Monday, February 16th, 2009

scandalous words

Filed under: corporate life,culture,language,Québec — alison @ 07:41

Um, heard about this on the radio last night. It’s over a week old; I really need to keep up with the news better.

Titter. Snerk.

Our diligent but bland premier, Jean Charest, went to France so that Nicolas Sarkozy could award him the Legion of Honour. According to the CBC, all Québec is abuzz over what Sarkozy said to him. “In this case, it is all about how a few words spoken by Nicolas Sarkozy this week has touched off yet another trans-Atlantic tizzy, though this time it is Quebec sovereigntists who are upset with what the French president said.” Apparently, while presenting the Legion of Honour, Sarkozy said “Do you really believe that the world, with the unprecedented crisis that it is going through, needs division, needs hatred?”

Ha. Quebecers really do not care. It’s true, a few words spoken by a French politician have, in fact, touched off a trans-Atlantic tizzy. Different politician, different words.

The diligent but bland french deputy Pierre Lasbordes was assigned to greet Charest as he entered the Senate. He thought he would welcome his distinguished guest with a demonstration of interest in his origins, so he asked his parliamentary aide and his wife to come up with a typically québécois expression to enquire after M. Charest’s state of fatigue. They went to a belgian travel site, found an expression and e-mailed someone in Rimouski who confirmed it. Which is how M. Lasbordes greeted M. Charest with, «J’espère que vous n’avez pas trop la plotte à terre, comme on le dit au Québec.» In English, I’m not sure whether that would be better understood as “I hope you haven’t worn out your cunt,” or “I hope your cunt isn’t dragging on the ground.”

*** *** ***
The québécois word «plotte» comes from the french word «pelote», meaning sheepskin. Something furry. Like a vulva… or a head, which is the imagery that came quite naturally to the parliamentary aide: head on the ground, upside down. While «plotte» is just vulgar when used as vocabulary, it’s kind of silly and cute when used in «plotte à terre», suggesting that “head on the ground” probably is actually the origin of the expression in Québec, though that meaning has been lost. Today, cunt just means cunt.

*** *** ***
Which brings me, however circuitously, to the point, however insignificant, of this post. You know how anglophones think it’s so funny that québécois swear with religious words: “tabernacle” is at least as strong a word as “fuck.” Similarly, “sacristy,” “chalice” and “baptism” are all strong swear words.

What we comment on less frequently are how body words are sprinkled through the language so casually. Windshield washer fluid? «Pipi». Grime under your fingernails? «Caca». Snow? «Merde». Compensating? «Grosse corvette, petite quéquette». Tired? «Avoir la plotte à terre». While this isn’t language I would use to talk to my boss at my corporate job, it would be fine for talking to my neighbour over the fence.

That’s all!

1 Comment »

  1. Alison, this post made me laugh out loud, and that’s not an easy thing to make me do.
    Ever since as an anglo-Ontarian I was fortunate to hang around in rural Québec with back-to-the-land Québécois hippie friends in the 1980s, I have loved the difference between anglophone and Québécois swearing.
    I am personally bugged by what Sarkozy said to Charest because from where I sit in anglo-Canada, the degree of hatred and ignorance that our own PM has surreptitiously been stirring up against the Québécois for his own calculated potential political gain is gravely concerning and has reached an intensity I don’t think I’ve seen since I was a kid and the FLQ were running around in Q doing their thing. THAT’s where the “hatred” is coming from in Canada at the moment! The Québécois are not always victims, but right now they are definitely on the receiving end of a lot of shit and that message from Sarkozy couldn’t have been more ill-timed or out of place, in my opinion!

    Comment by mouthyorange — Monday, February 16th, 2009 @ 09:02

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