French Lessons: Oh, la vache!

So drawing une vache is admittedly far more complicated than un trombone, but in my continued effort to teach you words while I practice my Illustrator skills, I went for it (and I’m not trying to deny using an image to help trace my cow – it still wasn’t easy). Maybe one day I’ll be skilled enough to give him an eye, but for now, he – or rather she (the word ‘cow’ is feminine en français) – is what she is, Oh, la vache! This has quickly become one of my favorite French phrases. Une vache is literally a cow, and c’est la vache would mean, “it’s a cow.” But Oh, la vache is this wonderful phrase which I suppose would mean “Holy Cow!” but unlike that phrase which feels like it was popular when I was in 4th grade, Oh, la vache is something you’ll hear regularly come out of the mouths of Frenchies of all ages. It could be used in a situation where you’d say “Oh my god!” but it also has a bit of a more mundane essence to it as in “my, oh, my.”

Today in Paris it’d be fair to say, “Oh, la vache! This weather SUCKS!”.

18 comments

  • haha it’s so funny when my French friends say “HHoh la vaaaache!” with the H before the Oh!

    very stylish cow :) Excited for next week’s French word!!

  • i actually ran across your blog while checking the stats page of my own and there was a little box in the lower right corner with your blog link in it. i am sooo glad i clicked on it! i look at a lot of blogs and rarely do i get so lost and giggle and feel so relaxed and entertained! i LOVE IT!! just wanted to let you know. i will be your newest frequent visitor ; )

  • You can also have ‘vachement’ as an informal synonym for ‘ vraiment’, as in ‘il est vachement beau, ce mec’. (That guy’s really good looking)

    • Thanks for the great tip, Bristol! … Franchement is another word that makes me laugh, and just feels so French… I do hope I meet a “mec qui est vachement beau bientôt!” :)

  • ✯ Thank you very much ✯

    I really wanted to know what my collegues were going on and on about, as I am currently working in Angers, which is near Nantes. ♥
    Actually, I read that the expression derives from a woman washing her clothes and one of them falling into the bassin again, upon which she shouted “Au Lavache!”. Is that true?

    Check out my blog: ✿ http://you-may-be.blogspot.fr/

  • I had the feeling when I heard someone react with “Oh, la vache” to an assertion by a third person, that it was as if to say “Oh that’s a big one (as in ‘a big lie’). Is it possible in that context that “Oh, la vache” could be used that way?

  • July 19, 2020 at 7:30 am // Reply

    Much nonsense spoken about this term – all too folksy.

    The saying “Oh la vache” comes from the Franco-Prussian War 1870/2.

    The word vache, in this context, is a mistranslation and a distortion from the German “Wache”. How did this arise? Well, the Prussians set up check points around Paris which were called watches (as in watch tower). French people, referring to these would call them Vaches…which was, also, pejorative and led to the expression becoming a kind of expletive.

    This has nothing whatsoever to do with “Holy Cow”.

    • Thanks for the background intel! I was not attempting to share the history of the word, yet to share the closest parallel to those who hear the word in conversation.

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