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Maude Schiltz was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts at age 39. After her diagnosis, she began sending emails to her friends to keep them updated on her health. Her book Ah shit, j’ai pogné le cancer is a collection of the emails she sent.

Maude’s book is peppered with a lot of colloquial French. In this post, let’s take a look at how she uses the words tough (toffe) and toffer, which you need to understand. We’ll also look at some examples taken from other sources.

In an email, Maude describes the different surgical possibilties that exist to treat her breast cancer. She mentions which surgical procedure she prefers, but she also describes the negative aspects of the procedure, such as excessive scarring, as being tough on a woman’s femininity. She writes: C’est tough sur la féminité! (That’s tough on a woman’s femininity!)

Maude put the word tough in italics. This is because she recognises the word as being an informal borrowing from English. Nevertheless, tough has been absorbed into the French vocabulary of Québec. Unlike its English equivalent, however, tough is felt to be an informal usage only in French.

When francophones say tough, the gh is pronounced like an f, just like its English equivalent. To use a more phonetic spelling, we can write the word as toffe. In texts written informally, you may come across the spellings tough, toffe, tof.

This isn’t the first time tough has shown up on OffQc. In entry #322, we saw tough used as a noun: C’est un tough, lui. Un vrai tough! (He’s a tough guy. A real tough guy!)

In that same entry, we saw how a teacher from the television show 30 vies corrected her student when he used the word tough to describe a tough-acting character he had invented for a story. She told him he should say dur instead of tough to avoid using an anglicism. He disagreed with his teacher. According to him: Dur, c’est moins tough que tough!

Tough (or toffe) can also be transformed into a verb in Québec: toffer. When you hear the Québecois use the verb toffer, they’re talking about toughing something out.

Maude used the verb toffer in her book. She describes a medical procedure that she’d like to try during chemotherapy, which involves freezing the head with a cold cap, and freezing the hands and feet with cold gloves and slippers. She explains that doing this may help to prevent the loss of hair, fingernails and toenails.

She says that the procedure is very difficult to withstand, however. It causes severe headaches and shivering. She questions whether or not she’d be able to tough it out. She writes: Est-ce que j’arriverai à « toffer » un casque, des chaussettes et des gants glacés? (Will I be able to tough it out wearing a cold cap, slippers and gloves?)

This time, Maude use guillemets («») around toffer, again because she recognises that this verb derives from an English word, even if it’s been absorbed into French and given a French spelling.

This isn’t the first time toffer has shown up on OffQc either. In entry #392, we’ve got the following example of toffer that I overheard in Montréal on the métro: Tu vas devoir toffer un peu. (You’re gonna have to tough it out a bit.)

_ _ _

Here are this entry’s examples again in list form and with references:

1. C’est tough sur la féminité!
That’s tough on a woman’s femininity!

[Maude Schiltz, Ah shit, j’ai pogné le cancer, Éditions de Mortagne, Boucherville, 2013, p.20.]

2. C’est un tough, lui. Un vrai tough!
He’s a tough guy. A real tough guy!

[First used in entry #322.]

3. Dur, c’est moins tough que tough!
Dur is less tough than tough!

[30 vies, season 2, episode 37, Radio-Canada, Montréal, 14 November 2011. First used in entry #322.]

4. Est-ce que j’arriverai à « toffer » un casque, des chaussettes et des gants glacés?
Will I be able to tough it out wearing a cold cap, slippers and gloves?

[Maude Schiltz, Ah shit, j’ai pogné le cancer, Éditions de Mortagne, Boucherville, 2013, p.21.]

5. Tu vas devoir toffer un peu.
You’re gonna have to tough it out a bit.

[Overheard in Montréal in January 2012. First used in entry #392.]

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Ah shit, j'ai pogné le cancer (Maude Schiltz)

Ah shit, j’ai pogné le cancer

I spotted the book in the image while browsing in Archambault in Montréal. It’s called Ah shit, j’ai pogné le cancer, written by Maude Schiltz.

The title means “Ah shit, I got cancer.” Maybe you’ll remember that the informal verb pogner (rhymes with cogner) is frequently used in Québec in the sense of “to catch.”

This book is Schiltz’s account of developing cancer in both breasts. I haven’t read the book yet (I’ve only just bought it), but as you may have guessed from the title, it’s written in a lively, conversational style of French.

Just a few words from the back cover:

Cancer. Les deux seins. Treize tumeurs. WHAT?! Ben voyons donc, tu me niaises-tu, j’ai 39 ans! Eille, come on – ça se peut même pas; mes enfants ont juste 5 pis 9 ans! Ben non madame, c’est pour vrai… Han?! Ah, shit…

Cancer. Both breasts. Thirteen tumours. WHAT?! Oh come on, you kidding me? I’m 39 years old! Hey, come on – this just isn’t possible; my kids are just 5 and 9 years old. “No, madame, it’s true…” Huh?! Ah, shit…

I’m looking forward to reading the book, and I’m sure I’ll be commenting on it in future entries.

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