Anybody who’s hung around the streets of Montreal for long enough has undoubtedly heard several examples of the various curse words that are unique to the French-Canadian vocabulary. Words like “caulice”, “esti” and “tabernac” are so commonly used that they’ve made it into the Canadian film industry —blockbuster Bon Cop Bad Cop featured a hilarious scene between Patrick Huard and Colm Feore in which Huard explains the hierarchy of Quebec swear words or “les sacres Québécois.” It won’t surprise you to learn that, just as with most other swear words, les sacres have highly political origins.
Here’s a handy-dandy list of some of the sacres Québécois you’re most likely to hear out on the streets.
All illustrations by Marco Paradiso.
Reference to: the holy chalice
Commonly pronounced: caulice
Pretty much every single sacre stems from a term relevant to the Catholic Church or the practice of Catholicism. For example, “caulice” is a reference to the holy chalice while “tabernac” is a reference to the holy tabernacle. Some postulate that the religiously-tinged swear words most likely emerged as a subtle method by which Quebec’s secular community could rebel against the Catholic Church in the era when the church dominated Quebec culture and society. Another predominant theory is that the swear words were brought in by Quebec’s minority protestant population which perhaps explains why many of the swear words focus on religious elements that are unique to the Catholic Church.
Reference to: communion bread
Commonly pronounced: esti or osti
Just as with English swear words, les sacres are also organized into a sort of hierarchy, with some words being stronger or more offensive than others. Interestingly, the more holy or religiously important a term is, the more offensive it tends to be. Words like “esprit” (spirit), and “baptême” (baptism) are so tame that they’re barely even considered to be offensive anymore. Words like “tabarnac” (tabernacle) and “chriss” (Christ)”, on the other hand, are generally considered to be the most inflammatory.
Reference to: the holy tabernacle
Commonly pronounced: tabarnac
All of the sacres are pretty much interchangeable and are mostly used as expressions of anger. Usually, the more angry you are, the more sacres you’ll string together by using the word “de” as a connector. For example, if the Habs lost a big game, one might exclaim, “crisse!” in a fit of rage. If the Habs lose five in a row, one might say, “crisse de calice!” If the Habs get eliminated from the playoffs, one’s probable reaction would run along the lines of “crisse de calice de tabarnac d’osti de sacrament!” Another very common profane phrase amongst Quebecois and Quebecoise is, “Je m’en callise” which essentially the equivalent of “I don’t give a fuck”.
Reference to: Jesus Christ
Commonly pronounced: crisse
We have this one in English too. Pretty straightforward.
Reference to: the site outside of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified
Commonly pronounced: Calvaire
For a more complete list of sacres including some less commonly used terms, click here.
This article was made in collaboration with Main and Local: a Montreal-inspired clothing/accessory brand that knows a thing or two about the sacre québécois. Check out their line of Holy Swear Soaps here!
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