"French" Expressions

French bulldog
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There are dozens of expressions in English which contain the word French, but are these things actually French? Take a look at this list with the French equivalents and the literal translations - you might be surprised.
Where possible, definitions for these terms have been provided.

To french
1. (cooking) to cut into thin strips, to trim fat (unknown translation)
2. (kissing) see French kiss, below 

French bean: le haricot vert

green bean

French bed: le lit en portefeuille

bed that is wider than a twin bed but narrower than a double bed

French blue: bleu français

dark azure color

French boxing: la boxe française

French braid: la tresse française

(hair style) French plait in UK

French bread: la baguette

French bulldog: le bouledogue français

French cap: la bague chapeau

single spindle wood molding machine

French casement: la fenêtre à deux battants

French chalk: la craie de tailleur

literally, "tailor's chalk"

French chop

  1. (cuisine) chop with the meat and fat trimmed from the end (unknown translation
  2. (juggling) tomahawk jeté de l'autre côté de la tête

French cleaners: le nettoyage à sec

literally, "dry cleaning"

French clock: (unknown translation)

elaborately decorated French clock from the 18th century

French cricket: (unknown translation)

informal type of cricket without stumps in which the batsman is out if the ball hits his/her legs

French cuff: le poignet mousquetaire

literally, "musketeer's cuff"

French curtain: le rideau à la française

French curve: le pistolet

literally, "pistol"

French custard ice cream: la glace aux œufs

French cut underwear: sous-vêtements à la française

(lingerie) high-waisted style
French dip sandwich: un sandwich « French dip »

beef sandwich dipped into beef juice (called au jus)

French disease: la maladie anglaise literally, "English disease." An old-fashioned term in both languages to refer to syphilis.

French door: la porte-fenêtre
literally, "window-door"

French drain: la pierrée, le drain de pierres sèches

French dressing: la vinaigrette

Only in England does French dressing mean vinaigrette. In the US, French dressing refers to a sweet, tomato-based salad dressing that does not, as far as I know, exist in France.

French endive: la chicorée de Bruxelles, chicorée witloof

French eye needle - une aiguille à double chas

French fly: une braguette à bouton de rappel

hidden button inside fly of men's pants

French fry: la (pomme de terre) frite

literally, "fried potato." Note that French fries are actually Belgian

To French-fry: frire à la friteuse

literally, "to fry in the fryer"

French harp: un harmonica

This term is used in the southern US to refer to an instrument made of metal or glass strips attached to a frame and struck with a hammer.
French heel: le talon français

(women's shoes) a curved, high heel

French hen (unknown translation)

In the song "12 Days of Christmas"

French horn: le cor d'harmonie

literally, "horn of harmonie"

French ice cream: see French custard ice cream, above

French kiss:noun: un baiser avec la langue, un baiser profond, un baiser torride
verb: galocher, embrasser avec la langue

French knickers: la culotte-caleçon

French knitting: le tricotin

also called "spool knitting"

French knot: le point de nœud

literally, "knot point"

French lavender: la lavande à toupet

To take French leave: filer à l'anglaise (informal)

literally, "to split/take off the English way"

French lentils: les lentilles du Puy

literally, "lentils from (the French town of) Puy"

French letter: la capote anglaise (informal)

literally, "English condom"
French maid: la femme de chambre


French manicure: le French manucure

American-invented style of manicure, with light pink polish on the nail and white polish underneath

French marigold: un œillet d'Inde

literally, "Indian carnation"

French mustard: la moutarde douce

literally, "sweet mustard"

French onion dip (unknown translation)

vegetable dip made from sour cream, onion, and herbs

French onion rings: rondelles d'oignon

French onion soup: la soupe à l'oignon

onion soup (topped with cheese and broiled)
French pancake: une crêpe

In English, this is also sometimes known as a crepe.

French pastry: la pâtisserie


French pleat: le pli pincé

a pleat at the top of a curtain consisting of three smaller pleats

French polish: le vernis au tampon

shellac diluted with alcohol and used to produce a high gloss on wood

French poodle: un caniche

literally, "poodle"

French press: une cafetière

literally, "coffee maker"

French provincial (unknown translation)

(architecture, furniture) style characteristic of the French provinces in the 17th and 18th centuries

French roast coffee: le café mélange français

literally, "French blend coffee"

French roll: un chignon banane

literally, "banana bun"

French roof: un toit à la mansarde

literally, "Mansard roof"

French saddle: une selle française

breed of horse

French seam: la couture anglaise

literally, "English sewing"

French silk pie (unknown translation)

pie with a chocolate mousse or pudding filling and whipped cream topping

French skipping (unknown translation)

also known as "Chinese skipping," "Chinese jump rope," and "elastics."

French stick: une baguette

French telephone: un appareil combiné

telephone with the receiver and transmitter as a single piece

French toast: le pain perdu

literally, "lost bread"

French trotter: un trotteur français

breed of horse

French twist: le chignon


French vanilla: la vanille bourbon
literally, "(the French town of) Bourbon vanilla"
French vermouth: le vermouth
dry vermouth
French window: la porte-fenêtre

literally, "window-door"
Pardon my French: Passez-moi l'expression.

Allow me the expression.

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Team, ThoughtCo. ""French" Expressions." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, thoughtco.com/french-expressions-1368680. Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). "French" Expressions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-expressions-1368680 Team, ThoughtCo. ""French" Expressions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-expressions-1368680 (accessed February 7, 2023).