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Montrealers
Photograph: © Sylvie Li @ shoot Studio - Tourisme Montréal

17 slang words every Montrealer should know

These Montreal slang terms are things you’ll only hear in the city, plus some terms you should probably avoid

By JP Karwacki
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Every city has a language within a language that can be tricky to navigate for newcomers, and that goes double for Montreal slang. Our mixing and mingling of both French and English has given rise to a bunch of terms used on both sides of the language divide that can make it pretty confounding if you find yourself without a local guide. We’re here to lend a hand, offering up a list of our local phrases and terms. so you can brush up on your slang (if you’re from here) or pass yourself off for a local (if you’re not) and get on every Montrealer’s good side—that, or at least figure out what the hell we’re talking about so you can join in on the fun. (There’s also a couple of bonus terms that we’ve heard many a visitors mistakenly use because they figured they were local, but are actually way out of date and rarely used except ironically. 

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Our favourite pieces of Montreal slang

Le Pizza Week
Photograph: Sean Mollitt

1. All-dressed

Anglo-Montrealers poached this term as a direct translation from “toute garnie” as early as the mid-70s and it was initially used to refer to a slice of pizza with everything on it. These days it’s universally used when ordering hot-dogs, burgers, shawarmas, or pretty much anything else you want fully loaded with all the standard toppings.

Coupe Longueuil
Photograph: Colton Sturgeon

2. Coupe Longueuil

Officially known as a mullet in English and a nuque longue in French, this classic Canadian hairstyle is affectionately known as a “coupe Longueuil” to both anglophone and francophone Montrealers. The name is a gentle prod at the Montreal suburb of Longueuil and its residents’  alleged penchant for wearing this beloved business in the front, party in the back, hairdo.

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Bonjour-Hi
Photograph: Joy Real

3. Bonjour-Hi

An unofficial greeting used by many Montrealers (especially retail employees when greeting customers) as a quick way to signify knowledge of and willingness to use either language to communicate. Although provincial government officials have considered banning its use in favour of a French-only greeting, it’s grown so popular in recent years that no government has yet dared.

Le Petit Dep
Photograph: Le Petit Dep

4. Dep

Likely one of the first slang terms you’ll encounter when you’re new to Montreal, a “dep”—short for dépanneur, the French term for repairman or troubleshooter—is a convenience store for everyday basics. These can include snack foods, toilet paper, pantry items, cigarettes, and most notably, beer and wine. Most deps normally open around 7:00 and close at 11:00 pm (which just happens to be the window during which it’s legal to sell alcohol.) The origin of the term isn’t certain, but one theory suggests they’re called dépanneurs as a reference to repairmen because of the reliable, last-minute emergency services they offer.

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Autoroute
Photograph: Xan Griffin

5. Autoroute

In Quebec, anglophones and francophones alike use the word autoroute when speaking about the highway and freeway systems. The word itself is a portmanteau of auto and route (the French terms for car and road respectively), much like the English term motorway. Interestingly, when Quebec’s highway system was first planned in the 1950s, the design documents initially referred to the future roadways as autostrades, from the Italian word autostrada.

La bise
Photograph: Shane Avery

6. La bise

La bise is an informal French term for a kiss, but also refers to a common physical greeting that can really fluster outsiders in the city. La bise is a customary Montreal greeting where friends, families and even coworkers will plant a pair of kisses on each other’s cheeks by way of a hello instead of a stodgy handshake. Your best bet is to wait for someone to initiate. Most aim for the left cheek first. You’ll likely embarass yourself the first few times around, but you’ll get the hang of it. It’s a rite of passage.

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Paul Patates
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/A L.

7. Casse-croûte

The term we use when speaking about our beloved snack-bars, casse-croûtes are found all over Quebec and serve up some of Quebec’s most iconic dishes. These dishes usually aren’t too heavy and aren't meant to replace a full meal. They're also often portable and are often served in disposable containers with plastic utensils. Standard dishes include traditional Quebecois-style hot dogs, hamburgers, and of course, poutine.

Guichet
Photograph: @tavaresguivartche / Instagram

8. Guichet

Montrealers and Quebecois alike will use this term to refer to bank machines or ATMs (automated teller machines.)  The term loosely means window or counter in French and is a reference to physical brick-and-mortar bank locations where you would approach a bank teller’s countertop (usually with a small window) to perform your transactions.

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La Banquise
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Min C.

9. Poutine

While you’re likely already familiar with the word poutine as the dish comprised of French fries, smothered in brown gravy and shotgunned with fresh cheese curds, chances are you might be pronouncing it wrong if you’re not from here. Unfortunately, it’s not even as simple as mimicking the French pronunciation. Francophones will generally pronounce it pou-tsin (hard t there), and the generally agreed upon native anglophone pronunciation is pou-tin, while English speaking visitors often pronounce it pou-teen. While it might seem like a minor detail, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re from out of town.

Auberge Handfield
Photograph: Anka Buzolitch / abfoto.ca

10. …a whole bunch of Montreal apartment lingo

If you or someone you know is planning on moving here, you’re going to come up against our confusing apartment lingo pretty quickly. Montreal’s apartment terms are more or less a system of counting how many separate pieces or rooms an apartment contains. So, a 1 ½ would be a single-room studio apartment with a separate bathroom (represented by the ½), while a 4 ½ represents 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom.  It might not make always make sense, but it’s how things are done and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone to discuss apartments in any other way.

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Mopping
Photograph: Adli Wahid

11. Pass the mop/broom/vacuum

Through strange language comingling, native anglophone Montrealers may say they’re going to “pass the mop” instead of the more common English phrasing of saying they’re just going to “mop.” This likely comes from the French phrase passer la moppe, where, interestingly, moppe is an adopted English word that is particular to Quebec, and only further evidence of the confusing back and forth that goes on between the two languages.

Centropolis
Photograph: MOUV'IMAGE

12. 450 or “Quatre-cinq-zero”

Montreal’s equivalent to New York’s “bridge and tunnel crowd,” 450 is always pronounced "quatre-cinq-zero" (the numbers 4, 5, and zero) and is the telephone area code for the suburban area surrounding Montreal. It's a disparaging term referring to Montreal suburb crowds who come into the city to party and is often used to criticize individuals, pieces of clothing, or even behaviour seen as too trashy or unsophisticated for the city. Kind of mean, we know—personally speaking, we love all parts of the city.

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Coordinates
Photograph: Zac Ong

13. Coordinates

If you’ve ever heard for someone asking for someone else’s coordinates in Montreal, they’re probably not asking for their longitude and latitude. Rather, this term comes from the French term coordonnées, which francophones will use when asking for someone’s contact information like an email address, phone number, etc. While it isn’t certain, English usage likely began when francophones would use the direct translation of “coordinates” when asking for an anglophone’s contact details, and anglophones, abandoning the more common English terms, adopted it as well.

Construction holiday
Photograph: William Topa

14. Construction Holiday

This Quebec-ism comes from the 1970s when the Quebec government decided to legislate an annual holiday for the construction industry that begins on the second-last Sunday of July and lasts for two weeks. The construction holiday continues to this day, but in addition to construction workers, many other Quebecers take off the same two-week period, making it by far the most popular time for summer vacations in the province.

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Bibette
Photograph: Philip Veater

15. Bibitte

This informal catch-all term for insects, it’s long been used in Quebec French and has begun to catch on in the anglophone community. The term can be used to describe insects of almost any stripe, although when it comes to the hated bedbug, francophones usually default to the charmingly appropriate formal name punaise de lit (literally, bed thumbtacks).

Bonus round: What not to say when you’re in Montreal

Chez Tousignant
Photograph: Chez Tousignant / @cheztousignant

Chien-Chaud

Literally, “hot dog.” This term is a direct loan translation from English and is the official way the office québécois de la langue française would prefer everyone talked about hotdogs, which is precisely why no one does. While the term hot dog is probably the most frequently used term on the island (even in French), the informal French term roteux is also widely used and would definitely come in close second, but no one—and we mean no one—in any seriousness ever says chien-chaud.

Chez Tousignant
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Jason M.

Hambourgeois

Another food-related term we’ve heard used by try-hard tourists, the term hambourgeois is an archaic (albeit cute) term for a hamburger that positively no one uses any more. Again, the reason for it falling out of favour stems primarily from the fact that it was created specifically to try to prevent the English term from gaining traction in everyday French usage. These efforts, of course, were completely unsuccessful, and these days most francophones will call a hamburger un burger. While people will probably know what you’re talking about if you decide to use hambourgeois, they’ll likely think you’re a spy for the language police rather than a hip, longtime Montrealer.

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