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Bavarde, commérages: how to describe having a chat or gossip in French

One phrase has its origins in the 16th century and could easily be mistranslated

French cafe

Catching up with friends is a huge part of French culture Pic: Anna Tryhub / Shutterstock

Goodness knows the French love to chat, about anything and everything from the weather to politics – often at great length and with vigorous opinions expressed throughout. 

It's probably why they can make a single-shot espresso last an hour on a café terrasse. 

How to say ‘chew the fat’

There are many ways to describe the act of having a chinwag, one of the most popular being the informal and rather charming "taper la discute". 

The French also use the "chew the fat" equivalents, "tailler le bout de gras" and "tailler une bavette [avec quelqu'un]". 

The latter has little to do with the art of butchering and "trimming a flank steak", however – though this would seem to be its direct translation to the uninitiated. 

Read more: La viande: Little-known origins of the French word for meat

Origins of the phrase

The bavette in question here comes from bave way back in the 16th century when it meant the nonsense chitter-chatter of tiny children. 

Bave itself is derivative of the latin baba, the onomatopoeic word for toddler talk. 

It used to have a more mean-spirited or slanderous implication, something along the lines of "talking dribble" but you are unlikely to offend someone these days by employing it.

If you wish to describe someone as being very chatty or talkative, they would be "très bavarde".

A gossip or godmother

Taking the idle chit-chat to another level whereby it becomes idle gossip or tittle-tattle, one would use the word "commérages", while one who indulges in such indiscretion is called "un commère": ie. "elle est une épouvantable commère" - "she is a terrible gossip". 

The word commère is also a traditional French word for "godmother", but these days you are more likely to hear the word "marraine" at the baptism font.

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