Tête en l’air

Penn-skañv ac’hanout? Es-tu tête en l’air? Is your head in the clouds?

Recently I came across the French expression (être) tête en l’air (‘(to be) head in the air’) which is given as the French equivalent of the Breton expression penn-skañv (‘light head’). I hadn’t seen it before and wasn’t quite sure from it meant. From the context I thought it meant something like forgetful. According to Reverso it means scatterbrained, and according to this discussion, it also means absent-minded or distracted.

An equivalent English idiom is to have one’s head in the clouds, which is also used in French – avoir la tête dans les nuages. Do you know any similar idioms in English, French or other languages?

The Welsh expression pen-ysgafn, which is a literal translation of the Breton expression, but has a related different meaning – ‘light headed’. Forgetful is anghofus in Welsh.

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This entry was posted in Breton, English, French, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

7 Responses to Tête en l’air

  1. Olof says:

    In Swedish we say ”huvudet bland/i molnen” or something like that, meaning ”head among/in the clouds”.

  2. Enrico says:

    In Italian we say “avere la testa fra le nuvole”, which is an exact translation of the English “have one’s head in the clouds”.
    Another expression we have is “essere per aria”, which literally means “to be in the air” (or, more literally, “to be about the air”).

    Both mean “to be distracted” or “preoccupied”, or even more generally “scatter-brained”.

  3. Jerry says:

    In Dutch it is “met je hoofd in de wolken lopen” (“to walk with your head in the clouds”) meaning to be so happy that you’re distracted and not paying attention.

  4. Macsen says:

    ‘pen ysgafn’ in Welsh also means dizzy or even a little drunk. Mabe in Breton too?

  5. Yenlit says:

    As well as ‘having your head in the clouds’ there’s other variations of the term such as, ‘living in cloud cuckoo-land'; ‘away with the fairies’ and an older version ‘He is in the clouds’ to mean: In dreamland, entertaining visionary notions; having no distinct idea about the matter in question which I saw a Manx translation for in the dictionary: T’eh fo drualtys!
    Welsh has:
    â’ch pen yn y cymylau (with your head in the clouds) or
    mae â’i ben yn y cymylau (he is with his head in the clouds) ie. he lives in a dream world, he lives in cloud cuckoo-land, he has his head in the clouds.
    “Cloud cuckoo-land” (Greek: Νεϕελοκοκκυγία – Nefelokokkiyia) is a reference from Aristophanes’ play The Birds.
    Catalan has:
    no toca de peus a terra (not down-to-earth) or
    ‘és amb el seu cap als núvols’ which is the same as English (he has his head in the clouds) where Spanish puts it as ‘estar/vivir en las nubes’ (being/living in the clouds)

  6. Christopher Miller says:

    In Canadian French at least — and I don’t know if thisnis true for European varieties — an expression for being distracted is être dans la lune ‘being (off) on the moon’. There was a pop song by a Montreal band a couple of decades ago that began,”Pourquoi t’es dans la lune? Pourquoi t’as salé ton café?” (How come you’re off on the moon? How come you (just) put salt in your coffee?)

    I’ve also heard ‘zoning’ from Americans with the same meaning, though this was a decade and a half ago and I don’t know how much it’s used nowadays.

  7. Andrew says:

    How about “to be an airhead”? :