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‘Papoter’ - a charming French word describes having a natter or chat

Learn how to say banter, chin-wag and chatterbox in French

‘Papoter’ could be used when you bump into a friend in the supermarket and chat about everything and nothing Pic: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

I often find linguistic inspiration, conundrums to investigate or French behaviour to marvel at whilst out doing the weekly supermarket shop. 

All humankind can be found in my local Leclerc (other leading brands are available for similar sociological purposes).

Recently, having just arrived, I headed into the rayon boissons (drinks aisle) where a couple were chatting to an acquaintance, catching up and exchanging jokes, swapping snippets of news and generally rabbiting about nothing in particular. 

Read more: An accent can change a French word’s meaning, even in the coffee aisle

Chatterbox threesome had not moved

I wasn't exactly eavesdropping (the French would call this écouter aux portes) but merely curiously enjoying their badinage (banter or, equally, badinage in English). 

I grabbed some jus de pomme (apple juice) and headed off to remplir mon chariot (fill up my trolley).

Almost half an hour later I was making my way to the till (la caisse) and – lo-and-behold – the chatterbox threesome was still there waffling away, entre amis (amongst friends) seemingly in no hurry to faire les courses (do the shopping) or head home for lunch.

A ‘windmill of words’

A charming, easy-on-the-ear French word to describe their relaxed exchange of apparent insignificances is papoter

It does have a slightly pejorative nuance as it implies frivolity. Someone who indulges in it is called un papoteur (masculin) or une papoteuse (feminine).

Other words to describe the act of chatting away are the more mainstream bavarder (one might bavarder de tout et de rien – talk about everything and nothing), while someone, especially a child, who natters away endlessly is affectionately called a moulin à paroles (windmill of words).

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