French Swear Words: Tabernacle

Introduction to French Swear Words in Quebec

Tabernacle, possibly Quebec's most famous French swear word.
Mondadori Portfolio / Getty Images

“Tabernacle” is one of Quebec's most popular French expletives, possibly the most used French cuss word of all in Canada. 

A multipurpose swear word applicable across a wide array of everyday life situations, "tabernacle" can be used to express irritation, pleasure, pain, outrage, anger, joy, discouragement, excitement, and everything in between. Name an emotion and "tabernacle" can somehow be used to convey it.

But What Does Tabernacle Mean?

According to my trusty 1994 edition Oxford dictionary, “tabernacle” was a “portable shrine used by the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness.”

According to Oxford's online definition of tabernacle, it was more specifically “a tent used as a sanctuary for the Ark of the Covenant by the Israelites during the Exodus and until the building of the Temple.”

But in the context of the Roman Catholic Church which once upon a time dominated the religious landscape in Quebec*, the “tabernacle” I've known since childhood is a box positioned within proximity of if not directly atop a church's given altar. This conspicuous, heavily adorned box is where the host, or Body of Christ, is placed.

How Is Tabernacle Used in Everyday Speech?

Rare is the Quebecer who utters tabernacle in reference to the sacred church altar box. But in response to hammering a nail into one's hand? We've all screamed it out once in these parts. Name a situation, any situation, that involves an emotional reaction and watch Tabernacle work its cathartic magic.

Your best bro ran off with your wife? Tabernacle.

You just won the lottery? Tabernacle!

Your favorite/most hated reality show contestant just got booted off the show? Say it with me.

How Is Tabernacle Pronounced?

In Quebec and other parts of Canada featuring pockets of French-speaking communities, tabernacle sounds like “tah-bahr-nack” with an almost silent “r.”

However, a more international French accent would pronounce it "ta-berrr-nakluh," with a well-rolled r and a barely audible "uh" at the end.

*Why all the church slurs in Quebec? Up until Quebec's Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, the Catholic Church had an iron grip on the province's social and political powers which some historians compare to a dark ages of sorts where the province of Quebec fell behind the rest of North America on a variety of fronts, including economic development. Paradoxically, Montreal was at one time competing with New York City to become the North American continent's leading metropolis. It's stunning to think that contrary to its past success and dominance at the turn of the 19th century, today's Montreal has the dubious distinction of being the poorest city in North America.