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Coincer la bulle
Translation: To wedge the bubble
Meaning: To do nothing – this can apply to a two-hour lunch break, a four-week summer holiday, or any time in between.
Tomber dans les pommes
Translation: To fall in the apples
Meaning: To faint – this expression first appeared in a letter the French novelist George Sand sent to her friend Madame Dupin in the 19th century.
Avoir les dents du fond qui baignent
Translation: To have back teeth that are swimming
S’occuper de ses oignons
Translation: To take care of your onions
Meaning: To mind your own business – presumably, this phrase originates from the period in history when every French person was an onion trader.
C’est le petit Jésus en culotte de velours
Translation: It’s like Baby Jesus in velvet underpants
Meaning: This wine is delicious – while this can sometimes be used to describe a particularly delicious meal, it is usually reserved for the national drink.
Être sur son 31
Translation: To be on your 31
Meaning: To be well-dressed – this possibly derives from the word ‘trentain,’ once used to describe luxury fabrics.
Rouler dans la farine
Translation: To roll in the flour
Meaning: To be duped – so if someone has deceived you, they have effectively rolled you in flour (and made you look like a fool).
Avoir la gueule de bois
Translation: To have the wooden face
Meaning: To be hungover – this refers to the dry mouth and unquenchable thirst of the morning after a night of heavy drinking.
Peigner la giraffe
Translation: To comb the giraffe
Meaning: To engage in a long, pointless task– this one is quite self-explanatory: why on earth would you ever attempt to brush a giraffe?
Donner sa langue au chat
Translation: To give your tongue to the cat
Meaning: To give up – essentially, you have no more ideas and might as well leave it to the cat to come up with a plan of action.
Courir sur le haricot
Translation: To run on the bean
Meaning: To get on someone’s nerves – this has something to do with the Jack and the Beanstalk tale and is one of the politer elements of French workplace vernacular.
Il y a quelque chose qui cloche
Translation: There is something ringing
Meaning: There is something wrong – a close equivalent of ‘an alarm bell’s ringing’ or ‘to see a red flag.’
Avoir un poil dans le main
Translation: To have hair in your hand
Meaning: To be lazy – usually reserved for someone who avoids work at all costs.
Chercher la petite bête
Translation: To look for the little beast
Meaning: To look for something to complain about – the French equivalent of the English expression ‘to split hairs.’
Il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat
Translation: There’s no reason to whip the cat
Meaning: It’s no big deal – frankly, there’s never a good enough reason to whip the cat, metaphorically or otherwise.
Avoir le cafard
Translation: To have the cockroach
Raconter des salades
Translation: To tell salads
Meaning: To tell lies – this can also be used when telling people ‘everything you think you know is false.’
Ne pas être sorti de l’auberge
Translation: To not be out off the inn
Meaning: To face a complicated problem – a problem, naturally, that detains you in the local hostel.
Avoir une araignée au plafond
Translation: To have a spider on the ceiling
Meaning: To be a bit odd – this expression is a nice substitute for ‘s/he has a screw lose.’
Poser un lapin
Translation: To place a rabbit
Meaning: To stand someone up – if ever your date doesn’t show up, you can confidently say ‘il/elle m’a posé un lapin.‘