The following phrases strike non-French speakers as very funny when taken out of context. While the literal meaning points one way, the contextual meaning points another. When these phrases are learned in context, they are readily accepted. French learners translating with a dictionary will get lots of laughs out of these expressions.
27 October 2012
Ah, la vache!
A very popular expression in France, this expression means ‘Oh my goodness!’ The literal translation, ‘Oh, the cow’ strikes non-native French speakers as downright hilarious.
Aller au charbon
Meaning that you’re up to something very difficult, this phrase is often misinterpreted.
Avoir le cafard
Having a cockroach is an expression that means that you’re feeling down in the dumps.
Avoir une araignée au plafond
Having a spider on the ceiling means the same as the American expression, ‘you have a screw loose’.
Avoir une peur bleue
‘Having a blue fear’ means that you are scared stiff.
Boire comme un trou
What might it mean to ‘drink like a hole?’ This is the French expression for getting extremely drunk.
Casser les oreilles
While the literal translation is ‘breaking someone’s ears,’ this actually means to get on someone’s nerves with too much or the wrong kind of noise. This is a common French phrase in families or student housing for everything from loud music to nagging.
C’est la fin des haricots
While this expression literally means ‘that’s the end of the beans,’ the French meaning is ‘that’s the last straw.’ This expression, used often in exasperation, is quite confusing to French learners until they realize the meaning is not literal.
Entre chien et loup
Literally translating to ‘between the dog and the wolf,’ this expression means ‘dusk or twilight.’
Etre un bon coup
While on the surface it may seem that this expression means ‘being a good hit,’ the meaning actually refers to being good in bed.
Faire un tabac
Being the toast of the town is what this expression means, although it translates to ‘doing a tobacco.’