Although we recognize the stereotype of the fussy French waiter muttering funny words like crétin, idiot or imbécile at boorish tourists, there are many more funny French phrases that don't require anyone to be the butt of the joke. Whether the literal meaning is funny or the sounds create a tongue twister, these fun phrases provide comic relief to the travailing French learner.
Funny French Expressions
The following phrases strike non-French speakers as very funny when taken out of context. While the literal meaning points one way, the contextual meaning points another. When these phrases are learned in context, they are readily accepted. French learners translating with a dictionary will get lots of laughs out of these expressions.
Ah, la vache!
A very popular expression in France, this expression means 'Oh my goodness!' The literal translation, 'Oh, the cow' strikes non-native French speakers as downright hilarious.
Aller au charbon
Meaning that you're up to something very difficult, this phrase is often misinterpreted.
Avoir le cafard
Having a cockroach is an expression that means that you're feeling down in the dumps.
Avoir une araignée au plafond
Having a spider on the ceiling means the same as the American expression, 'you have a screw loose'.
Avoir une peur bleue
'Having a blue fear' means that you are scared stiff.
Boire comme un trou
What might it mean to 'drink like a hole?' This is the French expression for getting extremely drunk.
Casser les oreilles
While the literal translation is 'breaking someone's ears,' this actually means to get on someone's nerves with too much or the wrong kind of noise. This is a common French phrase in families or student housing for everything from loud music to nagging.
C'est la fin des haricots
While this expression literally means 'that's the end of the beans,' the French meaning is 'that's the last straw.' This expression, used often in exasperation, is quite confusing to French learners until they realize the meaning is not literal.
Entre chien et loup
Literally translating to 'between the dog and the wolf,' this expression means 'dusk or twilight.'
Etre un bon coup
While on the surface it may seem that this expression means 'being a good hit,' the meaning actually refers to being good in bed.
Faire un tabac
Being the toast of the town is what this expression means, although it translates to 'doing a tobacco.'
Funny French Tongue Twisters
Unlike the funny French phrases above, which require people to know both the literal and figurative meanings, some groups of words simply sound silly when spoken. Tongue twisters are funny in and of themselves because they are absurdly hard to say. Since they are alliterative, meaning they often start with the same letter, tongue twisters often starts to sound like gibberish, reducing both the listener and speaker to fits of laughter. For learners of French, these are excellent phrases for pronunciation practice.
As-tu vu le tutu de tulle de Lili d'Honolulu?
Have you seen Honoluli Lili's tulle tutu?
Ce ver vert sévère sait verser ses verres verts.
This strict green worm knows how to pour his green glasses.
Cinq chiens chassent six chats.
Five dogs are chasing six cats.
Didon dîna, dit-on, du dos d'un dodu dindon.
Didon ate, it is said, from the back of a fat turkey.
Je veux et j'exige du jasmin et des jonquilles
I want and demand jasmine and daffodils.
La mule a bu tant qu'elle a pu.
The mule drank as much as he stank.
La pipe au papa du Pape Pie pue.
Pope Pius' dad's pipe stinks.
La robe rouge de Rosalie est ravissante.
Rosalie's red dress is ravishing.
Lily lit le livre dans le lit.
Lily reads the book in the bed.
Natacha n'attacha pas son chat qui s'échappa.
Natasha did not tie up her cat, who escaped.
Poisson sans boisson--c'est poison!.
(To eat) fish without drinking wine is poison!
Seize chaises sèchent.
Sixteen chairs are drying.
Si mon tonton tond ton tonton, ton tonton sera tondu.
If my uncle shaves your uncle, your uncle will be shaved.
Si six scies scient six cyprès, six cents scies scient six cent cyprès.
If six saws saw six cypresses, six hundred saws saw six hundred cypresses.
Ta tentative a été totalement futile!
Your attempt was completely futile!
Tonton, ton thé t'a-t-il ôté ta toux?
Uncle, did your tea take away your cough?
Trois petites truites non cuites trois petites truites crues
Three little uncooked trout, three little raw trout
Va t'en, Satan ta femme t'attend.
Go away, Satan, your wife is waiting.
Voilà trois mois qu'il boit moins que toi.
Here are three months that he drank less than you.
Zazie causait avec sa cousine en cousant.
Zazie talked with her cousin while sewing.
Funny French in Movies
The French are indeed funny as demonstrated by some good examples of French comedies, such as:
- Le Dîner de cons is a quintessential French comedy, complete with French vs. Belgian stereotyping, accents, and the inevitable jokes that arise from them.
- Playtime and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr. Hulot's Holiday) feature Jaques Tati, a very funny French comedian who starred in these two classics.
- Trois Hommes et un Couffin (Three Men and a Cradle) was turned into Three Men and A Baby with Tom Selleck in the 1980s.
- Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie) is a charming film with lots of linguistic funny business.
Whether you're just starting to learn French or sound almost like a native speaker, French humor is a fun way to experience the language and culture of France. In addition, tongue twisters can provide pronunciation practice and a good laugh all at once. Funny phrases are good for learners and teachers alike, providing amusement and instruction all in one.