Language Learning

The humor of French slang

French slang uses some pretty colorful imagery that often sounds made up by a team of imaginative five-year-olds (or very dirty 50-year-olds). We list our favorite commonplace French expressions that sound funny when translated into English.

French slang
writer

Updated 15-5-2024

One of the best things about living in a Francophone country is learning the language outside of your language school in Belgium; mostly, it’s slang. This is what makes the difference between navigating the basics of communication and actually integrating. The cherry on top is the ability to display your sense of humor with local flavor.

In every language, idioms and expressions can be so odd that they sound ridiculous to a non-native. French is no different. Let’s get the giggles out of the way so you can use these fabulous French slang expressions in everyday conversations.

Babbel

Start chatting like a local with Babbel. One of the most popular language-learning apps around, it offers many courses, resources, and live online classes. And, with 13 new languages to choose from, Babbel will have the right course for you.

Les doigts dans le nez: fingers in the nose

‘Les doigts dans le nez’ will be one of your first discoveries in French slang. Hopefully, it remains a favorite as it’s not rude and very common. Literally translated, it means “fingers in the nose”, but it really means that something is terribly easy to do. It dates back to the early 20th century, when a horse-race commentator appreciated how easily a jockey had won a race (apparently able to pick his nose on a galloping horse without braining himself).

Garder la pêche: keep the peach

Instead of wishing their peers luck, French people wish them courage. Bon courage may sound mildly ominous, but it can be nice to hear at the end of a long shift at work. If you’d rather use a funny French slang alternative, garde la pêche! (keep the peach) also conveys the idea of wishing someone to gather their strength and channel their energy.

Winning football team
These guys have the peach

Its close cousin, avoir la pêche, can also be used to say that you’re feeling particularly happy, healthy, and enthusiastic about life in general. It’s a sunny day out, you’re back from a long vacation, or your new antidepressants are working wonders? Then you have the peach. Alternatively, if you think peaches are gross, you can also say j’ai la banane – I have the banana.

Chat dans la gorge: cat in my throat

J’ai un chat dans la gorge (there’s a cat in my throat) is French for having a scratchy, sore throat. It more or less translates to “I have a frog in my throat”, which is common in most languages. It obviously wouldn’t work too well as French slang, though, since your French friends would reply, “I hope with a nice garlic butter sauce”.

Coûter bonbon: costing candy

If something is very expensive, it’s apparently as costly as… candy. It’s the equivalent of an arm and a leg in English, which realistically sounds much more expensive than sweets. The origins of this French slang expression are a mystery. However, it has been surmised that bonbon isn’t meant as candy, but something much better: genitals.

Indeed, there are a couple of other expressions that use bonbon to describe male or female private parts. A short skirt can be ras le bonbon (edging the candy). Or, if something is getting really aggravating, you may venture to say that it’s breaking your candies, e.g., your testicles. Ca me casse les bonbons! is much more polite than ça me casse les couilles. In case you ever want to tell your boss that making that Excel spreadsheet is not high on your priority list, this might be one you want to remember.

Avoir une touche: having a keyboard key

Your friend is hitting on a girl at the local pub, and she’s flipping her hair and grazing his arm – well, il a une touche! Let him know, quickly, that it’s dans la poche (in the pocket, e.g., in the bag.)

However, the translation, while funny, is wrong. If touche is now the word for a keyboard key, the expression comes from early 20th-century fishermen. Faire une touche meant that the fish was touching the bait and they were about to fry up dinner.

Se prendre un râteau: getting a rake

You were totally wrong, that girl was not flipping her hair because your friend had une touche; she just wanted to flip her hair, stop imagining things. He made a move and got a glass full of red wine thrown at him: il s’est pris un râteau (he got a garden rake.)

Garden rakes
What a high school party feels like

The image speaks for itself, as you imagine yourself strolling through a lovely garden when you step on a rake and the handle comes right up to smack you on the head. Thankfully, rejection from the object of your affection is way less painful. Or is it?

Chats à fouetter: cats to whip

We don’t know what cats did to French people, between those who get stuck in their throats and those who get a whooping. This old French slang expression dates back to the 17th century when apparently animal cruelty was all the rage.

The expression can mean two things depending on how you phrase it:

  • J’ai d’autres chats à fouetter (I have other cats to whip) means you have many more important things to do than that Excel spreadsheet, for crying out loud.
  • Il n’y a pas de quoi en fouetter un chat (there are no grounds to whip a cat) means that whatever mistake or accident happened is no big deal. Which, as a side note, nicely intersects with “crying over spilled milk”, a favorite feline pastime.

Enculer les mouches: fucking flies in the ass

Okay so this one was probably not the fruit of a child’s overactive imagination, but it’s up there in the colorful department of French slang. To fully understand what enculer les mouches (fucking flies in the ass) really means, just indulge us and picture what the act entails. Yes, a lot of precision work for a result that may just not be that worth it.

So if your boss really insists on that Excel spreadsheet with minute data that nobody will ever use, you can say that his attention to detail pousse le bouchon (pushes the cork) or… defiles some poor insects who just wanted to quietly feast on a stool sample.

For more French expressions, read about French expressions, French terms of endearment, or try out French on one of the following language-learning apps: