French Language Blog

Street French I – Animal Language Posted by on Oct 15, 2008 in Vocabulary

If you want to become fluent in French, you must learn all types of vocabulary including the kind that is not necessarily found in most textbooks, but which you will find on the street as you talk to French-speaking people.  Today, we’ll talk about some popular French terms including slang, idioms, colloquialisms, etc. that are animal-related, but not necessarily in meaning. 

First, just like in English you can say that a man is an animal.  Il est un animal.

Une bête is literally an animal or a beast.  But, it is often used in some form in colloquial French.  For example, as an adjective it means ‘foolish’ or “stupid” as in Elle est vraiment bête (She is really foolish).
Ne fait pas de bêtises!  “Don’t do stupid things!”
(ne pas être) aussi bête qu’on en a l’air è not to be as dumb as one looks
Elles ne sont pas aussi bêtes qu’elles en a l’air  They aren’t as dumb as they look” 

Now, moving onto specific animals…
Let’s start with ‘duck’ or canard.

Colloquially, un canard can mean a hoax.  For example ‘un canard publicitaire’ means a publicity stunt.
Faire un froid de canard means it is very cold.
Il fait un froid de canard. “It’s very cold.” 

Likewise, temps de chien means “bad weather”
Il fait un temps de chien  “The weather is really bad.” 

Then, there are the expressions with ‘pig’ or cochon.
Un cochon can mean a pig in the same colloquial sense as it is used in English as in somebody who is very messy or says nasty things is un cochon.
Faire un temps de cochon means the weather is really crappy
Il fait un temps de cochon. “The weather is really crappy.” 

There are other expressions with ‘horse’ or cheval.
tre à) cheval sur quelque chose means to be a stickler for something
Je suis à cheval sur l’ordre.  “I’m a stickler for cleanliness.”
(avoir une) fièvre de cheval means to have a high fever
Ma petite fille a une fièvre de cheval.   “My little girl has a very high fever.” 

A “goat” or une chèvre can mean an ugly woman or girl.
A “bird” or un oiseau can mean “a guy”.
A “hen” or une poule can mean ‘darling” as in ma petite poule or “my little sweetheart”.
A “mouse” or une souris can mean “a woman” or “a girl”.
A “zebra” or un zèbre can mean a “guy” or a weirdo” as in un drôle de zèbre

Then, there’s the monkey or singe.
On n’apprend pas à un vieux singe à faire la grimace is the same as the American expression “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” 

There’s the expression with sheep or des moutons Revenons à nos moutons “Let’s get back to what we were talking about.” 

And finally, there’s the cow or vache.
La vache! means “Wow!”  much like we say in English “Holy cow!”
Vache when used as an adjective can mean “nasty” or “mean”.  For example, Ma copine a été vache envers moi meaning “My girlfriend was mean to me.” 

Connaissez-vous d’autres expressions ?  Partagez-les dans un commentaire!

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  1. Jess:

    Hey Chanda,
    Well this article on Street French is even delicious!!
    I’d love to read more of these.. They’re very informative!!
    Thanks Again :).. A plus!

  2. Chanda:

    Hi Jess, I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found it helpful! As you may have noted, I named that article Street French I because my plans are to write more articles on Street French as I find slang and idioms to sometimes be a roadblock to understanding native speakers and unlocking them or bulldozing them down was extremely helpful to me when living in Paris.

  3. Jim:

    This article is so helpful when first visiting the French-speaking world. The term “vachement” was used so commonly. I knew it was an adverb, but it took me a while to realize the actual meaning. “Cowly” I knew couldn’t be correct :).

  4. Jim:

    One I love is:
    Vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué. (Sell the skin of a bear before having killed it). This is used just like Count chickens before they hatch in English. Sometimes said without the last half (also as we do in English), so “Ne vends pas la peau de l’ours!”

  5. Chanda:

    I’m glad you think the article would be helpful, Jim. I’m with you on the ‘vachement’ thing…my friends say it all the time! Like “C’est vachement bien!” when talking about something that is really good (a movie, a book, anything).

  6. David:

    Wow Chanda!

    What a great article. I remember one of my high school French teacher’s favorite expressions was “oh, la vache!” so you brought me right back to 10th grade 🙂

    I have an animal question. One of my favorite restaurants in Wachington DC years ago was call “Au pied de cochon”, in tribute to the famous bistro in Paris of the same name…and I always wondered if there was something to that idiom that went beyond the obvious reference to eating pigs’ feet in the bistro. It was the “Au” that I found particularly curious…was it supposed to be a double meaning – “At the foot of the pig” and/or “at the place you eat pigs’ feet”?

  7. Simon Shaw:

    Can anyone please help with this (General Knowledge) Crossword clue ?

    Foolish in France (5) N_A_S

    Thank you !!

  8. cockadoodledoo:

    Wow! so interesting! very helpful!
    defenately five smiles out of 6.5 :):):):):)/:):):):):):):

  9. Hauteville:

    C’est un bel exemple de ce que l’on peut obtenir avec de la patience et une volonter de se dépasser.

  10. rodica popa:

    Je bave d’envie d’en lire et savoir plus!