French is one of the most beautiful languages in the world, but if you listen closely, you’ll notice that some of the expressions are absolutely nonsensical when translated. Culture Trip curates 20 phrases Anglophones will have a hard time getting their minds around.
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.
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.
Translation: To have back teeth that are swimming
Meaning: To have overeaten – typically used after a massive family feast, such as le réveillon at Christmas and New Year.
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.
Translation: It’s like Baby Jesus in velvet underpants
Meaning: This wine is delicious – while this phrase can sometimes describe an exceptional meal, it is usually reserved for the national drink.
Translation: To be on your 31
Meaning: To be well dressed – this possibly derives from the word trentain, once used to describe luxury fabrics.
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).
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.
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 comb a giraffe?
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.
Translation: To run on the bean
Meaning: To get on someone’s nerves – this has something to do with the Jack and the Beanstalk (1734) tale, and is one of the politer elements of French workplace vernacular.
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”.
Translation: To have hair in your hand
Meaning: To be lazy – usually reserved for someone who avoids work at all costs.
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”.
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.
Translation: To have the cockroach
Meaning: To be depressed – this expression was first used by Baudelaire in Les Fleurs du Mal in 1857. And who knows? Maybe it was the spark that set off Kafka’s inspiration for The Metamorphosis (1915).
Translation: To tell salads
Meaning: To tell lies – this can also be used when telling people “everything you think you know is false.”
Translation: To not be out of the inn
Meaning: To face a complicated problem – a problem, naturally, that detains you in the local hostel.
Translation: To have a spider on the ceiling
Meaning: To be a bit odd – this expression is a nice substitute for “she or he has a screw loose.”
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.”