Just like English, French has a lot of idiomatic words and phrases, and some are fairly easy to puzzle out (for example, someone who “drinks like a hole”, is drinking a great deal). Others are, to put it mildly, less obvious, especially when you are learning French. Here are some of the strangest French phrases you’re likely to run across in otherwise harmless conversation.
1. Coup de foudre
Only in French is it a good thing to be hit by a “stroke 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 regardless.
2. Avoir le cafard
While “having a cockroach” is certainly not most people’s idea of a good time, this phrase goes a little farther than that; it means to be downright depressed.
3. Avoir une peur bleue
Being ordinarily frightened is just “avoir peur”, but when you need to express serious pop-quiz-level terror, you have a blue fear.
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 “the last straw”. Either way, the frustrated person might then say…
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
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 by 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 unrelated topic. Cruelty to barn animals is not necessary.
15. S’occuper des oignons
To suggest that someone “take care of their onions” is to recommend they mind their own business (maybe they’ve been putting their grain of salt in too often).
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