Bilieu - Another Canadianism

By Juliana L’Heureux

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Many readers responded to a column about "piton", a handy Canadianism used to describe almost any kind of a button or a pointed head. Franco-Americans are also familiar with "bilieu", (pronounced "beee-looo"), another useful Canadianism with lots of colloquial meanings. Although bilieu is not as widely used as the word piton, it is a familiar and distinctive word used to describe images of things not wanted. 

In fact, "bilieu" translates in English to something quite ugly or bilious looking. As a Canadianism, the word refers to ghosts, like the kind who haunt at Halloween or frighten people during thunderstorms. "Bilieu" is not a nice image but continued use has softened its original interpretation. It is something like the word-evolution of "monster" being applied to the "Cookie Monster". 

Somehow, "bilieu" is a scary thing, even though it really shouldn't be. 

A lighter but more colorful interpretation of "bilieu" means dust balls under the bed. "Go upstairs and clean the bilieu", simply means to dust under the bed. Meticulous Franco-American housewives are passionate about destroying nasty white balls of "bilieu". Perhaps Franco-American housewives were the original "dust-busters". In fact, while batting away les bilieu, the extraordinarily clean Franco-American women actually "killed ghosts" under the bed, the sofa of lurking in the dark corners of a room. 

There are also lots of other cute meanings. "C’est un bilieu", is a way to explain something absurd or unexplainable. For example, "bilieu" describes all things that go bump in the night. A windy night conjures up images of "bilieu". Banging barn doors or clanging wind chimes on a summer night are sure signs "un bilieu" is lurking in the darkness. 

As one might expect, bilieu is a particularly compelling image for children who are easily tamed with threats like, "Go to bed before bilieu gets you". Although this scare tactic may seem harsh, the trick was used successfully for many generations of sleep starved children.

Dandelion seeds can be called "les bilieu" because the wind tosses the common white fluffy seeds into the air which fly away, just like ghosts. Unfortunately, the unsightly ball of cat hair shed from "minou" (kitty) is also called "un bilieu". 

In our house, we have entirely too much bilieu from our minou. 

Laundry lint scraped out of the trap in an electric dryer is called "bilieu". Indeed, Franco-Americans understand, "Clean out the bilieu", means to remove the dryer lint.

A vacuum cleaner is a safe harbor for "bilieu" because globs of dust inside the bag grow into one monstrous sized ball until safely discarded. 

Looking to the sky, "les bilieu", is a short way to describe foul weather clouds. 

In wintertime, blowing snow can be called "bilieu", because of the nasty howling sounds associated with a nasty blizzard. 

"Bilieu" is actually a comical word when used to quickly conjure up weird images without imploring long descriptive sentences to do so. "Ah! Bilieu", can mean any unusual experience that is particularly distasteful.

Canadianisms are sweet ties to the Franco-American culture and may be the last remnants of the French language currently being routinely spoken in many Maine homes.

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Published on January 27, 2000
Copyright 1999-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux