For members


French expression of the Day: C’est vache

Just one of the French language's many cow-based expressions.

French expression of the Day: C’est vache
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know c’est vache?

If you are looking to complain about how difficult it was to book your latest préfecture appointment, this playful phrase might be just right.

What does it mean?

C’est vache – pronounced say vash – literally means “it is cow,” but in practice the phrase is a way to call someone or something mean, hard, or difficult.  

It’s used with the verb être (to be) so you can say il est vache (he is mean) or c’était vache (it was tough) etc.

While cows may be perceived as gentle giants, they actually make the list for most dangerous animals in France, and French colloquial language recognises that with this phrase.

Though some suspect it may have originated as a reference to cows’ thick skin, the phrase mostly refers to their unexpectedly mean temperament, and how they are known to lash out without warning, perhaps like some humans you know.

Use it like this

L’instructeur militaire est très exigeant. Il est vache. – The military instructor is very demanding. He is hard.

J’ai couru 20 km hier. C’était vache ! – I ran 20km yesterday. It was tough!

Other cow phrases

For a country where cheese is practically a religion, cows have an important role in language.

Oh la vache ! – Is a handy and family-friendly way to express surprise or shock

Vachement – literally ‘cowly’ this means very or extremely, although it’s falling out of favour with younger people

Parler français comme une vache espagnole – speak French like a Spanish cow ie to speak French badly

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French Expression of the Day: La clim’

You'll definitely want to know about this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: La clim'

Why do I need to know la clim’?

Because the lack of green spaces in cities might find you looking desperately for fresh air.

What does it mean?

La clim’, pronounced la-cleem, means air conditioning, it is a shortened version of la climatisation.

Climatisation comes from the word climatiseur, which itself comes from Klima in Greek and means the inclination of planet Earth from the equator to the poles. This inclination of the planet on its axis is responsible for the seasons and if you find yourself in a French city in August your inclination will definitely be towards climatisation.

Air-conditioning in private homes is not common France, some hotels have it but not all and in the summer months restaurants will often advertise air-con if they have it, as a way of luring in hot-and-bothered tourists.

If you find yourself desperate for cool air, head to a supermarket – almost all French supermarkets are air-conditioned in the summer. Or for a more fun option just head to the nearest city fountain or water feature and join the locals who are splashing around to cool off.

Use it like this

Il fait très chaud, avez-vous la clim’ dans votre hotel ? – It’s really hot, do you have air-con in the hotel?

Je n’aime pas mettre la clim’ en route car cela est mauvais pour la santé et l’environnement – I don’t like turning on the AC, it’s bad for my health and for the environment

Il fait froid, peut-on s’il vous plait éteindre la clim’ ? – It’s cold, could  we turn off the air-con?

La clim’ fait beaucoup de bruit, pouvons-nous la mettre en sourdine ? – This AC is really noisy, could we turn it down?


Un climatiseur – the formal name for an air-conditioner (in French the air conditioning is feminine by the air conditioner is masculine)

Un ventilateur – a ventilator

Un Brumisateur – a ‘fogger’ – these machines which pump out cool water vapour are often seen on the streets and in parks during the summer

Un Rafraichisseur d’air – an air freshener