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15 French Idioms & Funny Phrases (+ What They Really Mean)

March 15, 2019

15 French Idioms & Funny Phrases (+ What They Really Mean)

Just like in English, there are a lot of French idioms and phrases that don’t quite translate. Some are fairly easy to figure out (for example, someone who “drinks like a hole,” is drinking a great deal).

Others are less obvious, especially when you are just starting to learn French. Here are some of the strangest French idioms and phrases you’re likely to come across in an otherwise normal conversation.

15 French Idioms & Funny Phrases

1. Coup de foudre

Only in French is it a good thing to be hit by a “strike of lightning” – it means “love at first sight,” which is known to have some of the same symptoms, though you can usually tell them apart!

2. Avoir le cafard

While “having a cockroach” is certainly not most people’s idea of a good time, this phrase goes a little further than that. It means “to be downright depressed.”

3. Avoir une peur bleue

Some French idioms simply don’t make sense. Being ordinarily frightened is just “avoir peur,” but when you need to express serious pop-quiz-level terror, you have a blue fear in French.

4. Avoir un poil dans la main

“To have a hair in one’s hand” means to be very lazy, as if you do so little with your hands that hair could start growing from the palm.

5. Donner la langue au chat

If you “give your tongue to the cat” when presented with a riddle or other tricky question, you’ve given up and admitted defeat. What the cat does with it then is anybody’s guess.

6. Être sorti de l’auberge

Where English-speakers say “out of the woods” to mean “having handled your problems,” French-speakers say “out of the inn.” Are the inns in France really so bad that the woods are preferable?

7. Faire la tête

Literally “to make the head,” this phrase means “to pout.” It can be a slightly cute or affectionate way of asking if someone’s upset with you.

8. La fin des haricots

When something is “the end of the beans,” it’s the equivalent of saying “the last straw.” Either way, the frustrated person might say the next phrase on this list of French idioms…

RELATED VIDEO: Must-Know French Slang Words & Phrases

9. La moutarde me monte au nez

“Mustard rising to your nose” means that you’re getting angry, as a result – making a face like someone who’s just eaten strong mustard. Steam coming out of your ears is optional.

10. Les carrottes sont cuites

In English, your “goose is cooked” when you’re done for; in French, it’s carrots. In either case, you can’t take it back now.

11. Les doigts dans le nez

This is one of the funniest phrases on this list of French idioms. If something’s so easy you could do it “with your fingers in your nose,” you could probably also do it with one hand behind your back, possibly even both at once!

12. Mettre son grain de sel

Someone who insists on “putting in their grain of salt” can’t let a topic go without offering their opinion, whether it’s asked for or not.

13. Poser un lapin

If you’ve been “left a rabbit,” that means you’ve been stood up for a date or meeting. If it helps, the connection between rabbits and poor date etiquette isn’t clear in French either.

14. Sauter du cog à l’âne

Literally “to jump from rooster to donkey,” this phrase means jumping from topic to an unrelated topic. Cruelty to barn animals is not necessary.

15. More French Idioms and Sayings!

Can’t get enough? Check out the video below for even more funny French idioms and expressions.

Want to learn more French idioms and work on your language learning skills? Taking private lessons with a French tutor is the best way to improve your skills and reach your goals. Study with a tutor in-person or take online lessons. Find your French tutor today!

Megan L. is a writer and musician living in San Diego. She loves supporting independent artists and learning more about music every day. Megan has been working for TakeLessons since November 2011. Google+

Megan L.