French Expressions


Trying to Understand the Hidden Meaning Behind French Expressions

You know those funny expressions that we have in the English language that don't always make much sense to foreigners? Well the French language has plenty of those as well. Why do they want to put down the rabbit, and why do they keep talking about cows? And who falls in the apples? Well here are some translations to those wacky expressions that you need to grow up with in order to understand.

donner sa langue au chat: give your tongue to the cat
translation: to give up guessing. I guess this is similar to "cat caught your tongue" but it is only used when you are guessing answers. But I get it I think, I too would stop guessing if a cat had just bit my tongue.

devenir chèvre: become a goat
translation: to go mad. Yeah, this one makes no sense. When you first hear this used in a conversation, you have no clue what the person is talking about. How becoming a goat means going mad makes no sense, but to French people, it doest.

les carottes sont cuites: the carrots are cooked
translation: you cannot change what is done. I mean I guess it's true, when the carrots are cooked, you can't uncook them. It just sounds weird talking about carrots while trying to explain the consequences to someone.

les doigts dans le nez: the fingers in the nose
translation: to do something easily. I guess if you can do something with your fingers in your nose, you must be good at it, but please don't touch me afterwards. Couldn't they have come up with a less gross expression?

Luxembourg Gardens

poser un lapin: put down a rabbit
translation: to stand someone up. If you get stood up, does this make you a rabbit? I really don't get the origin of the expression at all, but I have heard it in a French rap song, so I guess it truly is used. But really, what's up with the rabbit?

avoir un poil dans la main: to have fur in the hands
translation: to be lazy. Ok this one is funny to me. It makes sense, you're not using your hands so hair grows in them. But then it just gives me an image of furry hands and then I can't take this expression seriously, which is often because I hear it so much!

avoir le cafard: having the cockroach
translation: to be depressed. If I had cockroaches, I too would be depressed. So yes, this translation makes sense, but where in the world do they come up with these expressions?

donner un coup de main: to give a blow from the hand
translation: to help someone out. No we're not talking about hitting people, we're talking about helping out. I've been using this expression since I was little, one of the few things that I have not forgotten. But it does sound funny when you're technically saying that you're going to hit something with your hand to help out.

ah, la vache: oh, the cow
translation: oh wow. I think this is similar to "holy cow." People of all ages say it here when they are showing surprise to a statement. It can be good or bad. But the first time I heard it I looked around thinking that they were pointing out a very interesting cow. Nope, just an expression!

avoir la gueule de bois: to have the jaw of wood
translation: to have a hangover. First off, anything with the word "gueule" is an insult, and a word to avoid using unless you really don't like the person, or you're hungover. So apparently being hungover means that your mouth really hurts, and that's why this expression is used. In fact when I ask what a word for hangover is, this is the only thing that comes up.

tomber dans les pommes: to fall in the apples
translation: to pass out. I just think this one is hilarious. I mean there is no logical meaning that I can get from this expression but everyone uses it. But once you get the clarification it makes so much sense why people are so concerned about falling in apples.

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