We were having a conversation in English, and someone passed some remark about the mind-numbingly steep learning curve involved in mastering the Arabic language:

I constantly thought my brain was going to melt. (hyperbolically)

I was wondering how I would express in French what she said, and I'd probably say something like:

L'arabe me faisait toujours me creuser la tête comme une folle ! À tel point que mon cerveau était à deux doigts d'en fondre...

Is it better to use "méninges" than "tête/cerveau"?

How do French speakers commonly express this idea? No need to stick to a literal translation; something that springs to mind in the flow of conversation.

  • D'habitude en français, quand quelque chose est utilisé au point de surchauffer, ça ne fond pas, ça fume.
    – mouviciel
    Aug 1, 2018 at 10:33

4 Answers 4


To express something difficult for someone to understand I sometime use the sentence which means thinking a lot about something.

Se faire des noeuds au cerveau en étudiant l'arabe

The same idea can be conveyed this way too :

Se prendre la tête en étudiant l'arabe

With the sentence se creuser les méninges you get the idea, but the meaning is not pejorative

  • 1
    nice ways to translate it. however, the version "se prendre la tête" shows that it is not only difficult, but also painfully annoying on top of it. a bit pejorative in the meaning.
    – Ty Kayn
    Aug 6, 2018 at 10:38

Suggestion :
A apprendre l'arabe plusieurs heures par jour, j'avais le cerveau en fusion.


Inspiré par une autre réponse, un peu différent, mais au lieu de qualifier le niveau de difficulté ou d'évoquer métaphoriquement la réalisation d'un résultat, simplement l'énoncer familièrement :

À chaque fois que j'étudiais l'arabe j'avais le cerveau en compote (meurtri, détruit).

Ou évoquer la folie :

Étudier l'arabe, c'est à s'arracher les cheveux.


It is a little too strong and colloquial, but an expression that comes to mind is:

péter les plombs (to freak)

Otherwise, you might say:

avoir le cerveau en surchauffe

Méninges is old fashioned and fondre isn't very idiomatic when applied to the brain.

Here is how I would arrange your sentence:

Apprendre l'arabe m'obligeait à me creuser la tête comme une folle ! Mon cerveau n'était pas loin de la surchauffe...

  • How would you weave these expressions into a sentence in this Arabic context? Jul 30, 2018 at 20:46
  • Answer updated with a suggestion
    – jlliagre
    Jul 30, 2018 at 21:14
  • I see. If "cerveau" and "fondre" don't go so well with each other, what's your take on "exploser" or "craquer" apart from "surchauffer": "mon cerveau était à deux doigts d'en exploser / craquer"? Jul 30, 2018 at 21:35
  • 2
    Mon cerveau était à deux doigts d'exploser would be fine. OTOH, craquer apply more to people than their brain so that would be j'étais à deux doigts de craquer which is close to j'étais à deux doigts de péter les plombs..
    – jlliagre
    Jul 30, 2018 at 21:56

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