Something feels wrong here. Could it be the French expression il y a anguille sous roche ? But it’s one of my favourites, I have to admit! Find out what it means, how to use it, and learn about related expressions!


There is eel under rock.


English Meaning

There is something suspicious going on.


French Meaning

Il y a quelque chose de suspect.


The Story Behind It


Being part Japanese and fond of grilled unagi, a traditional summer dish in Japan, I can’t say that eels conjure up purely negative emotions for me. But by normal standards, let’s be honest: is there anything more slippery or evocative of treachery than an eel? Snakes, you say? Did you watch Disney’s The Little Mermaid? Eel minions are definitely creepier than snakes!


Call it anti-eel prejudice or eel profiling, but with their serpentine form and often slimy appearance, these creatures scream “bad news.” They hide under rocks and in crevices, shunning the light and bursting forth only to snatch unsuspecting prey. Anyone poking around a reef would feel apprehensive about encountering one of these freaky fish. And it’s this suspicion that something lurks around the corner or lies beneath that gave rise to the French expression il y a anguille sous roche.



Grammar and Usage


You’ll often hear the informal version: ya anguille sous roche. However, in written French, il y a should always be spelled in its proper form (with three words and two spaces!).


And though it may sound funny to the anglophone ear, it is indeed il y a anguille sous roche (there is eel under rock). It’s NOT il y a une anguille (there is an eel), nor is it sous la roche (under the rock). There are no definite or indefinite articles.


* The omission of articles occurs in other French expressions too, like il pleut comme vache qui pisse.


Another curious feature: when phrased as a question, this expression often takes the conditional. So you’ll frequently see it as aurait-il anguille sous roche ? (“would there be eel under rock?”). Here, the conditional aurait (“would have”) reinforces the speculative nature of the question. This form is often used when discussing rumoured celebrity relationships!




English Equivalents

  • There is something fishy (going on here).
  • Something is afoot.
  • Something is up.
  • There is a snake in the grass. * Used to refer to a treacherous person.
  • I smell a rat.


French Equivalents

  • Il se trame quelque chose.
  • Il y a un piège quelque part.
  • Ça a l’air louche.
  • Ça sent l’arnaque (à plein nez). * Used when something seems like a scam.


Related Expressions

If something is particularly obvious, then we start talking about whales! The following expressions are notable offshoots:

    • il y a baleine sous gravier (“there is whale under gravel”). © French à la folie.
    • il y a baleine sous caillou (“there is whale under pebble”). © French à la folie.
    • il y a baleine sous plancton (“there is whale under plankton”)

All of these suggest that the suspicious object is hard to miss—like a whale hiding beneath something tiny. And just like il y a anguille sous roche, they lack the articles that you’d normally expect!


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