Living Vicariously As A Peripatetic Shutterbug

{ More musings from the Cantankerous Old Mule }

Twenty one bizarre French sayings (when translated directly into English)

All languages have their funny little sayings. These are a few of the strange expressions I’ve come across in France (some more common than others). Just imagine any of these being used in normal conversation, and the look of confusion on my face …

To speak French like a Spanish cow: To butcher the French language. (Parler Français comme une vache espagnole!)


To have the cockroach: To be depressed. (Avoir le cafard)

Let’s return to our sheep: Let’s get back to the subject. (Revenons à nos moutons)

To have a sore heart: To be nauseous. (Avoir mal au cœur)

To fall in the apples: To faint. (Tomber dans les pommes)


Make the fat morning: To sleep in. (Faire la grasse matinée)

To break sugar on someone’s back: To criticize someone behind their back. (Casser du sucre sur le dos de quelqu’un)

There’s water in the gas: Here comes trouble/people are about to start arguing. (Il y a de l’eau dans le gaz)

Recounting salads: To spin a yarn/to lie. (Raconter des salades)


As round as the tip of a shovel: three sheets to the wind/very drunk. (Rond comme une queue de pelle)

To have one’s butt between two chairs: to be torn between two options/a difficult choice to make. (Avoir le cul entre deux chaises)

Take the fly (the blue-arsed kind): To lose one’s temper/fly off the handle. (Prendre la mouche)

Take his legs to his neck: To run really fast. (Prendre ses jambes à son cou)

Eating dandelions by the roots: Pushing up daisies/Dead. (Manger les pissenlits par la racine)

It’s nickel: Wonderful/Perfect/Couldn’t be better. (C’est nickel)

Get up with a bad foot: Get up on the wrong side of the bed. (Se lever du mauvais pied)

To have one’s fingers in the nose: As easy as pie/like taking candy from a baby. (Les doigts dans le nez)



Like a Scottish shower: Having a day of ups and downs. (Comme une douche écossaise)

You are breaking my feet: You’re irritating me. (Tu me casses les pieds)

Push the mushroom: Put your foot down/go faster. (Appuyer sur le champignon)

He’s not in his plate: He’s a bit off colour. (Il n’est pas dans son assiette)



10 comments on “Twenty one bizarre French sayings (when translated directly into English)

  1. Ritu
    March 16, 2016

    So funny when you translate literally! !!

  2. Tish
    March 16, 2016

    I love the water in the gas, and the Scottish shower (where did that come from?).

  3. Andy
    March 16, 2016

    I love the dandelions one. Makes sense!

  4. phildange
    March 16, 2016

    The Scottish shower comes from a therapeutic technique of the XIXth century, alternation of hot and cold water, similar to Finnish alternation of sauna and rolling in the snow ..
    I’d like tell the author that her translation of “There’s water in the petrol” is not accurate . Here gaz means gas, not a liquid such as petrol .
    And ” Raconter des salades” is grammatically translated by “recounting salads”, not “the salad” . The indefinite article “des” is the plural of “un/une” and don’t mean “the”, even less “the + singular” .

    • Robin
      March 16, 2016

      Well, thank you for correcting me, it was very sloppy of me not to get it exactly right! I have corrected them, of course. And thank you too for the explanation…

      • phildange
        March 16, 2016

        Don’t worry, it’s brilliant for a foreigner to know all these colloquial phrases . There’s one I particularly like, one of the 1000 ways we have to say “making love” :

        it is ” Regarder les feuilles à l’envers”, literally “watching the leaves upside down” . I like this one because it is kind of poetic, suggesting images of love in the countryside, outside in summer .

  5. kvennarad
    March 16, 2016

    I have to correct one phrase, which I was taught by my grandmother:

    “Parler Français comme une vache Espagnol” – no final ‘e’ – means, with a lot of ellipsis, “To speak French like a cow speaks Spanish.”

    • phildange
      March 17, 2016

      Ehm … I’m afraid your new interpretation is original … I’m French and I always read “une vache espagnole”, speaking a bad French like an Alien, but even worse, like an alien animal . This must come from th South-West of France where Spanish bullfighting is a tradition, using Spanish bred bulls .

  6. Bianca
    March 17, 2016

    In Switzerland we have a saying very similar to the “getting up with a bad foot” one: “Uf em linke Fuëss uf-stah.” Getting up on your left foot.
    I wonder where it started, since there seems to be a similar phrase in French, Englisch, Swiss German (and maybe German).

  7. There_Lot
    March 17, 2016

    Her translation is wrong..haha Robin shift the blame to her…whoever she may be…funny…made me laugh.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on March 16, 2016 by in Humour, Travel and tagged , , , , , .
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