Further quirks of the French language

We now return to our regular feature (OK, featured once before) on some of the most entertaining or interesting combinations of words in French. The best part of learning another language is when some phrase or other allows you to say something that cannot be adequately expressed in your own, or when it gives it a better sense. For sensitive readers, this will contain some rude words. (There you go Mum!)


comme une fleur – “Like a flower” actually means effortlessly, seemingly without trying.

à fleur de peau – someone who is “sensible à fleur de peau” is extremely sensitive or touchy. The sense is, I think, of having the material of a flower for skin, and therefore very fragile and easy to damage.

faire une fleur à quelqu’un – lit. “do/make a flower for someone” means do them a favour.


va te faire cuire un oeuf! – go and cook an egg. Basically means “bugger off”.

quel oeuf, ce type! – what an idiot, this one!


la guele –  means “face”, but you can say “ferme ta guele” – shut your face, “faire la guele” make a face, both of which we have in English, but best of all you can “gueler après quelqu’un” – lit. face after them, which means have a go at them. A “guele du bois”, or face of wood, is also a hangover.


pied-noir – black foot. A person born and raised in Algeria when it was French who was white but who considered Algeria to be their home. The pieds noirs had their passports taken away from them when Algeria won its independence, and had many bureaucratic and social problems resettling on the mainland.

béku – a similar term for a white person living in the French West Indies.

Drinking and smoking

ça carbure sec ici – it’s running dry (like an engine from lack of oil) in here – they’re really knocking them back here. Carburer, usually used for petrol, is also used when people get really drunk, the same idea of liquid running out (from bottles or engines) in both cases.

il crapote – he doesn’t inhale


imbittable – a “bitte” is a penis, but “imbittable” means “fucking hard to understand”. Possibly related in some way to the English word “impenetrable” in this sense.

frilleur/frilleuse – someone who gets cold easily.

travail du gratte-papier – work of paper-scratching i.e. penpushing

perdre la boussole – to lose the compass i.e. to go crazy/bonkers.

lèche-vitrine – window display licking. Window shopping, but with much more of the sense of being a fashion victim in the French.

Really quite rude ones

j’en ai ras le cul – Lit. My arse is so full of it. Means “I’m sick of it”

ça me fait chier – Lit. that makes me shit (myself). Means “That really annoys me”. Can also use “tu me fais chier”, which means YOU give me that feeling.

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