Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Les Sept Mots Que Tu Ne Peut Pas Dire Sur Television

There is an interesting article in today's Toronto Star talking about Francophone Quebeckers using English-language maledictions on the airwaves. Apparently in the Quebec French-language media, it's quite permissible to let off an f-bomb or seven, but you cannot say any of the traditional French-language naughty words.

I listen to a fair amount of Radio-Canada (the French-language version of the CBC), in part because it's about the only domestic radio station that doesn't annoy me, and in part because it helps me improve my French. I haven't heard any English-lanaguage four-letter words on there (yet), but they probably sanitise it for the benefit of the Franco-Ontarien(ne) market.

One interesting thing you'll notice is that the English-language maledictions used quite blithely in the French-language media are all obscenities, and the French words are all profanities. You can get away with saying "fuck" but not "tabernacle," "shit" but not "calique," "piss" but not "ciboire." (This promotes endless amusement among les native English-speaking bilangues: "To you, 'chalice,' 'tabernacle,' and 'ciborium' are dirty words?! What the tabernacle is a ciborium, anyway?!")*

This is actually a divide that goes deeper than language. The mantra I've always heard is that Protestants (for a loose definition of "Protestant" that includes Anglicans) use obscenities, and Catholics use profanities. What do I mean by "obscenity" and "profanity"? They're not actually synonymous. The former is a malediction about a biological function (like most of our English-language four-letter words, that usually means it refers to sex or excretion), and the latter is a malediction that refers to something religious (like using "chalice" as a dirty word).

It also represents an interesting bit of linguistic creep, which you don't see going too much in the other direction. I can't really think of anything where the French-language term is used ubiquitously in Anglophone Canada (although French-English crossovers are quite common in Quebec), but I can think of lots of terms that go the other way. (An interesting counter-example would be "courriel," the Quebec-standard term for e-mail, which has pretty much no traction anywhere else in the Francophone world, except for within the Academie Francaise. Go figure.)

When Anglophone Canadians outside of Quebec start talking about going to "the dep" (from "depanneur," "corner/variety store") and eating PFK (it comes in a bucket and is made of breaded, fried pieces of bird), I'll figure we've achieved true linguistic cross-pollination. In the meantime, I'm just amused.

Passe-moi le spruce beer, s'il te plait...


* Miriam-Webster.com informs me that a "ciborium" is a "goblet-shaped vessel for holding eucharistic bread." I am going to assume "eucharistic bread" is a euphemism for "Communion wafers," but I'm not sure. Nope, I'm not one of these English-speaking Canadian Catholics, can you tell?!


Blogger imfunnytoo said...

hmmm. There has to have been real change in the last twenty three years...because when I studied in France, Parisians had no quibble about "Passe un bon week-end" or Les Blue-Jeans," while the family and friends of my French professor came from or were Qebecqois, so it was always "fin de semaine" straight up.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

*chuckle* Keep in mind, Quebec is also the culture that persistently refers to "beurre de peanut."

9:22 PM  
Blogger imfunnytoo said...

I wish I could switch keyboarding quickly enough to put the right accents etc, but English speech recognition isn't up to that level yet...

4:25 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

I can't do that on this computer (my laptop) because I don't have the language packs enabled yet, but I can type in French, Hebrew, and Arabic on my desktop computer.

(I have little to no use for the Arabic thus far, since my Arabic vocabulary is about six words.)

1:19 AM  

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