Why do I need to know saperlipopette?
Besides being a widely-known reference to a fundamental piece of French language pop culture, knowing this expression may help you to express your displeasure when stronger language is inappropriate.
What does it mean?
Saperlipopette ! (‘sah – pear – lee – poe- pet’) is a minor oath that tends to get translated as ‘goodness me’, ‘good heavens’, ‘golly gosh’, or ‘gadzooks’. Like ‘fiddlesticks’ or ‘rats’, it’s the sort of thing that you can use to vent your consternation, displeasure, or surprise when there are kids around. For example, saperlipopette ! J’ai oublié mes clés means, ‘goodness me, I’ve forgotten my keys’.
For most people familiar with the term, saperlipopette brings to mind the legendary Adventures of Tintin (or Les Aventures de Tintin, in their original version) comic books, created by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé.
Photo: William Murphy/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons
As the comics were destined to a young audience, Hergé’s characters had to react to the crazy situations that their adventures led to in a way that was not offensive. The characters eventually became known for their silly exclamations.
In the comic books, Tintin would often say something like Saperlipopette ! Je suis poursuivi !, translatable as ‘Gadzooks! I’m being followed!’
Or Professeur Tournesol might exclaim Saperlipopette ! Je n’aurais pas dû sortir sans parapluie…, or, ‘Good heavens! I shouldn’t have gone out without an umbrella…’.
As you can probably tell, this expression is not necessarily something you’re likely to hear coming out of the mouths of the young and hip, unless it’s with a heavy dose of irony. But if using saperlipopette won’t assure that you’re taken seriously, it may well earn you a smile.
Like sacrebleu, saperlipopette has its origins in blasphemy. According to the Trésor de la langue française informatisé (‘The Digitized Treasury of the French Language’), saperlipopette comes from saprelotte, which, like sapristi, was probably invented to avoid saying sacré, meaning ‘sacred’ and referring to a higher power.
Today, most people know it thanks to Hergé and his character Tintin.
The well-known sacrebleu (an innocuous variation of sacré de Dieu or ‘sacred God’) and another favorite of Tintin’s, sapristi (from sacristi, variation of sacré) have similar origins and a similar meaning to saperlipopette. The main difference is that saperlipopette is more fun to say.
And if you're not around young children and don't mind a bit of profanity, check out our guide to that most versatile of French swearwords – putain.