Perhaps you’ve heard of la vache qui rit (the cow who laughs, or “The Laughing Cow®”) ? What about the French expression Rire comme une baleine? Here’s the comprehensive guide to what it means, how to use it, and how you may see it in the real world. Get it right and take your French to the next level!


To laugh like a whale.


English Meaning

To laugh very loudly and uncontrollably.


French Meaning

Rire très fort sans retenue.


The Story Behind It

Image of a La vache qui rit street kiosk
Pourquoi la vache qui rit rit ?” (2008) [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Move over, Laughing Cow! Here comes the Big League and it doesn’t get much bigger than a WHALERire comme une baleine describes unbridled laughter at its side-splitting best. We’re not talking about a stifled giggle or a modest semi-chuckle. When you laugh like a whale, it’s go big or go home.

Where does the expression come from? Oddly, no one knows for sure. Many seem to think as I did: a big animal would produce an equally big laugh—if whales laugh, of course!


Alternatively, the image of a feeding whale’s gaping mouth could have provided inspiration. After all, when we laugh really hard, our mouths open wide.

Grammar & Usage Notes


Note that this expression agrees with its subject in number. With a plural subject, une baleine will become plural, or des baleines. (See the second and third examples below.)


It’s also worth pointing out that this expression is somewhat polarizing, perhaps due to its fuzzy origins. I know some people really love using it; it puts a smile on their face. However, according to this L’Obs article, a 2014 poll of 1,001 French people showed that 26% of respondents found Rire comme une baleine to be « l’expression la plus stupide » or “the stupidest expression.” Ouch. In other words, not everyone is a fan, so learners had best be forewarned!


But whether you love it or hate it, Rire comme une baleine remains a popular idiom and you’ll definitely see permutations of it in real life. While some go for the verb rire, others will swap it for se marrer or rigoler, which are all synonyms for “to laugh.”



English Equivalents

  • To roar with laughter.
  • To laugh one’s head off.
  • To laugh like crazy.
  • To laugh like a drain.


French Equivalents

  • Se marrer (ou rigoler) comme une baleine.
  • Rire à gorge déployée.
  • Rire comme un bossu.
  • Rire comme un fou (ou une folle)


Laughing yet? Looking for MORE French expressions like Rire comme une baleine?

Got you covered right here! Expand your vocabulary the fun way and impress your francophone friends by using French expressions!


© 2019 French à la folie.

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