chatouiller
de guingois

saperlipopette!

Soap
What does a mom do when her kids use the M-word (see today's story)? Does she look to an old French billboard for the answer? (This one, an ad for "La Roue" savon--see the old red wheel in the background?--seems to suggest a good old-fashioned washing-out-of-the-mouth with soap! 

 
SAPERLIPOPETTE (saah-pair-lee-poh-pet) exclamation
    : gadzooks! goodness me!

Update: my friend Alicia just wrote in, adding this: The correct translation of saperlipopette if you believe Tintin translations anyway... is "blistering barnacles"... Thanks to Captain Haddock!

Example:
J'ai retrouvé le plaisir de la BD grâce à ce personnage libre de dire merde et non pas saperlipopette. I rediscovered the enjoyment of the comic book, thanks to the character who was free to say "sh--" and not "gadzooks". --from Le Monde, from the article ZEP, PÈRE COMBLÉ DE TITEUF

AUDIO FILE: listen to my son, Max, pronounce the French word "saperlipopette" and hear the example sentence:  Download Saperlipopette . Download Saperlipopette

In books: Merde!: The Real French You Were Never Taught at School

... and the memoir Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas


A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

On the way to the dishwasher, my son drops a dirty spoon.
"Merde!" says he.

I zip my lip, for a moment, and think about how the French use the M-word freely, starting from a tender age. I'll never forget hearing it shouted at the beach, in Marseilles... by one stuttering sand-castle engineer, a little tyke of four years old. "Merde!" he exclaimed, when the water rushed up, demolishing his digs.

"Merde? He said 'merde'!" I remember my astonishment at how the French parents continued to chat, comme si de rien n'était.* Once again, I began to question and compare cultures, thinking back to my experiences in the States. In my mind's ear, I could not hear the same four-letter complaint on a beach, whose shores were closer to my native land. Surely, back home, a four-year-old wouldn't shout the S-word? No, I decided at the time, American toddlers don't cuss like that.

And then I had kids of my own. I think I've been on them about their cussing ever since they turned two (the age of mimic--and they weren't mimicking me!).

"Max!" I complain to my now thirteen-year-old. "Fais attention à ce que tu dis! Careful what you say!"
"Qu'est-ce que tu veux que je dise? Well, what do you want me to say?"
What's wrong with the perfectly retro "rats!"? I wonder. Now there's a keen expletive!

"Zut!" his father offers, picking up the dirty spoon and putting it in the machine, along with the breakfast bowls.

"Que ton langage soit... soit..." I search for a French word to illustrate my point and, taking a clue from my son, who is already halfway up the stairs, on his way to his room, I find it. "See to it that your language is ELEVE!"* Yes, elevated--raised to a HIGHER level!

Max, putting on an aristocratic air, and leaning dramatically over the guard rail offers this:

"Saperlipopette?"

I smile, satisfied, but my satisfaction is short-lived when, with a snicker, my son comes up with another possibility.

"Crotte?"*
"Oh, Max! That's LOW!"
"Crotte!" he snickers.
"Low. So LOW!"
"Crotte!"
"Go on, scat, get out of here!"

Remembering that little tyke on the beach in Marseilles, and his side-swiped tower, I think about "language building" and all those vain attempts to bring our kids' speech to "a higher level," against the waves of influence. (Not an easy undertaking when I don't understand French as they do--and now that there is a third language to contend with: French "texto" or text messaging.) With all the lofty, linguistic intentions, I wonder if I am, in a way, building my own chateau de sable*--only on a seemingly "higher" level; you know, a sand castle in the ciel.*


French Vocabulary
Comme si de rien n'était
= as if nothing happened
élevé = high, elevated
une crotte = dropping (dog mess), i.e. "sh--"
le château (m) de sable = sand castle; le ciel = sky

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