Canadian French in Quebec: Words and Expressions Only a Local Would Know
Canadian French as spoken in Quebec is the most widespread French dialect found in North America. Acadian French as spoken in New Brunswick and Franco-Ontario French in Ontario are similar dialects to what is spoken in Quebec, though arguably riddled with more anglicisms. There are also pockets of French communities in Manitoba, Alberta and British Colombia each with their own special twists on Molière's tongue.
But just so you know, “Canadian French” is not a term that's really used in Quebec. Locals prefer qualifying terms like ''Québécois,'' "Français Québécois,'' ''Quebec French,'' or "French Quebec" if any term at all must be used to describe a dialect that, generally speaking, is unique to the region.
Here is a list of several Québécois expressions you're bound to hear while in the province of Quebec and in Montreal, the province's largest city.
You might even hear these words incorporated into English sentences on the streets of Montreal because not only are the majority of local anglophones fluently bilingual and by extension chat in French every day, they also typically use French words in everyday English conversations.
Canadian French Swear Words, Quebec Style
French swear words, as with swear words in general, often make reference to bodily excretions, orificial waste, sexual acts, incest, wedlock-free conception and sun-deprived body parts. But in our usual stubborn manner, we like to do things a little different here in Quebec.
“Franchement” is one my preferred French Quebec expressions, but not because of any real reason other than the fact that it was one of the first words I remembered using all the time as a child learning French. It was my bratty verbal eye roll, my Québécois valley girl version of "really?"
Translated literally, “franchement” means “frankly” in English. It can also translate into “downright” or my personal favorites, “really?” or even “seriously.”
To pronounce it properly, say “FRAHN-SCHMAHN.” Block your nose this time and say it again to get a sense of how the N is almost silenced in French, as if the ending of the Nnnnnn sound is cut short. Hear how much subtler the N itself sounds when in full nasal mode? Now try to say it again without blocking your nose.
Replicate what that nasal N sounds like and remember to roll the R in “FRAHN-SCHMAHN.” You'll sound like a native French speaker in no time. But if the R is too hard, then just silence the Ns. You'll be understood.
En Tout Cas
En tout cas. Just one of many Quebecois expressions I use constantly. Like every day. It's filler language. Kinda like this random stock shot. Uncomfortable silence? Fill it with words! Uncomfortable blank space on page? Insert cat photo.
"En tout cas" can mean “anyways.” It can mean “well.” It can also suggest "all I can say is." And it can mean “in any case.” I even employ it as an elegant, gentler, more diplomatic and less dismissive alternative to “whatever.”
To pronounce “En tout cas,” try AWN-TOO-KAH. And say it fast, so fast that you can barely hear the N.
In contrast to most of the French Quebec words and expressions I've listed so far, this word gets around. Quebecers are definitely not the only French speakers who use the word déguelasse. It's an official French word listed in the Larousses and Le Petit Roberts of the dictionary world, one denoting an expression of disgust. Something is gross? Then it's déguelasse.
Unfortunately, disgust seems to match how Francophones outside of Canada feel about its, um, expression.
Don't believe me? Google ''déguelasse.'' It won't take more than a few seconds to spot an online forum thread expressing repulsion that the word exists at all. It's oft considered an improper even lowly term, one that's overly familiar and the level of street talk, barely a step above the uttering of vulgarities.
In contrast to France, Quebec doesn't have its knickers in such a twist over the term. ''Déguelasse'' is employed with reckless abandon in a variety of contexts that elicit revulsion and repugnance.
How do you pronounce it? Try DAY-GUH-LASS.
Describing everything from crocs to Eastern European fashion, it's remarkable how often one can incorporate this French Quebec term into everyday conversation.
Pronounced KAY-TEN, "quétaine" describes pretty much anything that can be construed as cheesy, tacky and ostentatiously passé.
Bibitte is such a cute word. You'll generally hear it in Quebec and maybe in parts of New Brunswick and other small pocket regions in Canada where French is commonly spoken.
It's the French Canadian word for bug, the catch-all Québécois word for the insect world.
It's pronounced B-BIT.
And another thing. Don't say bibitte around French speakers in Louisiana unless you intend on waxing poetic over a certain male appendage.
Je m'en fiche
A beloved expression from my childhood is the quintessential je m'en fiche. Ah, but you don't care what it means? What a charming coincidence. It means "I don't give a rat's a**."
It's pronounced JUH-MAHN-FISH.
To pronounce it, say TERRR-ASS. And really roll that R.
What is a 5-à-7? If I told you cheap booze—or an exceptional microbrew—is involved, could you manage an educated guess? Just don't be mixing it up with what it means in France.
Across the pond, 5-à-7 traditionally denotes the post-workday witching hour for engaging in extra-marital sex. The Quebec 5-à-7? Not so much.
Rather, it refers to happy hour, which typically happens from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.
Nowhere else in the world will you hear this term unique to Quebec. The steamé is a lovely bastardization of both the French and English language. And it refers to the humble hot dog. Steamed.
It's pronounced STEAM-AY.
And if you really want to impress the casse-croûte employee taking your order, say you want your steamé "all-dress" (and roll that R). That's Quebec code for "would you kindly add onions, mustard, relish and a mysterious vinegary coleslaw mix atop my steamed hot dog please?"
So to reiterate, if you want a steamed hot dog with the works at a Quebec fast food joint, just bark out "steam-ay all-drrrress" (roll the R, people).
Prefer your hot dog toasted? Easy peasy. Just say hot dog toasté (TOAST-STAY).
What is a casse-croûte? Stick around Montreal long enough and you will inevitably end up in one.
Translated literally, it means "break crust." Not that anyone ever uses the expression to denote the breakage of crust. Rather, it's a common term for greasy spoons and fast food joints in Montreal and across the province of Quebec.
Foods you will undoubtedly find in a casse-croûte include hamburgers, poutine and most definitely a Montreal staple, the steamé.
Dépanneur. If you're moving to Montreal, remember this word.
Dépanneur is the French Quebec word for “corner store.” Montreal residents as well as citizens across Quebec use the expression almost exclusively instead of “corner store,” including when speaking in English.
It's pronounced DAY-PANN-URRR.
What is a friperie? A vintage shop, stores that are all the rage since hipsters highjacked pop culture airwaves and in Montreal, they are everywhere. Vintages stores, that is.
And in tune with Montreal's tendency to spice up English phrasing with the language of love, you're just as likely to hear a local Anglophone go on about the latest vintage hot spot as you are to hear "hey, wanna check out the new friperie?"
It sounds a little like FRIP-RRREE. Bonus points if you can roll the R's.
Action de Grâce
Don't be surprised if you hear the term "action de grâce" tossed around the next time you visit Montreal and the province of Quebec around the second Monday of October.
Granted, the SAQ isn't so much a Quebec French expression as it is a Quebec crown corporation. But it's used so often in everyday speech in these parts that it might as well be a word. The SAQ's pervasiveness in local vernacular might have something to do with what SAQ storefronts sell.
Quebecers are sometimes accused of using too many anglicisms in everyday French conversation. But when you look at the amount of anglicisms used in France, like "parking" or chewing gum" for example, you almost wonder who is more guilty of anglicizing the French language. Not that I think it's a horrible thing. I personally love switching back and forth between languages, but some people express concern that doing so might render the French language extinct and so on and so forth, and before you know it, all political hell breaks loose (long story, it's complicated).
So. Weekend. In France, a weekend is a "week-end." But in Quebec, a weekend is a "fin de semaine," which means "end of the week."
Pronouncing it is fairly easy once you get the hang of it. Try "FAYN-DUH-SEUH-MEN with an almost silent N on FAYN.
Stationnement is the French word for “parking lot” or even “car park,” as it's called in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Stationnement can also refer to the overall concept of parking.
Not that anyone in France knows that, so the language gossip mongers say. You're likelier to hear a Parisian ask you where the closest “parking” is located (pronounced pahr-keeng with a barely audible “r”).
It's entirely possible that same Parisian might even scratch their head in confusion if you were to use the word “stationnement” in the context of a vehicular parking space in the first place.
Outside of Quebec and by extension Canada, “stationnement” doesn't so much refer to parking spots or parking lots or car parks so much as it describes the act of stopping, of staying put, of being stationed.
How to promounce “stationnement?” Try STASSEEE-OH-NE-MAHN with a barely audible N at the end.
Cabane à Sucre
Cabane à sucre is a term that's thrown around in both French and English conversation in Montreal as soon as winter snow starts melting. A rite of passage for many locals, cabane à sucre season typically heralds the arrival of spring in Quebec.
But what does it mean?
It translates literally as "sugar cabin."
To say it, try CABAN-A-SUCR-UH.
If you plan on getting takeout in Montreal or anywhere in Quebec and want to show off your knowledge of local lingo, then you'll need to learn how to use and pronounce “pour emporter.”
When the staffer at the cash takes your order, he or she will eventually ask you “pour ici ou pour emporter?” That means "for here or to go?"
That's your cue to... say it with me... POO-HOMP-ORTAY.
And roll that R! Gently though.