30 Funny French Phrases & Idioms (Life, Animals and more)

30 Funny French Phrases & Idioms (Life, Animals and more)

Linguists say you can’t really understand a culture until you understand their expressions. And when it comes to funny French phrases and idioms, that really gives you an insight into the French psyche. From “fingers in the nose” to “having a cockroach”, here are the funniest French idioms that are used in daily life.

Funny French Phrases used daily

1. Casser les oreilles

English Translation: Breaking my ears

Meaning: Making a lot of noise and disturbing me

You may not think it is possible to break your ears, but in French it is. “Oof, arrêtes de jouer le piano, ça me casse les oreilles“, meaning “oof, stop playing the piano, it is hurting my ears.”

2. Être dans le cirage

English Translation: To be in the shoe polish

Meaning: To be half-asleep; to have your head in the clouds

Faites attention! Il me semble que vous êtes dans le cirage“, meaning “Pay attention! It seems to me that your head is in the clouds. The English version of this funny French phrase would be “to be in cuckooland”.

3. Petit andouille

English Translation: Little sausage

Meaning: Silly little one

Qu’est-ce que tu fais, petit andouille?!“, meaning “what are you doing, little one?!” If you have a small child, you can just imagine this as a term of endearment.

4. Tomber dans les pommes

English Translation: to fall in the apples

Meaning: to be shocked, to faint figuratively

“Elle était tellement choqué, elle est tombée dans les pommes!” meaning “she was so shocked, she practically fainted!” The English version would be “fell off her chair.”

☞ READ MORE: French Food Expressions: 32 Fabulous Idioms about French Cuisine



5. Il y a quelque chose qui cloche

English Translation: There is something that rings

Meaning: There is something not quite right

Je ne sais pas si je le crois, il y a quelque chose qui cloche“, meaning “I’m not sure if I believe him, (I sense) there is something not right.”

6. Donner un coup de main

English Translation: To give a knock on the hand

Meaning: To lend a hand

Tu veux que je te donne un coup de main?“, meaning “do you want me to lend you a hand?”

7. Être au taquet

English Translation: To be at a wedge (piece of wood)

Meaning: To be on top form/ To give it your best shot

Tu es prêt pour demain? Il faut être au taquet!” meaning “are you ready for tomorrow? You are going to have to give it your best!”

☞ READ MORE: French inspirational quotes: 21 Proverbs to motivate and enjoy

8. Avoir la patate / la pêche

English Translation: Have a potato / a peach

Meaning: to be energized and excited.

Oula, tu as la patate! Pourquoi t’es si souriant?” meaning “Oooh, you look excited. Why are you smiling so much?”

☞ READ MORE: French Food Quotes: 21 Proverbs too delicious for words

By the way, Oula was not a word, but a sound. You can find more funny French words and sounds here.

9. Avoir la gueule de bois

English Translation: Have a wooden mouth

Meaning: To be hungover

Le lendemain aprés l’enterrement de vie de garçon, je me suis réveillé avec une horrible gueule de bois“, meaning “the day after the bachelor party, I woke up with a dreadful hangover.”

(As an aside, a bachelor party in French technically translates into “burial of the life of a young boy”. I kid you not. You can read more about French weddings and bachelor parties here.)

☞ READ MORE: 14 French Wine Quotes for a little tipple

10. Avoir un coup de foudre

English Translation: Have lightening strike

Meaning: To fall in love at first sight.

La première fois j’ai vu Marc, c’était un coup de foudre” meaning “The first time I saw Marc, it was love at first sight.”

☞ READ MORE: 24 French Love Quotes to make your heart flutter

11. Péter un plomb/une cable

English Translation:

Meaning: To freak out

Quand il a vu la facture, il a pété une cable,” meaning “When he saw the bill, he freaked out”.

12. Avoir un poil dans la main

English Translation: Have a hair on the palm

Meaning: To be lazy

Il ne veut pas m’aider, il a as un poil dans la main,” meaning “he won’t help me, he is lazy.”

The English version would be “to be a couch potato”, “to be work shy”, or the colloquial “to be a lazy ass”.

13. Les doigts dans la nez

English Translation: Fingers in the nose

Meaning: Easy to do

The English equivalent would be “piece of cake”. “Trop facile, les doigts dans la nez!“, meaning “too easy, it’s a piece of cake!”

☞ READ MORE: 21 French Quotes about Life (and Death)

14. Sentir le sapin

English Translation: Smell the pine (Christmas tree)

Meaning: Doesn’t smell good

You might think that a Christmas tree smells good but this expression actually means that you sense something is off. The original expression was meant to indicate that the person had “one foot in the grave”, but these days it is more to indicate that your spidey senses are tingling.

Je n’aime pas ce plan, ça sens le sapin“, meaning “I don’t like this plan, it doesn’t seem like a good one.”

15. Avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre

English Translation: Have the butter and the money of the butter

Meaning: Having two nice things that can’t go together, at the same time

The English version would be “to have your cake and eat it too”. “Il veux le beurre et l’argent du beurre.

16. Une bouchée de pain

English Translation: For a morsel of bread

Meaning: For almost nothing, for a pittance

Tu veux que je travaille 10 heures pour €5? C’est une bouchée de pain!“, meaning “you want me to work 10 hours for 5 euros? That’s next to nothing!” This isn’t a reference to Marie-Antoinette’s “let them eat bread”, although it certainly sounds like it.

The English version of this French expression would be “for peanuts”.

17. L’habit ne fait pas le moine

English Translation: The habit doesn’t make the monk

Meaning: Don’t judge a person by his appearance

This expression isn’t used that often anymore, as the church has become less involved in the daily life of the French State, but you still here it once in a while.” The English version would be “the clothes don’t make the man.”

18. Jeter l’éponge

English Translation: Throw away the sponge

Meaning: To give up

“Il ne va pas jeter l’éponge, c’est trop important”, meaning “he won’t give up, it is too important.”

The English version would be “to throw in the towel.”

19. Il pleut des cordes

English Translation: It is raining strings

Meaning: It is raining a lot.

The English version would be “it is raining cats and dogs.” (If you are wondering, it rains an awful lot in Paris, so this expression definitely comes in handy!)

20. Avoir le cul entre deux chaises

English Translation: To have the butt between two chairs

Meaning: To be undecided

The English version would be “to be sitting on the fence.”

Funny Expressions with Animals

1. Quand les poules auront des dents

English Translation: When chickens have teeth

Meaning: Never

Je vais le faire quand les poules auront des dents“, meaning “I will do it, when pigs can fly”.

There are various English versions of this funny French expression such as “when pigs can fly”, “when hell freezes over”, “over my dead body”, etc.

2. Oh, la vache!”

English Translation: Oh, the cow!

Meaning: Oh my goodness!

“Il a dit quoi?! Oh, la vache!“, meaning “he said what!? Oh my goodness!”

3. Devenir chêvre

English Translation: Become a goat

Meaning: To be driven crazy, to become angry

Quand on a pas d’enfant, on est jaloux de ceux qui en ont et quand on en a, ils vous font devenir chèvre” meaning “When you’ve no children, you’re jealous of those when you have children, they drive you crazy.”

4. Chercher la petite bête

English Translation: Look for the little beast

Meaning: To be overly picky

Ne cherchez pas la petite bête“, meaning “stop being so picky”.

5. Parler comme une vache espagnole

English Translation: Speak like a Spanish cow

Meaning: Speaking a language badly

Je parle français comme une vache espagnole,” meaning “I speak French really badly”.

6. Avoir un chat dans la gorge

English Translation: Have a cat in the throat

Meaning: To be unable to speak

Je ne sais pas quoi dire, j’ai un chat dans la gorge,” meaning “I don’t know what to say, I have something in my throat”. The English version is “to have a frog in one’s throat.

7. Avoir le cafard

English Translation: Have a cockroach

Meaning: To feel sad, to be depressed

Je ne sais pas quoi faire. J’ai le cafard à ce moment,” meaning “I don’t know what to do. I’m a bit depressed at the moment.”



8. Revenons à nos moutons

English Translation: Let’s go back to our sheep

Meaning: Let’s go back to the topic at hand.

Alors oublies ça, et revenons à nos moutons“, meaning “forget about that, let’s get back to the topic at hand.” The English version would be “let’s get back on track”.

9. Il fait un temps de chien!

English Translation: It is the time of a dog!

Meaning: To have really bad weather

C’était un peu nul le voyage à Normandie. Il faisait un temps de chien!” meaning “The trip to Normandy was a bit terrible. The weather was dreadful!”

(In case you are looking for stronger language to complain about the weather in Normandy, you can find the top French curse words here.)

10. Poser un lapin

English Translation: To place a rabbit

Meaning: To stand someone up

Non, je ne l’ai pas vu hier, il m’a posé un lapin,” meaning “I didn’t see him yesterday, he stood me up.” (And if you want to tell off that guy who stood you up, you can find top French insults here.)

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So have you “fallen into the apples” yet? If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy reading more funny idioms and French phrases about food, and weird words that are really just sounds.

A bientôt!

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