Language is serious business in Québec. Regulations in Canada’s French-speaking province govern when French must be used to access government services, who should study it, and how large it ought to be written on signs compared to English. Preserving a Québécois version of French that arrived in North America some time before English colonizers remains (understandably) a key priority for la belle province.
On the ground, things are a little messier. Québec slang, as heard in Montréal and elsewhere, is a remarkable méli-mélo (hodgepodge) of ancient French, more recent borrowings from Arabic- and Haitian Creole-speaking communities, and English loanwords. Below are 11 slang words heard in Montréal to help you sound as hip as anyone who lives on the Plateau, in Villeray (purported to be the world’s 18th coolest neighborhood), or maybe even in Longueuil (see below).
1. Attache ta tuque
Québeckers encourage each other to “get ready” with the expression attache ta tuque! (“attach your tuque!”). Tuque is the word used throughout Canada to refer to the hibernal headwear elsewhere known as a “beanie” or a “knit cap.” It’s essentially a very Québec way to say “hold on to your hat” or “fasten your seatbelt.” As Université de Montréal professor Benoît Melançon points out, the expression can anticipate both good things and bad.
It’s pronounced like the English “away,” but comes from the French verb “to send” (envoyer), and expresses encouragement (or exasperation), something like “let’s go” or “c’mon.” Aweille can be spelled in a multiplicity of ways (awèye, envouèye, enwoye, etc.), though “aweille” was the spelling chosen by the hip-hop group Dead Obies for their 2016 hit, “Aweille.” The band was formed in the Montréal suburb of Longueuil—a traditionally working-class locale sometimes cheekily called “the Brooklyn of Montréal.”
With apologies to speakers of Louisiana French (who use it as a vulgarity), bibitte in Québec refers literally to a bug (like the ubiquitous mosquito) and metaphorically to one of life’s little troubles that is similarly irritating.
4. Boss des Bécosses
Another earthy expression, a boss des bécosses is literally the “boss of the outhouses.” It refers to someone who exercises an authoritarian attitude (usually when such an attitude is unnecessary, unhelpful, or comically exaggerated). Bécosse is thought to derive from the old-fashioned English word for a latrine, “backhouse.” Though the expression is heard daily in speech and is even the title of a children’s book, it’s just salty enough to have been banned in Québec’s National Assembly since 2020.
Correct is the Québecois equivalent of the English “OK,” and is used just as often. “C’est correct” (“it’s OK” or “it’s all good”) can be used to console and reassure or express understanding and satisfaction. Just don’t pronounce the Ts: it’s “say correck,” not “set correct.” But don’t worry. C’est correct if you forget and pronounce it anyway.
6. Coupe Longueuil
Known elsewhere in North America as a “mullet,” this business in the front, party in the back hairstyle is known as the coupe Longueuil (“Longueuil cut”) after the Montréal suburb. Currently making the improbable—or, as they say in Québec, “l’improbable”—comeback, the coup Longueuil has a special place in hockey, where one’s hair, or “flow,” is an integral part of the game. Coincidentally, the French word for “cup” (coupe) is the same as the word for “cut,” allowing the Québec press to make witticisms about the 1993 NHL championship, where “Longueuil and Stanley coupes [cuts/cups] mingle happily,” and about young recruit Jon Merrill, who in 2021 was “ready to do anything to bring back the coupe [cut/cup] ... Longueuil or Stanley!” Clever, right?
It’s technically the word for “there,” but you’ll often just hear it at the end of an expression. There it functions as Québec’s second-most frequently used discourse marker, a word like “like” or “you know” that punctuates speech. You can add it to basically any sentence in order to sound more authentically Canadian. (Bonus fact: English speakers in Québec and elsewhere in Canada pepper their speech with “there” just like Québeckers do, there.)
Since the 1960s, Québec has been a destination for many Haitian immigrants who have brought a rich trove of Creole words to the informal lexicon of Québec. Patnais (or patnè) is one such word. It refers to a friend in the singular form or “the gang” (les patnais) in the plural. Patnais joins many other familiar words for a friendly acquaintance, including mec, chum, copain, and gars. Just to keep things from being simple, though, all of those latter words might also mean a romantic partner—un(e) partenaire—the word from which patnais is derived [PDF].
Tiguidou is an old-timey expression of satisfaction and contentment. If things are going perfectly in life, everything is tiguidou. Its origins are unclear, though it may derive from the English tickety-boo. The word is so popular (and appealing) that it’s even used as the brand name for a Québec cheddar cheese.
Speaking of cheese, quétaine is the Québecois word for “cheesy” (as an adjective) or “cheese” (as noun) used to describe or refer to something kitschy, old-fashioned, or just generally unappealing. Its origin is uncertain, though one amusing folk etymology holds that it derives from a family from the town of Saint-Hyacinthe named Keating (or Keaton) who were notorious in the 1940s and ’50s for wearing unfashionable clothes.
11. Tabarnouche or Tabourette
Until now we’ve assiduously avoided any profanity (though there are many colorful Québecois sacres, or swear words). This entry will be no different. Tabarnouche and tabourette are derived from the French word for a tabernacle—the cabinet in a Catholic church in which the communion wafers are kept—a word which, when exclaimed, is indeed a very strong profanity. Tabarnouche and tabourette, by contrast, are sweet softenings of the profane T-word into expressions of frustration you would feel comfortable using around children (like “gosh darn it”). Use them and the 10 expressions above and you’ll be sounding like a Longueuillois(e) (a resident of that soon-to-be-cool suburb) straightaway. Perhaps it’s time to book that flight, practice up, and get ready to indulge your taste buds—and clog your arteries—with Québec’s national dish, poutine. Attache ta tuque!