The English des Québécois

Posted by on 21 Apr, 2012 in Canada | 80 comments

Next Cash Please

Since I moved here three years ago, I’ve been intrigued to listen to the way Montréalers speak. I’ve previously written about my experiences living in a bilingual city, and the bizarre experience of conversations switching back and forth between languages effortlessly.

As a settled Montrealer, having grown in confidence and ability with my French, I find myself doing it too, especially since I started my current job – where the staff are mostly francophones but the business is mostly in English. Most of my daily conversations involve a hybrid of French and English to some degree.

But what I find quite unique is the experience of being in a linguistic minority. While American entertainment culture has clearly impacted people’s conversations here, Québec’s language laws have – in my view – succeeded in fighting that influence and ensuring that the primary language spoken and written here is French. And given that Québec requires immigrants to send their children to French schools, it is likely to continue. More on English Quebec here.

What this curious mixture of influences has created, is a sort of cross-pollination between English and French. Those “false friends” we were taught to avoid in school are not just tolerated but they are the norm. I’ll regularly hear people use French words in the English way. For example a Quebecer might say “Je vais juste manger quelquechose”, using “just” in the way anglophones would. Yet I remember being taught that “juste” in French French means just as in “fair”, and isn’t used like this. Another example is “eventuellement” which means “possibly” but can pass for “eventually” here.

I am sure there are many more of these, but what I’ve noticed even more is that when they speak English, Quebecers don’t speak British English, US English, or even Canadian English. They speak Quebec English, a unique dialect of English.

Quebec English is of course closest to Canadian English (which itself is closer to British English than US English is), but Quebec English borrows heavily from French. It’s the first time I’ve witnessed another language influencing the English I’m used to, although of course even British English has absorbed most of its words from other languages in the past.

With the exception of native anglophone Quebecers, the English spoken here is often incorrect according to standard English rules, and error-prone in grammar and spelling, being their second language. This has taken me a lot of getting used to, as I am the type to correct such mistakes with zeal, but I remind myself how bad my French must sound and it’s easy to button up! (Don’t believe me about bad English in Quebec? Read this).

Over the last couple of years I’ve been observing and collecting some examples of how English is spoken differently here and how French has influenced it. So here it is, my (entirely subjective) guide to Quebecois English:

Since
e.g. “I’ve been here since five years”

One of the first differences I noticed, was the use of the word since. It directly mimics the usage of the French word depuis. “Since” references a point in time, but “depuis” references an elapsed time period. It’s far more common to hear this strange usage of “since” than it is to hear the word “ago” as in “I moved here five years ago”.

Animation / Animator
e.g. “After the band played, there was an animation.”
or “I enjoyed the show – the animator was hilarious!”

This is an unusual one, the French word seems to have stepped in to fill a void where there is no exact equivalent word in English. An animation is nothing to do with cartoons, but rather a concept I would explain as “any kind of presenter or entertainer that uses his voice”. “Animator” nicely incorporates storyteller, MC, raconteur, comedian, narrator, showman, even a holiday rep doing one of their best efforts at encouraging audience participation.
By the ways, comics are referred to in French as bandes dessinés, sometimes abbreviated to BD (which confused me when I saw a shop advertising DVD/CD/BD – I thought it meant Bluray Disc!)

The Cash
e.g. “Go to the next cash please”
or “You can pay your bill at the cash over there”.

What might elsewhere be referred to as the checkout or the till is unanimously referred to as the cash. Not “the cash desk”. Just “the cash”. Which sounded bizarre to my ear. But as you can see from the sign above, it’s simply that the French “caisse” sounds a bit like the word “cash”, and the francophones have adopted this “faux-ami” into common usage.

Pass
e.g. “Please pass your card” or
“You’ll need to re-pass your card”

While you’re at the cash, you will most likely be asked to pass your card. No, that doesn’t mean give your card to the clerk (even though in practice, given the variety of payment devices, that’s probably the most practical approach). In this context it means “swipe”, and you’re being asked to swipe your card through the reader. Again this is most likely caused by a similarity between the French verb “passer” and the English word “pass”. In many uses, they can be used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences like this. An anglophone would never describe this action as passing (although they might pass through a security checkpoint).

This can make for some misunderstandings if you discuss “passing an exam” with a Quebecer! A Brit would take this to mean the student succeeded at the test – un Québécois might simply mean the student was sitting the exam (from “passer un examen”).

Which brings me to…

Make/Take
e.g. “You need to take a decision”
or “I had to make a test”

“Faire” ou “prendre”, “make” or “take”, they are all so loaded with multiple meanings in both languages that it’s no surprise there is confusion here. Suffice to say that if you live here, your ears soon learn to switch these verbs interchangeably in order to make sense of the sentence. “faire” is such a common verb in French that “make” gets used in Quebec English a lot more than I’m used to.
On the subject of tests/exams, you may also often hear of someone “writing a test”.

Open/Close
e.g. “Could you close the lights on your way out?”
or “Can you open the shower for me?”

This is an interesting one you hear from time to time, someone will use “open” or “close” in place of “turn on/off” or “switch on/off”. Perhaps it’s because there are fewer verbs for motion & interaction in French, and so the French “fermer les lumières” has been approximated into English. However I’ve also heard that this one is not unique to Quebec, so maybe it’s more of a shift in language over time (as our relationship with electricity & plumbing has changed) that has not yet caught on in Quebec English.

Stage/Stagiaire
e.g. “He worked here two years ago, he was doing a stage.”
or “Their team is growing, they have three developers and a stagiare.”

This is another word which seems to be called something different wherever you are in the world – An intern, IT, or trainee, who might be on an internship, apprenticeship, placement or residency. In Quebec it’s called a “stage” (with the “age” rhyming with the “az” in “azure”), and the person who does it is called a “stagiaire” whether you’re speaking French or English.

Manifestation
e.g. “I couldn’t get to work on time because of the student manifestations.”
or “I think there was some kind of manifestation downtown”

While it might sound like something from a horror movie, this is another word directly borrowed from French, meaning “demonstration”, “protest”, or maybe even “riot”. It’s still quite common to hear anglophone Quebecers say this though.

Subvention
e.g. “The youth centre was just granted a subvention”

This is a similar one, meaning a grant or subsidy. Again it’s directly borrowed from the French. I think there’s probably some other “-tion” words borrowed from French into Quebec English that escape me right now.

Watch this
e.g. “It’s in the book, here. Watch this.”

This one confused me but I’ve heard it a couple of times. I think it’s because “watch” and “look at” both translate as “regarder” en français. I heard it used meaning “look at this”. Usually “watch” would imply that you are about to see some kind of ongoing action, rather than an unmoving object. It’s quite common to hear quirks of language like this, when two, three or four English verbs map to a single French verb.

Guichet
e.g. “You need cash? There’s a guichet at the café next door”

It’s kind of odd, given that all the cash machines (as I call them) say “ATM” on them, but Québecers regularly refer to it as a guichet, using the French word. ATM is well understood though and used at least half of the time.

Autoroute
e.g. “There was congestion on the autoroute”
or “Part of the autoroute just collapsed.”

Apparently, the Canadian English for “motorway” (British) or “freeway” (US) is “highway”. While you do hear this, it’s equally common if not more so, to hear “autoroute” (pronounced or-toe-root), from the French “l’autoroute” (pronounced low-toh-root).

A similar phenomenon can be observed with “en ligne” where the English “online” has travelled into French. Apparently this is called a calque, I just learned.

Parking
e.g. “Is there a parking near here?”

This one amuses me. Parking was adopted into French as the word for a “car park” (British) or “parking garage” (US). And then, being in common usage in the province, it seems to have been re-adopted into English, thanks to one word being more efficient than two I guess.

“Two times”
e.g. “Steak-frites, two times please”

Speaking of which, sometimes English becomes less efficient than it needs to be, by mimicking phrases from the often-more-wordy French. Sometimes when ordering food you’ll hear people suffix the order with the number of people who want that – rather than just saying “Two steak-frites please”.

The / A / Some
e.g. “I like the cakes”
or “Did you buy some bread?” where “Did you buy bread?” would do
or “Are you doctor?”
or “See you the Monday”

These are not great examples of the phenomenon I am trying to describe, but quite often you’ll hear differences in language due to our differing use of the definite and indefinite article between French and English. If you translate what was said back into French it makes sense according to French grammatical rules – but might sound odd in English. These mistakes are never made by anglophone Québecers, but are not uncommon among francophones. Mind you, I probably make the same mistakes with my French!

Children

e.g. “She works at the Children’s”
or “Aidez-nous a bâtir un nouveau children”

This one is as much Québécois French as Québec English. It seems that the word “children” has been adopted in french to mean “children’s hospital”. And it’s used slightly oddly in Quebec English as per my first example – though it may just be an abbreviation, like you might say “She works at St. Mary’s”.

 

Actually this brings me to my final category of words, which I will call Quebec cultural phenomena rather than Quebec English

These are words which are either the same in French and English, or very close to. They are more Quebec words than they are French words or English words.

“Le dépanneur” or “the dep”
This is what in Britain we would call a newsagent or corner shop, in the US they might call it a 7-Eleven or gas station. It’s just a small shop. Typically it will sell cigarettes, confectionery, beer & wine, packaged/canned foods and some household items – but not usually newspapers & magazines.

Terrasses
I have no idea how you’d write this in Quebec English – but I know it’s pronounced the French way – teh-rass not teh-riss. And it means an outdoor seating area for a pub, café or restaurant. They’re common here whenever weather permits. It’s what we in Britain might call a “beer garden” and in the US they might call it a “deck”.

5-à-7 (cinq à sept)
This uses the French naming in both languages, and it’s a common cultural phenomenon here. It’s loosely similar to “happy hour” but is much more of a thing here… At 5pm or soon after, office-workers congregate in bars and pubs (and on those terrasses) for a drink or two after work with their co-workers. Cheaper prices are usually available on beer & wine.
Sometimes it is written “5@7” which is a bit confusing to the anglophone brain as you are inclined to parse it as “5 at 7” – but think of email addresses and you’ll be fine! Remember “à” in French means both “to” and “at”.

“Tout-garnie” or “All-dressed”
This can apply to pizzas, sandwiches or hotdogs and basically means “with everything” – on a pizza it would probably mean mushrooms, green pepper and pepperoni; on a sandwich or hotdog it would mean lettuce, tomatoes, relish, maybe onions too.
Incidentally, sometimes lettuce (the salad ingredient) is referred to by itself as “salad” in Quebec. Which is confusing.

“À volonté”
You might see this on a sushi restaurant or similar, and it means “all you can eat/drink” – in effect, a buffet. Not to be confused with “au volant” which is seen on driving school cars and means something like “at the wheel”.

Double-double
This is something you’d order at “Timmy’s” (Tim Hortons, the most popular coffee-shop here – think Starbucks meets Dunkin’ Donuts). If I understand correctly it’s a large coffee with two milks and two sugars. I believe it is called the same thing in French (though pronounced the French way)

(Note: I have been advised since posting this that Double Double is known in Ontario not just Quebec)

Brochette
This seems to be loosely equivalent to “skewer” or “kebab” and is common at Lebanese and Vietnamese restaurants as well as fast food joints.

Poutine
One of the most uniquely Québec foods, and yet you could be in the north of England. It’s chips and gravy. (Fries not crisps). Technically it’s a bit different because it’s cheese curd not cheese and the gravy here is not like that in Europe… but that’s what it is. If you ever visit Montreal, you must try La Banquise – with over 40 different types of poutines! Be warned though, it’s a heart attack on a plate.

Casse-Croute / Hole in the Wall
These are not exactly the same thing, but closely related. A casse-croute is a snack kiosk which sells burgers, fries, that kind of thing. A hole in the wall is not an ATM (as in the UK) but rather any kind of restaurant that serves food from a small window onto the street. This is not just fast food but can include pancakes, Asian food and all sorts of gourmet delights. There’s a good article about it on Chowhound (though they seem to have misunderstood its other meaning in the UK). Note: Hole in the wall is probably not Quebec-specific, but it’s where I’ve experienced it.

Well, that brings my list to an end. If I missed any, please comment below! I’ll come back and add to this post if/when I notice other Quebec English or Québécois quirks.

 

UPDATED: I have corrected a few errors people pointed out in the comments.

80 Comments

  1. One that always makes me giggle is talk of “the syndicate” – as in “the syndicate is renegotiating its labour contract” – instead of the correct “union” (in French it’s “un syndicat”).

    We do have some funny “shortcut” hospital references – you mentioned “The Children’s” (short for the Montreal Children’s Hospital”) and there’s also “The Jewish” (short for the Jewish General Hospital) – I wonder if they say “Le Jewish” in French? Back when the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was still operating as a full-scale hospital it was known as “The Queen E.”

    Funny about your observation about “the cash” – I never thought twice about it. I don’t know if it’s a specifically Quebec thing, I wonder.

    p.s. I think “En volonté” is actually “à volonté”?

    Thanks again for the great piece!

    • Good point, I was getting muddled. I will correct that! Glad you liked it!

  2. Interesting blog post! Found you via the link you posted on Carmen’s Facebook thread.
    A few notes:
    -Despite the fact that we retain the “u” in words like “colour”, I would dispute your claim that Canadian English is closer to British English than to American English. In accent, vocabulary and terminology, I’d say it’s very much the opposite.
    -“Usually it’s English that absorbs words from other languages.” I think you meant the reverse here.
    -“Stage” – the person doing a stage is not a “stageur” but a “stagiaire”, and this term is used equally in English and in French.
    -“Watch this” – a corollary to this one; in French, you say you’re “listening to” a TV show as opposed to “watching” it (écouter la télé) and that one often becomes a false friend in English too.
    -All dressed pizza refers specifically to pizza with mushrooms, green peppers and pepperoni.
    -“Double-double”, like most Timmy’s terms, are largely ROC / Ontario words, not specifically Quebecois ones. Actually, Timmy’s is much less popular here than it is in the ROC.
    -Speaking of which, ROC is a uniquely Quebec English term. It stands for “rest of Canada” and it’s used to refer to the rest of the country besides Quebec.
    Finally, there’s a big generational gap. My parents’ generation of Montreal anglos speaks a somewhat different language than mine, since they mixed a lot less with francophone Montreal. My mom still pronounces Jeanne-Mance as ‘Gene-Mance’ (rhymes with dance) or St-Laurent as St. Lawrence, for instance.

    • Hi Sari.. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

      You’re absolutely right, it was the “u” I was thinking of that makes it similar. But also I have found that British English words like “trousers” or “bollocks” are understood here, where they are not in the US. And you have cinemas not movie theaters. Perhaps we could describe Canadian English as the union of British English language and North American vocabulary.

      “English absorbs words from other languages” is exactly what I meant – English is a mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Germanic and goodness knows how many other languages (check out the excellent Mongrel Nation documentary for more on this). As I understand it this is why English has so many more words than e.g. French – because it combines more languages.

      Thanks for the corrections, I will correct those in the article.

      Interesting additions about écouter la télé and the generational gap – thanks!

      I was not aware of the term “ROC” – makes sense though what with Québec’s whole “Nation” mentality…

      • British, Canadian and American English: A useful cheat sheet: http://www3.telus.net/linguisticsissues/BritishCanadianAmerican.htm.

        ROC = Rest of Canada (i.e. other than Québec). Always pronounced as “Are-oh-see”, never as “rock”.

      • “British English words like “trousers” or “bollocks” are understood here, where they are not in the US.”

        I think that has to do with the fact that being a Commonwealth country we’re much more familiar with British lingo than US people are. Canadians don’t generally use “trousers” instead of “pants” or “slacks” even though we know what it means.

        “And you have cinemas not movie theaters”

        Mmm…. not really, in my experience. “Let’s go to the cinema.” would come across as a bit pretentious or formal here.

        • Fair enough, I guess I have mainly seen cinema in print not spoken, and that’s probably just because of all signage being in French. So do you think Canadian English is closer to US English than British ?

          • “So do you think Canadian English is closer to US English than British ?”

            Yes, absolutely.

          • Looking at the cheat sheet in Sari’s link below it seems you are correct, US English influences the spelling of more words than British English – but it’s close! But there are in that list, many examples where Canadian English accepts either British or US spelling – and where Canadian English uses only the British spelling. So it’s definitely a mixture of both!

          • Hmm – I wasn’t thinking about spelling at all, more about words and expressions in general. I think we are a lot closer to American English in our terminology, idioms, etc.

          • I just re-read my post and realized where the confusion came from that caused this part of the thread. When I wrote “Canadian English being closer to British English than US English” what I meant was “Canadian English being closer to British English than US English IS”. ie. I was trying to say US English is less influenced by British English. Have corrected it in the article.

  3. Interesting blog post! Found you via the link you posted on Carmen’s Facebook thread.
    A few notes:
    -Despite the fact that we retain the “u” in words like “colour”, I would dispute your claim that Canadian English is closer to British English than to American English. In accent, vocabulary and terminology, I’d say it’s very much the opposite.
    -“Usually it’s English that absorbs words from other languages.” I think you meant the reverse here.
    -“Stage” – the person doing a stage is not a “stageur” but a “stagiaire”, and this term is used equally in English and in French.
    -“Watch this” – a corollary to this one; in French, you say you’re “listening to” a TV show as opposed to “watching” it (écouter la télé) and that one often becomes a false friend in English too.
    -All dressed pizza refers specifically to pizza with mushrooms, green peppers and pepperoni.
    -“Double-double”, like most Timmy’s terms, are largely ROC / Ontario words, not specifically Quebecois ones. Actually, Timmy’s is much less popular here than it is in the ROC.
    -Speaking of which, ROC is a uniquely Quebec English term. It stands for “rest of Canada” and it’s used to refer to the rest of the country besides Quebec.
    Finally, there’s a big generational gap. My parents’ generation of Montreal anglos speaks a somewhat different language than mine, since they mixed a lot less with francophone Montreal. My mom still pronounces Jeanne-Mance as ‘Gene-Mance’ (rhymes with dance) or St-Laurent as St. Lawrence, for instance.

  4. Wonderful list Alex! It is indeed one of the wonderful things about Montreal. I see this in my own life where I live my at-home life in English, my work life bilingually and my school life in french. My best friend is a francophone Quebecer where I am clearly anglophone and we speak a hybrid of the two. The more important or emotional the topic, the more we each revert to our native tongues, so that we end up having a conversation is that is one side English and one side French but very much understood!
    Some of my favourites that I have picked up from her:
    I ‘pass’ my card in the debit machine
    I ‘open and close’ lights
    I put money in the ‘parc-o-meter’ (rather than the english parking meter)
    I ‘take’ a coffee on my coffee breaks
    and of course English seeps heavily into my french…
    Je march mes chiens (whereas I should ‘promener les chiens)
    I say ‘bon matin’ which I hear many of my french friends say too, but I have been told is officially incorrect.
    I describe yoga poses as ‘comfortable’ which is also a direct translation from English” In French a sofa is comfortable but the person sitting on it is ‘à l’aise’.
    My absolute faves are the anglicisms that francophones use but that anglophones don’t use in that context in English! For example ‘top shape’ and ‘lets go’.

    • Thanks Michelle!
      I had not heard of “parc-o-meter”, that is very amusing!
      I had no idea about bon matin being incorrect! It reminds me though that the Québécois words for meals are different than the french french.. déjeuner being breakfast, le lunch and le dîner being much closer to English “lunch” and “dinner”.

      I don’t totally understand your point about “top shape” and “Let’s go”. You mean like “On y va”? Don’t we say “Let’s go” in English?

      Anyway, thanks for your fascinating insights! I know what you mean about dropping back into the language you know best when you are saying something important or emotional – I guess you want to be certain you express yourself correctly. I do that a lot, but am trying to reduce it!

  5. Well done! I thoroughly enjoyed your fresh “observation”; which reminds me of the other hilarious and somewhat astonishing fact that the two languages (even though their roots are so disparate) share many words. Comment qu’on dit “action”? Tactile, budget, technique, radio, etc. There are a multitude of cognates, and one word that confuses many newbies: In French, “sensible” means “sensitive”. If one of your friends is being particularly “sensible”, he’s probably cringing, as opposed to being practical.

    • It’s true, they do share many common words and even between French French and British English there is much cross-pollination, that has happened so long ago the words are officially part of that language. Let’s not forget French phrases used “as-is” in English too, like déja vu, raison-d’être, etc. I suppose the cross pollenation between Quebec French and Canadian English.

      “Sensible” is another great false friend example – thanks!

  6. I’m originally from Ontario, and come from a bilingual family, so there are a few terms on here I see a bit differently considering that I’ve been speaking french since I was born, but lived almost exclusively in english.

    The cash: This exists outside of Quebec. I’d actually never heard the word “till” until I got my first retail job here in Quebec.

    Pass: I hadn’t realised that ‘pass’ was not the norm, but now that you point it out I’d have to agree. Although, in Ottawa, it may be something of a 50/50, because we will ask someone to “please swipe your card”, but if there is a malfunction, we’ll sometimes tell them to “pass it again.” I’m not sure if this is because of the proximity to Quebec, but I figured it was worth mentioning.

    Parking: This is another one that exists elsewhere in Canada, but slightly differently than it does here. As you said, here in Quebec we say “a parking” whereas in Ontario we will ask “is there (any) parking?” Although, I suppose that could be the correct usage. Is it?

    One that always threw me off were francophones who, when speaking english, say “listen” at the beginning of a sentence. “Listen”, in french, is added at the beginning of sentences the way we say “Ok, so…”, but in english we generally use “listen” to cut someone off, or to express aggression (i.e. “Listen, bud, I’m sick of this!”). It still throws me off when a francophone says “listen” very casually in a conversation.

    • Interesting that “cash” exists outside of Quebec. It’s definitely incorrect English, I wonder if it spread west from Quebec as the settlers moved inland?
      And maybe it was the same thing with pass.

      You are correct, “is there (any) parking?” would be grammatically correct.

      Great point about “Listen”! I have observed that too – it’s fascinating because of the very different tone – not argumentative at all in French but definitely will make someone take a sharp intake of breath in English…

      Thanks for your reply!

      • I grew up in New Brunswick, and we definitely called checkouts “cash” there, too. That might also be Acadian/French influence.

        Sort of related to your post, Chiac is even worse than Quebec English. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiac (-:

        • Wow – I was unaware of Chiac! Some interesting reading there – thanks!

      • Just because YOU don’t say something doesn’t make it “incorrect English”.

        • I take your point, I could have written that more tactfully. I guess I meant “does not match British English”. (My underlying assumption here being that France French, British English, Portugal’s Portugese, etc, are more definitive/original/unmodified than their counterparts in other countries like Canada, US, and Brazil). The “original source” if you like.

          Also, some of the ones I detailed ARE grammatical errors regardless if you are talking about British or Canadian English (e.g. the/a/some).

          BTW, if you’re going to criticize, it’s more respectful not to do so anonymously, IMHO.

        • I take your point, I could have written that more tactfully. I guess I meant “does not match British English”. (My underlying assumption here being that France French, British English, Portugal’s Portugese, etc, are more definitive/original/unmodified than their counterparts in other countries like Canada, US, and Brazil). The “original source” if you like.

          Also, some of the ones I detailed ARE grammatical errors regardless if you are talking about British or Canadian English (e.g. the/a/some).

          BTW, if you’re going to criticize, it’s more respectful not to do so anonymously, IMHO.

          • We could just say that ‘cash’ isn’t correct in standard English or that it isn’t correct prescriptively. It is certainly correct if we describe language (descriptive grammar) as people say it, but it would be deemed incorrect by many English-speakers outside of a specific region.

          • Perfect – very succinct, and much more eloquent than my attempt, thanks Pippa! I take your point, there is no “right” or “wrong” and language is always evolving. “standard English” is a much better phrase I will use in future… :-)

          • I concur with anon, Alex, though I hope I do so more politely. ‘Cash’ is almost universal in Canada, in every province, and in much of the US, too. I don’t think it’s at all related to the French, and I’ve never heard it implied that it was before. It’s derived, quite simply, from the word ‘cash’. I mean, I think you’d have a hard time convincing the people who say ‘coke,’ ‘soda,’ and ‘pop,’ instead of ‘soft drink,’ or whatever, that they weren’t using correct English. They may not be speaking Oxford Received, but I’m not sure that means anything anymore, really, especially not since Webster’s. I agree that some of these are ‘errors’ (in that they originate in French), but ‘cash’ isn’t one of them, and I would personally be a hypocrite if I insisted that Quebec English, with all its loans from French weren’t a legitimate English dialect with its own formations, since I’ve been guilty of claiming that Quebec French ought to be allowed to form in contact with English, contrary to the strident demands of the twits at the OLF.

            The other one I’d like to point out is that ‘double double’ is universal across Canada, not just Quebec and Ontario. Hard to find an origin there, but I’m personally convinced that it’s somewhere between Toronto and Edmonton, and certainly not in Quebec.

          • Thanks for the reply… I see what you are saying, and I accept that cash is common across Canada.. But it doesn’t necessarily follow to say “Therefore it cannot have come from French”. The reason I even noticed it is because Britain, Australia, USA, South Africa, New Zealand, Belize etc, do *not* say “cash”.

            So maybe it’s Canadian English rather than Quebec English but it’s certainly not standard English.

            Good point about double double. A few people have pointed out to me that this is purely a Tim Horton’s phenomenon. My reasoning for thinking it was unique was (a) I’d never seen it in print on the menu, so it seemed more like a regionalism, and (b) a friend of mine from Quebec went to Ontario and was commenting afterwards how he didn’t know how to order because he didn’t know what a double-double was called there. Obviously I did not have enough info to generalize so I stand corrected!

      • I’m from the US and have definitely heard ‘cash’ used, as far down as Florida. Just my 2 sous.

  7. There are a few more things that likely are odd to people outside of the province… The SQ or the surete (pronounced surtay). The QST or PST. The Caisse in English generally refers to the Caisse de depot et placements and of course we pay the QPP and not the CPP but often refer to it in English as the Regie des Rentes. But if we use the term Regie we often refer to Medicaire. Not to mention CSST which is Quebec for Work Safety Commission. And of course the whole Societe thing, when it’s a crown corporation, like the SAAQ.

    Then there are street names. Pie IX has always been Pee Neuf in English, but Guy is pronounces in English, even thought it’s the last name of one of the original Montreal farmers. Pine Avenue instead of Avenue des Pins. Saint-Lawrence and not Saint-Laurent.

    And of course the hyphen thing. In French you hyphenate names of places if the person has been dead for at least a year. So Pierre Trudeau becomes Pierre-Trudeau after a year. So we end up with things like St-Urbain instead of St. Urbain. And of course the e to Sainte for women, so we under up with Ste-Catherine dropping the periods because it looks stupid to write Ste.-Catheine somehow.

    • Wow, you are right it is complex! I did laugh when a work colleague announced he’d be late in because he had an appointment at the SAQ. (Meaning SAAQ of course).

      I didn’t know that about the hyphens, thanks. I know that it causes a nightmare with many GPSes – you never know whether to put Sainte Catherine or Ste-Catherine or St. Catherine etc – but you better get the spelling right or the GPS will tell you it doesn’t exist!!

      • Some of the GPSes, in particular Waze has trouble with Est which they mistake with Est. for estate. Then the French accents, which lately have become “copyright” when it reads them out loud.

        The opening and closing lights thing is particular to Quebec in both English and French as it’s not really proper French either.

        The SQ are also sometimes known in Quebec not just as the Surete but also the QPP (Quebec Provincial Police) but more properly as the QPF (Quebec Police Force).

        In French, they generally don’t use Title Case, but instead for titles, they use Sentence case. So often you see the error creeping into French in Quebec because of the English.

        School, we have grades 1 through 11, but sometimes refer to them as Primary 1 through 6 and Secondary 1 through 5, as they are in French. And even though CEGEP stands for College, we still call it CEGEP.

        A few other oddities… terrace, marché and undertaking. And of course the one that drives us crazy while visiting the US… entrée!

        • Again, more great points.. I have seen the differences in capitalization as well… also note that proper nouns have capitals in english – but not in French.

          According to Flo in the comments above/below – open/close the lights is common to France and Quebec.

  8. Oh, another one I meant to add… Francophones often say “assist” when they mean “attend” or “participate in”… because in French you “assister à” an event.

    • Oh yes! Now you mention it I have heard that too!

  9. One more… “What day are we today?”

    • Great! Keep them coming!

  10. I grew up in Ontario and we always referred to the checkout counter or cash register as “the cash”. Also, I’ve heard the old credit card imprint device called a “pousse-pousse”. Speaking for my own upbringing alone, I think the French language has influenced Canadian English. It’s hard for it not to have, what with French appearing on all product packaging materials coast to coast.

    • “pousse-pousse” – that is so quaint!

  11. *twitch* Thank you for writing this. I used to maintain a similar collection of Quebecisms, but I never got around to publishing it.

    Here’s another for your list: “vacancy” to mean “vacation.”
    As in: “I will be out of the office next week; I’m taking vacancy” or “I will be on vacancy next week.”

    Quebec also has a nasty habit of describing beer by colour alone. I once saw an IPA on the menu at Brasseurs de Montréal as “Bière Rousse” (red beer). In a similar vein, “une verre” (translation: “a glass”) means a half pint (where “pinte”/pint means anywhere from 330ml to 600ml, depending on the bar).

  12. Oh man, this was spot on. I live in Montreal for 10 years, married an Italian Canadian from Montreal, and she says so many of these. One thing her family does say quite often, and she still says is “I made you rest today” or “I made you relax” instead of “I let you rest” or “I let you relax”.

    Amazing list.

  13. Another very Québec thing is the word special. It doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in the rest of the world. Here, it’s not uncommon to hear something like: “Hey, the coke is on special at IGA!” or, “Is this on special?” Of course this use of the word special means “sale.” As in: “Is this on sale?”
    This is a pure francisism. In french “en special” means “on sale.” And it doesn’t even mean that anymore. In proper french they would say: “en solde.”

    • I think they something like that in the USA too, though, don’t they?

      • They do indeed.

        • “On special” exists in all of North America, I think.
          There was even a children’s show for a while called “Today’s Special”, so I don’t think it’s uncommon.

        • “On special” exists in all of North America, I think.
          There was even a children’s show for a while called “Today’s Special”, so I don’t think it’s uncommon.

      • Yes, we do! ;-)

  14. Another very Québec thing is the word special. It doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in the rest of the world. Here, it’s not uncommon to hear something like: “Hey, the coke is on special at IGA!” or, “Is this on special?” Of course this use of the word special means “sale.” As in: “Is this on sale?”
    This is a pure francisism. In french “en special” means “on sale.” And it doesn’t even mean that anymore. In proper french they would say: “en solde.”

  15. From a 100%-francophone-who-studied-in-english point of view, I would say that Quebecers have trouble with their English grammar mostly because they already have problems with their French grammar.
    And all those examples you stated are no surprise for me. But between you and me, if you still say “I’ve been here since five years”, you failed your English classes in highschool…

  16. To confirm what others have mentioned, and possibly expand on it, “the cash” is definitely a pan-Canadian expression, but it is not a transplantation from Quebec. “Cash” is short for “cash register”, which of course is the physical machine where transactions take place. I’ve spent lots of time all over Canada and I believe this is universal here. “Till” is hardly ever used, and when it is, it refers to the drawer in the cash register.

    “Pass” is even more interesting than you note. It is very common to hear, “Great, I’m glad you can come for dinner tonight. Pass at about 8!” Or, “I was hoping you’d be home, I passed this afternoon but I guess you were out.” So “pass” as a local synonym for “come” and/or “drop by”.

    Beyond the scope of this is the Montreal anglo accent. NOT the accent of Francophones speaking English, or of anglo-saxon anglos, but the English accent of Italian/Greek/Portuguese/others. It’s a very peculiar thing, very distinct as it comprises the accent itself but also some of the vocabulary particularities noted here. If you go out to St-Leonard you can hear it.

  17. ha, great fun post. Love all of these. Being English-speaking from Ontario (with the usual high school level background in french) I find these sorts of Quebec English-isms are great and almost come naturally or make speaking/understanding stuff in MTL flow better.

  18. When I was in England someone commented that I always add a “there” at the end of a phrase, such as in “do you know that Indian restaurant, there?”. I think it comes from the French habit of adding “là” to a lot of phrases…

  19. Another few that I hear all the time from both Anglophone and Francophone Quebecers: homeworks instead of homework (some other nouns that are not related to materials and quantities [e.g. chocolate/milk] that can take a plural in French, but not in English)

    Me, I…… (after French: moi, je….)

    Questions asked in the declarative when they would be asked in the interrogative in standard English (difficult to give examples as context plays a role, but I often find myself not responding to sentences that I thought were comments, but were actually questions).

    Take an appointment (I even did a Facebook survey on this as my students refused to believe that the standard English was ‘make an appointment’. One of my students worked at a dentist’s and always used this when speaking English. Needless to say that many Anglophones replied to my Facebook status with comments that my English had become French-like!)

    Another one that sounds strange to me even though I actually sometimes hear it by other English-speakers as well: ‘we are five’ instead of ‘there are five of us’. I think my belief that ‘there are five of us’ is correct and the other one sounds strange is also probably related to my variety of English. Regardless, answering ‘we are five’ still sounds strange to my ears!

    Another funny one that relates to what you mentioned re. ‘faire’, and was also a title for the annual convention of English teachers in Quebec (SPEAQ: Société pour la promotion de l’enseignement de l’anglais, langue seconde, au Québec) is: faire une différence as a calque for ‘make a difference’.

    Then there are lots that are correct, but strange coming out of the mouths of the speaker. With young kids (up to age 13) learning English, they say things in the classroom like:
    Miss, are we obligated to do this? – direct French translation (calque), but perfectly acceptable English. However, from a 13 year old??? I’m not sure if I ever spoke using such formal English to my teacher for such a mundane question.
    Signification – for meaning (I’ve just been in TO for the weekend and found myself using ‘signification’ all the bloody time. Strange as I don’t think I ever used it before moving to Montreal.)

    • Some great examples there, I have definitely heard a few of those!
      It’s interesting that you had to do a Facebook survey to prove a point; and I guess that demonstrates the point you were making earlier, there really is no definitive answer, the only answer is “how do most people say it?”

      I agree that “There are five of us” is more common/standard than “We are five” – again it’s probably mirroring the French “Nous sommes cinq”.

      This has just reminded me that I often stumble in English when trying to say “How many of you are there?” and I end up saying “How many of there are you?” instead! And that’s my native tongue!

  20. “Vestibule” to refer to a small lobby, usually in a house. This is correct in both languages but rarely heard outside Quebec.

    • Interesting. This word does get used in the UK, though admittedly is dying out.

  21. I enjoyed reading this, it’s fascinating looking at how a language evolves differently depending on its context.

    Having lived in Holland, most natives love to speak English as soon as they detect a foreign accent in your struggling attempts at speaking Dutch. I found that the English, which I label International English, tends to adapt itself to the local language, so you would say ‘I went to the bibliotheek yesterday’ using the dutch word instead of ‘library’. A lot of the english syntax gets mirrored to the dutch one and you end up talking a mix of both.

    In your context and examples I can see see a lot of this happening.

    Casse-Croute is quite funny, in France it means sandwich (usually made with baguette), and ‘casser la croute’ (breaking the crust) means eating/having food, you can see how in both context it’s related to food.

    ATM is a ‘distributeur de billets’ but you will hear it called ‘la tirette (a billets/a sous)’ (closest translation would be ‘the small puller’, something small which you pull money out of.

    Parking is commonly used, one of those english words that never got replaced in daily language, the official words are ‘parc de stationnement’, but way too long to care using it. With it comes the verb ‘se parker’ (to park one’s car) often interchangeable with ‘se garer’, it can as well be used for people to say ‘stand still/wait there/stand there’.

    Brochette is indeed a kebab thing, mostly used for North African food, Greek, Turkish, etc … anything put on a skewer is a brochette. A broche is the big ‘skewer’ you can use to roast pigs/lambs in oven or BBQ, hence the brochette is the smaller version of it.

    I do find myself using open/close the lights when I am tired, or a recent family visit has disrupted my english. I find ‘close’ is the one that trips me up more than open, as it matches exactly what I would use in french ‘ferme la lumiere’.

    About ‘watch this’, it’s just part of the long list of bad habits people pick up while taking, like saying ‘you know’, ‘y’ know what i mean’ (and variations), ‘man’ etc … the best one I have encountered so far is in the South of France, you add ‘con’ at the end of your sentence, just for the rythm, not for the words’ meaning. A habit you need to lose quite quickly when moving out of the region as the word regains its meaning and you can be suddenly very rude without trying to be ;-)

    To add to a comment about the relationship between English and French, English is the germanic language with the most French words in it, and French is the latin language with the most English words in it.

    • Thanks Flo – Fascinating to get the French French perspective too. That’s interesting about adding “con” at the end of sentences..

      It reminds me of Germans adding “oder?” at the end of a sentence to make something a question. I have heard non-acclimatised Germans say “or” at the end of sentences when speaking English for similar reasons.

      Also, it’s like Geordies adding “like” at the end of a sentence, like!

  22. Me again.
    My fiance makes this mistake all the time; “I was working for an interesting organism” instead of “organization”. It’s another false-cognate, because he really means “organization”, which is “organisme” in french. It makes me giggle every time, because I envision him working for Mr. Horrible Gelatinous Blob from Futurama!

    • And at the same time in France, people increasingly talk about “une organisation”, and “un organisme” is slowly being replaced

      • Could it be because ‘un organisme’ is as well an organism in the biological sense?

        I wonder otherwise, if there is a tendency for words to become more feminine than masculine (or the other way around).
        For example the slang word for cigarette, ‘clope’ started out as masculine during the 1930s and is now feminine.
        I am sure there are lots of similar examples.

        • Not likely; basically just another pervading anglicism… – officialised for quite some time now in titles like ONU Organisation des Nations Unies – never Organisme des Nations Unies

  23. i really enjoyed this article. just 2 notes from an American English perspective:

    “highway” is also common in the States outside of the Southwest. there, freeway is more common, but i’ve run into highway a lot more often.

    “hole in the wall,” in the US, can refer to any small restaurant or bar tucked away in some urban area. they don’t have to (and don’t usually, in my experience) sell food from a window. “they’re also known as Mom-n-Pop shops,” but that might be any store or other business run by a small family.

    the “passer, assister, enjoindre” things really confused me when i was first learning French, but now the most interesting thing is seeing people trying to access websites on my computer (most of which are set to French, like Facebook, Skype, etc.), and seeing them get tripped up by things like “chargement en ligne”- which really makes NO sense if translated directly!

  24. There is an English word l heard a Québécois use with the same meaning as in English, the word “drab”. When l asked her what she meant, she said : well, drab, you know drab, ennuyeux, dull. When l pointed out to her (she didn’t speak English) that it was an English word, she was completely taken aback, and almost annoyed because, obviously in her French, drab meant just that, drab!

  25. I always have trouble shopping with my wife. I can never find her, as she’s never “at the car”. It’s a lot of time wasted, scanning the horizon (she’s to very big). Sure, I could be more specific and demand that she wait by the side of the car, but then you have to decide on which side and from whose point of view.

    I am quite comfortable with the term ‘parking’ – it’s the other two terms that I don’t understand.
    How many times do I turn a corner expecting to see a ‘car park’ with neatly trimmed cars, separated into like-colored vehicles, sedans up front and SUVs in the back, with pick-ups off to the side, in the shade of some linden tree or such, and sprinklers slowly rotating, bored out of their minds.
    A ‘parking garage’ is no better. I’m standing in the middle of this dusty field, with acres of cars and I’m thinking – Hey, the US economy must have really tanked. Has it really gotten that bad? Look, they can no longer afford brick and mortar structures for these poor creatures. Or is this their stab at the concept of ‘virtual garages’? Like as if it may be an improvement on that old, tired concept of cars having the luxury of owning their own shelters.

    The term ‘cash’ doesn’t bother me either. It really is a shortcut for ‘cash register’ and is a natural progression in our quest for faster and simpler forms of communication. Life is too short and human interaction will eventually evolve into a series of sophisticated grunts and groans and similar auditory expressions. A blink of an eye and one will immediately understand what’s being communicated. I will not be surprised if one day, when I’m not around anymore, people start pronouncing only the first part of words in a sentence. I could picture myself asking for cash-back, and some poor, new immigrant trainee handing over his whole cash register. I don’t think I would have the heart of showing him up by refusing to accept the darn thing.

  26. Something that kills me every time I’m shopping is the periodic announcement, in perfect English, “Welcome *at* your neighbourhood Provigo.” (emphasis added)

  27. Note on the Tim Hortons, double-double is 2 creams (not milk) and 2 sugars which is a very important distinction to many. It is widely known across Canada not just Quebec or Ontario. There is also the triple-triple and the four-by-four (yes four creams and four sugars I’m not making it up). I worked at Tim Hortons for a couple years in high school and became quite familiar with the lingo.

  28. Let’s talk about the “h”! With the “ocky” rather than hockey, as example. I have been in funny situations because of the h aspiré!

  29. Correction: The correct usage in French for Turn on/Turn off the light is “Allumer/Eteindre la lumiere”.
    While I have heard some people using “Ouvrir/Fermer la lumiere” in French, this is no more correct
    in French than is it is in English to say Open/Close the light.

  30. We say “cash” in Newfoundland, lol

  31. Thanks Alex. This is great

  32. I think you said it right. I moved to the States in 1976 and I still say close the lights, and close the TV. there is probably more, but this is what the americans make note with me..

  33. I can think of a few also. Francophones shorten words as much as possible. For instance: “mon ordi” instead of “mon ordinateur”, “resto” instead of restaurant”, even many words are said mostly in english ie, “mon truck” instead of “mon camion” just to name a few!

  34. While I agree with most of the examples, I feel compelled to point out that the French interference can sometimes be an improvement over the local English, whether, Quebec or otherwise. For example ” a’ volonte’ “Is a term suggesting refinement of selectivity for the purpose of sampling; the ” all you can eat ” , on the other hand, conjures images of obese people filling up on plate after plate, because it is a one-priced buffed, at best, and, at worst ravenous eaters engaged in an orgiastic surfeit, replete with grunts, salivation and reflux at the table pretty much as can be seen in the film version of Fielding ‘Tom Jones’.

    It should not surprise us, as many legal terms, as well as terms in ‘ haute couture ‘ and ‘ haute cuisine ‘ have graced English since the late 14th century.

  35. When I was active in Alliance Quebec we had animators, (people sent from HQ to organize the Associations). It was later changed to organizer, I think because it was felt that an English rights lobby should not use a French expression.

  36. Haha C’est vraiment intéressant cet article! Je crois que la modification de la langue est normale, surtout dans un pays bilingue, mais certaines erreurs fondamentales ne devraient pas avoir lieu quand on apprend une langue seconde comme ”Make/Take” et ”Turn on/off”. Bref, vraiment intéressant. Keep on the good work!

  37. Sometimes I disagree what you say. Because, most of the time when I was outside of Quebec, I was in United States. I’m a Francophone who prefer to use the American English. Most Anglophones thought I’m a German when I speak English or anybody from Eastern Europe.

  38. this article is awesome, i’ve always thought of how we say things differently than everyone else in the world lol, and i thought of another word. I recently went to vancouver for the first time and stopped at a macdonalds, ordered a ‘trio’ only to embarrass myself, because they had no idea what i was talking about. Apparently everyone else in the world says ‘meal’ (which in my opinion does not makes sense at all! if anything people should says ‘combo’. i mean if someone said they wanted a ‘meal’ in quebec, they would think they’re ordering a happy meal.

  39. you wrote in your article above
    “For example a Quebecer might say “Je vais juste manger quelquechose”, using “just” in the way anglophones would. Yet I remember being taught that “juste” in French French means just as in “fair”, and isn’t used like this. Another example is “eventuellement” which means “possibly” but can pass for “eventually” here.”

    Mais je t’assures, on le dit aussi bien en France – de la même manière, ce n’est pas spécidifiquement canadien du tout, ni le “juste” ni l'”éventuellement” :DDD

  40. I’m an American Anglophone, married to a (bilingual) Canadian Anglophone, living in a region two hours north of Québec (ville). I’ve been here about a year and a half, and I’m in a full-time French program for immigrants. They don’t speak much English at all up here; it’s certainly not the bilingual environment that Montréal is. But I’ve noticed my own English falling into weird French patterns lately. I’m in class for 30 hours each week, where we speak only French, and though my husband and I speak French at home, all of my interactions out in public (by necessity) are in French.

    The things that spring most quickly to mind are the following:

    I’m following a course. (Not I’m taking a course, or as the Canadians seem to say, I’m on a course.)

    Want to take a coffee? (Not want to grab a coffee, or do you want to meet for coffee.)

    We’re going to Québec. (NEVER Québec City. NO ONE says Québec City, and I finally realized it’s because the preposition, à vs. au, makes it clear in French whether you mean the city or the province.)

    I use the word must. A lot. More than “have to,” which I used to use a lot more.

    My least favourite faux ami? Actuellement. I really, really want that to mean actually, instead of currently.

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