Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

A Linguistics Lesson At Sugaring Time

OUR vernal visit to the sugaries of Quebec found things less sweet than usual - the maple-syrup season was not a good one. Warm nights persisted, and all at once the temps des sucres had passed almost before it began.

Our friends Pierre-Marie and Carmelle Bolduc of St. Georges, County Beauce, entertained us as usual at their sucrerie, but the evaporator was empty and no steam erupted at the peak. We were glad that a few days before we came up from Maine they had been able to make enough for us and the several friends for whom we are regular errand boys, so we brought back syrup enough.

About these ads

The sugar-house party was strengthened by some shrimp and a couple of State-o'-Maine lake trout that we had fetched. Otherwise, the traditional Beauce sugar party runs to ham (or smoked shoulder), baked potatoes, pancakes, baked beans, and a variety of oddities prepared in, on, with, and about maple syrup. Everything is sweet and sticky. Delightful.

So Pierre and I (Pierre is a scholar and I am trying) had a chance to sit and talk about linguistics. In Beauce County, there prevails a variety of French that not only baffles the French Academy but also bothers a good many Beauce people. I was much interested to find a heavy State-o'-Maine influence, which ceases to be mysterious once you think about it.

Because of our extensive Maine wild lands along the international border, a great many French-speaking Canadians came down in the early logging days to help harvest timber. If you want to consider it that way, Beauce County, Quebec, is closer to Maine than Maine is.

These "Canucks," which was not originally an offensive word (from the Indian, it meant a stranger), took home good Yankee words that simply replaced the French words. Mostly, this meant words relating to the wilderness and the lumber camp, and matters thereof.

Pierre didn't know just what prompted some of these imports. He assured me I would not hear crachoir around about, but would meet with le spitoune, and perhaps the evolvement l'espitoune.

Pierre, who was never in France, is nonetheless adept with the Gallic shoulder-shrug that means, "...sais-paw!"

Perfectly understood in Quebec is the word traineau, which the French Academy recognizes as a vehicle without wheels that is used in Lapland on snow and ice. But in Beauce a traineau can be a sleigh spelled that way and pronounced "slay." A sledge, however, had become une slague, a scoot or drag by us. Pierre shrugged.

About these ads

La dame - dam; the beavers have a dam on the brook.

La grobe - grub (food!).

Le cantougue - cant-hook.

Le jaspor - horsepower.

La fril - frill, in dressmaking; decoration.

Le ganou gangway - but not aboard ship; a walkway or small bridge to a barn, or to the reservoir in a sugar-house.

Les gueteurses - a kind of boots (Pierre insists) from gaiters!

La leguine - legging, from winter woods clothing.

La lisse - yeast, a curious derivation straight from the Maine woods cookshack. The other French word for yeast is le levain, leavening.

Le moffleur - muffler (around the neck).

As the French languge in France has been abused by Americanisms, and Canadian French has been enriched by Indian and Eskimo, so has le parler populaire de la Beauce been mangled by the lingo of the Maine woods. Pierre told me there is a perfectly good French word for flywheel, but probably nobody in La Beauce knows what it is. In Beauce, a flywheel is le flywheel.

And in the rest of French Canada, the Beauceman (Beauceron) is called a jarret noir, because in bygone days the black mud from the fertile fields of the Chaudiere River Valley on the shanks of his horse betrayed him when he went to the city. An insult then, the term is no longer resented. The Beauceron is different, and proud of it. Ask him the name of his wife, and he will grin and say, "Harry."

So the womenfolk visited, and Pierre-Marie and I pursued culture, and our weekend (le weekend is good French) was fun. New syrup is fetching $26 (Canadian) a gallon. But scarce.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.