Pourriez-vous m'aider, s'il vous plaît, à comprendre ce que signifie le mot barbouilli dans ce contexte ?

On peut lire dans Guignol's Band : "Et puis on tombait joliment! en pleines papouilles agaceries!... Surtout autour de petites nouvelles que ça se lutinait... celles qui venaient de perdre leurs maris... qu'étaient veuves juste depuis le matin... les nerveux partis à la guerre!... On se préparait des petits ménages à la chatouille-barbouilli..." (CÉLINE, 2015, p. 139)

Je trouve cette locution difficile à comprendre et la traduction anglaise ne permet pas de clarifier cette question en traduisant ce passage comme ça : "They were planning little kitchy-kitchy teams..." (CÉLINE, 1954, p. 59)

Barbouilli est-il une apocope de "barbouillage" ou de "barbouiller"... ?

  • 1
    If this is related to barboullis in the translation, the translator should have written: kitschy kitschy. You might have explained that this is about news reporting/stories. So we don't have to go and read the entire passage. There are three words with ouilles in that paragraph. For me, à la chatouille-barbouilli makes me think of: ticklish scribblings.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:42
  • 2
    It is about prostitution, not about news
    – user23005
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:43
  • Well, there is very little to go on except les petites nouvelles, and then a descriptions of types of nouvelles.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:47
  • @Lambie Thank you!
    – user23005
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:50
  • 4
    @Lambie “Petites nouvelles” means “little female newbies” here. Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 20:31

2 Answers 2


That whole paragraph is full of sexual innuendo that I recognize, and I think the parts I don't recognize have sexual connotations as well. Looking at a bit more context than what you posted, this passage is about prostitutes.

en pleines papouilles agaceries

A “papouille” means touching somebody in a playful way. I'm only familiar with it as applied to tickling children, but the applicability to sexual touching is obvious. An “agacerie” means to try to draw somebody's attention. Either customers trying before buying, or prostitutes attempting to convince potential customers.

Surtout autour de petites nouvelles que ça se lutinait

Lutiner” means to annoy someone or to touch a woman inappropriately. Here it's clearly the second meaning: passers-by touching the prostitutes, especially the “petites nouvelles” (the new ones; “petite”, in this context, is a disparaging term applied to women viewed as no more than sexual objects, similar to expressions like “the little woman” in English).

On se préparait des petits ménages à la chatouille-barbouilli...

The word “ménage” has multiple meanings. It can refer to a couple or even a nuclear family living together, as in “se mettre en ménage” (to move in together), “revenu du ménage” (couple's joint income), etc. It can also simply refer to sexual activity, as in the English “ménage à trois” (which exists and has the same meaning in French). So here, some “ménages”, i.e. some sexual encounters, are being prepared.

Chatouiller” mainly means tickle, but it can be a euphemism for sex (about as much so as “tickle” in English), and especially the noun chatouille is often a euphemism for sex. I'm not familiar with barbouilli in this context, but it's a derivative of barbouiller, whose primary meaning is a visual mess, as in something badly painted. A barbouilli is the result of the action barbouiller (like barbouillage, but barbouilli is the form of the noun in my idiolect). It can have various metaphorical meanings, but the general idea is something messy or unpleasant, generally visually. I think that's following the general idea of sex being somewhat messy. A somewhat literal translation could be “one got ready for small get-togethers of the ticklish-messy kind”. Arguably, it could even be translated for meaning as “dirty”, although using such plain language would not respect the tone of the original.

Chatouille” and “barbouilli” almost rhyme: /ʃa.tu.j/, /baʁ.bu.ji/. This has to be a conscious choice of the author: he could have written “chatouilli-barbouilli” (chatouilli(s) is a noun meaning tickle), but deviated slightly from the pattern. This choice makes me wonder if the sentence shouldn't be interpreted slightly differently, with “chatouille” being a verb and “barbouilli” being its object: the “ménages” are of the “tickle-(a-)barbouilli” kind. This would make “barbouilli” a noun referring either to the prostitutes, to their customers, or both.

Whatever the exact wordplay here, it's about people doing the dirty.


Il semblerait que le suffixe usuel "-is" ait été transformé en "-i" par Céline.

(Le Parisien) barbouillis (n.m.)

  1. mauvais tableau, œuvre d'art sans valeur.

Il semble donc que cela correspond bien à l'anglais "kitsch".

(OALD) kitsch noun /kɪtʃ/ uncountable, disapproving
​works of art or objects that are popular but that are considered to have no real artistic value or not to be in good taste, for example because they are sentimental

  • Merci, mais qu'est-ce que ça veut dire alors "à la chatouille-barbouilli" ?
    – user23005
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:38
  • 2
    @ovide Quand on en vient à l'affaire de comprendre Céline, je crois que je dois d'abord vous renvoyer à l'introduction de "Guignol's Band" : « Mais dites j'y comprends rien du tout ! ah ! mais c'est terrible ! pas possible ! Je ne vois que des bagarres dans votre livre ! C'est même pas un livre ! nous allons tout droit au désastre ! Ni queue ni tête ! » […] À vous de comprendre ! Émouvez-vous ! « C'est que des bagarres tous vos chapitres ! » Quelle objection ! Quelle tourterie ! // Le sens est incertain d'après moi et je ne suis pas sûr que Céline ait su lui-même exactement (1/2)
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:56
  • 2
    @ovide ce qu'il cherchait à dire. On peut supposer qu'il parlait de « mauvais théâtre » en référence à la façon dont les personnages qu'ils décrit entraient en relation pour finir en petits ménages ; cela semble assez plausible. (2/2)
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:56
  • Merci beaucoup !
    – user23005
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 14:58
  • 3
    This is clearly not what the word means in this context. It may be a related metaphor, I'm not sure, but the word is not referring to paintings here. I think the translator chose “kitchy” based on the sound rather than based on the word “kitsch” (which is not even spelled the same). Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 20:27

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