Can You Figure out These 15 Canadian French Expressions?
Most people know that there are two official languages in Canada: English and French. While English is spoken by the majority of Canadians – around 58.4% of them – an estimated 22% of the population speak French. That’s 7.3 million people.
There are a number of different French dialects spoken throughout Canada. From the Quebecois French spoken in Quebec to the Acadian French spoken in the Maritime Provinces, the Metis French spoken in Manitoba to the Newfoundland French spoken in, that’s right, Newfoundland.
With such diverse dialects, there are bond to be some interesting and bizarre expressions used in Canadian French, right? Oh yes! Here’s a list of some that made us smile, laugh, frown, wonder or all four.
1) Quand il ėcoute de la musique, il est aux oiseaux.
When he listens to music, he belongs to the birds.
Meaning: This expression isn’t for the birds. It denotes a happy and contented person. Because who isn’t happy when they’re listening to good music?
2) Le boss des bécosses.
He thinks he is the toilet’s boss.
Meaning: If someone tries to take over a situation and is a bit of a know-it-all, they are a boss des bécosses. Making a connection between a person and a toilet is never polite, so you might want to keep this one for talking behind people’s backs!
3) Devoir attacher sa tuque avec de la broche.
It’s his duty to tie his toque with a pin.
Meaning: In Canada a toque is a knitted winter hat pulled tightly to the head. In most of the US they’re called beanies. Tying a toque with a pin in this expression refers to fixing the hat in place in case a turbulent wind comes and blows it off. In other words, have your wits about you as tough times are afoot!
4) Être habillé comme la chienne à Jacques.
Be dressed like Jacques’ dog.
Meaning: The origin of this expression warms the heart. There was an old man named Jacques Aubert who lived on the Lawrence River at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Jacques was a bachelor and only had his old dog for company. When the dog got sick and lost all of her fur, Jacques dressed her up in his old tatty sweaters so she would stay warm. What a sweetheart! Though this is a lovely tale, if someone says this about you they’re saying what you’re wearing is awful.
5) J’ai la langue à terre.
I have my tongue on the floor.
Meaning: Most floors are nasty places, so it’s a good thing this is just an expression. J’ai la langue à terre can mean two things, either you’re tired or you’re hungry. If you’re both, I guess you don’t need to specify!
6) Lâche pas la patate!
Don’t let go of the potato!
Meaning: Potatoes are delicious, so you’d be forgiven for using this one literally from time to time: a delicious potato needs holding onto. What’s actually meant by this expression though is don’t chicken out!
7) J’ai les dents du fond qui baignent.
I have the back tooth bathing.
Meaning: This expression might suggest you are in the middle of giving your teeth a good clean, but it actually has a different meaning. When you say j’ai les dents du fond qui baignent it means you’ve eaten too much – your stomach is so full that the food is staying in your mouth and a back tooth is swimming in it. Gross!
8) Se tirer une bûche.
Draw a log.
Meaning: Those who immigrated to Canada weren’t able to bring any furniture on the gruelling boat journey over. They made do with what was around, and that meant wood. Se tirer une bûche means to pull up a chair, a log of wood, and take a seat.
9) Avoir de l’eau dans la cave.
You have water in the cellar.
Meaning: You’d be forgiven for panicking a little at hearing this one. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to make an insurance claim. When someone in Canada tells you avoir de l’eau dans la cave they’re commenting on the length of your pants – they’re too short!
10) Le yable est aux vaches.
The devil is to the cows.
Meaning: Cows kind of look like furry devils, don’t you think? It’s the horns. If you hear someone says le yable est aux vaches it means chaos reins, there is no more order.
11) Entre toi pis moi pis la boîte à beurre.
Between you and me and the butter box.
Meaning: This is like the English expression “Between you, me and these four walls” and it means what you’re about to say should not leave the room, it’s a secret. If butter boxes in Quebec could talk, the secrets they would tell!
12) Sentir le petit canard à la patte cassée.
To smell like a duckling with a broken leg.
Meaning: This one’s pretty straight forward: you stink! Not sure why adorable little ducklings are being targeted though. That said, I’ve never been around one with a broken leg. Maybe they’re really stinky.
13) Avoir pigé tard dans le sac à faces.
To have drawn late in the face bag.
Meaning: Imagine there were a “face bag” we all had to choose from before entering this world. The face we pull out is the one we have to live with. Some get to the bag early and pull beautiful faces and some get there late and are left with, well, you get the idea. If someone says this to you, they are calling you ugly. How rude!
14) Être enceinte jusqu’aux oreilles.
To be pregnant all the way to your ears.
Meaning: You might have heard of smiling from ear to ear, but what about being pregnant all the way to your ears? This one is pretty self explanatory, it means to be very pregnant.
15) Accouche qu’on baptise.
Give birth already so that we can baptise the child.
Meaning: Another baby-related expression to finish. Religious references are everywhere in Canadian French. This expression can be used when you want someone to hurry up, no baby needed.
There you have it, expressions you’ll hear in French-speaking parts of Canada! Do you want to speak French? Sign up for a LingQ account free and start your journey to French fluency today!