Let’s get back to our sheep because I have other cats to whip.
Believe it or not, the first sentence actually made sense. Well, to French people anyways.
Did it sound funny and (super) weird? You bet it did. And that’s the whole point!
The French language is full of quirky, funny phrases and expressions that don’t always make sense when translated, and might catch language learners off guard.
And that’s fine. Today you’ll learn about the 10 funniest French expressions you’ve probably never heard of.
Witty ice breakers, stinging one-liners or laugh-out-loud funny phrases. Knowing these will help you get more familiar with the French language, sound more like a native and boost your overall proficiency level.
Shall we start?
What Are the Perks of Learning These Funny French Phrases?
- It’s a breath of fresh air in your learning journey. I think we can agree that learning is way, way easier when it’s actually fun and enjoyable. Duh, I know. Although this seems like a no-brainer, it’s important to keep in mind as you progress.
It’s easy to try going too far, too quickly, particularly when it comes to language learning. And that’s all fun and games until you get burnt out. Bummer.
The solution? Break the monotonous nature of your learning journey with funny French phrases! Laugh, have fun, have a good time. That’s why we’re learning new languages in the first place.
- You’ll be learning real French. As you’re probably aware, the kind of French that’s spoken in everyday conversation in France is often quite different from the formal stuff in your textbook. The French language is full of slang, idioms and yes, quirky expressions as well. And what better way to speak real French than knowing about France’s most eccentric (and authentic) phrases?
- It’ll make for great conversation openers. Being able to communicate your thoughts in a clear way in French is something that you should strive for, and something that’ll eventually make you truly fluent. Obviously, practicing your speaking skills is something that requires two people. Hence why witty conversation openers come in handy!
Breaking the ice with a typical, funny French phrase will make you the center of attention and help you get better at speaking French. Most likely French people will be amazed by your knowledge of their country’s funniest phrases and expressions. And you can go from there!
The 10 Funniest French Phrases You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
En faire tout un fromage
Literal meaning: Make a whole cheese out of it
Translation: To make a big deal of something trivial
Talk about a typical French phrase!
This expression stems from the fact that it’s possible to make something quite elaborate (cheese) out of something simple (milk). Thus en faire tout un fromage basically means blowing something out of proportion.
For example: Je n’en reviens pas qu’il ait fait tout un fromage pour une erreur si minuscule! (I can’t believe he made such a big deal of such a tiny mistake!)
Aller se faire cuire un oeuf
Literal meaning: Go cook yourself an egg
Translation: Stop being annoying/cut it out
The French do love good cuisine, but be careful not to misinterpret what they’re saying if they ever tell you, “Va te faire cuire un oeuf!” (literally: “Go cook yourself an egg!”). Because nope, they probably don’t want you to actually put on an apron and show off your omelette-making skills.
Instead, they might be really angry at you! This expression is basically used when you’re tired of someone’s behavior and just want him or her to drop the act and stop bothering you.
For example: J’en ai marre! Va te faire cuire un oeuf! (I’m getting sick of it! Cut it out!)
It’s a rude phrase that’s only used in familiar contexts. If you’re fed up with your boss’ or teacher’s behavior, for instance, you’d be wise to use a softer expression.
Avoir un chat dans la gorge
Literal meaning: To have a cat in the throat
Translation: To have a sore throat
If your French friend ever tells you he has un chat dans la gorge (a cat in the throat) with a hoarse voice, you should give him some hot lemon water with honey. Don’t accuse him of having devoured a poor, fluffy kitten.
This expression literally translates to “having a cat in the throat,” and means having a sore throat.
Its etymology is quite far-flung, so stay with me here.
See, a long time ago the word maton referred to either fermented milk or lumps that form at the surface of it. By extension it evolved to designate lumps of fiber, wool, paper and the like. Since you usually get phlegm (a lump of sorts) in your throat when it’s sore, French people used to say Il a un maton dans la gorge (He has a maton in the throat).
But the thing is, maton sounds an awful lot like matou, a familiar term meaning “cat.” Eventually people started saying Il a un matou dans la gorge (He has a kitty in the throat), which became Il a un chat dans la gorge (He has a cat in the throat).
Casser du sucre sur le dos de quelqu’un
Literal meaning: Breaking sugar on someone’s back
Translation: Talking badly of someone behind his/her back
Casser du du sucre sur le dos de quelqu’un literally means “breaking sugar on someone’s back.” As you probably guessed, that doesn’t involve actually putting white, sweet, delicious sugar on someone’s back and breaking it with a hammer in sheer anger.
This expression actually involves someone talking badly behind another person’s back.
For instance, someone might say: Michel est venu à la fête d’hier soir et n’a pas arrêté de casser du sucre sur le dos de Fabrice (Michel came to yesterday night’s party and wouldn’t stop talking badly about Fabrice behind his back).
Its origin is subject to interpretation. One theory is that, back when this expression appeared in the 18th century, sucrer quelqu’un meant considering someone as an imbecile. It may also be relevant that since sugar used to be a rare commodity, it wasn’t yet easily found in fine chiseled little blocks, but rather in one big block.
Figuratively speaking, sucrer (put sugar on) thus had to involve casser du sucre (breaking sugar) beforehand.
Okay, makes more sense now!
Faire la grasse matinée
Literal meaning: Do the fatty morning
Translation: Sleep in
Faire la grasse matinée (literally: “Do the fatty morning”) simply means to sleep in. It doesn’t have to involve actual greasy stuff such as donuts and pizza but it definitely can, if eating pizza upon waking up is your thing, that is. I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever done that or anything!
Typically, one would faire la grasse matinée on weekends or vacation, when waking up early for life’s strenous obligations isn’t a necessity.
The term grasse means fatty and is meant to evoke something soft, smooth or mellow.
Much like your comfortable bed on a Sunday morning, basically!
If it’s Saturday night and you feel like sleeping in on the following morning you might say, J’ai envie de profiter de mon week-end. Je pense que je vais faire la grasse matinée demain matin. (I want to enjoy my weekend. I think I’m going to sleep in tomorrow morning.)
Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre
Literal meaning: Wanting the butter and the butter’s money
Translation: Wanting to have your cake and eat it too
This expression would be the French equivalent of “wanting to have your cake and eat it too.” Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre (Wanting to have the butter and the butter’s money) means wanting everything.
This popular phrase has been said to stem back to the late 18th century. It was common sense for peasants back then not to expect keeping the butter they just sold on top of the money they made off it.
If you ever talk with French people you might hear the longer version of it, which is: Vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et le cul de la crémière (Wanting the butter, the butter’s money and the female creamer’s ass).
Please do keep in mind this version is super familiar. You might hear it from your drunk French uncle at a family dinner but you’d be wise not to use it in somewhat formal settings!
Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter
Literal meaning: Having other cats to whip
Translation: Having more important or pressing things to do
Who in their right mind would want to whip poor kittens?! Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter (To have other cats to whip) means having better or more urgent things to do, and is the equivalent of the expression “to have other fish to fry.”
The latter is somewhat coherent since most fish are meant to be eaten, but what about its French equivalent? Its etymology is quite obscure, which should make one baffled since for most sane people “cats” and “whip” don’t particularly go hand in hand.
Although Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter is quite current in everyday French, please note that we French people actually love cats. A lot!
Revenir à ses moutons
Literal meaning: To go back to one’s sheep
Translation: To go back to the initial point of the conversation
Revenir à ses moutons (Go back to one’s sheep) means going back to what actually was the point of the conversation.
For instance, if you’re picking your friend’s brain for her opinion on the romcom you just saw, and she somehow gets going on a tangent about tea pricing strategies in Venezuela, you might want to tell her to revenir à ses moutons!
This expression stems back from a 15th century theater piece titled “La farce de Maître Pathelin” (“Master Pathelin’s Trick”).
The protagonist, Pathelin, seeks to deceive Guillaume, a trader and sheep keeper, in order to buy some cloth at a low price. When it’s time to hand out the cash, Pathelin pretends to faint and rave. Guillaume, confused, starts wondering if the transaction really did happen.
Later on, another man, Thibault, seizes the opportunity to steal all of Guillaume’s sheep! The latter, furious, seeks justice at the courthouse but keeps mixing up the story of the cloth with the one of the sheep. The judge, annoyed, promptly asks him to go back to his sheep!
The expression has kept its original meaning since then.
Péter plus haut que son cul
Literal meaning: To fart higher than one’s own ass
Translation: To act in a pretentious way
If the French are good at one thing, it’s creatively rude expressions. Consider this one: Péter plus haut que son cul (To fart higher than one’s ass). On top of being a seemingly physically impossible feat, this phrase doesn’t make much sense at first glance.
And that’s actually the point of this expression. Since you can’t really evacuate gas out of anywhere other than the natural orifice… péter plus haut que son cul refers to something that’s impossible to do. More precisely, it means acting in a pretentious way and coveting a social status or situation out of reach given one’s lack of skills or motivation.
Beware though, as this expression is particularly informal.
If your arrogant aunt Debbie is hoping to become the CEO of the company she works for despite being a terrible employee, you might say: Ma tante Debbie pète vraiment plus haut que son cul! (My aunt Debbie really is full of herself!).
Tomber dans les pommes
Literal meaning: To fall in the apples
Not feeling well? A bit dizzy? The French might say you’re about to tomber dans les pommes (fall in the apples). It basically means fainting.
A likely explanation for this phrase dates back to the 19th century. Prominent French writer George Sand once sent a letter to Madame Dupin in which she describes her severe state of fatigue as being dans les pommes cuites (in the cooked apples).
It appears the meaning has evolved over time to finally become the expression that’s known nowadays by French people.
For example: Il était si fatigué qu’il en est tombé dans les pommes. (He was so tired he fainted.)
You’re now more immersed in French culture. To be fair, your head might be spinning from all those odd and funny phrases you just got familiar with.
You’re now ready to make your French friends laugh and be amazed at your knowledge of the funniest French phrases around.
Hope you had fun!