Why being told to go cook an egg in French is rarely a good thing

We look at seven colourful expressions to brighten up your conversations

‘Go and cook yourself an egg’ is one of a few French expressions that can conjure up a vivid image

French is the language of love, international diplomacy and, in some cases, of very evocative phrases. 

We give examples of the latter below. Some of the expressions are used on a daily basis but others are older and not so commonly used now.

We go through their translations, what they mean and how you can spice up your spoken French with these often amusing phrases. 

Donner sa langue au chat

Giving your tongue to the cat 

If you are asked a trivia question or a riddle and you are desperately searching for the answer, the person who asked the question might say to you: Alors, tu donnes ta langue au chat ? (So, are you giving your tongue to the cat?) 

It means to give up speaking and admit you do not know the answer. Earlier versions of the expression involved giving your tongue to a dog instead. 

Pisser dans un violon

Pissing in a violin 

This expression refers to a useless act as you will not produce any sound by peeing on the strings of a violin. 

It gained popularity in the 20th century. Pisser is a rude way of saying ‘peeing’ or ‘urinating’, so only use it with friends and family. 

It is most commonly used in the form Autant pisser dans un violon (might as well piss in a violin). For example, if you have made a total mess of dinner and suggest trying to remedy your mistakes, your partner may say: Autant pisser dans un violon. 

Read more: Seven useful informal French expressions you don’t learn at school

Faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties

You should not push granny in the nettles 

This expression is likely the combination of various other expressions and is intentionally funny or over the top, depending on your point of view. 

It refers to asking too much or doing things that test other people’s patience. 

The closest English equivalent to this expression is probably ‘Do not push your luck’ or simply ‘do not push it too far’. 

For example, if you are considering asking your boss for another raise, your friend might advise you and say Tu pousses un peu mémé dans les orties (you are starting to push granny in the nettles). 

Mémé in this case is the representation of someone who is innocent and undeserving of fate such as being pushed into some stinging nettles. 

Read more: 10 French words and phrases that are untranslatable in English

Aller faire téter les puces

Going to (breast) feed the flees 

This expression is not so common now but used to be popular. 

It is a funny way of saying ‘I am going to bed, or ‘hitting the hay’. 

It is not clear exactly from where this saying originated from. 

Jeter le bébé avec l’eau du bain

To throw out the baby with the bathwater 

Jeter le bébé avec l’eau du bain refers to dismissing every part of something without considering its good parts. 

For example, your friend may come to you with a business idea. If you totally shut it down, you may be told ‘do not throw out the baby with the bathwater’, meaning that though there are some negative sides, do not be too quick to throw it out as there may be some positives too (the baby being the positive thing and the used bathwater being the negative).

The expression is also used in English.

Pédaler dans la choucroute

Pedalling in the sauerkraut

This expression is borrowed from cycling, where it is used to describe a cyclist whose legs are giving way and who can barely keep going. 

Therefore, pédaler dans la choucroute is used to describe people who have run out of steam and cannot keep going, despite their best efforts. 

A similar expression in English is ‘spinning your wheels’. If you are desperately struggling to think of a solution to a problem, you could say Je pédale dans la choucroute là (I am just spinning my wheels here).Some people swap sauerkraut with semolina (semoule) and it means the same thing. 

Read more: Informal synonyms for everyday French words

Va te faire cuire un œuf

Go and cook yourself an egg 

If someone just will not leave you alone and you are at the end of your tether, you can tell them Va te faire cuire un œuf.

Although this does not contain any swear words, it is rude to say to someone and will imply that you are angry.

It can also be used to describe your feelings about a situation: Ils m’ont demandé si je voulais leur donner un coup de main, mais ils peuvent aller se faire cuire un œuf (they asked me if I would give them a hand, but they can go and cook themselves an egg).