I wish all newspapers had foreign correspondents. They’re such a throwback to pre-globalization, when you had to trust the eyes and ears of a lone fellow countryman in a far-off land.
Even though the Web has broken down many of the language, cultural and physical boundaries in the world, we still rely on them for their insightful analysis. And in exchange we get overly broad characterizations of complex societies. But what are you going to do?
Earlier this week Doug Struck, a Washington Post correspondent in Montreal, had a fascinating piece on Quebecois linguistics. Turns out that the terminology of choice when expressing profanity is religious:
English-speaking Canadians use profanities that would be well understood in the United States, many of them scatological or sexual terms. But the Quebecois prefer to turn to religion when they are mad. They adopt commonplace Catholic terms — and often creative permutations of them — for swearing.
In doing so, their oaths speak volumes about the history of this French province.
“When you get mad, you look for words that attack what represses you,” said Louise Lamarre, a Montreal cinematographer who must tread lightly around the language, depending on whether her films are in French or English. “In America, you are so Puritan that the swearing is mostly about sex. Here, since we were repressed so long by the church, people use religious terms.”
The story is fascinating, if you can stomach many quotes from people like Lamarre. One linguistics professor says taboo words relate to Christ, Communion wafers, vestments and elements of the altar. It all ties back to oppression from the Roman Catholic church, the article says.
The Catholic Church was overwhelmingly dominant in Quebec from early in the province’s history — England’s King George III gave the French Catholic clergy enormous power in 1774, in part to counter the growing American insurgency to the south. In the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s, Quebecers rebelled. They “just stopped going to church one Sunday,” as Lamarre put it.
It’s a great idea for an article, and nicely written. But for those of us who are ignorant of Quebec’s history, a bit more perspective is in order. Let’s throw in a few more sources as well. I’ve heard of the Quiet Revolution, but I could use a few quick words on what exactly is the nature of the rift between the church and the Quebecois.