Oh la vache ! – if you’re surprised, shocked or amazed you can exclaim Oh la vache ! (Oh the cow) or simply La vache ! You could use it if someone startled you, if you’re being shown a particularly amazing video or news story or simply as an alternative to ‘Oh my God’ (and yes, French people often use this English expression).
It’s often used by parents as a family-friendly alternative to swearing, but you’ll hear it in all sorts of contexts where letting rip with a putain might be inappropriate.
C’est vache – literally meaning ‘it’s cow’ this is a slang term to mean something or someone that is tough, strict or difficult. You might use it to describe your brutal gym class instructor, a particularly horrible French exam or a tough task.
This is slangy but not offensive.
Vachement – translated as ‘cowly’ this means very or extremely and is used to add emphasis to your sentences or signal a strong agreement.
It used to be very popular among younger people but these days it seems to have fallen out of favour. You’ll still see and hear references to it, but maybe wait and see if someone in your peer group uses it first – no-one wants to be the person using the outdated slang.
Parler français comme une vache espagnol – to speak French like a Spanish cow. Cows don’t speak any (human) language of course, so this phrase really means someone who speaks French badly – dodgy grammar, terrible accent etc.
It’s rare that anyone would say this directly to you, but it’s a good one to wheel out if you want to raise a smile and break the ice if you’re not too sure of your French verb tenses.
Il pleut comme vache qui pisse – it’s raining like a pissing cow. This is a great and truly descriptive expression for when it’s raining really heavily. The politer option is il pleut des cordes – it’s raining rods – but if you want a slightly ruder expression, go for the pissing cow.
Transpire comme un beouf – another weather-related one. In English we sweat ‘like a pig’ in French one sweats like a bullock – in French une vache is a cow, un taureau is a bull and a bullock (or adolescent bovine) is un bœuf.
So if you’re looking for a good description for those August days in the city when descending onto the Metro is like entering the fifth circle of Hell, this is for you.
And as we’re on the subject – French cows don’t say ‘moo’ they say ‘meuh’ – here’s the full list of French animal noises.
Do you have a favourite French phrase that involves cows? Tell us about it! Email [email protected]