December 5, 2006
La malédiction du Québec
French-Canadians seem to be putting religion to good use:
“Oh, tabernacle!” The man swore in French as a car splashed through a puddle, sending water onto his pants. He could never be quoted in the papers here. It is too profane.
So are other angry oaths that sound innocuous in English: chalice, host, baptism. In French-speaking Quebec, swearing sounds like an inventory being taken at a church.
English-speaking Canadians use profan-
ities that would be well understood in the United States, many of them scatological or sexual terms. But the Quebecois prefer to turn to religion when they are mad.
… “When you get mad, you look for words that attack what represses you,” said Louise Lamarre, a Montreal cinematographer who must tread lightly around the language, depending on whether her films are in French or English. “In America, you are so Puritan that the swearing is mostly about sex. Here, since we were repressed so long by the church, people use religious terms.”
… “You swear about things that are taboo,” said André Lapierre, a professor of linguistics at the University of Ottawa. In the United States, “it is not appropriate to talk about sex or scatological subjects, so that is what you use in your curse words. The f-word is a perfect example.”
“In Canadian French, you have none of the sexual aspects. So what do you replace it with? You replace it with religion. If you are going to use a taboo word, it would be anything related to the cult, to Christ, the Communion wafer, Jesus Christ, vestments, and elements of the altar like tabernacle. There’s quite a few of them.”
Visitors from France are dumbfounded at that use of French, said Lamarre. “But that’s because they got away from domination of the church a long time ago. They cut off the head of the king really early. We didn’t do that.”
… The swearwords have persisted even though church attendance has plummeted in the past 40 years. Because of that drop, “when the young kids on the street are swearing, they don’t even know what they are swearing about,” mused Monsignor Francis Coyle, pastor of St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal. “They’re baptized in church, and that’s about it.”
… The oaths are so ingrained that one cannot converse fluently without them, said Lapierre. “I teach them in my class.”
Is Quebec’s children learning yet? Ils sûrs sont.
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