Bizarre French Sayings

As a speaker of both French and English, I find the differences in common idioms and expressions very peculiar, especially when translated literally. Whether you just want a good laugh or are interested in different languages, here are a few of my favorite French sayings.

1) GO BOIL YOURSELF AN EGG!

go boil an egg

The French expression “VAS TE FAIRE CUIRE UN OEUF!” dates back to ancient times when a wife’s place was confined to the kitchen. If her husband ever complained about her cooking, her way of telling him to “go to hell” was suggesting he “go boil himself an egg” for dinner since he wasn’t happy. So rather than telling the next telemarketer who calls you to “get lost”, try suggesting he go boil himself an egg instead.

2) DON’T SELL THE BEAR’S SKIN BEFORE YOU KILL THE BEAR

selling bear skin

Dating back to the colonization of Québec by France during the 16th – 18th centuries, this expression makes allusion to the French Canadian coureurs de bois (a.k.a.– “runners of the woods“) trading European artifacts for various beaver and bear furs with the native American tribes. “IL NE FAUT PAS VENDRE LA PEAU DE L’OURS AVANT DE L’AVOIR TUÉ” is a hunter’s take on the farmer’s expression, “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

I am no hunter, but I still like to use the expression to confuse people and it usually makes them laugh.

3) I HAVE OTHER CATS TO WHIP

whipping cats

Sounds awful, I know, but saying “J’AI D’AUTRES CHATS À FOUETTER” has nothing to do with torturing cats. The expression dates back to the 17th century where sayings such as “it’s no reason to whip a cat” were used to refer to unimportant matters. It’s unclear as to why the poor kitties are being whipped in this cruel expression, but the English counterpart, “I have bigger fish to fry”, does make a little more sense since fish is usually cooked (except for avid sushi lovers).

I’d stick to the frying fish expression in this case.

3 Responses to Bizarre French Sayings

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  2. Blondell says:

    Ha ha ha, this blog post made me crack up! I will definitely be using the “boiling an egg expression” when I tell people off!

  3. Kristine says:

    I’ve always wanted to learn French, so thanks for writing this post! You’re a great blogger!

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