Unique Québécois French Words and Expressions

Much like speakers of British English and American English, French speakers from France and Québéc can usually understand each other. Over the past half millennium, though, Québécois French has diverged somewhat from its European roots and developed a character all its own.

Several factors have played into the distinctive French spoken in Québec:

  • Long periods of isolation from France
  • The influence of Canada’s English-speaking majority
  • Interaction with First Nations and Inuit languages (including Mi’kmaq, Ojibway, Cree, Abitibiwinni (Algonquin), and Mohawk)

Québécois French has retained some older French pronunciations, as well as many words now considered obsolete in Standard French. In addition, new words and expressions have arisen to describe life in New France and the New World.

In a moment, we’ll dive into the colorful lexicon of Québécois French. But first, a quick trip through the timeline of Québéc to see the impact of history on this best-known variety of Canadian French.

A Timeline of Québécois French

1534 – Explorer Jacques Cartier declared the Gaspésie (Eastern Québec) the French Crown’s property.

1608 – Samuel de Champlain founded Québec City.

1763 – Through the Treaty of Paris, Québec and Montréal were taken over by Great Britain after their 1759 victory at the Bataille des Plaines d’Abraham (Battle of the Plains of Abraham). Thus began a period of Québécois isolation from France, starting the late 1700s and lasting until the mid-20th century.

1867 – With Québec’s inclusion in Britain’s new Dominion of Canada, Québécois French began to diverge even more from its Parisian French roots. However, the British were starting to withdraw somewhat from their Canadian colonies.  

Late 19th / Early 20th century – For greater economic security, many rural Québécois migrated to predominantly English-speaking cities. Mixing increasingly with the English language in everyday life, a distinctive Québecois French began to emerge. It was sometimes called joual (a less-than-flattering term derived from parler le cheval, “to talk horse”).

Mid-to-late 20th century – The socio-political changes of the “Quiet Revolution” strengthened the position of the French language.

1969 – The Official Languages Act gave French and English co-official language status in Canada.

1977La Charte de la langue française (the Charter of the French Language) was passed in Québec’s legislature. Also known as Bill 101, it made French the only official language in the province of Québec.

Interesting Quebec words and Phrases

Food, Clothing, and Everyday Words

To see the distinctness of Québécois French, let’s start with some simple words used in everyday life.

Food and Household Words

la poutine – Pronounced more like “poot-sin” than “poo-teen,” this mix of cheese curds, French fries, and brown gravy was invented in Québec and named with a slang word – possibly deriving from the Michif (Métis French) poutchine – meaning “mess.”

Grands-pères à l’érable – Literally “maple syrup grandfathers,” these are dumplings simmered in maple syrup.

un chien-chaud – A hot dog (in direct translation from its English counterpart).

un breuvage – Despite sounding a bit like “brew” in English, this is a non-alcoholic drink (from the Old French word bevrage).

la chopine – A pint (used instead of la pinte, which means “pint” in Standard French but “quart” in Québécois French).

un bleuet – A blueberry (The same word exists in Standard French, but it means “cornflower”). A pint of blueberries grown in Canada is often labeled as “Bleuets: une chopine” (Blueberries: One pint).

un chaudron – Similar to the word “cauldron” in English, this medieval word has been retained by the Québécois to refer to a cooking pot.

une vadrouille – A mop. In Standard French, serpillère would be used and vadrouille would mean “wandering off” or “wandering around” (An older meaning for vadrouille was the type of rope mop used on a sailing ship).

un télézard – A couch potato; this is a combination of télé for TV plus lézarder (to bask), so it would be un téléspectateur (TV viewer) who basks in the warm blue glow of their television screen.

une champlure – A faucet or tap. This is a corruption of “chantepleure,” a tap on a wine barrel, which made a singing, whining sound when used (The standard French word for “water tap” would be le robinet).

la débarbouillette – This name for a facecloth hearkens back to barbouiller, a verb meaning “to get one’s beard dirty,” with the prefix dé- (to undo). The Standard French word for this small towel is le gant de toilette.


le linge – The clothing; this word is used in Standard French to mean “laundry.”

un complet – A suit (business attire). This word is considered old-fashioned in France, where costume is normally used.

un complet veston – A three-piece suit.

une brassière – A bra (as opposed to un soutien-gorge, which is used in France).

une babiche – A snowshoe; derived from ápapíj, a Mi’kmaq word meaning “thread” or “cord.”

une tuque – A warm, knitted hat. Sometimes called a “watch cap” or “beanie” in American English, the Canadian word is related to toque (a brimless hat, varieties of which are worn by chefs (toque de cuisinier), jockeys (toque de jockey), and judges (toque de juge). In Canada, this is sometimes spelled touque.

un coton ouaté – A sweatshirt.

une jaquette – A nightgown.

Everyday Words

un cotteur – A pavement or sidewalk, which is à côté **de (to the side of) the road. The Standard French equivalent is un trottoir.

un banc de neige – Reflecting its English counterpart, this is a snow bank. It’s used in place of the Standard French word, la congère.

une poudrerie – A blowing, powdery type of snow, also called rafale de neige poudreuse.

débarrer – To unlock (instead of déverrouiller).

la brunante – Literally “the browning,” this means dusk or nightfall. Used instead of la crépuscule, it’s also found in Louisiana Cajun French.

le dépanneur – The corner store or convenience store. In Standard French, this would normally refer to a repair person or mechanic (A mechanic in Québécois French, however, is une dépanneuse).

magasiner – To go shopping. Also, le magasinage can be used to refer to the activity of shopping.

un char – The Québécois, Cajun, New Brunswick, and Acadian French word for an automobile. This is short for chariot (carriage).

le stationnement – The parking lot or car park.

un ivressomètre – A breathalyzer; it comes from ivresse (drunkenness) plus mètre (meter). If you’re being asked to use one of these, it’s best to call a taxi cab and leave your char in the stationnement.

Learn about romantic Québécois words and phrases

Romantic Relationships

le chum – The boyfriend.

la blonde – The girlfriend, regardless of her hair color. This one goes back to older French usage, as in the old song, “Auprès de ma blonde.”

chanter la pomme – To flirt with someone. It would literally translate as “to sing the apple,” and there are a couple of theories as to what this means in terms of flirting. One theory holds that pomme (apple) was originally paume (palm of the hand), and that the reference was to stroking someone’s hand in a sensual manner to express romantic interest. Another theory suggests that pomme refers back to the apple that Eve uses to tempt Adam in the Garden of Eden.

T’es ben chix – This would mean something like, “You’re smokin’ hot,” and could be used pour chanter la pomme (to chat someone up).

domper ton chum / domper ta blonde – To dump your boyfriend or girlfriend. Just like it sounds, domper comes from the English word for ending a romantic relationship.

Tech and Social Media

As Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow point out in their book, The Story of French, being surrounded by English speakers can give francophone Québécois an impetus to keep modernizing French. Indeed, many tech terms have come out of Québec.

décopiner – To “unfriend” someone.

amiradier – Another word for “to unfriend” someone; this one combines ami (friend) with radier (to strike off, presumably from a “friend” list).

désamicaliser – Yet another way “to unfriend.”

le clavardage – Chat (via computer); a combination of clavier (keyboard) and bavardage (gossip or chatter). 

le courriel – Email; a portmanteau of courrier (mail, post) and électronique (electronic). Courriel originated in Québec and was eventually adopted into Standard French (where le e-mail, le mail, and le mél / le mel are also used).

le pourriel – Spam (unwanted emails); a combination of poubelle (trash can, rubbish bin, or “trash” in general) and courriel (the French term for email devised in Québec).

un blogue – Just like it sounds, this is a blog. The verb bloguer (to blog) and un blogueur (a blogger) derive from this same English root.

un suiveur / une suiveuse – A follower (on social media); this comes from suivre (to follow).

le gazouillage – This is tweeting, and it’s also known as le tweetage (It derives from the Standard French verb gazouiller, to chirp).

un gazouillis partagé – A retweet (“a shared chirp”).

une balado – Short for baladodiffusion, this is a podcast. The word is a blend of baladeur (the formal French word for a personal stereo), plus radiodiffusion (a French Canadian word for broadcasting).

un égoportrait – A selfie. This one packs a little more meaning than its English equivalent.

Idiomatic Expressions

ajeuve – A while back; some time ago. Ajeuve derives from achevé (achieved, completed).

un appel du vide – Literally meaning “a call of the void,” this refers to a sudden attack of vertigo.

attacher sa tuque (avec de la broche) – This common Québec phrase, attacher sa tuque, is similar to the English expression “Hold on to your hat.” It means to prepare or brace yourself for what’s to come. The longer, more dramatic form means “to attach your hat with a metal spike.”

un enterrement de crapaud – This means “a toad’s funeral,” and it’s a way to refer to an uncomfortable situation or a terrible predicament.

se bêcher – To trip over something. This is related to the Standard French verb, bêcher (to dig).

lutter – To hit something with a car. In Standard French, it just means “to fight” or “to wrestle.”

grouiller – To get a move on.

avoir la langue à la terre – To be very tired or very hungry, this means “to have your tongue on the ground.”

jaser – To chat with someone (Not the same word used for computer chat).

être mal amanché – To be badly dressed. From the sound of it, this word may literally mean “badly sleeved” (from manche, sleeve).

ça prend tout mon petit change – Literally meaning “something that takes all my pocket money,” this indicates that something requires a lot of time, effort, or energy.

prendre une brosse – To get rip-roaringly, staggeringly drunk. It translates as “to take a brush.” A related Québécois expression is virer une brosse, “to throw out a brush,” which is to go out and paint the town.

avoir mal aux cheveux – Have you ever been so tired or had such a bad headache that your hair actually ached? If you’ve ever pris une brosse (gotten plastered), you might be able to relate to this Québécois term for being hung over.

se pogner le cul – If you have a lazy day, sitting around and doing nothing, it’s what the Québécois call “getting caught [or stuck] on your butt.”

j’ai mon voyage – Literally meaning “I have my trip,” this is used when you’re fed up or have had enough. It’s much like j’en ai marre in Standard French.

se faire avoir – This can be loosely translated into English as “to be had,” meaning to get fooled by someone.

Tu me prends pour un poisson !? – “Are you mistaking me for a fish?” This is a Québécois French way to call someone out for treating you like you’re stupid.

Québécois French has claimed its own distinct place in the wider francophone world. Its singular blend of words and expressions enriches the language for all French speakers.

Some of the French spoken in Québec may not be considered “Standard French,” but Québécois French is just as legitimate as any other variety of the language.

As they say along the St. Lawrence River, c’est tiguidou ! (It’s all good!)

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