After years of studying French in the classroom, it wasn’t until I spent time living in France that I started hearing people saying all sorts of things I had never heard before. I’d ask people how they were and they’d reply talking about cockroaches and potatoes – I was baffled! This made me realise how important idioms are if you really want to master a language.
Idioms are expressions whose meanings are completely unrelated to the literal sense of the words… and they’re everywhere! Knowing expressions and idioms really ups your ‘language game’ and makes you sound like a native. So I thought I’d share some useful and funny ones with you. Here goes:
Avoir le cafard (Lit. to have the cockroach)
Of course we’re not actually talking about cockroaches! This absurd idiom means “to feel depressed” or “to feel down”.
Ça va ? Tu as l’air triste. (Are you okay? You look sad.)
Je sais pas… J’ai le cafard. (I don’t know… I feel a bit down.)
Avoir la patate / la pêche (Lit. to have the potato / peach)
And here we’re not talking about potatoes or peaches either! These expressions mean to be happy and to have lots of energy.
J’ai la patate aujourd’hui ! (I’m happy today!)
J’ai bien dormi, j’ai la pêche ! (I slept well, I feel great!)
S’occuper de ses oignons (Lit. to take care of one’s onions)
This lovely idiom means “to mind your own business”. It might sound funny, but people use it in all seriousness!
Occupe-toi de tes oignons ! (Mind your own business!)
Tomber dans les pommes (Lit. to fall in the apples)
This expression means “to faint”. People also use it to express shock or surprise.
Il était tellement choqué, il a failli tomber dans les pommes ! (He was so shocked, he nearly fainted!)
Oh la vache! (lit. Oh the cow!)
Know the English expression “Holy cow!”? Well, this one is similar. It expresses shock or exclamation and means “Oh my gosh!”
– Et là il lui a dit « je t’ai jamais aimé de toute façon… » (And then he said to her “I never loved you anyway…”)
– Oh la vache ! (Oh my gosh!)
Revenons à nos moutons. (Lit. let’s go back to our sheep)
What have sheep got to do with it?! Well, this bizarre expression actually means “Let’s get back to the subject.”
It comes from the 15th century play La Farce de maître Pathelin. In the play, maître Pathelin, a local village lawyer, presents two cases to a judge, one about stolen sheep and one about stolen cloth. While arguing the case about the sheep, he repeatedly brings up the case about the cloth to confuse the judge, who tries to get back to the first case by saying “mais revenons à nos moutons…” (“but let’s get back to our sheep…”). So that’s how sheep came to symbolise the subject at hand!
On peut parler de ça plus tard ; pour le moment, revenons à nos moutons. (We can speak about that later; for now, let’s get back to the subject.)
Avoir la gueule de bois (Lit. to have the wooden face)
This means “to have a hangover”. It comes from the idea that when you have a hangover your mouth is as dry as wood! Clever, eh?!
Je me suis réveillé avec une gueule de bois terrible ce matin. (I woke up with a terrible hangover this morning.)
Avoir un coup de foudre (Lit. to have a strike of lightning)
This expression means “to fall in love at first sight”. The idea is that you suddenly and unexpectedly fall for someone, just like a sudden lightning strike. You can use this expression to talk about objects, too:
For a person: Quand j’ai vu Mélanie pour la première fois j’ai eu un coup de foudre. (When I saw Melanie for the first time, I fell in love at first sight.)
For an object: Il a eu un coup de foudre pour l’appartement. (He fell madly in love with the apartment.)
Anyway, that’s enough from me, now it’s your turn! Check out our French courses for more absurd idioms. And go on, try and use one when you next speak to a native French speaker. You’ll start sounding fluent in no time!
Emma is one of the French Language Experts at busuu. She is from London and lived in the French overseas department, Reunion Island, where she studied French. She’s addicted to crochet!