Funny French Idioms That Don’t Make Sense Unless You’re French

Funny French Idioms That Don’t Make Sense Unless You’re French
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Do you “speak French like a Spanish cow?” “Is it raining like cows that piss?” Unless you’re a native or fluent French speaker, you probably have no idea what they mean. That’s because they’re literal translations. Here are some fun French idiomatic expressions explained: What they mean, literally and figuratively, how to use them, and their equivalent idiomatic expression in English.

Idioms, like the French Idioms on this list are commonly used expressions and figures of speech whose meanings don’t always relate to the literal meaning of their words; especially when translated word for word into another language. 

French Idioms that involve Animal and bugs

There are so many French idioms, too many to list here. In this post, I’ve selected French idioms involving animals and insects.  Take the time to memorize and learn a few and you’ll impress all your French friends. 

1. It’s raining like cows who piss (It’s raining like a cow pissing)

French Idiom: Il pleut comme vache qui pisse

French Idiom: Il pleut comme vache qui pisse: It's raining a lot or it's raining cats and dogs.

This colourful French idiom first appeared around the middle of the 19th century. It vividly illustrates heavy rainfall by giving you a mental image of a cow peeing. Cow’s pee a lot, especially compared to humans and other small farm animals. 

Is this a strange French expression? Not any stranger than the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs”. 

Closest or similar English expression:

  • It’s pissing down.
  • It’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock
  • It’s raining cats and dogs.
  • It’s pouring outside.
  • It’s raining buckets.

Example: je prends mon parapluie car il pleut comme vache qui pisse! (I’m 

Cry like a cow

French Idiom: Pleurer comme un vache

Another French idiom that doesn’t mean what you think it does. Like the cow that pisses, a person that cries like a cow, means that someone cries a lot. 

Closest or similar English expression:

  • To cry a river
  • Cry like a baby

2. Speak like a Spanish cow

Example: Janet is learning French but she still speaks like a Spanish cow. OUCH! So harsh!

When you say someone speaks like a Spanish cow you are basically telling them that they speak French extremely bad to the point where it’s just painful to listen to.

  • French Idiom: Parler Français comme une vache espagnole!
  • Closest English expression: To butcher or murder a language.

3. When chickens have teeth

Just like the English expression “when pig’s fly”, this expression implies something is impossible or very difficult to attain or do.

  • French Idiom: Quand les poules auront des dents
  • Closest English expression:When pigs fly. That’ll be the day. Over my dead body.

4. To be like a chicken who has found a knife

pouletcouteau.jpg

 

Would a chicken know what to do with a knife if it found one?  I don’t think so. So when you say ‘so and so’ is like a chicken who found a knife, you are saying that they have no clue what to do.

  • French Idiom: Être comme une poule qui a trouvé un couteau
  • Meaning: To be at a complete loss

5. One does not marry a hen with a fox

A hen would never marry a fox and a fox never a hen because they probably would not be attracted to each other. So when you say a hen does not marry a fox, it’s like saying we all have our own likes and dislikes or way of doing things.

  • French Idiom: On ne marie pas les poules avec les renards
  • Closest English expression: Different strokes for different folks.

6. You’re a wet chicken

Stop being such a wet chicken is the same as saying you are a coward. Why? because apparently when a chicken is wet, it just stands there without moving as if it were too afraid or a coward.

  • French idiom: Vous êtes une poule mouillée
  • Closest English expression: You a chicken!

The French love their dogs and cats. Maybe that’s why they have so many French expressions involving cats and dogs. Here are just 4. There are probably over 100 more I could have listed here.

https://annieandre.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Vache-pisse-feature21.jpg

7. Give your tongue to the cat

15 funny french idioms and expressions; Give your tongue to the cat. Donner sa langue au chat!This expression sounds similar to the English expression “Has the cat got your tongue?” however, it has nothing to do with it. It actually means to give up or throw in the towel.

  • French Idiom: Donnner sa langue au chat
  • Meaning: To give up.
  • Closest English expression:Throw in the towel

8. Call a cat a cat

When you tell someone to “call a cat a cat” in French, it means you want them to speak their mind or tell the truth.

  • French Idom: Appeler un chat un chat
  • Meaning: To speak truthfully.
  • Closest English expression: Call a spade a spade. Speak frankly.

9. Dogs don’t make cats

A clever way to say that children resemble their parents.

  • French Idiom: Les chiens ne font pas des chats
  • Closest English expression: The apple does not fall far from the tree. Like father like son. Like mother like daughter.

10. To have other cats to whip

( As in whisk and not beat)

Example: I can’t be bothered to do my homework, I have other cats to whip.

This expression simply means that you have more important or better things to do.

  • French idiom: Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter
  • Closest English expression: To have bigger fish to fry

Now French idioms that BUG you!

11.To have the cockroach

15 funny french idioms and expressions; To have the cockroach. Avoir le cafard!

When someone has the cockroach, it means they are very sad or depressed. I found many explanations as to how this explanation came about but the one that interested me the most was the one about the Foreign Legion.

Bored Legionnaires became depressed under their isolated conditions and would shoot cockroaches. Later this depression became known as avoir le cafard  (to have the cockroach).

  • French Idiom: Avoir le cafard
  • Closest English expression: To be down in the dumps, to be down.

12. To look for lice

Oh stop looking for lice!!! This means that you complain or find fault in the littlest of things.

  • French Idiom: Chercher des poux
  • Closest English expression: To nit pick. A nit is the small egg of a lice.

13. Which fly bit you?

Example:  You’ve yelled at me four times now. What fly bit  you?

Dating back to the 17th century, people likened the involuntary burst of action from the bite of an insect to that of someone who was angry. So when someone is angry or in a bad mood, you can ask them what fly bit you?

  • French Idiom: Quelle mouche t’a piqué
  • Closest English expression: What crawled up your ass (and died), what’s bugging you? What’s eating you?

14. Take the fly

This expression is very similar to the expression “what fly bit you?” except that this one implies that someone is very very angry for no good reason or someone is angry over a very insignificant thing. .

  • French Idiom: Prendre la mouche
  • Closest English expression: To fly off the handle.

We needed a sheep idiom so here it is

15. Lets get back to the sheep

No this isn’t some weird sexual reference involving sheep. When you say “ let’s get back to our sheep”, it means you want to get back to the task at hand.

This expression originated from a fifteenth century comedy called “La Farce de Maître Pathelin”. Guillaume brings two cases before a judge involving sheets and sheep. During the trial, Guillaume gets confused between the two different cases and ultimately confuses the judge too. The judge then tries to get back to the case about the sheep by repeatedly saying Let us get back to the sheep, “revonons à nos moutons”. Ever since, this saying has stuck and to this day people use this expression to mean, lets get back on track or lets get back on topic. [source]

  • French Idom: Revenons à nos moutons
  • Closest English expression: Let’s get back on track.

Conclusion

Idioms not only help you sound more fluent and fit in more easily in everyday situations, they also give you a little insight into the cultural nuances of French life. 

 

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  1. Great post, Annie. It reminded me one of my latest posts as well, where I talked about idioms and expression involving animals names.

    I know all those expression of course. French has tons of expressions with animals. I think we have a record of them.

    1. I just checked out your post sylviane. that is too funny that we thought of the same thing to write about. I think you are right in that french have so many many expressions. i even found that some french people dont even know all of the expressions. For instance i know an older French lady who told me a new expression that the other french ladies did not know. I think it was “on ne tond pas un œuf”. which apparently means on ne peut prendre ce qui n’est pas.

  2. Awesome.

    I love these (knew some of them but far from all) – great idea for an article, a lot of these actually kind of make sense to me because I’m very familiar with French & French culture but I imagine that they might sound crazy to anyone new to French.

    In any case, it’s great and interesting to see them all listed together like that.

    Bravo!

    1. I love idomatic expressions Alan. Half the time i dont even know what the origins are of English ones so French ones really throw me for a loop. Other ones are easier to figure out. my daughters favourite is “Casser les pieds de qqn”. To break the feet of someone.

      try and explain to a non english speaker the origins of keeping your eyes peeled. no can do. i just know what it means but not why!

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