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Gettin’ down ‘n vulgar! – Introduction to swear words – Part 1 (#239)

Swear words lend a colloquial (spoken) impact to the message being shared.   Swear words traditionally relate to matters which are most likely to offend others. This attracts people’s attention and invokes an emotional response from those who are listening.

If you travel anywhere in Québec or listen to Francophones speak anywhere in Canada, you will certainly run into swear words or obscenities.  They are used much more loosely used in French than in English.

In East Asian societies (China for example), the most sacred aspects of society are family networks and honouring one’s parents and ancestors.  It is therefore no surprise that East Asian swear words have mostly to do with one’s mother, ancestors, and family relations (if you were to say “Your mother” to someone in Chinese, don’t be surprised if you get an angry response).

In Western societies, for many centuries the Church was the most sacred aspect of society.  Religious blasphemy was the most sure-fire way to invoke a negative or emotional reaction.  Therefore many of our Western English swear words in Canada and the USA relate to God, or subjects which were determined taboo by religion and religious puritan principles.

Examples are “Damned” (which relates to hell), “F@#$” (which is an affront to the Church’s conservative views towards intercourse), “Hell” (self-explanatory), “Shit” (which indirectly contravenes the notion of the Church’s early puritan obsessions with cleanliness and purity), “Pissed” (for the same reasons as “shit”), “C#@t” (which relates to genitalia – a subject rendered taboo by the church), etc. etc.

In Canadian and Québec French, swear words also stem from a liturgical (church / clerical) origin.   However, unlike more abstract Canadian English swear words, most Canadian French obscenities stem from the objects used in Catholic ceremonies.

Swear words in Québec and Canadian French are called “des jurons” or “des sacres”.

Important note:  French swear words in Canada are very different from French swear words in France, with only a few exceptions (such as merde/marde, pute/putain, etc.)

In Québec and elsewhere in French Canada, there’s a general consensus that most of the objects and swear words relate to traditions in the Catholic Church.  Yet what most people in Québec do not realize is that Canadian & Québec French swear words would not have existed had it not been for the Protestant church’s presence in Québec and North America from the time of Samuel de Champlain (essentially, day one).


A photo I took of a bar sign in Montréal the other day.  A photo full of irony.   A “Ciboire” is both a sacred Catholic wafer box / ciborium, but is also a French swear word.  Here, the bar is playing on the irony between its modern “obscene” meaning, and its historical “religious” meaning.

There were three major parishioner groups in North America in the 1600s and early 1700s:   (1) the French Catholics, (2) the French Protestants (known as the Huguenots) who were prosecuted in France and who fled to the North America to escape persecution from French Catholics, (3) Anglophone (as well as Dutch speaking) Protestants.

(On a personal note, I’m in part descended from several families of the original Protestant French settlers, not the Catholic French settlers… among them Louis Dubois, the head of the Huguenots, and several others from 1614 to the late 1600s.  The Protestant French colonialists made their way westward, and Western Canada is now populated with many of their descendants.  Interestingly enough, the total number of descendants of the original Protestant French settlers now probably outnumbers all the descendants of the original Catholic French settlers in North America.  All of this is something which is not taught in Québec’s education system… which unfortunately contributes to the notion of the Two Solitudes [It can be a bit frustrating]).

The “Protestant French” population in North America was viewed by the “Catholic French” population as being blasphemous and as “outsiders” (despite being of the same French origins).  The Catholic French population in North America made a specific point of demarcating the difference between “Catholic French settlers” and “Protestant French settlers” by creating swear words which related to “Catholic-specific” ritual pieces (this is why North American French swears are based upon Catholic “objects”, versus North American English swear words which are based upon general abstract religion).



Swear words in Canadian & Québec French are often inserted into sentences in the same way as in English.   In very general terms, the most common ways of using them follow four simple rules. (There are other ways to use them, but the following are the main ways we use them the most often):

1.  As an imperative:

  • F#@#!  I’ve had it!
  • Tarbarwatte!  Que j’en ai marre!
  • Shit that’s great!
  • Crisse qu’y est bon!
  • God-damn it!
  • Câlisse!

2.  Using “de” (of a) to link the swear word with the object to which it refers:

  • C’est un ciboire de char!
  • That’s a hell of a car!
  • Toé, le p’tit câline de morvaillon!
  • You, ya little pisser of a brat!

3.  As a tensified verb:

Generally by adding the equivalent an English “-ed” at the end (which is “é” in French).   Thus, hostie (damn) can be conjugated to a past/present passive tense, hostié (damned).

  • Son hostié char!
  • His damned car!
  • C’t’un cristié bon gateau!
  • God-damn that cake is good!

4.  Adding “en X” after a verb, an adjective or an adverb

  • Je suis tanné en cimoinak!
  • I’m so F’in tired of it!
  • Le ciel et si bleu en ostie!
  • The sky is so god-damned blue!



You can have a lot of fun with our French swears.  They’re much more flexible than English swears.  You can mix and match them, and play on sounds.

Example 1 :  My main gym buddy for many years was Francophone.  He always used to tease me about one physical aspect or another of mine.   But I would throw the insults right back at him.    I played on the French swear expression of calling someone “Viande de chien” (dog meat).  But I modified it and always called him “Viande de bouche de cheval!” (horse-mouth meat).  His busted a gut every time!  (“Hé, toi-là!  Viande de bouche de cheval, que c’est qui se passe?”, “Hey! Horse mouth meat, what’s up?”).

Example 2 : Instead of saying a hard-core swear word, you can substitute it with a less-offensive word which takes the first letter of the offensive swear word, or which sounds similar.

Take this sentence for example: “Il a trop acheté en ciboire!” (Christ, he bought too much!).

“Ciboire” can be replaced by something as mundane as s’il vous plaît, Simon, cite, etc. 

They all start with a “SEE” sound.    Thus you can say “Il a trop acheté en s’il vous plaît“.   This is best when you are unaware of how the obscenity (such as “ciboire”) would be taken by the person you’re talking to.  Creative, isn’t it?



One of the reasons why there are so many swear words in Québec and Canadian French is owing to the number of “softened” swears.    Softening makes them much more acceptable and allows them to be said to a larger audience.

In English a softer version of “Damn” would be “Darn”.  A softened version of “Shit” would be “Schnoot”.  A softened version of “F#@$*” would be “Fudge”.   “Pissed” is softened to “Peeved”.   “C*&#” is softened to “Pussy”, and so on.

Unlike in English, the softening possibilities in French go on and on and on – to the extent that there are hundreds of them (English likely only has a few dozen, or less).



The next few posts will give alphabetical lists of many swear words in Québec and Canadian French, and related “softened” words.   Best now to charge your pace-makers, and to put passwords on your computers for the kiddies!!




Today’s Top Hit French Music Countdown (#238)

I’ve fallen behind by a few days with new posts, but I’ll see if I can get back on track now that my week has settled.

Here are the latest top-charters trending in French today across Québec and in French across Canada.   You won’t able to go anywhere in Québec without hearing these songs in some way or another.

It’s a great place to start your search if you’re looking for fresh music for your iPod or MP3.

Many of the artists below have official websites and YouTube channels for their songs & music videos.

You can hear free snippets of each song by clicking on the radio links below.

From Radio NRJ 93,4 FM – Montréal: 

  • # 1 – Sally Folk – “Les heures de visite”
  • # 2 – Jean Leloup – “Paradis City”
  • # 3 – Claude Bégin – “Avant de disparaître
  • # 4 – Ariane Moffatt – “Debout”
  • # 5 – Louis-Jean Cormier – “Si tu reviens”
  • # 6 – Jean Leloup – “Willie”
  • # 7 – Vincent Vallières – “Mélie”
  • # 8 – Les B.B. – “Snob (feat. Jean-Marc Couture)”
  • # 9 – Marc Dupré – “Là dans ma tête”
  • #10 – Alex Nevsky – “Fanny”

From Radio CKOI 96,9 FM – Montréal :

  • # 1 – Ariane Moffatt – “Debout”
  • # 2 – Sally Folk – “Les heures de visite”
  • # 3 – Sens – “Ce soir
  • # 4 – Jean Leloup – “Willie”
  • # 5 – Jean Leloup – “Paradis City”
  • # 6 – Avant de disparaître – “Avant de disparaître”
  • # 7 – Marie-Mai – “À bout portant”
  • # 8 – Nico & Vinz – “In Your Arms”
  • # 9 – Simon Boudreau – “La trotteuse”
  • #10 – Final State –  You & I Are All The Same” (French Version)

From Rouge FM, 107,3 – Montréal:

  • # 1 – Marc Dupré – “Là dans ma tête”
  • # 2 – Marie-Eve Janvier & Jean-François Breau –  Tu deviendras”
  • # 3 – Ariane Moffatt –  Debout”
  • # 4 – Marie-Pierre Arthur – “Rien à faire”
  • # 5 – Etienne Drapeau –  Marie-moi”
  • # 6 – Marie-Eve Janvier & Jean-François Breau – “Tu deviendras”
  • # 7 – Nicola Ciccone – “Comme au tout premier jour”
  • # 8 – Dominique Hudson – “Comme d’habitude”
  • # 9 – Jérôme Couture – “Pardonnez-moi”
  • #10 – Sally Folk – “Les heures de visite”

The above music is available for purchase through various online platforms.

When searching for online music or videos, please stick to official websites and do not pirate.  Our artists are part of our cultural fabric.

Bonne écoute!

Odds ‘n Ends post: A play on words (#237)

For those of you who are learning French at a beginner level (and a good number of followers of this blog are), here is cute play on words for you…

I came across this sign outside a book store.


A Montréal Mystery: the Mountain Mirowave (#236)

On my way back to Toronto from Québec City, I drove through Montréal and gave a quick tour of the city to my visiting company from Alberta.

We went up Mount Royal (the mountain behind downtown from which the city of Montréal takes its name).

In an area of the park with no vehicles or roads, we came across the most bizarre and unexpected mystery… a discarded microwave!

How in the heck did a microwave get all the way up there?  Why would someone even haul a microwave up there??  Did someone actually think they were going to “microwave their hot-dogs” instead of BBQ’ing them?  (Yet, only to find that electric sockets don’t grown on trees?).

Mystery of the century!

mcr.wv1 mcr.wv2

Odds ‘n Ends Post from Québec City (#235)

You may recall a few weeks ago I wrote a post which provided some old black & white and early colour footage of Québec; Old video footage of Québec in the 1930s, 40s & 50s (#199)

In that post I pointed out that rural Québec farms used to have outdoor stone and earthen ovens for cooking bread.  Such ovens were used from the 1600s until the 1940s).   I wondered out loud if any such ovens (or their ruins) might still exist in the countryside.   Well, I answered my question.   I found some in the countryside not far from Québec City.  Photos below.


ovn2Yesterday was my first time attending a book fair.  I popped in at the International Book Fair in Québec City to get a book signed by an internationally renown Québec author.

Unfortunately I did not have time to look around very much (my main reason for going was to get a book signed), but I saw that several famous people were present (Dany Laferière walked in the entrance right beside me, Denise Bombardier was there, as was Bernard Pivot — all of whom are very famous people in all Francophone countries for their written works and television careers).