10 French idioms based on food or cooking

Salads, apples, and onions are all used in common phrases. How many do you know?

From raconter des salades to en faire tout en fromage, many French idioms are food-based
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Just as in English, the French language is full of weird and wonderful expressions with completely different meanings than their literal translations.

Idioms appear frequently in informal spoken language, and there are a number of common French idioms which revolve around food.

Here are some you can slip into your conversations to help take your French up a notch.

Raconter des salades - to tell tall tales

If someone is telling a story that seems a little too extravagant to be true, you can use the phrase raconter des salades, which literally translates to telling salads.

It is the English equivalent of telling tall tales or to spin a yarn, meaning the story is unbelievable.

The phrase comes from the idea that a good salad needs lots of quality ingredients, just like a good lie needs the right balance of interesting details and humour.

Ça suffit ! Arrête de raconter des salades là ! (That’s enough! Stop telling tall tales now!)

Tomber dans les pommes - to faint

Tomber dans les pommes means to faint, rather than 'to fall in the apples' as the literal translation suggests.

It is thought to derive from the phrase popularised in 1830 by writer George Sand; être dans les pommes cuites, which was used to imply extreme tiredness due to the idea of wading through the thick texture of cooked apples.

However, there are some other theories, some of which are discussed in our article below.

Read more: Eight French expressions around the word apple

Occupe-toi de tes oignons - mind your own business

Literally this translates as look after your onions, but if someone says this to you it is probably best to back off, as they are telling you to mind your business.

The phrase is thought to come from the 20th century when women were granted some independence from men by having an area of land in the garden that they could grow onions to sell.

However, it could also be linked to the fact that in the 20th century, oignon was used to mean cul (arse) or pieds (feet). This meant that occupe-toi de tes pieds and occupe-toi de tes fesses became occupe-toi de tes oignons.

Pour une bouchée de pain - for next to nothing

Une bouchée is a mouthful so the full phrase is 'for a mouthful of bread', however it is the French equivalent to our 'for next to nothing' or 'for peanuts'.

Incidentally, pour des cacahuètes can be used as well, meaning ‘for peanuts’ just as in English.

Au vide-greniers on peut acheter des choses pour une bouchée de pain. (At the car boot sale you can buy things for next to nothing.)

En faire tout un fromage - to make a mountain out of a molehill

En faire tout un fromage means to make a mountain out of a hill or to kick up a fuss.

The phrase comes from the idea that a product as simple as milk can make something elaborate like cheese.

It has negative connotations of being very overdramatic about something.

Read also: Try these 17 French expressions to improve your language skills

Les carottes sont cuites - the writing’s on the wall

This idiom has a fairly bleak backstory; in the 18th century avoir les carottes cuites was used to describe people who were dying.

This then became les carottes sont cuites (the carrots are cooked) which is used to describe a situation with no hope.

Se refiler la patate chaude - to drop something like a hot potato

This means to pass on a task that you don’t want to do or to drop something like a hot potato.

It actually originated from the English expressions, with ‘patate’ a familiar way of saying pomme de terre (potato).

Être bonne poire - to be a pushover

If someone says you are a bonne poire, it means they are calling you a pushover.

It is thought that the expression originated from the fact that when a pear is ripe and ready, it falls from the tree of its own accord, in the same way someone who is slightly naive may walk straight into an open trap.

Être soupe au lait - to have a short temper

This expression comes from the idea of a casserole de lait which bubbles over violently and suddenly when left too long.

If someone is described as être soupe au lait, they have a short fuse and can get angry quickly.

Chanter comme une casserole - to sing off key

This phrase appeared in the early 20th century when writer Léon Bloy suggested that casserole pots banging together made the same unpleasant noise as someone who sings offkey.

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