Our 7 favourite, truly bizarre French expressions

MyFrenchLife™ - French expressions - talkingWe’ve all had those disconcerting moments – you’re chatting casually in French when you’re stopped cold by a phrase that sounds so bizarre, out of place and often impolite that you wonder if you’re actually dreaming.

No, (usually) it was just an idiom.

Here is a list of a few of the more bizarre ones to watch out for:

1. Avoir la gueule de bois

Literally translating as ‘to have a wooden face’, this denotes a serious hangover. Featured by Anvari on their own hilarious list, we think it is actually strangely appropriate.

2. Arrêter son char

Another one from Anvari, this is a colloquial way to say ‘stop it’, but literally means ‘stop your chariot’. Internaute suggests that the English equivalent is ‘come off it’ – and this would have been useful knowledge when we instead found ourselves trying to explain that we don’t actually own a chariot…

3. Se faire rouler dans la farine

Coralie L’Enfant featured this idiom in her excellent series on demystifying French expressions, and it’s one of our favourites too.

Literally translating as ‘to be rolled around in the flour’, it means ‘to pull the wool over someone’s eyes’.

MyFrenchLife™ - French expressions - la farine

4. Faire du lèche-vitrine

This couldn’t describe more appropriately the concept of window shopping – translating directly as ‘to window-lick’. As Katerina Forrester explains, the French are obviously just far more realistic about the situation than the Anglophones.

5. C’est le petit Jésus en culotte de velours

This expression is used to describe a good wine or occasionally a good dish, but as The Local explains, it literally means ‘it’s the little Jesus in velvet underpants’. Definitely one to memorise so you don’t find yourself in a fancy restaurant  asking “Where?”.

6. Avoir une araignée au plafond

The Abroad Languages Blog promised that its list of French expressions would have us in stitches, and we have to admit that the image of a spider crawling around in someone’s head is a funny one (even if it does make us shudder).

It means ‘to have a screw loose’, and we think that having a spider crawling around your head’s interior would more than send you loopy.

7. Peigner la girafe

On Globule’s exhaustive list of French expressions you won’t learn at school, this means ‘to do something useless’, illustrated beautifully with the literal translation ‘to comb the giraffe’.

MyFrenchLife™ - French expressions - giraffe

Which bizarre French expressions have you come across? Add your favourites to the comment box below.

Image Credits
1. Talking, by Moyan Brenn, via Flickr. 
2. Illustration by Coralie L’Enfant.
3. Giraffe head close up, by Duncan Rawlinson, via Wikipedia.

About the Contributor

Daisy Naylor

A languages student lucky enough to be living in Paris, I love everything French -literature, film and photography in particular, as well as croissants.

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  1. Myriam Solomon Jan 3, 2015 at 12:45 PM - Reply

    Arrêter son char est une expression utilisée au Canada qui a tendance à s’exprimer en vieux français! Ce n’est pas une expression parisienne.

  2. Ellen Burns Jan 5, 2015 at 9:27 AM - Reply

    These are brilliant Daisy! We often take for granted nonsensical phrases in our own language, and it’s only when we speak to a non-native that we realise how silly these things must sound to others!
    They can usually be vaguely explained… usually. 😛

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