Quel toupet!

Quel toupet!

kell too-PAY! Click below to hear this.*

What nerve!

Not to be confused with une toupie which is a top, a child’s toy. It takes a steady hand, but no particular nerve to set off une toupie.

No, un toupet started out as a topknot, like a little bun of hair on top of a wig. It actually comes from a Germanic word meaning–you guessed it–top.

Are you beginning to guess where this is going? So far, we have hair and topknots. Put them together and you have…a toupee! That’s right, the English word toupee derives directly from le toupet.

Now, how we get from “tufts of hair” to “nerve” will take a little imagination. These things don’t usually come with an explanatory CD. So my (imagined) story goes something like this:

Once upon a time (this part is true), when it was fashionable for both men and woman to wear wigs, it became the style to “do” the wig up into a topknot (beginning to wander into speculation). The higher your class, the bigger you got to make your topknot (sheer guesswork). And then some lower-class fellow showed up one day (now shading into pure lies) with the biggest topknot anyone had ever seen. Everyone pointed and shouted (with indignation, because it fits better in the story than admiration) Quel toupet! because they thought he had some nerve to parade around like a nobleman with his oversized topknot.

So it is, in the novel L’Indivision, that when Jean-Raoul takes the little bronze horse statuettes from the house to please his lover, his sisters unite in crying Quel toupet! because he is not playing fair with the terms of their father’s will, or with them.

*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file:



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