Quebec French profanity
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Quebec French profanities, known as sacres (singular: sacre; French: sacrer, "to consecrate"), are words and expressions related to Catholicism and its liturgy which are used as strong profanities in Quebec French, the main language variety of Canadian French, and to a lesser degree in Acadian French spoken in Maritime Provinces east of Quebec. Sacres are considered stronger than the foul expressions common to standard French which centre on sex and excrement (such as merde, "shit"). For other French-speakers sacres have no meaning at all.
The sacres originated in the early 19th century in a time when the social control exerted by the Catholic clergy was increasingly a source of frustration. One of the oldest sacres is sacrament, which can be thought of in Quebec French as equivalent to "goddamn it" in English. It was in use as far back as the 1830s as far as is known. The word "sacrer" in its current meaning is believed to come from the expression Ne dites pas ça, c'est sacré. ("Don't say that, it is sacred/holy"). Eventually, sacrer started to refer to the words francophone Québécois were not supposed to say. This is more than probably related to the commandment: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). The influence and social importance of the Catholic religion at that time allowed sacres to become powerful forms of profanity.
As a result of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec has declined. This has had no effect, however, on the use of sacres, which are as widespread as ever.
List of common sacres
These sacres are commonly given in a phonetic spelling to indicate the differences in pronunciation from the original word, several of which, notably the deletion of final consonants and change of [ɛ] to [a] before /ʁ/ are typical of highly informal Quebec French.
- baptême: "baptism"
- calisse (calice): "chalice"
- calvaire: "Calvary"
- ciboire: "ciborium" or "pyx", receptacles in which the host is stored
- crisse (Christ): "Christ"
- maudit: "damn"
- osti (hostie): "host"
- sacrament (sacrement): "Sacrament"
- simonaque (simoniaque): from the sin of simony
- tabarnak (tabernacle): "tabernacle"
- viarge (vierge): "the Virgin Mary"
- mauzus (moses): "Moses"
Most sacres have modified, milder euphemistic forms (see minced oath). Such forms are not usually considered nearly as rude as the original. (An English language example of this would be to say "mad as heck" instead of "mad as hell".) Many of the euphemistic forms are only similar-sounding to religious terms, so are considered not to denigrate the Church.
- baptême: batinse, batêche, bateau
- câlice: câline, câlif, câlique, câline de bine, câlibine, câlibouette
- calvaire: calvâsse, calvinsse, calvinouche, calvinus, calvinisse, calverasse
- ciboire: cibolle, cibollaque, ciboulle, ciboulette, gériboire
- criss: cristie, crime, criff, cliss, christophe, Christophe Colomb, crimpuff (from the English "cream puff")
- maudit: maudine, mautadine, mautadit, mautadite, maudite, maustie, marde, moutarde
- osti: titi, estifie, ostifie, ostique, ostine
- sacrament: sac à papier, sacrefice, sacramouille, sacre bleu, Sacramento
- tabarnak: tabarnouche, batarnak (anagram of tabarnak), tabarslaque , simonac, tabarouette, tabarnache, barnac, tabarnane, taberolls, tabréré, tabebouts, tabebruns, tabergaut, tabertix, taberguermon, tabermeuns, taberuph, tabermost, taberax, taberkalu, taberpuch, tabarlan, tabarlie, taberson, tabersiouf, taberboog, taberkhalil, tabeurn, tabouère (merge of tabarnak and siboire), tabarnoune
Also considered milder swears:
- bâtard: "bastard"
- toton: "tit", used to denote a complete idiot
- torrieu: (tort à Dieu) "harm to God"
- marde: "shit", used in conjunction with other words, sometimes swears: osti de marde, tas de marde, mange donc un char de marde, pédale de merde, ciboulette de marde or château de marde
Sometimes older people unable to bring themselves to swear with church words or their derivatives would make up ostensibly innocuous phrases, such as cinq six boîtes de tomates vartes (literally, "five six boxes of green tomatoes", varte being slang for verte, "green"). This phrase when pronounced quickly by a native speaker sounds like saint-siboire de tabarnak ("holy ciborium of the tabernacle"). Another example of a benign word that is church sounding is coltord, which was simply an anglicism for "coal-tar", but pronounced just so, sounds as like a merged câlice and tort ("harm").
Most French swear words can be combined into more powerful combinations to express extreme anger or disgust. These intricate uses of French profanities can be quite difficult to master.
- Mon tabarnak j'vais te décalisser la yeule, calice: Décalisser means "to fuck up something"; yeule comes from the derived noun gueule which refers to an animal's throat or maw, in a harsher way. The whole sentence means "Motherfucker I'm gonna fuck you up as fuck".
- Criss de calice de tabarnak d'osti de sacrament: Expressive of extreme anger.
- J'MEN CALICE!!!: Denotes extreme apathy, similar to English "I don't give a fuck". J'men calice des politiciens.
- Osti de tabarnak de calice: Very strong expression of anger. Can also be used as a descriptive phrase expressing anger or derision: Osti de tabarnak de calice, c'est impossible comment que t'es cave.
- Osti d'épais de marde!: Expression of anger aimed at someone, épais is used as a derogatory term meaning "idiot". Osti is used to convey extreme anger and de marde which means "of shit" is used to place emphasis on the idiocy of the person it is aimed at.
The combinations are endless. Some people in the French-Canadian community consider mixing and matching swear words to be a sort of skilled art.
Sacres as punctuation
Occasionally, sacres can be used for other purposes than emphasizing anger or derision. Sacres may be used in a sort of punctuation-like way. Sacres will most often be used as commas or exclamation marks, longer sacres being almost always used as the latter. For example, hier, ostie, j'ai eu du sex en masse, tabarnak!. In the previous example, ostie is used as a comma, and tabarnak is used as an exclamation mark. This use of swears differs in that it serves a grammatical purpose during a discussion. Rarely, some sacres will be used like a question mark, semi-colon, or even as a colon.
A very strong way to express anger or frustration is to use the words tabarnak, sacrament, and câlice. Depending on the context and the tone of the phrases, it might make everybody quiet, but some people use those words to add rhythm or emphasis to sentences.
Usually, more than one of these words is used in a Quebec expression. The words are simply connected with de (of), without any restrictions. Long strings of invective can be connected in this Quebec way, and the resulting expression doesn't have to have any concrete meaning; for example, Mon ostie de saint-sacrament de câlice de crisse! (literally: "My host of (the) holy sacrament of (the) chalice of Christ"). Non-religious terms may also be strung together in this Quebec way, as in Mon crisse de char est brisé, tabarnak de câlisse (literally: "My Christ of (a) car is broken, tabernacle of (the) Chalice"). In areas where English is also commonly spoken, English expletives are often inserted. Fuck ostie ("fuck [the] host") is common in Quebec.
The word fucké (with meanings varying from "crazy, disturbed" to "broken down"; cf. English "screwed up") is much milder than "fuck" is in English, and is routinely used in, for instance, TV sitcom dialogue. The same goes for chit ("shit") (which in Quebec French is used only as an interjection expressing dismay, never as the noun for excrement). When used as a verb, va chier (literally: "go shit"), it does not mean to excrete but rather to "fuck off". When used as past tense chié, it is used exactly as fucké : mes souliers sont chiés ("my shoes are fucked"). Even English-language dialogue containing these words can appear on Quebec French-language television without bleeping: for example, when, in 2003, punks rioted in Montreal because a concert by the band The Exploited had been cancelled, TV news reporters solemnly read out a few lyrics and song titles from their album Fuck the System. However, the same is not true of Quebec's English-language television stations, which follow the same guidelines as other stations in Canada.
A slang term with the preposition en means "a lot of": d'la bouffe en tabarnak (or en crisse, etc.) means "a lot of food", similar to English constructs such as "fuck-ton" or "shitload".
Sacres are often used as verbs too. For example, câlisser une volée means "to beat the fuck out of", or more literally "to give a beating" where câlisser is used as a stronger form of "to give" (donner in French). There are constructions like décrisser which means to leave or to destroy, using the dé prefix, which is about separation. Others include, s'en câlicer or s'en crisser ("not give a damn"), sacrer son camp ("run away", literally "consecrate the camp while leaving it"), and décâlisser. Some are even found as adverbs: crissement meaning "very" or "extremely" as in "this is so darned sweet".
These expressions are found less commonly in literature, but rappers and other singers often use crisse and câlice as a rhyme. More traditional singers also use these words, for example, Quebec singer Plume Latraverse.
One fine example of the use of sacres as different word classes is a dialogue by Les Cyniques called Le cours de sacres. The phrase Jules, étant irrité, a expulsé violemment Jacques qui était en colère ("Jules, who was irritated, violently ejected Jacques who was angry") becomes Le sacrament qui était en calvaire a calissé dehors l'ostie en tabarnak.
Comparison to other languages
The use of liturgical profanity is not unique to Quebec French. In Italian, although to a lesser extent, some analogous words are in use: in particular ostia (host) and (more so in the past) sacramento are relatively common expressions in the North/East, which are lighter (and a little less common) than the typical blasphemies in use in Italy such as porco Dio (pig god) and porca Madonna (see: Italian profanity). Also the process of modifying the terms into euphemistic equivalents is used in Italy: for example ostia is commonly modified to osteria. The word sacramento has also produced the verb sacramentare, which colloquially means "to use blasphemy".
Other dialects in the world also feature this kind of profanity, for instance the expressions Sakrament and Kruzifix noch einmal in Austro-Bavarian or Krucifix in Czech. La hostia is an expletive expression in some Spanish dialects. In Catalan, hòstia is used and is frequently abbreviated to osti. Spanish also uses me cago en ... ("I shit on...") followed by "God", "the blessed chalice", "the Virgin" and other terms, religious or not. It can be shortened to just ¡La virgen! or ¡Copón bendito! ("Blessed chalice!"). In Romanian, the profanity anafura mă-tii! ("Your mother's host!") is sometimes used along with "Easter", "Christ", "Cross", "Commemoration" (parastas), "sacred oil lamp" ('tu-i candela 'mă-sii), "God", "Church", etc.
Sheila Fischman's translation of La Guerre, Yes Sir! (published under that title in both French and English, but meaning roughly "War, you bet!") by Roch Carrier leaves many sacres in the original Quebec French, since they have no real equivalent in English. She gives a brief explanation and history of these terms in her introduction, including a few not listed here.
Irish Catholics of old employed a similar practice, whereby "ejaculations" were used to express frustration without cursing or profaning (taking the Lord's name in vain). This typically involved the recitation of a rhyming couplet, where a shocked person might say "Jesus who, for love of me / Died on the Cross at Calvary" instead of "Jesus!" This is often abbreviated simply to "Jesus-hoo-fer-luv-a-me", an expression still heard among elderly Irish people. Also: "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"
- Freed, Josh (1983). "Prayer or Profanity? A guide to cursing in Quebecois (Gary Bergeron)". The Anglo Guide to Survival in Québec. Montreal: Eden Press. pp. 30–5. ISBN 0-920792-33-2. OCLC 10558074.
- Sanders, Carol (1993). French today: language in its social context. Cambridge University Press. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-521-39695-0.
- Sinclair Robinson, Donald Smith (1984). Practical Handbook of Quebec and Acadian French: Manuel Pratique Du Français Québécois Et Acadien. Anansi. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-88784-137-8.
- Bauer, Olivier (2011). L'Hostie, une passion québécoise. Montreal: Liber. ISBN 978-2-89578-303-9.
- Joualvert.com – Quebec French Glossary
- Swearing in Quebec: If you profane something no one holds sacred, does it make a swear? — The Economist