The idea of a “pure” language is merely an abstraction; in reality languages are messy, living, evolving organisms. Despite the best efforts of governing bodies to establish “official languages,” languages grow and change according to the needs and whims of the people speaking them every day.
Case in point: the French language is spoken all over the world, from Europe to West Africa to the Americas. French idioms, whether they are regional or national, all have the same legitimacy as what we French like to call “the language of Molière.” Why? Simply because they are used daily by millions of people. Let’s take a world tour of French idioms:
1. Avoir un gros cou
Translation: To have a large neck.
Meaning: If you’re looking for a handy French expression to describe an overconfident person then you can’t go wrong with this one.
2. Donner une bonne-main
Translation: To give a good hand.
Meaning: If you’ve had a delicious meal at a restaurant and you decide to leave a good tip for your waiter, then as the Swiss-French say you’d be “giving a good hand” to that waiter.
Translation: To Camembert.
Meaning: This phrase perfectly expresses those times when you take decide to take your shoes off after a few hours of sport, a night of dancing, or simply a long day at work. Let’s be honest, there’s no pretty way to say it, but at this point your feet might smell uncannily like fresh Camembert. As far as phrases go, this one is certainly ‘le mot juste’.
4. Avoir la bouche sucrée
Translation: To have a sweet mouth.
Meaning: To be extremely talkative and chatty.
5. Virer son pantalon
Translation: To turn one’s trousers inside out.
Meaning: Used to describe someone who changes their mind about something.
6. Être comme lait et citron
Translation: To be like lemon and milk.
Meaning: Milk and lemon are the polar opposites of each other, therefore this phrase perfectly encapsulates those times when you are finding it hard to get along with someone.
7. Les chiens ne font pas des chats
Translation: Dogs don’t make cats.
Meaning: This expression refers to the fact that children often end up emulating their parents (even if they spend their entire childhood trying to rebel against them). The phrase pops up in other languages too, for example in English you would say that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.
8. (Se) tirer une bûche
Translation: To pull himself a log
Meaning: This expression is used to invite someone to (casually) take a seat