Fuddle duddle! In February 1971, Prime Minister P.E. Trudeau admitted to the press that he had “mouthed” something like those words during an exchange in the House of Commons. Montrealers have always been connaisseurs of blue language.
Today, as you wander about The City of Saints, the bus shelters and the billboards and the very churches vilify you. Tabernacle! they shout. Hostie! Ciboire! Blasphemies greet you at every turn. I am serious.
The poster campaign is authorized by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal. The Cardinal says that the Church is reclaiming from the gutter the holy words of its faith. I am not kidding.
On each sign, the words are holily defined: Tabernacle! (most often seen in print and heard as Tabernac!) is “Small cupboard locked by key on the altar containing the ciborium.”
Quebeckers have specialized in transmuting religious terms into swears. A master of sacrés can string together any number of tabernacs and hosties and ciboires and baptêmes and câlisses and crisses and calvaires and maudits and sacristies, in variable order, in combination with any number of secular terms referring to body parts and sexual acts, and burn the ears off any cardinal within range.
Ethno-linguists tell us that a nation’s swears tend to be drawn from an area of life that dominates it, mentally and emotionally. In Quebec, historically, it has been the Church. In the rest of Canada, judging by the preponderance of sexually based swears, it has been Porn. Or Puritanism. Or Puberty.
Swearologists have written tomes about their specialty. Even the most innocuous words can be swears. They are known as minced oaths, the original oaths having been put through the grinder. For example, flipping heck and holy spit and jiminy cricket. And tabernouche!
The British and Aussies have a monopoly on bloody – Bloody Yanks! and Bloody Canucks! ̶ which can be modified, as occasion demands, to ruddy or blooming – Ruddy Scots! and Blooming Irish! Or bloody can be ground into paste: A bloody good rant, eh, what?
Swears creep into family television programming, and writers are paid big bucks to get them past the censors. For example, The Simpsons. Marge spits out Nutty fudgekins! Bart does a nasty with his Eat my shorts! And Homer, again and again, employs that most expressive of epithets ̶ D’oh!
Which brings me to the swears of Goshen. They are, in descending order of potency, Toronto, Ottawa, and City Hall.
Mention the Municipality of Greater Goshen, and a synapse blows in the mind of every Goshenite. What the bleep are those idiots up to? Where’s the bleeping snowplow? Look at my bleepen tax bill!
The mention of Ottawa has shortened many a Canadian’s life, as stomach acids roil, and adrenalin spurts, and heart valves stick. For example, Ottawa’s long gun registration. Introduced in 1995, Allan Rock, Minister of Justice, put the price tag at $85 million. We are now looking at a billion piastres. Sacristie! Pardon my French.
Any Goshenite can tell you how to cut the costs. All it takes is a call to the local constabulary. List your weapons. One over-and-under, for birds. One AK-47, for bears. And a brace of blunderbusses, for bureaucrats. Case closed. Câlisse.
No registration fees. No forms. No renewals. Finis. Hostie. Merci.
Toronto. Excuse my language, but I am just so exasperated. Toronto. There I go again! Toronto. The most oppressive force in the life of every Goshenite. Sometimes the term is transmuted to Queen’s Park or to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario or to those bleeping bleeps that we bleepen elected, but it’s all the same: Toronto.
Every irreverent phrase can be traced to Toronto:
We been shafted! Shafts: Towers that frame the entry to Queen’s Park.
They got us by the short hairs! Hairs: From moose on the Ontario coat of arms.
Screwed again! Screws: Fasten coat of arms to wall of Legislative Chamber.
But the government is not sitting idly. Well, they are, but I speak metaphorically. They have a plan to reclaim those words from abusive tongues. There will be banners for Ministry offices, and decals for OPP cruisers, and graffiti for highway rock cuts.
The messages are clear.
Queen’s Park: Seat of government, the power behind the shafts.
Coat of Arms: Heralds of promises to come.
Moose: Crossing here. Mighty bull presents horny spectacle.
Neurologists tell us that swears spring from and are received by the human reptilian brain. In fact, other primates are believed to swear, such as chimps, and baboons, and elected officials.
So, let’s not mince words, P.E.T.
If your mouth is full of spit, say so.
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Profanity works. You can swear by it.
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Originally published in The Gardens of Goshen, Volume 3, June 2006.