Façons de parler proverbiales, triviales, figurées, etc., des Canadiens au XVIIIe siècle. (1743-58) Father Pierre-Philippe Potier, SJ

About the Author

Pierre-Philippe Potier was a Jesuit missionary born in Belgium (baptized on April 22, 1708). He set sail from La Rochelle on the Rubis (one of the king's ships) on June 18, 1743, and arrived in Quebec City on October 1 of that year. He spent his first eight months at the Huron mission of Lorette, learning the Indians' language. He left Quebec City on June 26, 1744, and arrived at the Huron mission on Île aux Bois-blancs at the mouth of the Detroit River on September 25 of that year. Since the Detroit area was the site of a military post, a centre of colonization, and a major gateway to the North American interior, Potier was able to meet many soldiers, missionaries, settlers and administrators. He was particularly interested in the meanings of words that he read and heard, and this prompted him to write down many expressions used by his contemporaries all the way from Quebec City to Detroit. He died in 1781 in his parish, Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption.

About the Work

Potier's manuscript contains the first North American attestations of a great many Gallo-Romance words, a number of which are still in widespread use in French Canada. The work is in the form of a notebook containing the author's comments on the language usage of the people around him and on the variations in meaning of certain words. Just over 2,000 words and expressions are covered.

One of the features of the manuscript is that the author makes his comments without passing judgment or trying to correct usage. His sole purpose is to describe the language of his contemporaries. Accordingly, the listing covers the vocabulary of farmers, administrators, women of loose morals, housewives and so on.

Potier's manuscript was brought to the public's attention early in the twentieth century by the Société du parler français au Canada, which published excerpts from it in its Bulletin from 1904 to 1906. In 1980, Vincent Almazan published a more extensive, but still incomplete, version of the work in the Revue de linguistique romane. Peter W. Halford published a complete version in 1994.

Description of the Work

Potier simply jotted down words and expressions of interest as he encountered them. He probably carried his caribou-hide-bound notebook around with him, writing down his remarks quickly as the occasion arose. No doubt the situation was often not conducive to this type of work. He certainly had no time to review all his notes and correct the spelling and grammar errors. The work is written in point form and contains many abbreviations.

How the Information Is Presented

  • The headword (word or expression) is given in a context, within a quotation. It is highlighted by means of upper-case letters or underlining.
  • A French or Latin equivalent is sometimes added as a definition, in which case the headword is preceded by the brace symbol.

For a full explanation of how Potier's material is presented, see the work by Halford.


The examples below are reproduced in their entirety.

& means"etc."
N. (following a verb) means "neutral" or "intransitive"
M. means "masculine noun"]

- Les Poudreries sont accompagnées de froids piquants { eparpillement & de nege
- Poudrer N. { La nege voltiger, pirouetter &
- S'abrier { se mettre a L'abri du froid &
- atoca M. fruit rouge de la grosseur d'une Cerise qu'on trouve sous la neige attaché a des plantes en Canada
- Le vent d'ouest balie Le Ciel { Le nettoie chasse les nues... * le Balay du ciel { le vent
- Les feuilles de hêtre trempée dans L'eau Sont bonnes contre La brûlure
- elle s'etoit actué pour boucaner ces castors donné beaucoup de mouvement de peine