Saturday, April 9, 2011

C'est Quétaine!

It seems that I am a terrible blogger, and only able to put one post up every few months. I'll never get any more readers that way. Ah well.

Anyway, this is a post about the distinctly Québequois word "quétaine" (also spelt "kétaine"). It's an odd sort of word, one that is not immediately translatable into English. It shares a lot of parallels with the BrE "twee", tho it doesn't quite mean the same thing.

"Quétaine" was apparently first attested in the hamlet of Saint-Hyacinthe in the forties. It was used to describe the jarring mishmash of clothing that was worn by the poor who dressed themselves out of the church poor-boxes. This post attributes it to the poor people who were "quêtant" from house to house (cognate for English "questing") i.e. begging. A (to me) slightly more dubious etymology is cited on the French Wikipedia page; that it referred to the surname of a local family - the Keatons or "Quétonnes".

At any rate, the meaning of the word has shifted over the years. It now means something like kitchy or tacky, cheesy, or countrified, or "chavvy", or even "twee". And is used throughout Québec, not only in St-Hyacinthe.

I do find it interesting that a word like "quétaine", which originally referred to the dress of beggars, has managed to intersect with a word like "twee", which also holds connotations of "overly prim and proper". But both could readily be used to describe the verses in some hallmark cards.

I should note that the research for this post was nothing but the most rudimentary Google search, so I've probably missed something important.

Image credit to Benoit.Paillé