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Franglish idioms: do not get your knickers in a twist!

By Manon Variol

Many of our sentences are a reference to our anatomy. Whether you are talking about somebody’s luck in a very vulgar way or someone's courage, by mentioning his/her behind, or someone being brave, talking about his/her eyes, you can always find an idiomatic phrase referring to animal or human body parts. But, be careful, French expressions are so special that you cannot literally translate them into English. If you intend to say:

Nicolas est vraiment bête comme ses pieds ! Il prendrait des vessies pour des lanternes… En plus, il a un poil dans la main. Bref, il a tout pour plaire.”

Do not translate word for word or you would obtain this:
Nicolas is as dumb as his feet! He could think that bladders are lanterns… Moreover, he has a hair in his hand. Well, he is simply charming, isn’t he?

It would be better to say:
Nicolas never set the world on fire! He thinks the moon is made of green cheese… Moreover, he is bone-idle. Well, he is simply charming, isn’t he?

Where do these expressions come from?

  • "Etre bête comme ses pieds": this is a way of saying that someone is really stupid. The origin of this phrase is quite simple: feet are the body part farthest from the brain. In the 19th century, people thought that feet were the opposite of intelligence. They thus became the symbol of human stupidity. The French have many different comparisons, such as “bête comme une oie” (“as dumb as a gosling”) or “une cruche” (“a jug”). But feet are by far the most stupid for us. Britons would tend to say “He'll never set the world on fire”.
When a French is stupid, he is said to be dumb as his feet
When a French is stupid, he is said to be dumb as his feet
  • "Prendre des vessies pour des lanternes": this means being gullible and mistaken in your judgements. The origin of this expression is not terribly clear. According to a not-so-elegant rumour, this is a reference to beef and pork bladders that were inflated and dried in the 18th century. They were used as containers but also lanterns. They were so thin that a candle light could be seen through it. At this time, merchants told naive people that they were selling lanterns and made them pay high prices. The British expression is more poetic, as it says: “To think the moon is made of green cheese”.
  • Everyone can be bone-idle
    Everyone can be bone-idle
    "Avoir un poil dans la main": someone with a hair in his hand is a really lazy person. The metaphor is easy to understand: someone does not work at all, letting a hair grow in the hollow of the hand. On the contrary, another explanation says that the hair has grown on someone’s palm, making it difficult to work. Yes, it is annoying. In New Caledonia, according to the local expression, lazybones even have a coconut tree in their hand. In Britain, a lazy person is called “bone-idle”.





You can also read : We’ll be there to take you to cloud nine come rain or shine!

You can also read: If you are head over heels for someone
and want to get all lovey-dovey!

You can also read : Holy cow! We let the cat out of the bag!


27/05/2016 - r.p.scales said :

"N'attrapons pas nos nénés dans une essoreuse..." "Let's not get our tits in a mangle."

26/05/2016 - timothy.wood4 said :

I agree with Tim above, world conflagration is too weak. Thick as a brick works. Also beware accusing someone in English of having hairy palms of their hands. This gets into very dangerous territory!

21/05/2016 - franglaisia said :

This is great! I would love it if you could add a regular section to help us English natives with a little explanation of baffling French phrases...not just common phrases but also baffling cultural references and "new coinages" that crop up in the media. I read the press in an effort to improve my French but quite often there are phrases and references that one can't find a translation for anywhere onlinem including via Wordreference or similar sites.
PS "He'd never set the world on fire" means that someone is dull / boring. It might mean they are also stupid - but not necessarily. (Think of lawyers and accountants you might know!). And now of course I'm wondering what the French is for "dull / boring".

13/05/2016 - tim said :

Bête comme ses pieds = thick as a brick ?
'He never set the world on fire' is not quite right!

13/05/2016 - accueil said :

à mourir de rire .... et en plus je ne connaissais pas les expressions en anglais ... donc rigolo et instructif ! à diffuser largement pour mettre un peu de bonne humeur !


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