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Pardon My French: How to Swear like a Quebecer

After seeing Soulpepper's show Chasse-Galerie in 2015, I got to thinking about the elements of convincing swearing in French. Portions of this article originally appeared on Schmopera.

Step 1: Know your syntax

As the show captures well, swearing is embedded in French Canadian culture. Therefore, certain grammatical rules apply. (Pardon my literal and proverbial French, I am going to use the actual swear words here.) Words like tabarnak, câlisse, criss, simonaque, ciboire, calvaire, viarge and esti are nouns, so they generally require a "de" after them when they are used to describe something. A few of them were used as adjectives on a few occasions, which sounds off to a native speaker. For example, you can't say "that tabarnak chair". A connector word is missing: "that tabarnak de chair", "cette tabarnak de chaise". It's like saying "that f*ck chair", it just doesn't work, it has to be "f*cking" for it to make grammatical sense.

Same goes for connecting multiple swear words together ("esti de tabarnak de câlisse de bout'viarge de chair!") which one particularly pious character does near the end to great humour - we need some more connector words in there. And in the cursing song, "Esti tabarnak tabarnak esti", there should be a little "de" between esti and tabarnak to make it make sense: "esti de tabarnak, tabarnak, esti". There is a great scene from the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop where a Quebecer hilariously explains swearing syntax to an Ontarian.

Step 2: "Tune" your adjectives

There is a concept in French grammar called "l'accord", which literally means "tuning", which many of you musicians will like. You need to "tune" your adjectives and verbs to match their corresponding nouns. There were some adjectives in the show: "maudit/maudite" ("that maudite chair") and "bête". that needed to be tuned to match the "gender" of the word they go with. Many Quebecers switch back and forth between English and French all the time, and therefore it has its own grammatical rules, believe it or not.

You would generally use the gender of the French word equivalent to determine the gender of your adjective. So you can't say "maudite canoe" because "maudite" is feminine and the French word for canoe (canot) is masculine. Therefore it would be "maudit canoe" (silent T so it sounds like "maudi"). "Bête" is the same for the feminine and masculine, so use it to your heart's content.

Step 3: Pronounce with conviction

There is some room within the 17th-century historical setting here for the pronunciation to be a little different from today's. That being said, "tabernacle" should be pronounced with all A's and cut off at the end: "tabarnak". "Esti" is used but "hostie" is more common (silent H), "simonaque" is not "simônaque" but more of an open "o", think "simonnaque". "Baptême" means "baptism", but is pronounced sans P. We all know that swearing is all about the delivery, so diction coaching is perhaps more important here than anywhere else.

Okay, ast'heure, I need to go wash my mouth out with soap.

This article originally appeared on Schmopera on November 29, 2016.

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