How to you swear in Quebec?

Les Sacres Québécois

For French people, our distant cousins in Canada are not only far away by mileage but also by culture, society, and even cuisine.

How then to explain their weird custom of using religious terms as insults? Their tabernacle, ostie , chalice, sacrement, and other words of the church are their worst expressions, just like shit, shoot, fuck, darn, and other prettinesses of a colorful language are to English speakers.

In the USA, we do use Christ as a cuss word, so it’s not entirely a French Canadian thing.

When hearing for the first time this original kind of expressions, one could wonder what the church and the members of a religious order did to make people transform their religious terms into totally different use from their original etymology.

Most of the Quebec people questioned have no idea of the origin of this strange habit, but they point out that their swear words do not sound very vulgar, nor very powerful, while adding that in France people use the very childish terms of popo-caca, crotte, merde and other poo-related expressions to image their thoughts and words. Touché !

Since the XIXth century, the religious swearwords entered the culture and the language of Quebec - possibly in reaction against the powerful clergy and the omnipresent church.

Nowadays, everybody uses these terms every day without thinking about their true meaning, children and adults alike, in the family, in educational environment, and even at work.

In France, these words would remain totally incomprehensible and completely irrelevant to any current context.

In québecois, you don’t say swearing, you say sacrer (holy acting).

A legend (by definition, unverifiable) explains that during the landing of the first explorers to the beautiful province, headed by Jacques Cartier, the order had been given to the women to have a minimum of 14 children, to populate the new territory - until then the country of the Amerindian tribes. Cartier is recognized today as being the official discoverer of Quebec.

The women would have obeyed in the best way they could, but those who were incapable of producing so many children would have supposedly undergone the threat of excommunication by their own church, as a sign of revenge, or of disrespect of the order given by the authorities.

We can easily imagine that the women rebelled against such measures and would have begun to swear against the church by using its own religious terms. This fable seems plausible, especially for lack of better explanation.

A whole tale!

Here is a partial list of the swearwords used days in Quebec: baptème; bâtard; calvaire; calice; crucifix; diable; étole; eucharistie; Jérusalem; maudit; ostie; sacrement; sacristie; tabernacle; vierge; Jésus de plâtre ; (approximate translations: baptism; bastard; supplice; chalice; crucifix; devil; shawl; eucharist; Jerusalem; cursed; ostie; sacrament; sacristy; tabernacle; virgin; Jesus of plaster.)

The naive charm of the used words could well be thought of as a provincial Canada-isme if it was not rather violent in some instance: imagine someone yelling ostie to your face, instead of saying shit for example - the effect could certainly diffuse the meaning and the impact of the insult, possibly even growing into a giggle.

According to author Claude Martel, speaking to La Revue gazette:

“At the beginning, the use of blasphemy as insult showed a reaction to the fact that uttering the name of God was forbidden. In the 19th century, the swearwords became more present and used, as it was the only way for people to negatively react against the religious authority and its domination. So the specific church swearwords could be a result of the more simple people oppressed by the religious power in place. The more educated people were often shielded from that use. In short, the use of church words as swears words could indicate a reject, conscious or unconscious, of a brutally imposed Catholicism; rebellion in words is easier than in gestures”.

Are the Quebec people going to continue to pour flowery rosaries of swearword of liturgical inspiration into their daily life? The roots of these common expressions are so anchored in the language that it would seem difficult to eliminate completely.

Would the semi-funny swearwords be contagious? At the moment in France, we do not use any of these words in our vocabulary, so our dear cousins across the pond distinguish themselves from France by their swearwords.

It is only fair to note that another big difference between the two people is their incredible poutine, their way of serving our iconic fries, weirdly covering them with cheese and brown sauce. What the heck?

In France, we have dear Captain Haddock (of Tintin’s fame), who never cleaned up his vocabulary of all the sacrebleu, bachi-bouzouk, or mille millions de mille sabords, but after all, those are not religious words, and furthermore, he is Belgian after all.

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