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 that are used as strong profanities in Quebec French, (the main variety of Canadian French and in Acadian French spoken in Maritime Provinces east of Quebec). Sacres are considered stronger in Canada than the foul expressions common to standard French which centre on sex and excrement (such as merde, "shit").
The sacres originated in the early 19th century 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 as the French-Canadian equivalent to "goddamn it" in English. It is known to have been in use as far back as the 1830s. 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 French Canadians were not supposed to say. This is likely 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 also led to the declining popularity of sacres among the younger generation, although they still remain in frequent use among older generations.
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. The nouns here can also be modified for use as verbs (see Non-Profane Uses, below). Additionally, some forms, notably ostie and criss can become semi-adjectival when followed by de as in Va t'en ostie de chat! (Scram you #%@* cat!); tabarnak is often added at the end for extra emphasis.
Often, several of these words are strung together when used adjectivally, as in Va t'en maudit hostie de criss de chat! (see Intricate Forms, below). Many combinations are possible, and are one of the more fascinating aspects of Quebec profanity. Since swearwords are voluntarily blasphemous, the spelling is usually different from the word from which they originate. For example, câlice can be written kâliss, calice, caliss, and so on. There is no general agreement on one official way to write these words.
- baptême [ˌbaˈtaɪ̯m]: "baptism"
- câlice [ˈkɑːˌlɪs] (calice): "chalice"
- calvaire [ˌkalˈvaɛ̯ʁ]: "Calvary"
- ciboire [ˌsiˈbwɑːʁ]: "ciborium" or "pyx", receptacles in which the host is stored
- criss [ˈkʁɪs] (Christ): "Christ" or crisser, a more emphatic version of sacrer, both verbs meaning "to curse".
- esti [ˌəsˈt͡si] (hostie): "host"
- maudit [ˈmoːˌd͡zi]: "damn" or "maudit(e)" (adj) "damned"; final (e) is for feminine gender nouns
- sacrament [ˌsa.kʁaˈmɑ̃] (sacrement): "Sacrament"
- simonaque [ˌsimɔˈnak] (simoniaque): from the sin of simony
- tabarnak [ˌtabaʁnak] (tabernacle): "tabernacle" (typically considered the most profane of the sacres)
- viarge [vjaʁʒ] (vierge): "the Virgin Mary"
Most sacres have modified, milder euphemistic forms (see minced oath). Such forms are not usually considered nearly as rude as the original. They are the equivalent of English words such as "gosh", "heck", or "darn". Many of the euphemistic forms are only similar-sounding to religious terms, so are considered not to denigrate the Church directly.
- câlice: câline, câlif, câlique, câline de bine, câlibine, câlibouette
- calvaire: calvâce, calvince, calvinouche, calvinus, calvinice, calverace
- ciboire: cibolle, cibollaque, ciboulle, ciboulette, gériboire
- criss: cristie, crime, crimebine, criff, cliss, christophe, Christophe Colomb, crimpuff (from the English "cream puff")
- esti: titi, estifie, estique, estine
- maudit: maudine, mautadine, mautadit, mautadite, maustie
- sacrament: sac à papier, sacréfice, sacramouille, sacre bleu, Sacramento
- tabarnak: tabarnouche, tabarouette, batarnak (anagram of tabarnak), tabarchum, tabarslaque, tabarclak, tabarnache, barnac, tabarnane, taberolls, tabréré, tabebouts, tabebruns, tabergaut, tabertix, taberguermon, tabermeuns, taberuph, tabermost, taberax, taberkalu, taberpuch, tabarlan, tabarlie, taberson, tabersiouf, taberbooger, taberkhalil, tabeurn, tabouère (merge of tabarnak and siboire), tabarnoune, tabarnanne
Also considered milder swears:
- bâtard: "bastard"
- toton: "boob", used to denote a complete idiot
- torrieu: (tort à Dieu) "harm to God"
- marde: (merde) "shit", used in conjunction with other words, sometimes swears: esti de marde, silo de marde, tas de marde, mange donc un char de marde, pédale de marde, ciboulette de marde, or château de marde, Internet 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 or 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").
French-Canadian swear words can be combined into more powerful combinations to express extreme anger or disgust. These intricate uses of French profanities can be difficult to master. The combinations are endless; some people in the French-Canadian community consider mixing and matching swear words to be a sort of skilled art.
- Mon tabarnak j'vais te décâlisser la yeule, câlice or mon tabarnak, m'a tu t'l'a décâlisser ta grand yeule: Décâlisser means "to fuck up something"; yeule comes from the derived noun gueule which refers to an animal's throat or maw but is used in joual to mean the human mouth or face. The whole sentence can be summarized as "I'm gonna beat your fucking face in, you motherfucker".
- Esti de câlice de tabarnak: Very strong expression of anger. Can also be used as a descriptive phrase expressing anger or derision: Esti de câlice de tabarnak, c'est pas possible comment que t'es cave ("Jesus fucking Christ, there's no way you can be this stupid"). Câlice and tabarnak are interchangeable in this situation.
- Crisse de câlice de tabarnak d'esti de sacrament: Expressive of extreme anger.
- Crisse de câlice de tabarnak d'esti de sacrament de trou viarge: Expressive of very extreme anger.
- J'm'en calice: Denotes extreme apathy and suppressed anger, similar to English "I don't give a fuck". J'm'en calice des politiciens: "I don't give a fuck about politicians."
- Esti d'épais à marde!: Expression of anger aimed at someone; épais ("thick") is used as a derogatory term meaning "idiot". Esti is used to convey extreme anger and à marde, which means "of shit" is used to place emphasis on the idiocy of the person it is aimed at.
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 French-Canadian profanity. The words are simply connected with de (of), without any restrictions. Long strings of invective can be connected in this French-Canadian 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") is much milder than "fucked" is in English. It 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, in 2003 when 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. The same is not true of Quebec's English-language television stations, which follow the same guidelines as other stations in Canada. In November 2017 the CRTC ruled that 'fuck' is not a swearword in French.
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 détabarnaker or 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 C'est crissement bon ("This is so darned good").
These expressions are found less commonly in literature, but rappers and other singers often use criss 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.[further explanation needed]
Comparison to other languages
The use of liturgical profanity is not unique to Canadian French or Quebec. 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 northeast, 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). Modifying the terms into euphemistic equivalents is used in Italy: for example ostia is commonly modified to osteria (a type of restaurant). The word sacramento has produced the verb sacramentare, which colloquially means "to use blasphemy".
Other dialects in the world 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 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 French and English and 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. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" is used in Quebec French "Jésus, Marie, Joseph!"
Hungarians, primarily Catholics, follow the same suit: instead of "Isten" (God) or as a curse, "az Istenit!" (the God of it!) they often say another word which also begins with "is": "iskoláját" (the school of it!) or "istállóját" (the stable of it!)
- Swear Like a True Quebecer - About.com
- Nosowitz, Dan (May 26, 2016). "The Delightful Perversity of Québec's Catholic Swears". Atlas Obscura. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
- 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.