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French Expression of the Day: Péter un câble

The Local France
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French Expression of the Day: Péter un câble
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If someone says this French expression, you might want to walk away slowly.

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Why do I need to know péter un câble?

This expression, frequently heard in morning traffic jams and on overcrowded trains can be confusing because it has nothing to do with cables.

What does it mean?

Péter un câble - roughly pronounced peh-tay uhn cah-bluh - translates precisely as 'to fart a cable', but the real meaning has nothing to do with flatulence or electrical cords.

The verb péter is informal, and most often translates as ‘to fart’, but it can also mean to ‘burst’, ‘pop’ or ‘snap’. As such, a more fitting translation of the phrase would be 'to burst a cable', creating the mental image of an electrical wire exploding.

It basically means that someone is so angry or upset that they are about to 'lose it', 'freak out', or 'go ballistic'.

You might hear this expression in the future tense too - and in this case, it is a warning that the person is on the verge of going berserk.

Similarly, people might use it to describe things that happened in the past tense - perhaps a story about missing a train or bus. 

There are also some similar colloquial expressions you can opt for, such as péter un plomb or péter les plombs.

Un plomb is ‘a fuse’ in English, so this expression translates quite literally as ‘to blow a fuse.’

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As the verb péter is quite informal, this phrase is borderline vulgar and therefore not appropriate in some settings. If you are around your French in-laws, you might want to opt for the more polite verb s'énerver to describe getting angry. For example, you could say je m'énerve quand les gens sont impolis.  (I get really annoyed when people are impolite.)

Use it like this

Amélia va péter un câble quand elle va se rendre compte que le chien de sa colocataire a fait pipi sur son tapis persan ! - Amélia’s going to throw a fit when she finds out her housemate’s dog peed on her Persian rug.

Si j'arrive en retard aujourd'hui je vais péter un câble ! - If I get there late today I’m going to lose it!

Il était tellement impoli, j’ai pété un câble ! - He was so rude, I went ballistic!’

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