Monday, March 10, 2014
C’est le temps pour les pichous! “Pichous” is a Canadianism or a French-Canadian word meaning “slippers”. In this sentence, pichous is used to describe the fall weather turning chilly.
Colloquial phrases fall out of the ordinary use in formal languages but are common in familiar conversations. Often, these expressions are colorful and sometimes even risqué. Some French colloquialisms are included in American English, like “bon vivant”, meaning “having fun” or a fun loving person.
Other colloquialisms are specific to places. For example, vernacular words spoken by French speakers in
“Pichous” is likely a word adopted by the French-Canadians from the Micmac Indians. It’s not a word familiar to French speakers outside of
Several dictionaries have been written by authors who collected words and phrases commonly used in French Canada, in
In other words, each dictionary is like a French Colloquial Rosetta Stone. The authors translated familiar phrases into English, to help others who speak French to understand local colloquialisms. They're also fun to read.
Rachelle Beaudoin wrote and illustrated “The Berlin Dictionary”, describing vernacular familiar to her home, which happens to be the largest city in northern
Rachelle Beaudoin author of The Berlin Dictionary
“Why do people stop and stare at me when I use the word ‘piton’,” she asks? (Piton is a useful Canadianism meaning “button” to turns lights on and off, or a function key or toggle.)
Franco-Americans who learned French at home understand words like “bibite” (a bug) or “le bonhomme sept-heures” (a scary specter like the bogeyman).
Don Levesque was with the editorial management at the St. John Valley Times weekly newspaper in Madawaska when he began writing two dictionaries. He now lives in
“What began almost as a nostalgic review of expressions took on a life of its own with contributions from readers all over the
Like Beaudoin, he thought he was collecting phrases with special meanings specific to people in the
Steve Timmins explains in “French Fun: The Real Spoken Language of Quebec”, how the Canadian French spoken in Quebec, and the mother tongue of many Franco-Americans, can be traced to the descendents of the first French settlers who arrived in New France between 1608 and 1700.
Colonial French settlers carried their particular accents with them into
French-Canadian patois evolved from these colonial settlers.
Acadian French evolved from an even earlier wave of colonial settlements established in 17th century in
French colloquialisms and the use of Canadianisms can entertain linguists for hours in animated conversations. More information about French-Canadian patois, colloquialisms, linguistic heritage, Canadianisms and vocabulary are available in these sources:
Beaudoin, Rachelle, editor and illustrator, The Berlin Dictionary; 2009, Boom Pier Press,
Gauvin, Marie A., Linguistic and Cultural Heritage of the Acadians in Maine and New Brunswick; a thesis submitted at Central Connecticut State College New Britain, Connecticut, 1965. https://www.zotero.org/francopublic/items/itemKey/6XD28V3Q
Timmons, Steve; French Fun: The Real Spoken Language of
Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.
Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.