7.12.06

MERE D'CRISSE, CALISSE D'TABERNAC. If any of you I've offended, coller votre tête dans un seau de crème à raser. Years ago, in Nine Nations of North America, I read about this distinctly Quebecois way of cussing. Apparently, rather than nail 99 theses to the cathedral door, settlers made use of church phrases as a way of protesting against clerical authority. (Via Newmark's Door.) King Banaian reports that the custom made its way into French Canadian enclaves of Manchesta, New Hampsha, and that the archdiocese of Montreal is attempting to reclaim the words for their original purposes by the use of billboards intended to shock sensibilities.

"Tabernacle!" shouted one example. "Small cupboard locked by key in the middle of the altar containing the ciborium."

Another explained that ciborium is a container that holds the hosts for communion. (Host and ciborium are serious swear words in Quebec's French language, too.)

While some of the words were used in a blasphemous fashion all the way back to the 1800s, they became especially common as francophones turned their backs on the Roman Catholic church over the past 40 years.

"There are a lot of people in our society who don't even know what these words mean anymore," said Rev. Jean Boyer, a Montreal priest who was visiting Notre-Dame Basilica on Sunday.

"We're hoping once the shock passes, people will think more about the true meaning of the words. There are many young people who don't even know that in old times this was blasphemy."

It's a uniquely Quebec problem for the church, says Monique Carmel, a linguist and professional translator.

"These words were used as blasphemy and a form of rebellion when the church held a great amount of power in Quebec society," Carmel said in an interview Sunday. "France has been a secular society since Napoleon, so you don't see this there."

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