sp?). I have the little cot pushed right up to the wall of window, so as I lie there my arm brushes against the glass, therefore the stars at night shine down on my face. Early in the morning I can watch the little old man silently walk down the path to Mr. Delehome's garden to earn his keep by turning the soil and clearing the old tomato vines. As I lay there the familiar birds come and go from their nests in the giant trees that line the creek. I can hear the tap-tap-tap of Kristi's keys on the computer - I have been warned before not to interupt her in the morning as she weaves her way through the thoughts that fill her mind for the days 'word'. I can smell the drifting waves of coffee, but I pretend to be asleep....


Regarding the February 13 posting: If I remember my astronomy from 40 years ago, even in America we recognize the Bear constellation, and the Big Dipper is merely a subset of the same stars. It sits like a saddle on the back of the bear. :-)


Thanks Jackie, and Brian, for the information. I'd better get out and look at those stars! It's been too long. So watch out Max--and watch out Mom!--your favorite cot may be *mine* before long!


Please tell Max that that very large casserole/big bear/big dipper rises enormously over the front hill of our home in the winter night sky of Tallahassee, Florida, and, when one turns directly around to look in the opposite celestial direction, one can see the valiant Orion, who has assumed the rear guard! Immortality looms in the heavens!


On donne le nom d'Ours à deux constellations de l'hémisphère boréal qui sont proches du pôle arctique, et dont une s'appelle La Grande Ours et l'autre, La Petite Ours..

The name Bear is given to two constellations in the northern hemisphere which are close to the North Pole, and which are named the Great Bear [Ursa Major] and the Small Bear [Ursa Minor].

Teresa Engebretsen

I think the coolest thing about all of this is that you can share these adventures with your mom! I love reading her comments. One of these days, I would love to take my mom and show her all the places in Provence and Arles that I love so much! Keep the photos and posts coming. s'il te plaît.


Thank you, Jina! (Je veux dire: Merci!)

I love your bilingual comment. This is so helpful to all of us who are trying to improve our French. Here's to following your example! So how about it -- anyone else up to writing their comment in both languages? Thanks in advance (je veux dire: merci d'avance!)

Pat Cargill

Bilingual comment, mais oui, pas de probleme--mais, je peux que my spelling will be very so-so. I love the word de jour d'aujourdhui! I have been a stargazer for many years, especially enjoying the winter sky w/Orion marching across the heavens. And I always search for the 7 Sisters...les soeurs sept(?), all whilring around in a cluster...goodness knows having one jolly winter bash. I believe that constellation is also called The Pleides (it's been awhile w/these astonomy mots). Anyway, as the famous Casey Kasim (radio's long-time top-hits jock) says: "Keeping looking at the stars." I'll give it a try: "Tourjours regarder a les etoiles!" Today I am going out on a limb and NOT rushing off to a dictionary or www site for translation! Quel(le) brave! Ha!

Pat Cargill

Je pense que je vois a "dove-cote" in the upper left wall, oui? Three openings (doors). Aussi, I notice what could be an iron or metal cicada on the left shutter of the bottom window. Lovely picture (as always). Very different from the last few - makes me also think of a pebbled beach and days that cannot come soon enough for sun and sea and breezes...a la plage. I am up for bilinqual comments, mais je peux que my spelling will be so-so!

lucille a. northenscold

Love your new site! Keep this coming! Off to Paris in our Marais apartment for 2 months.

A bientot, Lucille Northenscold


There is an old song that was created as the slaves of the South moved toward freedom in the North - "Follow the Drinking Gourd" which would be the same Big Dipper/Ursa Major, etc. as it also resembles a ladle that would be used for drinking from a well.

Therese Croteau Stiff

Ma translation est:

We give the name of Bears to two constellations of the northern hemisphere which are near the arctic pole, and whose name is The Big Bear and the other, The Little Bear...

N'est pas?


Il est possible de lire ton (SVP) blog avec des photograhs quand j' ouvre french-word-a-day, mais prendre un comment, il faut que j'ourvre cet site comme un paige de web. I'm not sure that this is totally correct, mais jai essayé.
J'habite en Madison, Connecticut ou il est possible voire les etoiles, particulirèrement "the Big Dipper" and the "Little Dipper" qui est 5 handles away from the "Big Dipper". Mais j'amie aller au place qu'il y a pas des lumieres, dont c'est possilbe de voire le "Milky Way".


I love the mix of french and English in the comments... and thanks to you, Kristin, it comes quite naturally for me to read both. Both translations are already up, so I'll wait for tomorrow's! I'm loving the new newsletter, btw.

Linda R.

After reading Mme Greer's comments about the "dream cot" and the second floor view, I can understand from where Kristin received her gift of expressing herself so beautifully. La description de la vue et des étoiles - c'est très jolie. Orion is very brillant right now in the winter skies of Montana.

p.s. I'm glad it was so easy to transfer over to your new site - thanks for making the transition easy on some of us who are nulle regarding technologie.

Fred Caswell

Linda R. has spoken/written words that I wished to post.

Is Jackie's post her first? How wonderful is the developing human!

When my children's mother & I divorced, a rented house on the waterfront included a day bed (not a cot but not much bigger either) in the living room offering a beautiful, soothing view of part of Narraganset Bay with the lights of Newport on the far side looking like a jeweled bracelet laid lengthwise and the fully illuminated suspension bridge bringing two islands and their gens together. Times lying there before sleep were spiritually refreshing to a man recently separated from his family of 22 years.

Perhaps it is accurate to say that your "slices of life" with added postings have bridged the waters between strangers and connected people far and wide who are now bejeweled with new friendships.


We cannot see any 'bears' in our sky here in Australia!
Orion is here- but he's upside down (is that dessus dessous?)
Bob Sydney


It's a clear and cold night here in Northern NY, perfect for star-gazing.
For Easter it's les cloches ont passé, I think. I like the idea of bells dropping candy. Seems like they should make a little music too.

John Morgan

En lisant le mot du jour, j'en ai eu un moment de confusion. Le mot Ours et masculin mais la frase indique une Ourse (feminine.) Je crois que la frase correcte et "La Grande Ourse".
My interpretation of the phrase:
We give the name "Bear" to two constellations in the Northern sky, one of which is named the Big Bear and the other the Little Bear.

Thank you and keep up the excellent work.


A nice little planetarium program can be found at the link below for any budding student of the sky. The free version is more than adequate for me. Double clicking on a celestial body brings up an information dialog box. And there are many other features to explore. Here's the link:

louis Plauche'

It's WAY too cold for star-gazing tonight, but perfect gumbo weather. In Louisiana, the poule d'eau is widely hunted, partly because it needs a running start to get airborne (and thus makes a relatively easy target), but mainly because the birds can be made into a delicious gumbo. Poule d'eaus are called "coot" by english-speaking people in Louisiana. Check out a recipe for just such a gumbo at the following web-site:

This recipe is a lot like the one my father used after a hunt. My job was to clean the birds (and help eat the gumbo). I was pretty good at the latter...still am.


Janet Konig

Je pensais que DAISY était une MARGUERITE????

en Pennsylvanie


In Britain, the Big Dipper is called the Plough (or for the American spellers, the Plow).


Linda (pas moi) had earlier mentioned a slave song of the South, "Follow the Drinking Gourd", referring to the Big Dipper and the Underground Railroad. I just wanted to add that there is a beautifully illustrated children's book by the same name, story and pictures by Jeanette Winter. The narrative and song are intertwined throughout.

Charles F Brown

la grande ourse -- with an e at the end of ours; un ours, une ourse; that ol' masculine-feminine thing that gets in the way for us native English speakers! love the new site and keep up the wonderful work!

Jan Leishman

Bob is right - no bears in the Aussie sky, just our Southern Cross. I love to sleep on the verandah in summer under the Milky Way. I also love your new site Kristin - pictures too! Merci bien.


Ahhh... but we do have "The Saucepan" which is part of Orion's belt and one of the first constellations I leanrt about...very famous this little group of stars seem to be!
Your photo today speaks of light and freshness with windows flung open to a brand new day and busy day ... perfect for a new start to your french lessons of life!
Thank you Mama Jules for your lovely description of your own encounters of the world through Kristin's ( and now Max's) little office window!!
Good luck with your renovations!!

Sarah LaBelle

Here is a drawing showing how the stars are like a bear. Ursa Major. Les français sont intelligents avec le nom La Grande Ourse. The Americans say Big Dipper and the English say the Plough, for a part of la grande ourse.

Jon North

The plough, or 'great bear', in English English, which leads me to think about the word 'great' rather than 'big' or 'large' as a translation of the French 'grand(e)' - in the north of England they also say 'that's grand' where southerners and Americans would say 'that's great'. But 'great hair' is not the same as 'big hair'!!

Teresa Engebretsen

I've put a link to your website on my blog, The Sabbatical Chef.
Hope you don't mind! I also use it with my 8th grade classes. They love it and one of my girls made the yogurt cake to share with her classmates. Très populaire et délicieux.


I love that bottom window in the picture today! The curtains sont tres belles, and I thought it was interesting how the shade is on the outside of the window, between the window and the shutters. It looks like a beautiful day! Only 33 days until Spring!


Mr Caswell... your description of Narraganset Bay is also very beautiful...merci!

Pete Hyland, Littleton, Colo.

If indeed those three tiny arched openings forming a triangle are bird houses, how clever and considerate of the French to build one directly into a wall. Never seen anything like that. Of course early morning singing could be a problem if a bedroom is behind the wall. They DO start early, don't they.

Fred Caswell

Plus tard, Gretel, mais merci!


Kathryn a dit: "Mais j'amie aller au place qu'il y a pas des lumieres, dont c'est possilbe de voire le "Milky Way"."

Toujours, c'est amazement voir Le Milky Way, qui je (hardly ever) peux le voir. Merci pour le comment...Il me donne l'idee pour conduire the Blue Ridge Parkway (a Virginia), là où il n'y a pas des lumières to see it again. A bientot.

i dont wnat to say my name thank you very much

translation We give the name of Bear to two constellations of the boreal hemisphere which are close to the Arctic pole, and of which one is called The Great Bear and the other, The Little Bear... Dictionary of the Académie françoise by Académie French

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)