10 Quebec French Phrases You Need to Know

The Fleurdelisé, the flag of the province of Quebec | © Makaristos / WikiCommons
The Fleurdelisé, the flag of the province of Quebec | © Makaristos / WikiCommons
Photo of Emily Paskevics
6 May 2017

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.

Mon Chum

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.

Quebec City | © Remi / Flickr

Ma Blonde

Direct translation: My blonde

Similarly, blonde in Canadian French doesn’t refer to your hair color. Instead, the word is used to mean girlfriend.

Avoir mal aux cheveux

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.

Nightclub | © Sax/Flickr

Virer une brosse/prendre un brosse

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.

Bédaine de bière

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.

Beer culture is strong in Quebec | © Raymond Johnston/ Flickr

Être en mosus

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.

Avoir du front tout le tour de la tête

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.

J’ai la langue à terre

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.

On se calme le pompom!

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.

Skiiing on Mont Tremblant, Quebec | © Shelby Bell/ Flickr

Être vite sur ses patins

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.

Staking in Montreal | © Pikawil/ Flickr

With thanks to Isabel Harvey for her linguistic consultation and recommendations.

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