When irreverent is too nice for words

As a rule writing in English is very rewarding. It's a flexible language that delights in borrowing terms from other cultures and making them its own. Just goes to show that when done well, appropriation can be a wonderful thing. 

There's a rhythm to English writing that's not present in other languages. It's short, clipped, to the point. But it can also be lyrical when wielded by the right pen. Like, say, Bill Bryson's. Or P.G. Wodehouse's. 

It is, however, terribly lacking in accents. You can do so much with the squiggly things. The straight ones, too. English uses letters, sometimes too many of them but more often than not the same ones used differently. Though he thought about a trough. En français on se gratte la tête pour connaître la difference entre a et à. There's so much artistry in accents that diphthongs cruelly fail to possess, even those that have unnecessary Hs in them. 

But whatever. I write mostly in English because I've been working in that language so much it's almost replaced my mother tongue as far as ease of use is concerned. I think very rarely in French. I certainly dream in English. Even when I'm asleep. 

Which is too bad, in a way, because one thing that only the French language of my youth can do is convey a feeling of being baveux. It's a purely Québécois term, sort of like irreverent but with a lot more zip. (Don't bother looking it up, you'll get lost in drool. No, really.) It doesn't ever get close to being used in English prose. And that's a damn shame. Because a good baveux text, from a good baveux author, is a thing of intense joy. 

I was reminded of this term and what it means to me by the wonderful Marie-Louise Arsenault who runs the indispensable Plus on est de fous plus on lit radio show on the French side of the CBC. Along with guests and various contributors they chat about current events and books. Lots of books. Some of whose authors the host describes as baveux. I hadn't heard that word in a long while. Much too long. She brought it back for me. 

And it got me thinking. 

I used to write like that a lot more than I do now. I also used to enjoy the act of writing then more than I do now. Maybe being a baveuse is my voice, my tool, what sets my art apart from anyone else's. Maybe when I try to be rational or inspiring I just wind up dull instead. 

I don't like being dull. 

So, herewith and without further ado, although I keep dragging this silly old introduction along for no good reason at all, is my little explanation of why baveuserie is so darn awesome. Oreilles sensibles, s'abstenir. Or in English: Excuse my French. 


Say, to pick an example at random, that you find yourself in need of telling someone to fuck off. You do so, and there you are being rude. You may be entirely justified, mind you. That jerk nearly ran over your son because he couldn't be bothered to look before making his right turn out of the Walmart parking lot, and when you objected he told you to get the hell out of his way. Your outburst is entirely necessary, as far as you're concerned. But there's no denying the rudeness.

Your outburst is necessary, I said, but it's also pretty easy. Anyone can tell someone else to fuck off, especially when they lack the vocabulary to say something else equally powerful. In fact, if you went outside at all this week, you probably witnessed something akin to the scenario herein described. 

What's harder is to tell someone to fuck off and make bystanders eager to see it in action. This usually means giving some indication that your rudeness and righteous indignation are justified on a cosmic scale, as opposed to your own individual yardstick. So that by the time the words come out of your mouth bystanders were wondering when you’d finally snap because they certainly would have already. It’s still rude, but it’s talented and well-timed rudeness. That's why the old fella and his hat got a kick out of it. 

To be baveux (or baveuse if you happen to be a female girl), you have to be able to tell someone to fuck off in a way that makes them look forward to the trip, too. Because not only do you know you're right to tell them this, you've managed to make them aware that they know you're right, too. 

It’s still rude. But it’s well-timed, talented and elegant. That last one by itself is worth the price of admission. 

And to be clear, you don't need to use four-letter words to be baveux. I do sometimes (cough) because when it's used properly, nothing beats it on the adding-some-zip-to-your-prose front. But even if you're prudish - I mean, polite - you can be baveux. You just have to be extraordinarily direct and not at all concerned about sparing other people's feelings. And if your baveuserie rings true, if what you say or write touches people right behind the belly button, then you're well-timed, talented, elegant and sophisticated to boot. 

 Et ça, c'est être baveux à son plus beau. 

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