The Star-Herald

Patois, dictons and metaphores

In 1999 (and in a second edition in 2007) I compiled hundreds of old patois, dictons and metaphores used in the St. John Valley from way back when to today. The books sold very well and were very popular. 

To this day the St. John Valley Times gets requests for the books and once in a while someone will ask me for copies. Well, they’ve been out of print for many years and I only have one copy of each.

The first book was called “Le parler de chez nous”  and the second, “C’est d’même qu’ont parle par che’ nous.”

It is my intention to combine the two books into one, which I will publish in this column over the next many weeks.

All living and vibrant societies have unique colloquialisms and expressions that make their use of the language special. The northernmost part of the state of Maine, comprised of about 15,000 souls residing in the crux of the Maine/Québec/New Brunswick borders, is an area especially rich in local expressions.

But I have since learned that many of our most beloved expressions aren’t as unique as we imagine. I have learned that many expressions come from the original Acadians who settled here first and many expressions came here from Le Bas Saint-Laurent with those who came here from Témiscouta, Kamouraska, and Rivière-du-Loup counties of Québec. And, of course, others are indeed unique to this beautiful part of the world.

Be that as it may, they have all become our expressions because they are in our genes and in our everyday usage.

Over the next few months I plan to use this space to more or less reproduce my two books of patois, dictons and metaphores.

We begin, of course, with a the letter A:

Aboutir à rien – wasted effort

a bri – leeward (a la bri); as in “déboute a bri”.

´ (accent drette) – accent right

`(accent gauche) – accent left

achalé – outspoken, outgoing

accoté – living together outside of marriage

adésamain – not convenient

adrette – handy, hawk-eyed

agraffe! – shut up!

ah b’en! – stop it!

ajeuve – almost finished; stop

ajeuve d’arbouter – stop dragging your feet

a la gandole – be topsy-turvy

a la graisseliterally: to the grease: Put on weight

a la poussiéreliterally: to the dust: Smooch in a car

a la royure – see you later

(To be continued next month)

Don Levesque is a Grand Isle native who worked in community journalism for almost 35 years. He was the publisher and editor of the St. John Valley Times for 15 years prior to retiring in 2010. He wrote a weekly newspaper column, called Mon 5¢, in the Valley Times for more than 20 years. He has been inducted into the Maine Journalism Hall of Fame and the Maine Franco-American Hall of Fame.

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