A Quebec Slang Odyssey – Part 1

A Quebec Slang Odyssey – Part 1

Article by Jason Enlow

Voyagers have been coming to Québec City from all over the world for years, some as far back as 1535.

Many of them, like Odysseus’ lotus-eating crew, have been blown off-course by a north wind and have a developed a taste for La Belle Province (which incidentally is a fast-food eatery founded by Peter Kivetos, a native of Greece).

I’ve compiled a short list of handy expressions to help wayward travellers fit in amongst any Poutine-Eaters they might encounter.

Québec Slang Expressions

* Many words use the ai sound, like in ain’t, but without pronouncing the n or t.

1. Ben là (Pronounced bai* la) – It means: Awwww, c’mon!
Ben là, the phrase kids under 10 love to use when you ask them to do … just about anything. But teens and adults can use it too, especially if it’s accompanied by a healthy, rolling of the bulbus oculi, then it means Duh! For example, somebody asks you if you knew that O Canada was first commissioned for the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day Ceremony in 1880. Ben là! Everybody knows that!
Then you can continue to wow your new friends by informing them that the “True North strong and free” line in the Canadian national anthem was based on Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s description of Canada as “that true North” in his poem To the Queen. Tennyson also wrote a poem called The Lotus-Eaters…about mariners in an altered state, isolated from the world:

“Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit … “

It sounds as though Great Britain’s Poet Laureate was writing about apples or grapes, probably both. Coincidence? I think not…

2.Pis toi? (Pronounced  Pee twa) – It means: And you?
Pis toi? is a short, helpful question when you’re seeking someone’s opinion. For example, imagine that it’s a beautiful fall day and you and a friend are admiring the Montmorency Falls. You turn and say something like, “I love the smell of apples in the morning. I think I’ll risk a drive across the bridge to Île d’Orléans and pick up some apple pie, apple butter, apple cider and, oh yes, some apples fresh off the stem at the Bilodeau Cider House and Orchard. Pis toi? What are you planning to do?

You conspiracy theorists out there might find it interesting to learn that Île d’Orléans, according to their website, is an “enchanting isle” and the “cradle of French civilization in North America”. The Huron called the island Minigo, which also means Enchantress.

If you ask me, back in 1535 when Jacques Cartier, the French explorer, and his crew first arrived by ship, they became a little too enchanted with all those branches laden with fruit and flower. Cartier even named the island Île de Bascuz for all the wild grapes. I probably don’t need to point out that Bacchus is also known as Dionysus, the Greek god of harvesting grapes, winemaking and let’s not forget, ecstasy and ritual madness!

There’s a vineyard on the island today, appropriately named Le Vignoble Isle de Bacchus. You might want to pay it a visit and who knows? You might hear Cartier reciting the words of Tennyson … O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

To be continued…

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Jason Enlow

Jason Enlow is a Special Education Technician at an English elementary school. He was born in Montreal, Quebec and grew up in Burlington, Ontario. Jason studied Radio and Television at Ryerson University in Toronto. His previous employers include CityTV, CBC, The Weather Network, and Global Television. He’s worked as a DJ, camera operator, musician, teacher, translator and video game content designer. Jason moved to Quebec City in 1997 where he still lives today with his wife and three sons.

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