French Swear Words in Quebec

Man holding a cursing sign

 Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

French swear words, as with swear words in general, often make reference to bodily excretions, excrement, sexual acts, incest, wedlock-free conception, and those sun-deprived body parts.

Some of the strongest language is actually derived from words that have nothing to do with negativity—words more commonly used in a church during religious services. Why all the church slurs in Quebec? Up until Quebec's Quiet Revolution in the '60s, the Catholic Church had an iron grip on the province's social, and by extension, political mores which some historians compare to a dark age of sorts, a time when Quebec fell behind the rest of North America on a variety of fronts including economic development. Not too long ago, Montreal found itself competing with New York to become the continent's leading metropolis. 

French-Canadian swear words can be combined into long strings of words to express extreme anger. It would be hard for an English-speaking person to do it well. These combinations are endless and some French-Canadians are rather skilled at putting the words together to make the appropriate impact.

In Quebec's usual stubborn manner, they like to do things a little different and their French swear words do a spectacular job of illustrating that. Here's a guide to those words, their origins, and what they mean.

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Religious item
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Tabernacle is one of Quebec's most popular French swear words, one usually employed to express irritation, pain, discouragement, outrage, anger, joy, hope and/or excitement. 

But isn't tabernacle a religious word? In the context of the Roman Catholic Church which historically dominated the religious landscape in Quebec, the “tabernacle” many Canadians have known since childhood is a box positioned near or directly on a church altar.

These religiously based words, termed Sacres, are considered stronger than other swear words that correspond to words in English like the one commonly used that actually means excrement.

So this is one example of a dual meaning—the historically religious meaning and the current-day swear word.

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Religious figures
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A popular French swear word in Quebec, hostie or osti is the French word for “host,” the round bread consecrated during the Eucharist.  But this is not the religious "host," it is used to express frustration or disdain. There is no real English translation for this word but it is used like we may use "hell," at the beginning of a sentence.

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Religious figure holding a gold cup
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In close contention with tabernacle for most popular swear word in Quebec is calice, a sacred goblet that may look innocent, perhaps even rich and ornate. But in Quebec, its very mention is wrought with profanity.

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Woman in church holding a candle
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One of Quebec's gentler swear words, sacrement, is a little harsher than "oh diddly darn." But barely. And of course, its origin is in the word sacrament, a Christian rite with importance and significance to the religion.

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Woman holding a body
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We can't say vierge or viarge is used that often anymore but it happens as an innocent exclamation of note easily sandwiched into an impromptu string of slurs. The original word refers to the Virgin Mary but of course when used in swearing is simply a swear word.

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Religious painting
DEA / G. NIMATALLAH / Getty Images

You say Christ and French-Canadians say crisse or criss. It now also means "to curse."

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