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Posts tagged ‘Linguistics’

It’s All French to Me

Could this possibly be the reason for my daily struggle with spoken French?

Here is a little something for all you non-native French speakers who may be feeling alone in your attempts to master your tongue and contort your face as you brave life in France. Grab some aspirin and take a peek at the Top French Words You’ll Never Pronounce Right as reported in THE LOCAL FR last month. Go ahead, sit down with a teabag and a steaming mug of hot water from your bouilloire (kettle), if you can pronounce it, that is…

No. 46: Faux Amis

There are so many things I love about learning French. One of my favorite is the chance to collect the funny stories or ridiculous things foreigners say as we plod along in our language classes. It can get particularly silly in French.

Donc, over the past three weeks, I have been compiling a list of faux amis, or false friends, that my classmates and I have incorrectly used in our attempt to communicate with our prof. These are the words that look the same (or nearly the same) in French and English, which foreigners desperately throw into their conversations in hopes of being understood.

Although there are thousands of words that are true cognates or vrai amis in French, I’ve found that sometimes it’s better not to simply throw in the English word, and avoid feeling like un imbécile.

For example, it’s best not to ask an owner of a fruit orchard if she puts préservatifs in her jam, as I’m quite sure she hasn’t been adding condoms to her confiture. Better to say: conservateurs or agent de conservation.

When someone asks you to bring your baskets, don’t go looking for some nice wooden ones, better to head to the closet and pick up your tennis shoes/trainers.

If you are a single male at a bar, you might not want to start the conversation by notifying the ladies that you are un bachelier, unless you want to impress upon them that you did indeed pass the bac (the French equivalent of a high school degree.) Try célibataire instead.

Shopping for some lingerie or undergarments, please don’t ask where the bras are, or you could end up in the storage room with the spare mannequin arms.   Ask for the soutien-gorge instead.

When you go to vote, don’t expect to get un ballot, unless you want to hang out with the nitwits or nerds. If you want to make sure your vote is counted, see if they will rustle you up a un bulletin de vote.

Don’t ever ask someone if you can pet le chien, unless you want them to call the animal welfare agency to ticket you for thumping, beating, or passing gas on their furry friend. You’ll be better off if you simply ask if you can câliner or caresser the little guy.

When you come down with the inevitable autumn cold, don’t tell your prof that you can’t speak because you avoir la flemme, unless you are trying to tell him, “you really can’t be bothered” or you are “just plain lazy”. Rather explain to him that you have la mucosité in your throat.

If you are so sick that you have to go to the doctor, please don’t tell him that you have un pain in your throat, or he might spend the next 30 minutes rooting around for last night’s baguette. (Instead explain that you are mal à la gorge.)

And finally, when you are eating in a restau or café, it’s better not to ask the waiter for more napkins, unless you really need a couple of sanitary pads. Best to ask for une serviette.

So, what are some of the funny Franglais conversations you’ve had with the French? Please send in your comments, I can always use a few more chuckles in my life.


avoir la flemme: can’t be bothered with

baskets: tennis shoes/trainers

bras: arms

câliner: to pet, pat

caresser: to caress, pet

célibataire: (to be) single

confiture: jam

conservateurs, agent de conservation: preservatives

faux amis: false friends

la mucosité: phlegm, mucus

le chien: male dog

mal à la gorge: to have a sore throat

napkins: sanitary pads

pain: bread

pet (péter): to thump, beat, pass gas, fart

préservatifs: condoms

soutien-gorge: bra

un bachelier: someone who has passed the bac (high school degree)

un ballot: a nitwit, nerd

un bulletin de vote: a ballot

un restau: cool way to say restaurant

une serviette: a napkin

vrai amis: real friends


No. 38: Edible Insults en Français

As I soldiered on with my intensive French course today, le prof decided to liven things up by presenting us with a list of insults / reprimands en Français. He taught us some good ones and they are so yummy, I just had to share them with you!

…in keeping with the food theme of last week’s French idioms, all of these insolent phrases continue to pay homage to France’s love of, and connection to, food.


AndouilletteSay for example, you are angry with someone, and you want to be more descriptive than simply calling him/her an idiot, you could say instead:

Espèce d’andouille! (You) piece of sausage!

Une vraie courge!  (What) an utter squash!

Quelle nouille!  What a noodle!

Quelle poire!  What a pear!

 If you want to tell someone to go where the sun don’t shine, you could say:

Va te faire cuire un œuf! Go cook yourself an egg! (Go to hell!)img_0244

Want to tell someone to mind his own beeswax? Try this gem:

Occupe-toi de tes oignons!Mind your own onions!

If you think your colleague is one twist short of a slinky, you might tell your boss:

Elle travaille de la cafetièr.  She’s working from her coffee pot!


Elle pédale dans la choucroute!. She pedals in the sauerkraut!images 2

If you want to criticize a person’s looks you can handily compare them to some common food. For example, you could tell a woman:

Vous avez deux oeufs sur le plat. You have two fried eggs on the plate. (You’re flat-chested.)

Think someone’s ears are too big? Try:

Vous avez des oreilles en chou-fleur.  You have ears made of cauliflowers.

Have a friend who has become a bit pudgy around the middle? How about comparing him to a breakfast bun?

Il a de la brioche.  He has some brioche. (a potbelly)

Do you have a friend who is much taller than the average? You could always call him:

Une grande asperge. A big asparagus.images

Oh, I love this tricky and vivid language! Please let me know if you have come across any other charming food-related insults (and if I have made any mistakes).


Amusez-vous!  Enjoy! / Have fun!

en Français: in French

le prof: the teacher (short for le professeur-informal)




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)