My top ten French idioms

“Tomber dans les pommes” by Alan Turkus

This article was written by Erin McIntyre, published on 30th April 2012 and has been read 32710 times.

I love how idioms are so much more than a linguistic feature; they tell stories and represent the country from which they originate. Here are my top ten French idioms, in no particular order – I’m looking forward to trying a few of them out when I head to France over the summer for the second part of my year abroad.

1. “Faire la grasse matinee” means to have a lie in (literally to make a fat morning). I think this idea of a fat morning encapsulates perfectly how I feel when I have a lie in, lazy.

2. “être aux petits oignons” this translates as to be cooked with pickling onions but in fact means to be perfect. What could be more typically French than onions representing perfection?

3. “Tomber dans les pommes” I’ve encountered this idiom before, in fact it was one of the first idioms I learnt back in secondary school and it is still one of my favourites. It means to faint or pass out but translates literally as “to fall in the apples” this creates such a lovely mental image and always puts a smile on my face.

4. “La montagne accouche d’une souris” This is the equivalent of the English idiom: great expectations come to nothing. However the literal translation put a smile on my face: the mountain gives birth to a mouse. I only wish I knew how on earth this one came about.

5. “Les carottes sont cuites” This idiom shows us how idioms are representational of the countries culture, this again, like so many French idioms is related to cooking, and the French do love their cuisine. It means the carrots are overcooked but is used to mean that it’s all over. It’s comparable to “the goose is cooked” in English.

6. “Donner sa langue au chat” Now this idiom creates some pretty amusing mental imagery. It means to give up, or is literally 'to give your tongue to the cat'. Told you it would make you smile.

7. “De derrière les fagots” This means something which is extra-special but if you were to translate it literally means: from behind the firewood. According to the book this originates from the idea that the oldest and best wines are kept at the back of the wine cellar, hidden behind the firewood.

8. “Passer comme une lettre à la poste” (to go like a letter into the letterbox) You know how easily a letter slides into a letterbox? I can’t say I’ve ever particularly noticed, but the French have, enough to have an idiom about it to mean that something has gone without a hitch. Those wacky French.

9. “Avoir le cafard/bourdon” To have the cockroach or to have the bumblebee. Means to be feeling down. Now I can understand why you would have the blues if you had a cockroach, they are pretty ugly and almost indestructible; but not a bumblebee, they are cute and fuzzy and ensure that we have pretty flowers in our gardens. Maybe that’s just me though.

10. “Sabrer le champagne.” It wouldn’t be proper for an idiom about champagne to miss out on a spot in my favourite French idioms; it’s so quintessentially French. It’s the equivalent of to crack open the champagne in English but means to drink the champagne in one go. Those French party hard... down in one.

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