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Posts tagged ‘French Idioms’

NO. 237: It’s Raining Ropes and Other Such Things

I think I am getting my comeuppance for posting so much about our long and warm fall and our early and bright spring.


We have definitely hit a rainy spell in France……and by rain, I mean “cats and dogs” type of rain. Which of course got me to thinking about the equally vivid, but much less random French phrase, il pleut des cordes, or it is raining cords, as in, there is so much rain, the drops have joined together like long thin ropes dangling between the heavens and earth.


Which is much more poetic than “cats and dogs”, especially now that I’ve researched the genesis of that not-so-whimsical-to-me-anymore phrase. There are of course many different theories about the origins of our four-footed friends tumbling from the skies. They most fanciful being that in the olden-days thatched roofs couldn’t support perched animals in the rain and they literally fell through your roof when it rained. The phrase more likely originates from inferior seventeenth century drainage systems, where heavy rains washed dead and decaying cats, dogs, rats, and birds stuck in the gutters onto the streets.

A less grim and more agreeable explanation (and one that will please francophiles) is that the phrase “cats and dogs” is merely a mispronunciation of an old French word: “catadupe” which meant “waterfall”. And raining waterfalls makes a heck of a lot more sense, and conjures a much more pleasant image than cats and dogs plummeting to the ground.

Of course the French do have their less polite way to describe the weather we have been having for the past few weeks: Il pleut comme vache qui pisse: It’s raining like a pissing cow.

But remember:

Après la pluie le beau temps!

Every cloud has a silver lining!

(literally, after the rain, the nice weather)


Here are a few more of my favorite European expressions describing buckets of rain:

The Danes would say: Det regner skomagerdrenge: It’s raining cobbler boys/shoemakers’ apprentices.

You might hear a German say: Es regnet junge Hunde: It’s raining puppies.

In Greece, it rains chair legs, of course: Brékhei kareklopódara.

And our Norwegian friends just might tell you: Det regner trollkjerringer: It’s raining troll women/witches.




No. 165: Idioms/Expressions with our Second Favorite Furry Four-footed French Friend

I’m not a cat person. I never have been. I’m highly allergic to cats, so that doesn’t help matters. I’m also a very sensitive soul, which means, when a cat snubs me, I take it personally. Never a big fan of aloofness, felines aren’t generally my cup of tea…

…except maybe this gorgeous Parisian cat, who could possibly steal a petite corner of my heart if I spent enough time with her.


For Lily’s sake and for all you cat lovers, as promised, I’ve uncovered a few French expressions which incorporate your favorite furry four-footed friend. As my morning has been packed, I’ve only had a wee bit of time to devote to les chats, but my initial observation is that cats could use a little more respect en France, at least linguistically.

There seems to be some greed and gluttony and whipping and scalding associated with our French feline friends. Par exemple:

  • il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat: literally, there’s nothing to whip a cat about, or, it’s not worth worrying about.
  • avoir d’autres chats à fouetter: to have other cats to whip, or as we might say, to have other fish to fry.
  • chat échaudé craint l’eau froide: literally, (a) scalded cat fears cold water, or en anglais, once bitten, twice shy.

In regards to behavior, one can be:

  • gourmande comme un chat: greedy or gluttonous like a cat

While some things can be:

  • C’est du pipi de chat: literally, this is cat’s pee, or it’s pathetic, a waste of time, or tastes terrible or weak (referring to coffee or other drinks)…please do not use this phrase, it’s not very polite.

Cats have also found their way to the mouths and throats of the French, as in:

  • Donner sa langue au chat: to give one’s tongue to the cat, or to give up, stop guessing, (as when you can’t think of anything else or what the right answer might be).
  • While we have a frog in our throats when we’ve lost our voice and it’s croaky, the French have un chat dans la gorge, which really must be hard to talk through.

If you are super busy, one can:

  • faire une toilette de chat: wash oneself quickly, or give oneself a lick and a promise.

But thankfully, you can also be (like Lily):

  • amoureuse comme une chatte: very affectionate

Donc, I think we better ne réveillez pas le chat qui dortlet sleeping dogs lie, or as the French say, not wake the sleeping cat.

No. 164: Idioms/Expressions with our Favorite Furry Four-footed French Friend


Two dog things happened today.

One, I came across a great dog related French expression, and two, while playing ball with mon petit chien at the Champ de Mars, I realized how much joy pets add to our lives (and even the lives of some solemn locals who aren’t habitual smilers).

The literal meaning of the expression I came across in a French fashion magazine: avoir du chien—to have some dog, sent me searching for my French-English dictionary. It turns out that when you “have some dog”, you are attractive or have that certain (indescribable) something about you. I want to have me some dog!

Well that made me smile, and want to find out what other French sayings incorporate our favorite furry four-footed friend.

Here are a few of the funnier ones I came across just now:

  • arriver comme un chien dans un jeu de quille: to turn up when least desired or expected, to show up at the worst possible moment; literally, to arrive like a dog in a bowling game. I like the fact that the French have the dog showing up, of all places, at a bowling alley.
  • chiens écrasés: newspaper articles that serve as filler, literally crushed dogs. This one I need to explore further. Can anyone help me out? What is the correlation between squashed dogs and fluff pieces in the media?
  • un chien vivant vaut mieux qu’un lion mort: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; literally, a live dog is worth more than a dead lion. Mais, oui. je suis d’accord.

And of course, my favorite:

  • les chiens ne font pas des chats: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; literally, dogs don’t make cats. Well, that’s for darn tooting sure….

…sorry cat-loving readers, but I promise a post tomorrow on expressions with our second favorite furry four-footed friend…and s’il vous plaît remember: Qui m’aime aime mon chien. 


Mais, oui. je suis d’accord: Oh, yes. I agree.

mon petit chien: my little (male) dog

Qui m’aime aime mon chien: love me, love my dog; literally, he who loves me loves my dog


No. 108: Idioms from the Bakery


Bread. Glorious bread…

One of the many things France does right is bread. There are so many different types of bread to choose from in the boulangeries, it can get overwhelming at times. I had planned to do an extensive homage to bread this month, mais malheureusement, je suis au régime, and bread is one of my biggest weaknesses.

Donc, you will have to settle today for what I hope will be fun: idioms from the bakery or idiomes de pain.

Now, the first thing to know about bread is the French word for it: pain. No it is not p-a-i-n, as in agony, affliction, grief, heartache, and misery, but pain as in let’s-mix-some-flour-yeast-and-water-together-and-get-baking, and rather “Frenchily” pronounced: “pehn”.

One of my favorites expressions with “pain” which I hear the little boys shouting in my apartment corridors: Je vais au pain! Literally: I go to the bread, but meaning: I’m going to get the bread!

And we all need to get the bread. Bread is life, bread is sustenance, and bread is also clever when in the mouths of the French. Come have a taste.

Some happy exclamations:

C’est pain bénit! (This is blessed bread.) It’s a godsend!

Bon comme (du) bon pain! (Good like good bread) Extremely good!

Nul pain sans peine! (No bread without penalty) No pain, no gain!

A tragic saying:

If my father-in-law is a plus de la moitié de son pain cuit (his bread is more than more than half baked), sadly he won’t live long.

Are you a worrier?

Don’t tell your mother you’re avoir peur de manquer de pain (fear running out of bread) worried about the future.

Regarding money:

If your son has a job, he gagne son pain (earns his bread), make his living.

If you are a good bargain hunter, you can pick up something pour une bouchée de pain (for a mouthful of bread) cheap, or for a song.

If you are a lousy bargain hunter, you manger un pain trempé de larmes (eat bread soaked in tears), pay a lot for something.

If your product se vendre comme des petits pains (sell like rolls), it’s selling like hotcakes.

It’s bad if you être à l’eau et au pain sec (to be given only water and bread) because you are bankrupt.

Regarding work:

If you avoir du pain sur la planche (have bread on the board), you have a lot on your plate.

Looking for a doughy insult? Try these:

If somebody vendre son pain avant qu’il ne soit cuit (sell his bread before it is baked), they are a bit presumptuous or in American-speak, they “count their chickens before they’ve hatched.”

If your brother ne vaut pas le pain qu’il mange (doesn’t want the bread he eats), he is lazy.

If someone or something is à la mie de pain (the breadcrumbs), they are worthless, or unreliable.

If your friend mange son pain en son sac (eats his bread in his bag) he does it on the sly, and might not be trustworthy.

If your girlfriend pleure le pain qu’elle mange (cries the bread that she eats), she’s stingy.

Politicians may be accused of enlever à quelqu’un le pain de la bouche (take the bread from someone’s mouth) depriving someone of their livelihood.

If you savoir de quel côté son pain est beurré, (know which side your bread is buttered on), you are an opportunist.

Et enfin:

If you faire passer le goût du pain à quelqu’un (take away the taste of bread from somebody), you do them in, knock them off, or take them out, (kill them)…

…and then, I guess they are toast!




boulangeries: bakeries

donc: so, therefore

idiomes de pain: bread idioms

Je vais au pain! I’m going to get the bread!

mais malheureusement, je suis au régime: but unfortunately I’m on a diet.

pain: bread


With special thanks to my French teacher Nicolas and my classmates, and, please let us know where we went wrong.

No. 35: French Idioms: Fruits et Legumes

Steve Martin, Good Cop, Bad Cop, The Pink Panther, 2006

Steve Martin, Good Cop, Bad Cop, The Pink Panther, 2006

“Bizu: And now he’s pushing up the daisies.

Inspector Jacques Clouseau: He is not ‘pushing up the daisies,’ he is DEAD!

Bizu: (glares) It’s an idiom!

Inspector Jacques Clouseau: You, sir, are the idiom.”

Steve Martin and William Abadie, The Pink Panther, 2006

I’ve just started an intensive French course, so don’t be surprised if November’s post are a bit heavy on new vocabulary and sayings. Today our class spent the afternoon learning about French idioms, particularly those with references to food. Et bien sûr, le French adore eating and cooking so it only makes sense that their language is flavored with the stuff meals are made of…

…here are some of my favorites:


J’ai la pêche! I feel great! (I have the peach; I’m peachy)

Couper la poire en deux: to meet someone halfway; (to cut the pear in two)

Sucrer les fraises: to be a bit nutty; (to sugar the strawberries)

Se prendre une prune: to take a punch/hit, or get a speeding ticket; (to take a plum—perhaps the purple skin resembles a bruise?)

Tomber dans les pommes: to faint/pass out; (to fall in the apples)

Avoir la banana: to have a big smile; (to have the banana)

Etre la bonne poire: to be easily tricked/duped, to be too trusting (to be a good pear- ripe for the picking)

Avoir un coeur d’artichaud: to be tender-hearted, to fall easily in love; (to have the heart of an artichoke)


Appuyer sur le champignon: to drive very fast, speed, accelerate; (to press on the mushroom)

Raconter des salades: to tell lies or exaggerated stories; (to tell salads)

Ne plus avoir un radis: to have no money, to be broke; (to no longer have any radishes)

Les carottes sont cuites: it’s all over, nothing more can be done; (the carrots are cooked)

Mon petit chou: a term of endearment; (my little cabbage)