Glossary of French terms


To hear how these French words sound, check out the list below.

Avant the man who sits in the front of a canoe (or bowman ) and studies rocks, rapids and currents in order to select the route

Bon à rien good for nothing

Bonjour Good bye, Good day

Canot de mâitre a large freight canoe used from Montreal through the Great Lakes to Grand Portage; going westward it carried goods to be traded to Indians and furs on the return voyage

Canot du nord smaller north canoe used on rivers and lakes west and north of Grand Portage by traders and those who were spending the winter in small forts in the wilderness

Capote a coat, made from a blanket

Cariole a sled (or sledge) with a back, so one could sit and ride

Chateau castle, or fortified stone group of buildings

Comment ça va? How goes it?

Commis a clerk or person who keeps records

Comte a noble (like a count)

Coureur des bois a free trader or trapper who was not allied with a company; some were illegal

Croquemitaine an ogre (“the mitten biter”) or bogeyman

Décharge the process of men guiding an unloaded canoe through a rapids by holding ropes, wading beside it

Demi-chargé the process of guiding a half-loaded canoe up or down a rapids which was too dangerous for a fully loaded canoe

En garde Watch out! (Be on guard)

Il pays d’en haut the “upcountry,” meaning the wilderness land northwest of Lake Superior

La belle France the beautiful motherland of France

Le Père Lustucru an ogre or bogeyman

Loup-garou a werewolf

Marche to march, or move

Métis people with “mixed” French and Indian blood)

Noblesse oblige the rule that those who have noble birth are obliged to care for the needs and problems of those who are less fortunate

Portage to carry a canoe and its contents past a rapids or between lakes; a trail for carrying canoe and goods from one lake or river to another, also called a “carry”

Grand Portage the fort on Lake Superior near a nine-mile portage trail

Rendez-vous the annual meeting at Grand Portage of voyageurs from Montreal, winterers (traders who’d spent the winter amassing furs to exchange) and partners from the fur company

Rubbaboo a thick stew made from pemmican, eaten by voyageurs

Sacre bleu! Gosh darn it! (or the stronger expression)

Voilà Oh look!

Voyageur an expert canoeman hired to traverse the Great Lakes or inland to trade for furs with Indian tribes