Our favourite French words & expressions

As much fun as learning a language can be, it can also be really frustrating. Throughout my seven years of learning French at school, I must admit I had more than one of those moments where I wanted to hit the roof… although that may have been due to my French teachers.

Although I disliked French lessons and homework at school, I have to confess that I do actually really like the language. Not only because it’s supposedly the language of love and because it sounds lovely, but also because it’s incredibly funny. Don’t believe me? Here are some examples:

Funiculaire

One of the great things about the French language is that words can look very exciting, thus tricking you into thinking they are referring to something exceptional and spectacular.

Funiculaire unfortunately only refers to a cable car, which is not that exciting at all.

quatre-vingt-dix-neuf = ninety nine

To this day I have always struggled with the way the French count. Literally translated quatre-ving-dix-neuf means 4 times 20 + 10 + 9. So if you are bad at maths, don’t even try counting in French!

Oeuf [œf]

Step 1: Take something as simple as an egg, add an incredibly strange spelling and an even funnier pronunciation and you get oeuf.

Boeuf

Step 2: Take the word for egg, add a “b” and trick people into thinking the two things are related.

I’m sparing you the possible embarrassment on your next trip to France by telling you that there is no actual connection between oeuf and boeuf (=beef).

Ennuyeux

Despite its spectacular spelling – which I always got wrong in school  – ennuyex has a rather boring meaning – which is boring. (That’s the actual translation!).

Doigts des pied

Apparently there are no French words for toes but because there are moments in everyone’s life where it’s inevitable you will talk about them (e.g. whilst getting a pedicure or after breaking one of them and explaining to the doctor where it hurts) the French invented this very cute expression that literally translated means “Feet fingers”.

Talkie-Walkie instead of Walkie-Talkie

I tried to find a logical explanation for this. Then I realized: there isn’t one. So I came up with two possible reasons: a) this was originally a typing error which found its way into everyday-French b) it is just the French trying to be different.

Lunettes & Verre

I already stated that there are no French words for toes but that doesn’t mean that there is a shortage of words in the French language. Did you know that the French differentiate between glasses as in eyeglasses (lunettes) and glasses as in glasses of water (verre)? No? Well, now you know.

Parler le francais comme une vache espagnole

I’m not really sure why the French dislike the Spanish but literally translated this sentence means: speaking French like a Spanish cow. It is used when someone hardly speaks any French… or has a Spanish accent?

1 reply
  1. Polish translator, Poland says:

    There is a logical explanation for “takie-walkie.” It could stem from a difference in sequennce of desciptive elements in both languages. It’s the same in case of complex nouns, especially long names like NATO vs. OTAN. Describing part is at the beginning of the sequence in English, but it is at the end of the phrase in French. Someone could apply native rules to “decoding” English name and made out the French version according to French grammar rules.

    Reply

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