Last updated on November 23rd, 2022 at 07:47 am
Like in English, French is thoroughly sprinkled with idioms – expressions that mean something other than their literal meaning.
“It’s a piece of cake,” “a blessing in disguise,” & “let somebody off the hook” are all common idioms used in casual English conversation. There are hundreds of others that we don’t even think about! French has similar expressions, but some are even weirder and funnier than English ones!
Idioms, or ‘idiomes‘ / ‘expressions idiomatiques‘ in French, bring humor, spice, and playfulness into everyday conversations. If you want to impress native French speakers, test out these 20 French expressions in conversation.
Look for an opening and then bust one of these out! You’re sure to get a smile or laugh of appreciation from a French person once they hear you say the following expressions in their native language. Let’s get started with the silliest French idioms – and their even stranger translations into English.
Silliest French Idioms & Their Meanings
#1: “Avoir Le Cafard” – To Have A Cockroach
‘Cafard’ means cockroach in French, so when you have (avoir) ‘le cafard,’ it means you’re depressed and down in the dumps (the English idiom counterpart). This French idiom clicks for me, as cockroaches don’t typically elicit happiness from most people who come into contact with them!
#2: “Avoir Du Pain Sur La Planche” – To Have Bread On The Board
Remember, ‘avoir‘ means to have, so if you have bread (du pain) on the board (la planche), it means you are very busy and have a lot to do. Can you guess what its English complement is? That’s right, it’s very similar to the saying to have a lot on your plate. The French people sure do love their baked goods, so it makes sense why bread was added to make this idiom even sillier!
#3: “Avoir La Moutarde Qui Monte Au Nez” – To Have Mustard Going Up Your Nose
This hilarious and vivid French idiom means to be very angry. Imagine inhaling the pungent, bitter taste of mustard up your nose … I think it would make me mad too! A few English equivalents to this expression are to be up in arms or to lose your temper.
#4: “Couper Les Cheveux En Quatre” – You’re Cutting The Hair Into Four Pieces
In the world of English idioms, if someone is painstakingly slow and scrupulous, we accuse them of splitting hairs for no good reason. It’s the same with this French expression, except the French get detailed in saying exactly how many hairs (four!) they cut (couper).
#5: “Manger Sur Le Pouce” – To Eat On The Thumb
A big part of French culture is eating and thoroughly enjoying meals with loved ones. You will often see people sitting in cafes for hours on end, eating and drinking and laughing with friends and family. To eat (manger) on the thumb (le pouce), basically means to eat quickly and rush through your meal. The English expression for this is to eat on the go.
#6: “Péter Un Plomb” – To Break A Fuse
This French idiom has an extremely similar meaning to the English expression to blow a fuse, which means to go crazy. Many other English expressions have the same meaning as “Péter Un Plomb” and they are: to go mental, blow a gasket, throw a fit, go ballistic, freak out. Think about it – if you’re physically breaking a fuse, you must be in an unstable state … it works in English & French!
#7: “Avoir Un Chat Dans La Gorge” – To Have A Cat In Your Throat
Another French expression similar to an English one, “Avoir Un Chat Dans La Gorge” means to have a sore throat and be ill. Yup, you guessed it! The English counterpart is to have a frog in your throat. The croak of a frog, the scratch of a cat, what other characteristics of animals could they have chosen to express a sore throat?
#8: “Se Faire Larguer” – To Get Broken Up With
If you are in a romantic relationship and that person breaks things off with you, you would say ‘se faire larguer,’ accompanied by a frown. This is the passive form (being broken up with). In English, we say to get dumped.
#9: “Avoir Les Chevilles Qui Enflent” – To Have Ankles That Swell
In this French idiom, your ankles (chevilles) swelling isn’t a medical problem. Rather than getting your body checked by a doctor, they say you need your ego checked instead! ‘Avoir Les Chevilles Qui Enflent’ means you are excessively arrogant and smug. The English equivalent is to be full of yourself or to be big-headed. So when a French person tells you that your ankles swell, they most likely aren’t concerned for your health.
#10: “Il Fait Un Temps De Chien” – It Is Dog Weather
This French idiom is one of the most common, just like its English equivalent it’s raining cats and dogs! This means there is a considerable rainstorm outside, and the weather is terrible. Keep an ear out for this expression whenever visiting Paris, as it is constantly raining there! You never know what Parisian might curse ‘Il Fait Un Temps De Chien’ up into the cloudy skies.
#11: “Poser Un Lapin à Quelqu’un” – To Put A Rabbit To Someone
The French idioms are full of animals! This specific expression means to stand somebody up for a date. I guess to put (poser) a rabbit (lappin) on someone (à quelqu’un) means to do something bad to them? For example, to make someone wait for a date when you’re never going to show up. Yikes!
#12: “Casser Les Pieds à Quelqu’un” – To Break Someone’s Feet
Structurally similar to the last idiom, to break somebody’s feet means to annoy someone else. I’d rather listen to an annoying person than get my feet broken, thank you very much! The English counterpart is to drive somebody up a wall or to be cheesed off.
#13: “Tourner Au Vinaigre” – To Turn Into Vinegar
A situation called ‘Tourner Au Vinaigre’ is wild and rowdy or getting out of control. Another English idiom for this is that it’s getting out of hand. Vinegar leaves a sour and bitter taste in your mouth, just like an unruly scene.
#14: “Faire La Grasse Matinée” – To Do The Fat Morning
This strange literal translation makes much more sense when you know what it means. Are you ready? It means to sleep in! A ‘fat’ morning means sleeping in all day and being lazy. Some similar English idioms (but different meaning) are to sleep like a log and to hit the hay. Although these sleeping idioms don’t exactly mean to sleep in, they are closely related.
#15: “Quand Les Poules Auront Des Dents” – When Chickens Have Teeth
Did you know that chickens don’t have teeth? Well, now you do! ‘Quand Les Poules Auront Des Dents’ is an exaggeration of a false statement, much like how we say ‘when pigs fly’ or ‘when hell freezes over’ in English. I love this idiom and plan to use it the next time I’m in France!
#16: “Je Pourrais Le Faire Les Doigts Dans La Nez” – I Can Do It With My Fingers In My Nose
Like the English idioms ‘I can do it with my eyes closed’ or ‘I can do it with my hands tied behind my back,’ this French idiom implies that it’s incredibly easy to put your fingers in your nose!
#17: “L’habit Ne Fait Pas Le Moine” – The Clothing Doesn’t Make The Monk
Just because someone is dressed in a monk’s robes doesn’t mean they are actually a monk. Don’t judge things based only on appearance. Perhaps the most famous English idiom goes like this … don’t judge a book by its cover.
#18: “Il Me Court Sur Le Haricot” – Running On Your Bean
This expressive idiom means someone is getting on your nerves or annoying you. Don’t run on my bean, or I’ll run on yours!
#19: “Avoir La Gueule De Bois” – To Have A Wooden Mouth
I’m sure you can guess what this idiom means … if you have a wooden (aka dry) mouth, it is probably because you were drinking heavily the night before. Having a ‘gueule de bois’ means having an epic hangover.
#20: “Ne Pas Casser Trois Pattes À Un Canard” – To Not Break Three Feet Of A Duck
For our final silly French idiom, let’s talk about ducks. They only have two feet, so you’ve done something extraordinary and uncommon when you say you found a third foot on a duck to break. The English counterpart is something out of this world or when something happens once in a blue moon.
Which French Idiom Was Your Favorite?
Are you ‘having a cockroach’ or ‘eating on the thumb?’ Now that you know all of the silliest and most common French idioms, it’s time to put them into action with some of your French friends.
Planting a few of these expressions into conversations is a fantastic way to gain fluency and better understand the intricacies of the French language. Plus, it will bring a chuckle to both you and the receiver of the idiom!
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