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The Nuanced Beauty of French Idioms

As a nation of pet lovers, our adoration for our tiny, furred children has permeated all aspects of our life, including, it seems, the weather. When we Brits look to the skies and see the oh-so-familiar sight of rain, we apparently think it’s raining cats and dogs.


The French on the other hand can always be relied upon to forgo our sentimentalities, and instead simply think that il tombe des cordes. If England isn’t subject to its habitual downpours of strings, then it will most definitely faire un froid de canard.


Unfortunately, Donald Duck doesn’t usually make an appearance for 364 days of the year in England (I’m excluding our annual day of sunshine!), but please, ne pas avoir la cafard. No. Don’t be frightened of that insect - the French telling you not to have the cockroach is their way of imploring you not to be sad.


Remember though, what the French do with their idiomatic expressions, ce n’est pas tes oignons. Given her reputation as a global gastronomic hotspot, it follows that at least some of France’s idioms adopt this love for all things food.


Unless you have les yeux plus gros que le ventre and have bought more onions than you could possibly ever use, reminding someone that it’s not their onions is more commonly used in French to let someone know when they ramène sa fraise, and are getting involved in stuff that is none of their beeswax.


Now, if the French language didn’t remuer le couteau dans le plaie and prove their logic by sticking to the culinary theme, they wouldn’t be dans son assiette. As if they were rubbing salt in the wound, France clearly has to display its intellectual prowess by sticking to this thematic structure of food or else they would be feeling a bit under the weather, and run the risk of being une poule mouillée for not proving to the world their intelligence; the fear of being considered a wet chicken is apparently too real for the French - no one likes being called a coward.


I assure you right now that I ne raconte pas des salades with this lovely conversation on idioms. I’m not spinning any yarns in a bid to make you believe me. The French clearly love order and logic, even when it comes to expressions.


However, never fear because the French sometimes ont les chevilles qui enflent and forget that even they sautent du coq à l’âne. Don’t worry, the French language is usually in perfect health and doesn’t always have swollen ankles, though it can be quite full of itself when jumping from the cockerel to the donkey, or, in common folk terms, when going off on a tangent.


For fear that nous lui courons sur le haricot, I should perhaps end here with my discussion of the beauty of French idioms, in case I’m running on beans and getting on their nerves. If this talk of expressions has tired out your brain, faire la grasse matinée: make a fat morning tomorrow and have a lie in.

About The Author: Sara is an Olea Ambassador (Team 1.0, March - Sept 2023) and is currently pursuing a BA in English Literature and French at the University of Manchester. She speaks English, Arabic and French.

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