Montreal from A to Z: Quebecois phrases that start with Z (plus cursing in French!)

canadianfrenchWhen I lived in Montreal, I picked up a Canadian French phrasebook, hoping to decipher some of the French-Canadianisms used daily by the Quebecois. It didn’t help much, since most of the French used in Montreal is slang, and my French was rusty from high school (plus the language courses I took in the city only taught Parisian French… go figure!), but at least I tried.

From that guidebook, here are three words or phrases that start with Z:

  • zeux/zeuces – those/the people
  • zigonner – wasting time, fooling around; to go around in circles
  • (avoir) zire de quelque chose – to be disgusted by something

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use these words in conversation, so here are three more distinctly Quebecois words that are slightly more useful in everyday life:

  • depanneur – corner store (in France, a depanneur is an automotive break-down, so Parisians are frequently stymied by the fact that Quebeckers call their convenience stores “break-downs”)
  • blonde – girlfriend (yes, even though there are way more brunettes in Montreal than blondes, for some reason this is the slang terminology for one’s girlfriend) / tchomme – boyfriend (sounds just like the English word “chum” but means something decidedly different)
  • woup’ élaï! – oops! (this one’s just fun to say)

And for the fun part of every language: cursing! Montreal curse words are usually based in religion, as opposed to sex, since blaspheming is considered way more scandelous than making love. Here are some choice words for swearing like an authentic Quebecker:

  • Tabarnacle! – pronounced “Tabarnak!” (equivalent to “fuck” in English or, as a French-Canadian described it to me, “Used when you smash your thumb with a hammer.”)
  • Câliss! – means “chalice,” basically equivalent to “dammit,” and often used in conjunection with tabarnacle
  • Ostie! – means “host,” as in the eucharist bread given at Catholic mass; also roughly equivalent to “dammit,” and often used in a string like “Ostie! Câliss, tabernacle!”
  • Merde! – means “shit,” and can be used in the phrase “Mange de la merde!” (“Eat shit!”) or as a stand-alone expletive
  • maudite – damned, cursed (also the name of a brand of beer in Quebec)
  • foqué – crazy/unhinged/fucked up (if you say “C’est completement foqué” – it’s completely fucked up – you’re not actually swearing in French; this is basically how everyone in Montreal describes a SNAFU situation)

So, yes, I have mastered the art of swearing in French, though the rest of my French conversational skills leave much to be desired. I can definitely identify with David Sedaris’ book Me Talk Pretty One Day, since I am also constantly confused by the gender of French words, and like to slur my le and la or pluralize to avoid having to create proper agreements. I also actually said “Sacre bleu!” to a Parisian once, and he laughed, so clearly this is not as strong a curse as my high school French teachers suggested.


Question of the day: Do you speak any other languages? Which ones? Or, which ones would you like to learn?


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Laura Roberts
Laura Roberts is the author behind The Buttontapper. She writes about sex, travel, writing, and ninjas – though not necessarily in that order. If you like what you read, buy one of her books!

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