What’s your favourite French expression?

Posted on Friday, February 24, 2017

By Mireille Piche

The Gazette called on readers to submit their favourite French expression, and the response was great! Here’s a list of the top 20 French expressions submitted to us. Since March is Mois de la francophonie, we’re publishing two versions of this article — one in French for francophones and one in English for the francophiles in the crowd (with a literal translation in parentheses). An equivalent English expression is also provided.

1. Se péter les bretelles (to snap your suspenders): To toot your horn

2. Avoir du pain sur la planche (to have bread on the breadboard): To have lots on your plate 

3. Pelleter des nuages (to shovel clouds): Pie in the sky; castles in the air 

4. Se tirer une bûche: (grab a log and sit down): Pull up a chair 

5. Gadonbin (a phonetic and familiar rendering of regarde donc bien): Check it out! 

6. Être heureux comme un poisson dans l’eau (happy like a fish in water): To take to (something) like a duck takes to water; to be as happy as a pig in mud 

7. Avoir le cœur sur la main (to have your heart in your hand): To give the shirt off your back 

8. Histoire à dormir debout : (a story that makes someone fall asleep standing up): A tall tale 

9. Poser un lapin (to put a rabbit to/on someone): To be a no-show 

10. Qui va à la chasse perd sa place (he who goes to hunt loses his place): Move your feet, lose your seat 

11. Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter : (to have other cats to whip): To have other fish to fry 

12. Il n’y a pas le feu au lac (there’s no fire at the lake): Where’s the fire? (i.e., what’s your hurry?)

13. Pierre qui roule n’amasse pas mousse: A rolling stone gathers no moss 

14. Voir la vie en rose (to see life in pink): To see (or look) at something through rose-coloured glasses 

15. Jamais deux sans trois (never two without three): Good (or bad) things always come in threes 

16. Le tir et… le but: He shoots, he scores!

17. Arriver comme un chien dans un jeu de quilles (to arrive like a dog in a bowling lane): To be like a bull in a china shop 

18. En avoir ras-le-bol (I have it up to my head): I’ve had it up to here (with a motion to the top of the head) 

19. Sainte-nitouche (untouchable saint, pejorative): A goody-goody; holier-than-thou 

20. Un fou dans une poche (a lunatic in his or her pocket): To be crazy to do (or not do) something   


Sources: Collins Robert French Dictionary, WordReference.com, Wictionary.org

This article was first published on March 5, 2014. Martine Batanian and Kim Nesbitt with Language Services assisted with editing and translation as well as the research. 

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