What means "Passe Partout?"

Okay, this is stupid.

I have a Québécois friend who has been good enough to share with me the existence of the kids’ show Passe Partout. (Don’t ask why, please.)

When I ask her what “Passe Partout” means, she says it doesn’t mean anything and is untranslatable. Previous experience has taught me, however, that “untranslatable” has a much narrower meaning for word nerds, and most people aren’t word nerds, no matter what their natal tongue is.

I know this means something – it’s not just a sound without referent. If I look at it with a Joycean polyglot/nonglot eye, it suggests "Moves everywhere, " but of course I’m illiterate in French so I have no idea if there’s any actual connection there.

What’s driving me nuts is that I’ve been listening to a lot of Gogol Bordello lately, and one of my favourite songs is “Start Wearing Purple,” which contains the lines:

…then it switches to Russian… or Czech… or nonsense, I can’t tell.

So my question has a couple of subdivisions: What (if anything) does “Passe-Partout” mean, and am I hearing Gogol Bordello correctly or is this going to turn out to be an embarrassing mondegreen?

Passepartout was the name of Phileas Fogg’s manservant/sidekick in Jules Verne’s Around the World In Eighty Days. Don’t know if that helps…

passe-partout is a French noun meaning master or skeleton key. As an adjective it translates as all-purpose.

I don’t know the english word for it. Actually, I don’t even know the english verb needed to explain what it is.

It’s a tool used by burglars to open locks. It “goes everywhere” in the sense that it can be entered in any lock, and open it as well as any appropriate key would. Well… at least it could when locks were much simpler than they are now. Such a tool wouldn’t be of any use nowadays.

Thanks, folks – that’s helpful!

Mangetout, how serendipitous that you would be the first responder – i thought of you when trying to puzzle out on my own what it might mean.

So, anyone have any opinion about the Gogol Bordello? (I know, that’s probably too obscure a question without making specific reference in the thread title and posting in the Cafe. Doh!)

Well… I just remebered the words I needed : locksmith and picking locks. Like I haven’t been playing RPGs long enough…

The white cardboard around framed pictures that are significantly smaller than the frame is also called a passe-partout.

So, the mat?

ah, yep, at dictionary.com:

passe partout

\Passe" par`tout", n. [F., from passer to pass + partout everywhere.] 1. That by which one can pass anywhere; a safe-conduct. [Obs.] --Dryden.

  1. A master key; a latchkey.

  2. A light picture frame or mat of cardboard, wood, or the like, usually put between the picture and the glass, and sometimes serving for several pictures.

The Collins Hachette French Dictionary gives the following definitions for passe-partout:

Adjective: (of an answer or solution) “catch-all”; (of clothing) “for all occasions”.

Noun: “master key”, “two-man saw”.

Make of that what you will.

“Catch-all” is probably closest in sense for a lot of uses.

This thread just made me flash back to freshman French class where we had to say “Je veux le passe-partou, si’l vous plait” in order to obtain a hall pass so as to go to the restroom or whatever. I don’t recall the teacher ever explaining it’s exact meaning, which is kind of strange, but seeing the word in print brought the phrase immediately to mind.

Waitaminute-- “Passe-partout” is literally blank cardboard, but also very similar to “Carte Blanche,” figuratively? :smiley:

Slight hijack - I love them…Just found out about them, and man that’s one catchy band. I’d love to see them live. I bet they give one kick-ass live performance.

They do - I’ve seen them live, twice. The CDs simply cannot convey the high-octane bizarreness of the live show - how often do you get two accordions and a mosh pit at the same concert? With half-naked Christ imagery on the mike, and two backup tambourine players in pigtails and striped tights? It was the most surreal concert I’ve ever seen, bar none. Not for the faint of heart.

[Ultra nitpick MODE]Although these terms are often used as synonyms, they mean different things. The Master Key, of a set of keys and locks, is the key designed to be able to open all the locks in that set, and to be the only key with this property. A Skeleton Key is one that may (with skill) be used to open a given class or type of lock by exploiting aspects of that particular type’s construction, and is usually a tool for obtaining unauthorised access.[/Ultra nitpick MODE off]

What an oddly informative post for me. It simultaneously answered two questions that I didn’t even know I wanted to ask. Thanks Larry!

As a kid, I would thumb through our TV guide and always see Passe Partout listed and had NO idea what it was or what it meant. It became a phrase I’d utter in the back of my mind over and over, just because I thought it was fun to say. Never even occured to me to ask about it… Thanks Larry (et al)!

After watching the great little flick Everything is Illuminated, the song they play during the closing credits is “Start Wearing Purple”, and immediately loved it, and meant to investigate it further. Completely forgot until now… Thanks Larry!