1. Fausse-couche! (a serious insult)
This is similar to calling a short person a ‘runt’ in English. But it’s quite a bit nastier, because the literal meaning of the Québec French is ‘spontaneous abortion,’ suggesting that the diminutive individual was expelled from his maternal womb at an untimely hour.
I remember an insult from my Ontario high-school days when a rather plain person was dubbed ‘afterbirth that lived.’
In the greatest opening speech in all of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, the bard puts these words into the mouth of the deformed Gloucester, soon to be the English monarch, Richard the Third:
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
2. Laid à faire peur au diable
‘Ugly enough to frighten the devil himself’
Ugly Devil at Work: The earliest known crop circle, known as the "Mowing Devil", is shown on this woodcut from Hertfordshire, England , 1678. The inscription on the woodcut is as follows: “THE MOWING-DEVIL: OR, STRANGE NEWS OUT OF HARTFORD-SHIRE. Being a True Relation of a Farmer, who Bargaining with a Poor Mower, about the Cutting down Three Half Acres of Oats: upon the Mower's asking too much, the Farmer swore That the Devil should Mow it rather than He. And so it fell out, that very Night, the Crop of Oat shew'd as if it had been all of a flame: but next Morning appear'd so neatly mow'd by the Devil or some Infernal Spirit, that no Mortal Man was able to do the like. Also, How the said Oats lie now in the Field, and the Owner has not Power to fetch them away…”
3. Orgueilleux comme un paon
‘proud as a peacock’
Some Québec sayings mirror English ones exactly.
4. Pauvre comme Job
‘poor as Job’
Like English, French borrows phrases and ideas from the Bible. In the account as presented in the Old Testament, when God tests Job, among the troubles He flings upon the hapless questioner is poverty. Both American and Canadian English have a colorful extension of this expression. “Poor as Job’s turkey. Couldn’t raise more than 3 feathers and had to lean against the barn to gobble.”
5. Corsé comme une maîtresse d'école
Thin as a school marm.
Early teachers were not paid well and often presented a starvling appearance. But might this also be 'school mattress.' (?) This is, among Québec students, not always a happy memory of boarding schools run by Roman Catholic priests and nuns where the beds and mattresses were cheap.
6. Blanc comme un mort
literally ‘white as a corpse'
usual English: ‘pale as death’
7. Rond comme un oeuf
literally ‘round as an egg’
This means ‘falling-down drunk’ in Québec. An egg can’t usually stand by itself and neither can a booze-sodden souse.
8. Malin comme un cric
‘sly as a cricket’
This Québec expression implies that crickets are shrewd and cunning in the household nooks and crannies they find to hide in and still make their high-pitched chirpings.
9. Dormir comme une marmotte
‘to sleep like a marmot’
The pika or whistling marmot enjoys a lengthy hibernation every winter.
10. Blême comme un drap
‘white as a sheet’
This implies overpowering anger or rage, making one ashen-faced or pale as a bed sheet.
11. Chanceux comme un bossu
‘lucky as a hunchback’
This is negative sarcasm. That is, not lucky at all.
12. Être toujours comme une épinglette
‘to be neat as a pin’
In Québec, une épinglette is a brooch. Does it suggest that in olden days only a lady dressed for town would wear a brooch? I think so.
13. Faire des Pâques de renard
literally ‘to receive a foxy Easter communion’
The implied meaning is: to be negligent, to act too late, to be foxy and wait until it is convenient for you but not for piety to perform a duty, sacred or otherwise.
In Québec, Roman Catholics can receive Easter communion up to a week late, up to the first Sunday after Easter Sunday, although this is thought by more pious parishioners to be lazy and negligent of one’s religious duty.
© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman
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