Quebec City: linguistic and real-estate notes

by Paul Wells

So as I prepare to leave Quebec City (later than planned: thanks, Air Canada!), here are a few notes from the Conservative caucus meeting in nearby Lévis.

(a) Lévis is not nearby. The maps are deceptive. Note to Accounting: mondo taxi bills on the way.

(b) Actual dialogue with a member of the Conservative caucus last night:

MP: “So the headline is fish or cut bait?”

PW: “Yeah.”

MP: “Did he actually say that?” (Note: weak amplification in the arena at St. Agapit was the only flaw in an otherwise well-executed rally.)

PW: “Yup. ‘Fish or cut bait,’ in the text.” (Note: PMO gave us the text of the speech two hours before the PM opened his mouth. Glasnost!)

MP: “Did he say it in English? I wonder how you say that in French.”

PW: (shrugs)

Cut to this morning’s Le Soleil, with this pull quote: “M. Dion doit décider s’il part à la pèche ou s’il retire l’appât.”

Each mystery solved brings a new mystery. Literally: “Mr. Dion must decide whether he will go fishing or whether he will pull his bait out of the water.” But if his bait is in the water, has he not already decided to go fishing?

(c) Tuesday night featured a visit with a friend from earlier political wars, who has a massive two-bedroom condo in an Old Quebec heritage building with jacuzzi, bare-brick walls, and a balcony view of the Château Frontenac and the Price Building that Hitchcock would have killed for. Everyone took turns on his balcony admiring the view. He paid $330,000 for the place. One of his visitors, from Calgary, couldn’t believe it. Our host shrugged: there’s places like this all over Quebec. His neighbours upstairs are from Boston and spend maybe two weeks a year in their place; his neigbours downstairs were delighted when he moved in, because he was going to be the only other guy in the building who actually lived there full-time and it was nice to have company.

Back to this morning’s Le Soleil, which describes a real-estate boom in Le Vieux, as those American neighbours who’ve been keeping Quebec City pieds-à-terre for seven years realize they can now unload them for lots of devalued U.S. dollars. To whom? French and Belgian customers whose healthy euros can fill the pockets of American sellers — and social climbers from Trois Rivières who want a foothold in the big city. Quebec City looks healthier than it has in decades, and if I had some spare capital I’d buy in. Word to the wise…




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Quebec City: linguistic and real-estate notes

  1. Is there a problem with the expression ‘fish or cut bait’. I think that sums up what many Libs and Cons supporters are feeling.

    I am more disturbed about what Flaherty is saying, if Globe story is accurate. What is it about Ottawa that makes Conservatives say things like ‘the economic health of the country did not currently allow for “big new tax reductions.”

    Letting people keep more of their money is always a good thing for them and the economy.

  2. I guess water is implied, but wouldn’t the literal translation be: “Mr. Dion must decide whether to start fishing or withdraw his bait”? If he was sitting 20 feet up on a pier dangling his bait just over the water, would the saying not apply?

    I can’t believe I’m even writing this.

  3. What was the exact context of the “fish or cut bait” line? Hasn’t Dion been doing one or the other all along? If ‘to fish’ refers to force an election, well, then, yes, that is an option open to Dion – one that he has been opining on quite a bit lately.
    If ‘to cut bait’ refers to keeping Parliament alive, well Dion has been doing exactly that all along (amid much criticism….from all corners).
    So he already has been either fishing or cutting bait….why present the option as being something profound?
    Harper’s ‘I’m going to try and sound tough so the people will see what a strong leader I am’ is mundane and more akin to saying soemthing stupid like “Mr. Dion has to fish or cut bait, and decide to continue being called Stephan, or change his name to Ezekiel. Or, “Mr. Dion has to fish or cut bait, and either put his pants on left foot first, or right foot first……” Or, “Mr. Dion has to either fish or cut bait, and decide whether to go with a real or artificial Christmas Tree this year……”
    Unless there is a different context to Harper’s ‘fish or cut bait’ line, it comes across as a really, really dumb thing to day.

  4. It is a weird thing to say… I think it’s to be interpreted as “Hold an election or let us govern”, as if Stephane Dion’s musings about elections is preventing them from governing.

    Are they saying that if the Liberals would only just stop talking about an election they’d be able to run “the bestest government ever”?

  5. They’re using it because it’s one of those aw-shucks guy things. He’s, you know, one of us! And they already know it got tons of play the last time he said it, though that was much more off-the-cuff and believable. It’s positioned here to be a catchy headline, no more no less.

    And I am sure everyone knows what he means, there are entire truckloads of similar idioms. Put up or shut up!

  6. Also, I think it’s time to move to Quebec City. It sounds nicer and nicer…

  7. I’m no angler but I believe the original intent of the cliche is to describe the proposition of either taking immediate action (fishing) or sitting back and making productive preparations for action (cutting bait). I may be wrong, but I believe cutting bait refers not to pulling one’s lure out of the water but preparing bait for future fishing. So, Baloneyman would seem to be not quite correct in that it is not really a left foot or right foot decision that is implied. Mike G. is more correct in that certainly we all know what Harper means (at least all of us whose first language is English). Finally, I concur with Scott M, in that I can’t believe I just wrote this.

  8. I think Harper is right on the money and the speech was a very good one. Let’s place this in perspective – there has been 43 or 4 (it’s hard to keep track) confidence motions and each time Dion and crew threaten to force an election then sit on their hands – what a record! I for one will believe it when I see it hopefully it will be this fall. Yes indeed Stephanie ‘ Fish or cut bait ‘ all else is just talk!

  9. As always, the internet is your friend: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/137650.html

    I always assumed that cutting bait referred to cutting the live bait off of the hook when you’d given up, rather than trying to pull it off to store for another day. In essence, acknowledging that that particular bait wasn’t going to get you anything.

    Although from the description on the site, it sounds more like somebody screwed up their metaphor.

  10. Well exactly, Wayne, that’s exactly it. Dion chose to ‘cut bait’ and let parliament continue, as opposed to ‘fish’ and force an election. Whether you think he should have or not, Dion made his decision -whatever its merits – and took the heat for it. But that is the choice he has put forward, isn’t it? (unless I am taking Harper’s line out of context). One or the other? Dion chooses option #1, and yet somehow Harper blusters himself up and ‘challenges’ him to either decide between option #1 or option #2….?
    I don’t wish to belabour it (although it is a slow day here at the office….), but I beleive the analogy to be one of giving a person the option to do something, anything, that is productive: to either fish now, or cut bait (which as Matthew Fletcher points out, prepares the gear for future fishing), but must be contrasted against an unacceptable third option; such as slacking off or otherwise not contributing to the task at hand. Like the “crap or get off the pot” analogy. Same thing. If you’re not going to do your business (as opposed to just sitting there reading the paper,for example), then get off the pot.
    I could only be more embarrassed about writing this if I had been speaking at a public rally of some sort and had used the dumb line to begin with.

  11. Fish or withdraw bait? So he’s like, teasing the fish by holding the bait over the water, but he han’t put it in the water and he hasn’t decided he’s not fishing?

    That’s just weird.

  12. according to phrases.org : This phrase is of US origin. To cut bait means to stop fishing. It appears to have been introduced to the public consciousness, and may well have been coined by, US Judge Levi Hubbell. It came up in 1853, in a legal dispute over land ownership between US Attorney General Caleb Cushing and a William Hungerford. Cushing was displeased with Hubbell’s conduct of the case an threatened to have him impeached. Hubbell’s response was: – hmmm who would have thought!

  13. That’s just weird.

    Seeing as that’s not a French saying (or anything near a french saying, AFAIK), I think it would have been best if Le Soleil decided not to try and translate it into French in the first place.

  14. Francophones! Francophiles! How do I say “fish or cut bait” in French? ie what entirely different, idiomatic expression, having nothing to do with fishing per se, is there that says the same thing?

  15. Well, so the choice is not one of either letting parliament continue (which Dion has been doing) or forcing an election, but about whether or not he should ‘talk’ about it.
    Dion says he will fish when he feels the time is right; until that time he will continue cutting bait.

  16. “Branches-toi l’cul!” or “Accouche!” or “deniaise!”

  17. Levis is indeed very close to Quebec City, just not by road. Why you’d take a cab is beyond me. Walk down to the ferry dock, take the boat across, and if you need a cab on the Levis side get one at the terminus. Instead of the comprehensive tour of bland suburbia which the road trip entails, you get one of most pleasant ferry trips anywhere.

  18. They field-tested this line in SO31s this spring.

  19. I much prefer the more vulgar terminology “sh!t or get off the pot”

    It works better because there are three actions in play, one of them implied…

    1) Sh!t…do what you need to/came there to do
    2) Sit there and waste your time by doing nothing
    3) Get off the pot…Give up and go do something else, presumably useful

    In the current political situation, this could correspond to

    1) Force an election
    2) Continue posturing that you want an election without really trying for one
    3) Quit posturing that you want an election and do something else, presumably useful.

    Fish or cut bait doesn’t work as well, because there is no “in between” fishing and not fishing, as Paul has already mused.

    Besides…”Harper Says, Sh!t or Get Off the Pot!” would have been such a great headline…bet it translates well too.

  20. I agree completely Mecheng! Though if Harper would have said this you would have to put up with countless uptight left wing nuts whose sensitivities would be damaged and one must make allowances for such. I can see the web forums now : how dare he use such profanities! The Sh*t or get off the pot is actually more accurate as you pointed out and I would add that if Dion doesn’t ante up this fall he needs more fibre in his diet!

  21. “In the current political situation, this could correspond to

    1) Force an election
    2) Continue posturing that you want an election without really trying for one
    3) Quit posturing that you want an election and do something else, presumably useful.”

    Options #2 and #3 allow parliament and (presumably) the business of the nation to take place. It’s still (arguably, in the case of this parliament) a productive activity, just like cutting bait.
    So what exactly does Harper expect from Dion? Opting force an election is the obvious one. But the other?…..”Stop referring to fact that you will exercise your discretion with respect to bringing this government down?” Can’t be, as that would be tantamount to “Cut me a blank cheque to do as I darn well please between now and October 2009.”
    A more apt analogy given the political circumstances and the style of this Prime Minister is “put up or shut up”, which can ONLY mean “put up AND shut up.” Ie. Stop dissenting, realize that my way is the only way that matters, nobody gets to the Father but through me…. etc etc etc.

  22. Come on Baloneyman : surely you jest you must realize exactly what Harper is saying and wants. It is patently clear and self evident that come this fall there will be one of two situations either a confidence motion or an opposition day and then there will be a decision either Dion can practise what he has been preaching and vote against the gov’t on something (Anything Please) or attempt to whip his MP’s into sitting on their hands for the 45 TH time – ROFL LMAO – can anyone imagine what would happen if he tried and if somehow this situation is carried on to December at which time we have not had an election the Liberals have a leadership convention – so suffice it say that Dion is indeed on the pot and better take care of business because time is running out (PS: I prefer Scotties little softies)!

  23. “Branches-toi l’cul!” or “Accouche!” or “deniaise!”

    Ahem… not quite the sentiment… :)

  24. Wayne;
    I think we both know what Harper wants – to do what he wants and not have to suffer any scrutiny or post-analysis. He appears to be essentially telling Dion to take the election option off the table. Harper doesn’t seem to realize that he doesn’t quite have his majority yet (thanks be to the lord).
    *IF* Harper meant to say to either force an election or stop talking about the possiblity (and, again, Dion has only said that he will keep his options open), then Harper doesn’t understand parliamentary democracy and this present configuration. He only has a minority government, a lengthy one at that, and the Opposition can collectively bring down his government if they so choose. It’s their job to keep to the government in check and, potentially, to force an election.

  25. I am afraid you are reading too many tea leaves Mr. Baloney : the conclusions you are coming to are based on a false a priori and leave out the obvious. To quote Freud somwetimes a cigar is just a cigar. Harper has always played the long term game and now we are coming to a turn in the course and what he wants is exactly what he says he wants and he has positioned himself perfectly the ball is now in Dion’s court plain and simple. As OL Sherlock used to say ‘ The game is afoot dear Watson! ‘

  26. Well, the ball has always been Dion’s court, has it not? It’s just that Harper wants Dion to take the ball out of play entirely , by expecting some bizarre commitment to either force an election or not in the fall. Of course, Dion is not so stupid as to fall for that: imagine; Dion committing to NOT forcing an election, leaving Harper to goad the opposition while he brandishes his ‘blank cheque’ from Dion. Similarly, how can Dion commit to an election at this point, right now, in the middle of the summer, with no pressing issue, just for the sake of doing so? I can imagine all the Harper sycophants pouncing on Dion for doing that. And on tht note, did not the Conservatives just say that they would not require a speech from the Throne?
    Methinks that this another one of Harper’s specialty, bluff and bluster that doesn’t make sense under even modest scrutiny.

  27. “fish or cut bait” more to do with lead or follow, but stop yer ever-lovin whining about how the boats going in the wrong direction.

  28. Mr baloney : indeed you have accurately described Dion’s dilemma but are mistaken when it comes to Harper : bluff and bluster? It will be self evident to everyone when the fall arrives and the votes are called for then as they say the proof is in the eating of the pudding. As an after though I have listeend to a fair amount of Stevie boy’s speeches and so far I have never noticed anything that even comes close to such. The real bluff and bluster expert is Dion. I will never forget in Question Period Dion standing up and demanding a public inquiry into Mulroney etc and then Harper stood up and said Okay! then sat down and what did Dion do he stood up and asked the question again? Then it dawned on me the guy wasn’t even trying to listen for an answer just using the tired old Liberal Fear and Shmear tactic I almost felt sorry for Dion as of that moment I saw the writing on the wall for this leader.

  29. PM Harper is playing a game he knows he will win.

  30. LMAO..

    Funny post. But I have to say, exsposed Brick walls rock.

    Wells, How is the new CPC D-comm working out? and how did the Minsters perform in your view?

    I have never seen so many Minster’s in 2 day’s. Very political like you said..

  31. I will admit the phrase confused me when I first heard it (somehow I missed it in October) but, fortunately, Google knows all. In all seriousness, why, Steven? Why?

  32. As my dad would say.. piss or get off the pot (make a decision).

  33. Guess nobody here fishes.

    “Cutting bait” is when you take a small fish (that you don’t necessarily want to mount on a wall) and cut the belly into chunks to use as bait; ie it’s making good use of the time when the hook is out of water.

    You would say this to someone who is lounging back, doing nothing. In other words, it is indeed akin to sh!t or get off the pot.

    Harper is telling Dion: “Fish” ie force an election, or “cut bait” ie continue to support my legislation–both of these serve Harper well.

    Harper implies that Dion is wasting time and air with his current posturing (he is) by doing neither.

  34. I do fish, and the french usage of the expression still confused me. When will politicians learn not to translate english expressions into french? I don’t go around telling my anglo friends that they have spiders on their ceiling.

  35. Where is Bernard Woolley when you need him?

    spicydoc, thanks for the explanation, but I still don’t quite get it. If it’s a choice between fishing and cutting bait on the dock (while other people fish), it works; but in order to fish, don’t you first have to have cut bait to fish with? In other words, at any point at which “fish or cut bait” would be a sensible either/or, you would first have to have faced that dilemma and decided to cut bait (rather than fish without bait). In any case, wouldn’t the guy who decided to cut bait rather than fish immediately soon be planning to fish, with his bait?

    Incidentally, I think live bait is banned in Quebec lakes.

  36. En francais, I don’t know of any expresion that would relate the same thing. We have more succint ways of saying what we mean.
    In any case, fish or cut bait is an expression that judging from the comments is understood very well in the comments I have read.
    Not to muddy the lake waters, I more concerned about who the fishes are, and if Mr. Harper meant to indicate that they are both fishing in same spot, and he wants the use of the “lake” all to himself. In any case, I would say this in this to someone who was in may way to what i want to do. Merde Alor, buvez votre bière, ou prend ta caissette, et vantant mon maudit.

  37. That should have read: In any case, fish or cut bait is an expression that judging from the comments is not understood very well in the comments.
    My mistake, writting using both lanquages in the same text is not easy.

  38. actually, I always thought “cut bait” referred to cutting your line with, like, a wee knife so you abandon your bait to the depths as you turn your boat to shore. As you may have guessed, I’m not the fisherman in my family.

  39. The question is, is Dion fishing where the fish are?

  40. Sophie I am intrigued by your comment about spiders on the ceiling. I am assuming it’s a french idiom but I can’t figure out what it may be referring to. What does it mean? Is it the same as fish or cut bait?

  41. No.. it’s similar to ‘bats in your belfry’ But you just proved my point: you had no idea what I was talking about. Thus, when speaking (or writing) to anglophones, I don’t use it, because it doesn’t make sense.So why would a politician, our prime minister (who is bilingual and should know better) use an idiom that doesn’t translate? I’ve heard him speak, and he’s fluent enough not to make the sort of mistake one expects from secondary school french students.

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