Quebec French, or Québécois, is spoken by well over six million people in Canada, most of them living in la belle province. The origins of Québécois arise from 17th- and 18th-century regional varieties (or dialects) from early modern France, but the language has taken on its own character that makes it unique. In turn, there are variations in accent and vocabulary across the province itself.
The evolution of Quebec French has been shaped by colonial history, First Nations influences, industrial change, and the occasional Anglicism, making it a dynamic feature of the region’s cultural identity. In order to fully appreciate the richness of Québécois, you’ll have to move beyond the textbook basics. Here are 10 expressions that you should know if you’re venturing out on the town and plan to interact with your French-Canadian friends.
Direct translation: My bud
In Quebec, the word chum can refer to a boyfriend or a male friend, which can potentially make things confusing. This word is also a clear example of the intermingling of French and English in common slang expressions, as words move between the two languages and take on modified meanings.
Direct translation: My blonde
Similarly, blonde in Canadian French doesn’t refer to your hair color. Instead, the word is used to mean girlfriend.
Direct translation: To have a hairache
Have you ever woken up to a cracking headache and rolling nausea in the aftermath of a wild night of drinking? This phrase perfectly describes that feeling. To be mal aux cheveux means you have a terrible hangover; essentially, it’s so bad that even your hair hurts.
Direct translation: To turn/take a brush
This expression is another one referring to an alcohol-infused night out, or more colloquially, getting sloshed or wasted. The verb variation is dependent on the region of Quebec you might find yourself in at the time.
Direct translation: Beer belly
Following the alcohol theme, to have a bédaine de bière is a literal translation of the familiar English term “beer belly.” Interestingly, this expression doesn’t exist in France.
Direct translation: To be furious
Plenty of slang expressions—not to mention swear words—in Quebec draw from the province’s French Catholic heritage. A variant (although far-fetched) of maudit, mosus (or mausus) means cursed and implies that someone’s having a bad day or is in a sour mood.
Direct translation: to have a forehead all around your head
To have your forehead all around your head is a Québécois expression meaning that you’re cheeky or impertinent. This term usually describes someone who goes too far in their impertinence, who asks too much, and who has an attitude that runs contrary to culturally appropriate humility.
Direct translation: I have my tongue on the floor
In Quebec, if you have your tongue on the floor, it means you are either extremely tired or very hungry.
Direct translation: Calm the pom-pom!
Referencing the woolen pom-pom that decorates the end of a tuque (or winter cap), this expression brings to mind an overly excited child bouncing around uncontrollably in the snow. Putting two and two together then, this delightful expression is used to mean “calm down,” or “relax,” in times of excitement or panic.
Direct translation: to be swift on your skates
Another expression that draws from the region’s stiff winter weather, to be swift on your skates is a high compliment. It means that you’re a quick thinker, agile, and intelligent.
With thanks to Isabel Harvey for her linguistic consultation and recommendations.