(Content warning: this blog post contains words that some readers may find offensive. However, I would like to point out that the direct meanings of those words are not terribly offensive at all when you stop to think about them, and that we are all are just caught up in socially inculcated webs of linguistic value based largely on the prejudices and fears of our society, which are in turn usually based on oppressive morality systems, so maybe you should stop being such a dry balls?)
Swearwords tell you a lot about a culture. English swears are all body and sex things with occasional female animal imagery thrown in there for good luck. For example: Asshole, Dick, Cunt, Shit, Fuck, Bastard, Bitch. French from France swears are very similar except with less female animals and more sex work. For example, Connard, Connasse, Merde, Enculer, Salaud, Putain, Salope.
Romanised Christian Europe made a virtue out of hating on the body due to St. Augustine being a nasty little nuke of a man, and that is probably why English and French swears are so prissy and misogynistic. English swears also indicate that the English never spent any time with female dogs, which are lovely creatures, and French swears suggest that the French never spent any time with sex workers, who are sound.
Irish (Gaelige) swears are less words and more elaborate maledictions, designed to strike arrows of death through the right middle of your heart. “Go n-imi an droch aimsir leat” (May the bad weather leave with you), an angry Gaelgóir might curse upon you, leaving you terrified that every day of the rest of your life will begin and end in grey skies and rain, which, if you happen to live in Galway, is not an unreasonable hypothesis.
Are you going to take that kind of climatic cruelty? You are not. You reply, upping the game considerably, “Buineach dhearg go dtigidh ort” (May you have red runny poo), which is just an awful thing to wish on anyone, but you were pretty cross at the time. You better watch out, because your Gaelgóir adversary knows fate worse than colonic malfunction and counters, “Go n-ithe an cat thú, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat” (May the cat eat you and may the devil eat the cat). K.O.
Irish swears are so imaginative and brilliant because Ireland was just kind of doing its own thing when St. Augustine was wrecking everyone’s buzz on the continent with his judgey bullshit. Another partial explanation is that, as a pragmatic people, the Irish know that the pain of being compared to an anus lasts mere minutes, but you’ll be scrubbing at those red runny poo stains with bicarbonate of soda for days.
Irish swears in English are much like England English swears except we use Gee and Gowl a lot, which are both words for vagina. Gee is a little less rude than Gowl and both are less rude than cunt. I don’t think this reflects very well on the gendered values of our postcolonial culture, but I still like calling people Geebags and responding “I am on me gowl” when people ask me if I’m going to the pub to watch a sporting event, so I guess I’m part of the generalized cuntery of it all.
Québécois swears are Catholic things. The queen of the swears is “Tabernak,” which directly translates as tabernacle – the little gold press where the God biscuits go for a spot of the old transmogrification during mass. Tabernak indirectly translates as fuck, which directly translates as the act of sexual intercourse, but indirectly translates as tabernacle.
It’s important to say Tabernak correctly. Imagine that you’re walking through a desert and it’s rather warm and you don’t have a sunhat or any water and you pray to God for a miracle and God sends you a Tabernacle. Imagine that you are surprised to see it, shining there in the sand like a very fancy bread box, but also quite peeved because you were hoping for an ice-cream van or a vending machine full of icy cokes or at the very least a visit from the Lilt man. Now say Tabernak. There, you’re saying it right.
Sometimes you might want to say something akin to Tabernak but less rude, analogous to feck in Ireland or shoot in America or Oi Andy you absolute toss-ah in England. Then you can say Tabernouche or Taberouette, which I am going to translate as Tabernickle or Taberknockers. You can even say these words around children or people’s grandparents. Although, to be honest, I have only met two Quebeçoise grandmas and they both kept casually using fuck as an adjective. I was told (but am not quite sure if I believe) that fuck isn’t a particularly bad word in Québecois French. However, Tabernak really is, so remember to nickel or knocker it in front of Mamie, even if she just apologized for the state of the chicken by telling you that her oven is fucked.
You might like a little variety in your Quebec gros mots, and this is where a Catholic upbringing comes in handy, because you can pick just about anything you might find near the altar in a bog standard church and say it in a heated tone and you are Poobeard the Pottymouth Pirate as far as the Québecois are concerned.
“Câlice!” you might exclaim, which means chalice, usually used for supping Christ’s delicious wine-flavoured blood, but here also capable of delivering many hues of offense. You can turn chalice into a verb, rolling your eyes and intoning “on s’en câlisse,” which directly translates to “one chalices it” and indirectly translates to “who gives a fuck?”, which in turn directly translates to “who would engage in sexual intercourse?” I think.
On dropping your last ciggie in a puddle, you might spit, “Ostie!” The host is not only the transubstantiated (and never consubstantiated, d’ya hear me Luther?) body of our lord and savior Jesus H. Cornelius Christ; it is also a good way of expressing exasperation. You might enjoy appending the body of Christ to irksome things and people. For example, if the cat claws the couch you can shout “Ostie d’Chat!” If you are living in Quebec the cat will understand this insult. If you are not living in Quebec you can use this expression to demean the cat without her knowledge.
There are a lot of these swears – Ciboire, Sacrament, Chriss, Calvaire. And a fun thing is that if you’re really mad you can string them together like rosary beads, exclaiming “Osti de Châlisse de Cibore de Criss de Tabernak!” Be advised that outside of Quebec it might sound like you are inexpertly praying.
The Quebecois have taken blasphemy to this impressively creative level because sometime in the mid-nineteenth century they got pissed off with the Catholic Church keeping them all poor and ignorant and docile and hungry. Their rebellion was linguistic, whispered at first, slowly gathering power, until all that anger and resolve was shouted full-throated and full-lunged in the streets. In the 60s and 70s, the Quebecois severed the ties between church and state. That quiet revolution didn’t start with violence but with sacred words.
Language is magic and swear words have more magic than most. Maybe Ireland could shout Tabernacle a little more and Gowl a little less? Wait, no, I’m conflicted. I love the word Gowl. I do. Maybe we could do some cultural collaboration instead. What do you think of that idea, ya Gowl of a Tabernacle ya? You don’t like it, no? Droch chrích ort.