English-French Idioms

German is not the only language with some idioms that sound ridiculous when translated into English! Here is a selection of my favourite french idioms 🙂

C’est pas tes oignons

What does this phrase mean? None of your onions! Err, I mean business. And I know some of you, like me with only GCSE-level French, will be wondering why there is no ‘ne’, but I can assure you that it is apparently common in informal French (and hence why you probably weren’t taught it in your formal French lessons!)

Avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre:

Literally it means ‘to have the butter and the money from the butter’ and so the corresponding English phrase is obviously ‘to have one’s cake and eat it’. It’s actually quite a new phrase with its origin unknown, but ‘beurre’ did used to be slang for money, rather like the English equivalent of ‘dough’!

Mettre sa langue dans sa poche

Whether anyone really has the physical capabilities required to carry out the instruction of putting their tongue in their pocket is beyond me – although I suppose it is no less silly than the literal meaning of to hold one’s tongue!

Quand les poules auront des dents

This phrase should probably be made redundant due to a study in 2006 that found that although rare, there are some mutant chickens born each year with teeth, and with advancements in gene therapies it probably is quite possible to engineer chickens with teeth, whereas I am pretty certain pigs that can fly are still a way off!


Raconter des salades

At first glance it seems, to me atleast, quite confusing as to why the french version of to tell lies/to spin yarns translates literally as to tell salads, but Laura K. Lawless from about.com expained the reasoning well; ”..it offers a great image. Start with a bed of lettuce background, add some tomato and carrots for color, flesh it out with a bit of ham or chicken, and dress it up with vinaigrette for a delicious and believable story. ”

Vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué

The French join sides with the Germans with this idiom, as it once again comes from a hunter’s point of view, and means to not sell the bear skin before killing the bear, compared to our farmer’s equivalent of not counting the chickens before they’ve hatched.

Passer comme une lettre à la poste

I’m not sure what the french postal service is like, but I don’t think a phrase comparing the Roayl Mail to everything going smoothly would work as well in this country!


One thought on “English-French Idioms

  1. Vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué is an interesting one! In the song ‘Rue de la Paix’ Zazie plays on this idiom saying ‘je vends la peau avant de l’avoir tué’ to fit in with the concept of materialism slightly more emphatically!

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