18 juin 2016

La "délicieuse perversité" des sacres québécois

J'aime bien ces articles étrangers qui décrivent les sacres québécois. Voici un article publié sur un site américain:

The Delightful Perversity of Québec's Catholic Swears
The Canadian province has expletives like no other.

Québec is bilingual, but reluctantly. As a French province with small pockets of English, and a few larger pockets that will willingly use both languages, the signs, by law, are in French. The language on the street is French. Ordering food or browsing a store will likely involve some amount of standard conversational French, and should you get in trouble with the law, it's going to be time to find a Francophile lawyer.  

The profanity, though, is pure Québec.

Québec's swearing vocabulary is one of the weirdest and most entertaining in the entire world. It is almost entirely made up of everyday Catholic terminology—not alternate versions, but straight-up normal words that would be used in Mass to refer to objects or concepts—that have taken on a profane meaning. Many languages have some kind of religious terminology wrapped into profanity (think of English's "damn" or "goddammit"), but Quebec's is taken to a totally different level.

(...) "I have heard that people swear with the things they are afraid of," says Olivier Bauer, a Swiss professor of religion who taught at the Université de Montréal and lived in the city for a decade. "So for English speaking people it's sex, in Québec it is the church, and in France or Switzerland it is maybe more sexual or scatalogical." Fear and power kind of tie together; swear words tend to be words that invoke something mysterious or scary or uncomfortable, and by using them we can tap into a bit of that power. (Yiddish, the swear words of which I grew up hearing, has about a dozen curses referring to the penis. I'm not sure which category that falls into.)

(...) The sacres is the group of Catholic swears unique to Québec. There are many of them; the most popular are probably tabarnak (tabernacle), osti or hostie or estie (host, the bread used during communion), câlisse (chalice), ciboire (the container that holds the host), and sacrament (sacrament). These usually have some milder forms as well, slightly modified versions that lessen their blow. "For example, tabarnouche and tabarouette are non-vulgar versions of tabarnak, similar to 'shoot' and 'darn' in English," says Polesello.

The sacres typically are interchangeable, rarely having any particular meaning by themselves. Most often you'll hear them used as all-purpose exclamations. If a Québecois stubs his or her toe, the resulting swears might be "tabarnak, tabarnak!" instead of "fuck fuck fuck." They can be inserted into regular sentences the way English swears can to vulgarly emphasize your statement. "For example, un cave means 'an idiot,' but un estie de cave means 'a fucking idiot,'" says Polesello.

Because the words are largely just meaningless statements of rage, there is an interesting ability in Québec French to create fantastic new strings of profanity that are, basically, untranslatable. Essentially you can just list sacres, connecting them with de, forever. Crisse de câlisse de sacrament de tabarnak d'osti de ciboire!, you might say after the Canadiens fail to make the NHL playoffs. The closest English translation would be something like "Fucking fuck shit motherfucker cockface asshole!" Or thereabouts. But strings of profanity like that in American English, though not unheard of, are certainly not common. In Québec, letting loose with a string of angrily shouted Catholic terminology is something you're fairly likely to hear at some point.

So how did Québec end up with such a specific brand of swearing? "Without a doubt, the social institution that exercised the greatest influence, and had the most impact on Québec, was the Roman Catholic Church," writes Claude Bélanger, a historian at Montréal's Marianapolis College.

(...) This is all to say that the reason Québec developed the sacres is that in few other places was the grip of centralized religion quite so firm. But with the lessening prevalence of Catholicism in Québec, it's not at all clear that the sacres will survive. "It's still there but the young people like to use fuck, or son of a bitch, those are young kind of trendy, American slangs," says Bauer. Even weirder: without the Church in their lives, some young people very literally do not know what the sacres mean. "Among the young generation nobody knows exactly what hostie or tabarnak is, but it's still the heritage in Québec culture." The younger generation may still use the words because their parents and grandparents use them, but some of their power is lost.

That's totally unlike, say, "fuck," which has been a powerful word for hundreds of years. The power of sex never lessens, but the Catholic Church? That can ebb and flow. At a certain point, there's a possibility that the Québecois may decide that there's nothing especially powerful about a tabernacle. And then tabarnak will be nothing more than a box.

Je ne suis pas d'accord avec la conclusion. J'enseigne auprès des jeunes depuis 20 ans et je peux vous affirmer que les jeunes, même s'ils ignorent souvent la signification originale des sacres, y accordent encore beaucoup de force. Ils demeurent un puissant tabou. Je ne le comprends pas complètement et il me semble que, logiquement, le déclin de la religion aurait dû entraîner la perte de puissance des sacres. Ce n'est pas le cas. C'est peut-être paradoxal, mais c'est comme ça.

Les lecteurs de ce blogue ont sans doute remarqué mon amour occasionnel des sacres. Je l'avoue, je les adore et je les utilise régulièrement. Et j'espère qu'ils demeureront puissants encore longtemps.

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