French-Canadian expressions you’ll never see in a textbook

My friend Ellen just posted some examples of “Britishisms“, which inspired me to do the same, but for  “French-Canadianisms” (….is that even a word?)   

If you’ve ever taken French class in school, the first thing they teach you is boring verb conjugations:  Je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes…etc.   Then you learn lame expressions like “La plume de ma tante…“.  If you’re lucky you might get to sing Bonhomme bonhomme…

That’s all well and good, but NOBODY speaks that way in Quebec.   

Here are certain expressions they use in La Belle Province that you should know about, but you’ll never find in any French thesaurus or grammar book.

(Said very quickly.)  Means “No”, but very emphatically so. 

(Again, said very quickly).   Same as above, but for “Yes”.

Expression of interrogation.   Equivalent of “Huhhhhh?”, as in “What’s that you’re trying to say?”      

(Clicking tongue..followed by Nuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh!).
This is how small French kids laugh.   They don’t go “Ha! ha! ha!”.  They go “Nuuuuuuuuuuuuh”.

(Resonate, as if imitating a stalled engine trying to start).   I think you are exagerrating.  What you are saying is difficult for me to accept.   

Awww-Awww-Awww Cou Donc!
Come on!  Be reasonable! 

You continue to exagerate, I’m starting to get annoyed.  Let’s slow down, and revise our situation

Whoa-whoa-whooaaa Tabernak!
For Chrissakes, just slow down there a minute!

Indicates highest level of annoyance.  Now you’ve gone too far.  Them’s fightin’ words!



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32 Comments on “French-Canadian expressions you’ll never see in a textbook”

  1. Kelly Says:


    The children laughing I can’t understand at all. I guess I’d have to hear it. “Nuuuh?” Does it sound like a goat?

    Mostly they remind me of Spanish. No repeatedly, Sí repeatedly… repeated syllables in general to indicate extra agreement, disagreement, or annoyance. There’s a lot of that in Spanish.

    I love the Heyyy-Heyy-Heyyy-ayy-AYYY! I can picture that perfectly. Sounds very handy.



  2. Allison Says:

    You’re right. I never learned these in French class!

  3. Friar Says:

    Yeah, the laughter is hard to desribe in actually have to be there. It’s kind of a long “Duhhhhhh”, like they’re mocking something, but also laughing.

    My buddy didn’t believe me about the “Whoa-whoa-whoa hey hey ayy!” until we visited Montreal, and we were waiting in a line up at the hotel, and he heard it first hand!

    Always glad to be of help. Mabye next post I’ll teach people to conjugate “Awww-awww-awww” 🙂

  4. Ellen Wilson Says:

    @Friar – This is really good. You know French! Thanks for the link. Should I try these out when I go to Montreal? Or should I just stick with bonjour and merci! People might think I am making fun of them.
    Maybe Janice will show up and add some Louisianisms. Cajunisms. Something like that.

    @Kelly – Hey! You’re alive. I wondered what happened to you.

  5. Steph Says:

    Ahahahaha! This is HILARIOUS! I think you really nailed them! I could just hear them saying all that. Wish I’d worked those into James’s mouth in my stories. Perhaps I can give him one or two when I revise it as one story.

    This was great! Thanks for the early morning laugh!

  6. Friar Says:

    You could try to pull it off, but they’ll catch on that you’re an Anglophone, and then they’ll probably switch to English out of courtesy. When I lived in Montreal, they did this a lot. Even though I’m perfectly bilingual, it’s hard to get rid of that last bit of English accent.

    Glad you liked it. I think this is funny, in general. But even more so for anyone who grew up in Quebec. Wonder what James would think if he saw this?

  7. Steph Says:

    I wondered the same! I hope he sees it.

  8. I can’t imagine the laugh either, but all of these sound very Canadian and very useful. I think there is surely accompanying eyebrow motions to go with them though, huh? And gestures. They have gestures I am sure.

    I am laughing because where I come from there’s such a gumbo of expressions. Being a polite southern woman, I usually go through the expected protocol. Extended syllables (noooo or oh ye-ess), raised eyebrows, eye signals and body language are very useful. That is not to say I won’t come out with a “You are so wrong for that”.. or back off bucko…But it is very hard for me to out and out say you are so full of s***t.See really hard. Can’t do it. But whithering glance. Got that down.

    Our children just laugh…out loud and long… with giggles…sometimes guffaws. Like they jus caught a fish. 🙂

  9. Friar Says:


    I won’t even get into the swearing (which is a big part of their culture). In English, swearing is usually bodily functions. But because Quebec is mostly Catholic, all the curse words have to do with the church. Hosts, Tabernacles, chalices…etc. It’s really quite unique…you could write a whole book on it.

    It would be interesting to see what it’s REALLY like down south. I’ve been to Arizona and California..but that’s not really the “Deep South”.

    The only images we get up here in Canada are scenes from from lame-ass shows like the “Dukes of Hazard”. Movies like Deliverance or Cool Hand Luke probably don’t help.

    I need to shake that image out of my head, of a fat sheriff pulling me over, and smashing my tailight, and then sentencing me to “thirty days on the county farm!” 🙂

  10. Friar,
    We’ll have to see to your Southern “edification”. You’ll have to learn first off, how to say darlin’. No g on the end. That’ll get you through half of whatever befalls you. Except if it’s one of those sherriffs. Do NOT use it with them.
    Then you have to learn how to appreciate really good food. You say, “That was real good darlin’ could I have some more.” Smile sincerely. That will take care of most everything else. After that you can ask for the local favorite spots to fish, kick up your heels or just go look.

    Oh, and people might want to tell you stories, or give you directions by what used to be there instead of street names.

    The South is beautifully complex , but manners will get you really far. We don’t give out the good referrals unless we like you first. Then you’re practically family and we are honor bound to show you a good time. : )

  11. Friar Says:


    Well, I have had grits! And I know how to say “Y’all come back now, heah?”…that’s about it.

    I do have a good Texas friend who will charm the pants off you. If she’s any indication of what the southern ladies are like, mabye I’ll have to move down there!

  12. “who will charm the pants off you.”

    Well, that’s when this phrase is especially useful. “That was real good darlin’ can I have some more. ”

    Chuckling here.

    Grits.. need grillades to go with those.

  13. Kelly Says:


    You wondered what happened to me? I’m posting at MCE, commenting as far around the globe as I can reach… Ainnnnnnh?

    Oh, oh, is this a hint that I haven’t been commenting in Ellenville enough? Dear oh dear. I believe I may have had my hand slapped.

    I don’t comment daily everywhere, in spite of the fact that Friar has a way of getting me going here. Gotta fit in a couple of hours a day to work and eat and play with kid…


    “Honey” is very useful, too. This is only the border here, but a lot of folks are from the deeper South, looking for our cold winds (as IF!).

    Manners are ever’thang, for sure. Batting your eyelashes comes in handy, but not if you’re a Friar.

    When I was in N’Orleans I realized it is like the rest of the South, only slathered in molasses. Spicy and thick and rich in history and slow and nut-brown. Charm is not a strong enough word for that particular city and its residents.


    (James will give you a few more if he wanders by. He claims he has no accent either way, I won’t believe that until I hear it. I don’t think it’s possible to be accent-free in both languages.)

    I have to go comment in Ellenville now. Bye.

    Until later,


  14. Yes, honey is good ( along with having been one of my nicknames), baby is just as likely. We do love slathering. Your description, Lord Kelly….makes me want to nibble a praline….

    Coming back over to see you. Might get another baseball lesson from Friar. 🙂

  15. Karen Swim Says:

    Friar, this truly made me laugh. It’s funny how every region/culture adds their own twist to language. French Creole is another twist on French. Reading the comments was funny too because the US has so many different types of twists on language it’s a wonder we ever understand one another!

  16. Friar Says:

    Sounds like people are more laid back in the South.

    I don’t know…if I called someone “Honey” aound here who I didn’t really know, I’d probably get a dirty look. At work, I’d probably get called to the carpet for being sexist. People are so godammed uptight around here.

    I think the career women in Canada (especially the “Femineers”) would take offense if you acknowledged that they’re female and God Forbid, you should treat them one iota differently from the rest of the guys. Even if you’re being polite.

    PS. I’m not a baseball expert. I just know some of the basic rules.

  17. Friar Says:


    It’s funny, the southwest (Nevada, California, Arizona) almost has the identical dialect as Canada. Update New York and Vermont are almost the same.

    But you head towards Tennesse and’s like a foreign country. I actually met a taxi driver in Nashville who was like Boom-Hower on King of the Hill. I really coulnd’t understand what the F. he was saying.

    Though I’m told we say “Aboot” instead of “about”. I’ve been accused of that myself many times.

    I disagree.

    I just say “about”…not “A-Bay-Owt”.

  18. I would be laughing out loud, but I am in a public place and don’t want people to know how crazy I am.

    These are applicable for the most part to Parisian French too, though the accent is much different — like Texans to the Londoners are Quebequois to the Parisians.

    I wish there was a tropical Canada somewhere. I love Canadians and Franglais.

  19. Kelly Says:

    Friar, Janice,

    Yes, “Baby.” If a man says it to me in that Loo-sianne dialect, well, he’s charmin’ those pants…. ahem. The only dialect in which a modern woman should allow someone to call her “baby.”

    I once popped a guy in the mouth for calling me honey. (I’m a little fiesty.) You can tell the difference between “I say it every day” and “I’m using my x-ray goggles to see your underwear.” This dude wanted to tell me I weren’t nothin’ but an object to him, and my femineer side accidentally took over. We were NOT far enough south for it to be part of his vocabulary, and frankly, it was a while ago when there was still the possibility of someone objectifying me. 😦 ?

    (It does go over a lot better if said by a woman.)

    Canadiens: “Aboat” is more like it, usually. There’s an accent I can spot from a mile away.


    Haha! “I wish there was a tropical Canada somewhere.” I am always wishing someone would replant New Orleans near Toronto. Cool weather and hot jazz, I’d be in heaven.

    It is the wretched heat that has made the place what it is, so it must stay.

    Until later,


  20. Friar Says:


    Hahah! I think of Toronto as stinking hot and Humid. Southern Ontario is the warmest place in Canada (besides Vancouver and Victoria).

    Yeah, a woman saying “Honey” can get away with it. (Waitresses say that to me and I like it). But I dont’ dare use it when talking to the fairer sex.


    You know…we ALMOST had a tropical Canada. Back in the 1960’s, the Turks and Caicos islands wanted to join Canada. We came close, but our stupid Prime Minister turned them down.

    Imagine..we’d have had our own colony to fly to in the cold winter!

    Victoria is qite mild though. I think they actually planted some palm trees there to prove a point, and the trees actually thrive.

    It still gets cold there, though. Just not minus 30.

  21. Steph Says:

    Toronto!! Oh the pollution! UGH. I like Ottawa better. But I have yet to find a hot spot in Canada. The funny thing is, we go to the States for that, don’t we?

  22. Friar Says:


    I lived in Hamilton for 9 years. Toronto was something I had to drive through to visit my folks in Ottawa. Big Ugly City…I can’t stand it. During smog alerts, I’ve seen the CN Tower covered in orange haze!

    Ottawa is great..the Gatineau Park on the Quebec side makes the whole city. It’s the subject of many many of my paintings.

    Problem with the States is…you go too far south, and it’s muggy and miserable in the summer. (I wonder what the “sweet spot” is….what’s the perfect latitude where the weather is “just right”?)

  23. Well, Friar, the sweet spot is having a place to get away from the heat, which is what the Highlands in North Carolina are for, or boats. And air conditioning. It is yucky in the summer, which is how all those little spots sprang up along the Gulf Coast. Families would go over to the summer places as soon as school is out and the fathers would commute on the weekends. Ceiling fans and air conditioning are a must, as are escapes.
    I am looking for a livable sweet spot myself. I am torn between Santa Fe and the North Carolina Coast at the moment.

  24. Friar Says:


    I’ve been in Utah and Nevada in July. I call it “Stupid hot”. When it’s 110F, it’s just no fun being outdoors. (It’s almost like January up here!). Everyone stays inside.

    Though when it “drops down” to 90F it feels downright cool, because it’s a “dry heat”.

    I hear the humidity from the Gulf Coast is the worst. My friend grew up in Corpus Christi and she said you never get used to it. Ever.

  25. She’s right. It gets awful if it is still , too. I love that- “stupid hot” . I call it mass murder hot. Makes me very grumpy. I stay in. Have to have some kind of breeze . The old, ” it’s not the heat it’s the humidity” is true.

    And hot places sometimes have bugs. Although so do the mountains of Colorado. hmm. It’s always something , huh?

  26. Friar Says:


    Of course, when I was down there during the “Stupid Hot” days, I would still go for 3 hours hikes in the midday heat. I had plenty of water (which by the end of the hike..had turned HOT in my Nalgene bottles!)

    I would hike one day…get all dehydrated and tired…take the next day off. Then hike again the following day, etc.

    Might not have been the smartest thing in the world. But I did lose weight that summer!

  27. Laughing.

    Friar — Soon everyone is going to beg Canada to take them.

    Kelly — Re: objectifying… too funny… Yeah, mid-20s, I was like: Those Italians aren’t so bad after all.

    As for “honey.” I LOVE when enormous middle-aged waitresses call me honey, I feel like they like me, like they are a mom, or like my best friend’s mom type thing. It’s endearing. I guess men can be creepy though when they say it.

    Re: locations. I am at the border of Mexico currently in San Diego California and I am shocked by how great the weather is. Even though it is 2 hours south of Los Angeles, it is about 12 degrees cooler on average from the lifted marine layer fog and no pollution. Unlike in Hollywood, the weather is a little different everyday, from cool to hot, rain to sunshine, and dry air, not muggy. It’s amazing.

  28. Friar Says:

    Quebec is like someone in a bad marraige (with Canada). They’re unhappy, they won’t stay, they won’t leave, they dont’ know what they want. That’s what makes this place so interesting (and/or annoying)

    I think that waitress “Honey” thing is more American. They dont’ really do that up here very much.

    When I go South of the border, I find the staff really knows how to treat customers (like royalty). Up here, it’s like they’re doing you a favor and you’re lucky to get a 2nd cup of coffee.

  29. anne Says:

    This was so right on! It really brought back memories of my mom’s large family having great spirited conversations!

  30. Friar Says:


    Glad you liked it. Lots of people might find this funny,but if you grew up in Quebec you can appreciate it on a whole other level.

  31. Phil Says:

    I’m quebecer and I gotta say that this is HILARIOUS. You made my day!

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