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Idioms: How to “hit the nail on the head” when you come to Paris

You’re probably fully aware of what an idiom is. Idioms, to «cut a long story short», are expressions that mean one thing literally and another figuratively. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most commonly used idioms in French and English and how they can be translated, both literally and figuratively….

Every language has its own set of idioms and nuanced expressions. Understanding and employing such expressions in your mother tongue is one thing, but interpreting them in a foreign language is something completely different.
Unfortunately, both French and English happen to be highly idiomatic languages, which can lead to amusing confusions and misunderstandings.

French → English Idioms

Faire l’andouille → lit. to make the sausage (to do something ridiculous)
Avoir la gueule de bois → lit. to have a wooden mouth (to have a hangover)
S’occuper de ses oignons → lit. to take care of one’s onions (to mind your own business)
Poser un lapin → lit. to put down a rabbit (to stand someone up)
Pisser dans un violon → lit. to piss in a violin (to waste time on something)
Donner sa langue au chat → lit. to give one’s tongue to the cat (to fail to answer)
Manger sur le pouce → lit. to eat on the thumb (to grab a bite to eat)
Coûter les yeux de la tete → lit. to cost the eyes of your head (to cost an arm and a leg)
Avoir le cafard → lit. to have the cockroach (to feel depressed)
Coup de foudre → lit. flash of lightening (love at first sight)
Pleuvoir des cordes → lit. to rain ropes (to rain cats and dogs)
Devenir chèvre → lit. to become a goat (to go bananas)
En faire tout un fromage → lit. to make a whole cheese about it (to fuss about something)
La nuit porte conseil → lit. the night brings advice (you should sleep on it!)
Revenir a ses moutons → lit. to return to one’s sheep (to get back to the subject at hand)
Faire l'andouille





English→ French Idioms

To cut the mustard → lit. couper la moutarde (être a la hauteur)
To steal someone’s thunder → lit. voler la tonnerre de quelqu’un (voler la vedette)
Basket case → lit. l’affaire du panier (être cingle/tare)
To spill the beans → lit. renverser les haricots (tout avouer/vendre la mèche)
To take something with a pinch of salt → prendre avec une pincée de sel (ne pas prendre qch au pied de la lettre)
By the skin of one’s teeth → lit. par la peau des dents (se jouer à un cheveux près)
To have a chip on your shoulder → lit. avoir un morceau de bois sur l’épaule (être aigri)
To be over the moon → lit. être sur la lune (être aux anges)
Out of the blue → lit. du bleu (de nulle part/a l’improviste)
Break a leg! → lit. cassez une jambe! (bonne chance!)
To let the cat out of the bag → lit. laisser sortir le chat du sac (tout avouer/vendre la mèche)
To hit the sack → lit. frapper le sac (to go to bed)
To be barking up the wrong tree → lit. aboyer sur le mauvais arbre (suivre une fausse piste)
Bent out of shape → lit. courbé hors de forme (s’énerver/se mettre en colère)
Off the hook → lit. hors du crochet (tiré d’affaires)
Are you coming to Paris and hoping to improve your idiomatic grasp of “la langue française”? Well, now “the ball is in your court”.
Why not try out a few of these expressions whilst discovering the extraordinary French capital? Then you can “faire d’une pierre deux coups- kill two birds with one stone!”
But try not to “avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre- bite off more than you can chew”. Remember, there are thousands of quirky, nuanced French idioms out there. We’ve barely “effleuré le sujet- scratched the surface!”
If you want to know more about idiomatic expressions in French, check out our article on French idiomatic expressions!