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The Delightful Perversity of Québec's Catholic Swear Words (atlasobscura.com)
193 points by auxym on May 28, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

First time seeing my province on HN. Swearing in Québec feels like an extension of your body and even the most well spoken people give in to the treat that are our swear words. I'm always reminded of this quote from the Matrix trilogy (although relating to French from France).

Merovingian: Yes, of course, who has time? Who has time? But then if we do not ever take time, how can we ever have time? Chiteau Haut-Brion 1959, magnificent wine, I love French wine, like I love the French language. I have sampled every language, French is my favourite - fantastic language, especially to curse with. Nom de Dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperies de connards d'enculis de ta mire. You see, it's like wiping your ass with silk, I love it.

I'm roughly a quarter French-Canadien and grew up in North-Eastern Ontario near the border. My french education has been a blend of Parisian and Québecois. I remember taking a very enlightening french class at UWaterloo: FR373 History of French-English Bilingualism. My favourite anecdote was of French tourists visiting Québec after it was "rediscovered" by France, and being surprised when their sex-based swears didn't phase the Canadians and similarly the church-based swears didn't bother the French.

Profane Symbiosis, it's the root of our relationship with the french people.

Matrix 2 and 3 could almost have been saved with the twist that The Merovingian was the previous The One who just refused to play along. A criminally wasted opportunity. I loved Matrix 1, I still haven't bothered to watch 3. In fact I can't even remember what happens in 2 after Persephone's bit is over.

So, this is the first time I've had a chance to translate what he was saying for that line, and I could only ever make out fragments of what I thought I understood.

And, if I'm translating (or transliterating) correctly, it's something like:

  In the Name of God, just look at 
  these motherfucking shitty slutty 
  brothel whore assholes.

  0. nom de dieu = name of god
  1. putain      = whore
  2. bordel      = brothel
  3. merde       = shit
  4. saloperies  = sluts
  5. connards    = assholes
  6. enculé      = motherfucker
  7. ta mire     = one's sight
Does that properly capture the spirit of his curse words, or am I not quite getting it right?

Osti que tu l'as pas l'affaire. On s'en sac' de squi veulent dire les mots, l'important c'est d'avoir l'air en criss :)

Well... I tried.

d'enculé de ta mère (*)

I'm also reminded of this nice Wikipedia article (in French) about Captain Haddock's insults: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocabulaire_du_capitaine_Haddo...

Apparently those were used to replace actual swear words, that may have been inappropriate for children.

My favorite curse comes by way of Maledicta which is a scholarly journal on verbal aggression. If I recall this particular curse was Hungarian in origin. This curse is sexual, scatalogical, and blasphemous. If you are offended by such things, I'd suggest you read no further.

"Oh Lord, why are you slapping me with your cock, which is covered in shit from fucking Jesus!?"

C'est beau le joual!


A funny thing to observe, as the article notes: the verb "fuck" will be conjugated in French, as attested by "fucké" in the lyrics above, but it's not really a big deal in French. It's not taboo language like "tabarnak" is.

One thing the article says is that the cursing is completely meaningless. It is not. For example, "câlisser" as a verb means to throw something violently:


This isn't interchangeable with other taboo words. I don't think tabarnak even has a verb form.

Yes, tabarnak has a verb form:

"Je vais t'en tabarnaker une si tu continues." e.g. "I will (provide you violently) a punch you if you continue."

tabarnaker: to do with violence

Neat! I didn't know! Your Wiktionary needs you!


But that does sound interchangeable with câlisse, then, isn't it? You can't say "je vais te tabarnaker" avec le même sens qu'avec "câlisser" (sans les mots "en" et "une", je veux dire).

Well... it is a bit more complicated than that...

"Câlisse-moi patience" : leave me alone

"J'ai décalissé le char" : I wrecked the car

"Tabarnak-moi patience" : NOT USED. NO ONE SAYS THAT.

The most common usage is indeed calisse when used in the expression the poster above you described.

"Je vais t'en calisser une si tu continues"

also appropriate is

"Je vais t'en crisser une si tu continues"

Tabarnaker is very funny though and not commonly used in that way, although people would understand it would be weird.

Jamais entendu ça de mes trente ans au Québec

It does sound a little off. "M'a t'en crisser une", "M'a t'en calisser une", and "M'a t'en sacrer une" all sound fine. I'd use "tabarnak" to finish the sentence: "M'a t'en crisser une tabarnak!"

Yep, sounds much more natural at the end :)

FWIW some other catholic countries have beautiful blasphemous profanities: Italy and Spain come to mind, but I'm pretty sure Poland has some too.

In Italy profanities that attack religion are so pretty much a taboo that is weird to foreigners: you can have a prime time tv show with full frontal nudity and some violence, but you will not hear swearing against god until after midnight.

Edited to reflect a comment by gattilorenz

I don't think the description of the italian situation is quite correct: it seems to me that "regular" profanity is much less censored, nowadays.

On the other hand, "blasphemous" profanity (swearing at $DEITY) is still a no-no, even after midnight, and a sure way to get suspended from TV, even though you can easily hear people on the street saying that aloud in some regions (for example Tuscany, Veneto, Trentino and Friuli).

By the way, in Trentino we also say "osti" (host) as a plain exclamation, exactly as in Québec.

You're right, when I wrote profanity, I meant blasphemous profanity not scatological or sexual profanity. I'll edit my comment. Thanks

For interested people, I recommend Your Mother's Tongue: A Book Of European Invective by Stephen Burgen. While it doesn't cover Quebec, it's an extremely funny and informative cross-continent compendium, and I think it reveals quite a lot of the culture of different countries and peoples.

In Argentina -also catholic- is not uncommon to hear "Me cago en Dios" (I shit in God) or "La concha de Dios" (God's pussy/God's cunt) not to swear another one but to express disgust with some event -e.g: the rival team scores a goal-

As an immigrant that have chosen Québec, I can say that one of the various reasons why I've chose this province (and city for the matter) is this distancing from religion and as a bonus the catholic bad words.

I simple love it and I love the history of how this come to be. But tabarnak, even after some years here I'm not able to use it naturally. The english words always get out instinctively, even english being my third language!

I'm also an immigrant in Québec (and Québec City), I've been here for 17 years though so I basically grew up a Québecois after having been a little German boy and being born in Bosnia. Where are you from originally?

I'm from Brazil. I'm about 3,5 years in Québec City now.

Even if it doesn't sound natural we like it when you try (especially the swear words) :)

I am an anglo who speaks french (like an anglo) and don't think I have amused my Quebecois friends more than when I used 'tabernouche' in a conversation.

It's a bit of a pro-tip for anglos - you can sound a bit crass going full-on tabernak calise etc., but droping the 'tabernouche' with anglo accent wins every time.

>I am an anglo who speaks french (like an anglo) and don't think I have amused my Quebecois friends more than when I used 'tabernouche' in a conversation

This makes sense to me. A summer job I once had featured a very clever Polish émigré who was still basically learning English. At one point, he was furiously angry (after having dropped a heavy and expensive yet eminently breakable object on his foot) and shouted "GULL DANGIT" in the manner of actually swearing.

Yeah true! Others reactions to when I succeed at using is amazing :)

> ... and should you get in trouble with the law, it's going to be time to find a Francophile lawyer.

Maybe, but a francophone one would be more immediate use.

"Little" correction: the word "Enculé" is a more specific kind of "Fucked", it means "Fucked in the ass". It has the word "cul" in it which means "ass".

As a Norwegian, I find English profanity to be pretty tame. It all means the same, but I think we have more pathos: "May the devil take you" and "go hang yourself" has to be the highlights....

The English are masters of the subtle insult, though. This is usually illustrated by quoting Churchill, for example:

Bessie Braddock to Churchill -- "Winston, you're drunk!"

Churchill: "Bessie, you're ugly, and tomorrow morning I shall be sober"

Edit: there was a great one on TV yesterday, one politician was commenting on the former London Mayor Boris Johnson's stance in the upcoming referendum on the UK's continued membership of the EU and said: "He is far too intelligent to believe what he said."


Agreed -- the Brits are in a class of their own when it comes to wit. They can tell you to fuck off, and you are actually happy to do so :-)

There you go, quoting Churchill :-)

Winston S. Churchill — 'Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.'

Ooh! Ooh! Churchill quotations!

Lady Astor: "Sir, if you were my husband, I'd poison your tea."

Winston Churchill: "Madame, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

There is also quite an interesting geographical variation in swearing in Norway. In the northern parts, swearing is sufficiently common that it's legal to call a policeman "you horse cock".

Yeah, especially the Northern varieties are particularly expressive. To add to your examples, I was on the receiving side of this particular gem from a fisherman friend of mine up North: "Din skaderunka måskuk", which roughly translates to "you're the penis of a seagull, which has been whacked off in such a manner that it became damaged".

"Go to hell" and "go hang yourself" exist in English.

"Devil" is very mild profanity as a noun. It's stronger as an intensifier: "What the devil are you doing?!".

I'm British and live in Denmark. Danes swear in English far more than they should, perhaps because they learn all the strongest words from American TV, where swearing replaces humour...

"Go hang yourself" and "devil" are exclusively British English as far as I know as an American. "Go to hell" is certainly also an American swear though.

> "For example, ma blonde means 'my girlfriend.'"

As in "Auprés de ma blonde, qu'il fait bon, fait bon", e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjEIVO9Xitk

Some songs to practice hearing the sacres : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM05U9rHdwY - Fourrer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2sClLoRFOM - Enfant de Chienne https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daE5bOnYNNY - god bless the topless https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3Ol8wIYoPQ - la petite grenouille

And a more 'meta' song on the subject : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgiNoNqYXMA

The film "Bon Cop Bad Cop" has a great scene in which the Quebec cop explains to the Toronto cop how to swear properly. Sadly it is dufficult to get a copy of the film with subtitles that do justice to the script, especially in the UK.

Here's the clip in question: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U72QVCgh_Q

It's not merde, it's mârde.

Y' devrait me donner une piasse pour ça. Kâlisse de saint Simonach.

Btw piasse is pronounced between a pièce (coin in french) and piastre (spanish ancient money) that was used a lot by smugglers.

And tabernâk, he forgot to speak about the "pot" (prounouced pote).

An old quebecan band with english subtitles to improve your quebecan :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5gidM31MCM

When you said old I was expecting Offenbach or Beau Dommage not Les Colocs. I can't believe it's been 17 years. RIP Dédé.

Sometimes I miss Montréal and the music. I am back in Europa, and I long for the live music in this place.

Is this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuHODi3Ry2o Acceptable for the right pronounciation? Grim Skunk- Mange d'la marde

Montréal is fortunately underrated (except by some maudit f....), I hope it will never become the new San Francisco.

GrimSkunk is quintessential quebecois through and through. They're rolling their r's a bit more than is usual for effect, the song has a humorous tone. I really hope we don't become like San Francisco either, but the hipsterisation of the city is very palpable, unfortunately. The music scene is still as awesome as ever though.

Montréal will never become some kind of new San Francisco, if we could elect better politicians than fucking liberal party affiliates we could be more like portland, denver and seattle though.

Hey I know some related but irrelevant trivia!

"Ostia" is a curse in Spain, with the same etymology as the "osti" et al. in the article.

Vive le Québec Tabarnak!!! If only we could get better politicians and move forward instead of being stuck in infinite corruption.

I grew up in Quebec, speaking English, but can still hear my friends with their "maudit tabarnak" and "sacre bleu".

So, if these are the same words that apply to Catholic worship, do the priests have to use euphemisms for tabernacle and host?

Not really (I don't go to church). All swear words are pronounced differently from the actual word (see 'joual' on google). The priest (or anybody else) can say the word in proper french and it won't be heard as a swear word.

Also, I think it has to do with how you use the word. When it's a noun, it's pretty clear that you're not swearing.

Lived with a Canadian, can confirm.

I still mutter "tabarnak" when I drop something in the kitchen :P

zounds crikey blimey godamit gadzooks egad darn

English ha[s,d] the same thing.

Hostie d'tabarnak d'enfant d'chienne de calisse de saint-ciboire de crisse de trou d'cul...

Hostie de calisse de mongol de tabarnak d'épais de crisse de sacrament de trou de viarge!

Can't forget the polite yet still religious based versions.

Being very mad --> Être en saint s'il-vous-plaît

Thanks, you two, for the chuckle! I did French Immersion for primary school and my brain exploded. "YOU CAN'T SAY THAT! YOU'LL GET IN TROUBLE!"

Esprit de tabarnouche de p'tit vlimeux de caline de saint-cibole de crime de péteux...

Décrisse avant que j'te dévisse !

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