Frenchie and the Idio(t)matic Expressions

8 Jun

*** When he brought back his strawberry in the house, he thought she was a super owl girl. Even though she boxed him up, he did not have a tooth against her. He wanted to apologize but had other cats to whip after all. So he put his feet in the plate and sold the wick. Yes, he had been throwing money out of the window for months and knew deep inside that she was leading him by the tip of his nose. When she finally slapped him, he saw 36 candles.

No, you are not reading the detailed account of a crazy frenglish dream. These are just idioms – French idioms – which obviously don’t have the same meaning in English.

A funny zebra (FR) / A peculiar person (ENG)

At least a million blog posts could be written about idioms, their usage and silly examples of mistakes made along the way. According to my trusted Oxford dictionary, an idiom is “a phrase/sentence whose meaning is not clear from the meaning of its individual words and which must be learnt as a whole unit” – meaning these are words or expressions that are grammatically unusual and their meaning cannot be taken literally. In my book, this screams “big belly laughs while learning strange idio(ma)tic expressions.” So if you want to be cool as a cucumber, use your noodle to learn metaphorical expressions and be the cream of the crop.

I am pretty certain that the first idiom French students learn in English class is the famous “it’s raining cats and dogs“, which for a 12 year-old kid is one of the most abstract and bizarre thing to hear. Do English speakers really think that a heavy rain looks like St. Bernards, German Shepherds along with Burmese and Maine Coon cats falling from the sky and crashing on umbrellas? Not pretty. Because the French equivalent “il pleut des cordes” (it’s raining ropes) makes so much more sense… to the French!

It is not pie (FR) / It is not easy (ENG)

For me, learning idioms was like pulling teeth. I was lucky enough to learn straight from the horse’s mouth because of the move to the U.S. – always best to learn a language in the country. At first, it was all Greek to me and I did get cold feet. But I played it by ear, learned and made mistakes, and despite the butterflies in my stomach I tackled this hot potato and had a field day. Now, once in a blue moon, I still stumble on unknown idioms but no need to cry for bloody murder. And to this day, I still make the same mistake when I say that someone’s been pulling my legs… yes, both of them!

[Sorry French readers, I couldn’t help but include a paragraph full of English idioms]

A storm in a teacup (ENG) / A storm in a glass of water (FR)

Idioms are like a fun game to learn and reuse in conversations. It actually makes you sound more “native” and somehow proves that you’ve mastered another intricate level of the language. So what are your favorite idioms in your native language and in the languages you learned? The most difficult idioms to learn or remember? What are the strangest ones you’ve heard? Share in the Comments section below.

*** Translation of the first paragraph

When he showed up at the house, he thought she was a fantastic girl. Even though she pulled his leg, he did not have anything against her. He wanted to apologize but he had other fish to fry after all. So he spilled the beans and let the cat out of the bag. Yes, he had been throwing money down the drain for months and knew deep inside that she had him wrapped around her little finger. When she finally slapped him, he saw stars.

To count your chickens before they are hatched (ENG) / To sell the bear's skin before killing it (FR)


9 Responses to “Frenchie and the Idio(t)matic Expressions”

  1. Bernard June 8, 2011 at 4:03 PM #

    Comme nous sommes la Saint Médard (8 juin)*, j’en ajouterai une couche dans l’idiomatique météorologique : il ne pleut pas que des cordes, il pleut aussi des hallebardes !

    * De mémoire :
    “Saint Médard, grand pissard,
    il pleut 40 jours plus tard
    A moins que Saint Barnabé
    Lui coupe l’herbe sous les pieds”

    Un proverbe et une expression idiomatique en même temps !


  2. Jennifer June 8, 2011 at 7:16 PM #

    I love “In bocca al lupo” in Italian, which means “good luck”, but literally means “in the wolf’s mouth”. I’m sure I know more, but that one is what came instantly to mind.


  3. Odile June 9, 2011 at 7:25 AM #

    Ton blog me donne la pêche !… It gives me the peach ?


    • D'Santo June 9, 2011 at 7:27 AM #



  4. Renate June 22, 2011 at 2:46 AM #

    There’s more than one way to skin a cat!


    • D'Santo June 22, 2011 at 5:48 AM #

      Renate, Thank you for adding this one! Poor kitty! 🙂 In French, depending where you’re from or what your family is used to saying, we don’t use cats but ducks, or rabbits, or horses!


  5. David June 27, 2011 at 5:31 PM #

    Who cut the cheese?



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