Barszczow A. N. (orpheus_samhain) wrote in linguaphiles,
  • Mood: confused
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FRENCH: peau/cuir

I've always thought that (une) peau/(un) cuir in French is like skin/leather in English. The first one referring to the living cover of a human/animal/plant body, the latter--to the product made of skin, that serves to make shoes, or handbags, or clothes.

But recently I stumbled across an exercise in which there were both cuir and peau to put in a gap, but all sentences referred to the products, not the living creatures. And indeed, my dictionary says that cuir=peau when you talk about material for gloves, for example.

My question is: what is the usage in everyday language? Cuir=dead and peau=alive, or it doesn't matter?
Tags: french
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  • 7 comments

iddewes

June 1 2014, 08:17:53 UTC 2 months ago

I think it's peau when it still has fur on it and cuir when it's been worked on and has been skinned.

orpheus_samhain

June 2 2014, 12:41:04 UTC 2 months ago

Thank you. I haven't thought that hair may have anything with it :)

sapphire2309

June 1 2014, 08:36:39 UTC 2 months ago

In that context, I'd go for cuir over peau, because peau can also be used to refer to skin, like human skin, and I don't remember being taught that cuir=peau.

orpheus_samhain

June 2 2014, 12:41:40 UTC 2 months ago

Yes, I think it's safer, too :)

garonne

June 1 2014, 09:26:43 UTC 2 months ago Edited:  June 1 2014, 09:27:11 UTC

cuir can still be alive, e.g. cuir chevalu = scalp

And peau can be dead, e.g. peau de mouton = sheepskin, as in a sheepskin rug or something.

So note that skin in English is not necessarily referring to a living cover either! ;)

I'm not sure whether there's a 100% general rule in French (or in English!) but iddewes's rule seems a pretty good one. Peau de lapin, peau de loup, peau de mouton etc. (rabbitskin, wolfskin, sheepskin etc.) all still have fur on...

my dictionary says that cuir=peau when you talk about material for gloves, for example
gants en cuir are plain leather gloves, gants en peau are (I think!) the kind where the fur is still there and forms the inside of the gloves, and the non-furry, treated side forms the outside of the glove.

iddewes

June 1 2014, 10:08:43 UTC 2 months ago

Thanks! I am not a native speaker, was just commenting on how I had seen or heard the words used before. So it's good to know from a French person that I am not completely wrong ;)

orpheus_samhain

June 2 2014, 12:54:05 UTC 2 months ago

Thank you! So I've learnt something in English and French :) I knew what a sheepskin is, but somehow didn't notice that it contradicts my theory (not mine, really, but still).