December 05, 2006

Oh tabernacle! What the wafer!

Taboo language does not go unnoticed by the eagle-eyed staff of Language Log. In the month of November alone, you can find the following posts on this topic: November 6, November 8, November 19, and November 20. Now comes an article in the Washington Post explaining that profanity in French-speaking Canada offers new and exciting vistas about taboo language.

Apparently the Quebecois turn to religion for their swear words. The f-word and the s**t word just don't cut it for them. No sexual cussing. No scatology. Just religion -- like "hostie" (host) or, for swearing in polite company, "tabar" (tabarnacle). The reason for this? For them, religion is taboo, not sex or body functions, says Professor Andre Lapierre of the University of Ottawa.

This led to a rather feeble effort at defensive language planning by the Montreal Archdiocese. It commissioned a bunch of billboards expaining the church meanings of the taboo words, "tabernacle" and "chalice." Not surprisingly, the effort didn't seem to work and the religious cussing continues.

Oh tabernacle! What the wafer!

Update: Martin Chesnay from Montreal informs me that the Washington Post was not entirely accurate about Canadian French speakers abandoning sexual swearing. He claims they use "the f-word" as much as it's used in the US, maybe even more. He also clarifies that the Archdiocese was NOT involved in language planning. It was "part of a fund raising campaign...trying to use shock to generate awaremess for that campaign." Hmm. Well, at least I'm glad that it wasn't language planning, for there are better ways to plan such.

Posted by Roger Shuy at December 5, 2006 02:01 PM