This will be a somewhat trivial question, but here goes. There's a curious line in the Daniel Lavoie song "La danse du smatte" (vidéo, paroles) :

Danse, danse sur les notes blanches
Une couple de double croches
Hey, man, what a show
Brasse, brasse la passe à Thanase
Fini mon numéro
J'veux pas d'tomates
Pis garder les farces plates
Pour la danse du smatte

This song is from his early period, when, I notice, he employed Québecisms liberally (and sang in a Québec accent that was either affected or mysteriously vanished later on).

There turns out to be a WordReference thread from a few years back that explains quite a lot about this line. Athanase was his father's name, and this line appears to be a double-entendre:

  1. une passe can mean a passage of music, and une passe qui brasse is one that "rocks"... Since brasser is also normally transitive, one might read the line as an imperative: "Brasse la passe," addressed to Athanase.

  2. une passe can also mean a descendant. Assuming that for some reason à is used instead of de to express that relationship, the imperative would thus be "Brasse", addressed to Thanase's descendant, the singer himself. Lavoie was apparently asked about it and endorses this reading.

Questions: (1) Is the second meaning of passe a Québecism or might it be used in France as well? (2) Is à expected there? Does it carry the possessive meaning as it usually would in such a phrase or the attributive meaning one might hope for? (3) Is Thanase a usual short form for Athanase, or are they entirely different names?

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    You need some serious Québecois to answer this :-)
    – Frank
    Mar 26, 2017 at 3:47
  • @Frank Fair enough. We'll just have to wait for Feelew... :p
    – Luke Sawczak
    Mar 26, 2017 at 3:54
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    I must say I can think of no time in my life I would have met with the second meaning. Like one mentioned in the discussion you linked, it is at best ‘capilotracté’. Maybe a wink to his father about a conversation they had that they know about (?). Alliteration for sure anyways. As for a short form of Athanase, it is rare enough a name that I would guess anything close enough would be acceptable. One of my daughters has a rather uncommon name, and its 3 syllables have been shortened already in many different ways in the first decade of her life. Mar 26, 2017 at 9:25
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    Je suis essentiellement d'accord avec ce qui précède mais je suis familier avec un emploi substantif + à + nom (de famille) qui donne l'équivalent de sans la préposition, ou de de, soit une fonction d'épithète à peu près (niaiseux à Nom). Mais ça ne semble pas pouvoir s'appliquer vu le contexte et le verbe qui précède etc... Je trouve qu'il chante un peu comme Charlebois à cette époque-là... On aime Lavoie. Merci.
    – user3177
    Mar 26, 2017 at 16:51
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    @Feelew Hmm, hmm. Very interesting. (Or, similarly, rather than a personal history, the word passe could have been imbued with such a meaning through stories like that.) This Québecois site keeps genealogies, including for Lavoie, showing that his parents were about 33 when Daniel was born in 1949 — so the "careless young love" alternative probably doesn't work. Also, perhaps it's just irony, describing a long, stable, perhaps dull marriage as a "passe" (though then the metonymy is removed another step...)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Mar 27, 2017 at 1:21

1 Answer 1


At first, I was totally thrown off by the fact passe could ever mean descendant, which I expressed (using different words) in a comment under the original post. Then I listened to the song, after reading what people mentioned on the discussion linked. And at some point during the second chorus, the puzzle magically solved itself and everything started to make sense. Though this is by no mean a final or definitive explanation, here are a few of my reflections on the verse.

But first things first: Daniel (or whoever he is impersonating in the song, though it appears it would be him, since he uses the real name of his father) is an artist who enjoys playing music. He plays it for free and for money, for fun and for a job, seriously and frivolously, during the day and at night, for his friends, for total strangers and even for himself only, as evidenced by ‘j'ai chanté tout nu dans mon bain’. As of recently, Luke pointed it out in a comment below, he further widened his public by playing for the dead.

He is now on the stage and someone is eager to get him going, so that the crowd is entertained and the rotten tomatoes are kept away from the stage. This person is talking to Daniel in the chorus ‘Brasse, brasse la passe à Thanase / Fini mon numéro / J’veux pas d’tomates / ...’. This is where we need to find out what la passe à Thanase mean.

In most societies, one might be refered to as the son or daughter of one of their parents. Icelandics actually carries that denomination their whole life as a part of their legal name. From saying ‘Daniel, fils d’Athanase’, we can easily get to a simpler ‘le fils d’Athanase’. Most French-Canadians will gladly go from there to ‘le fils à Athanase’, with no more than a slight remorse for being a little cavalier with the beau-parler.

This question, instigated after the first few comments under the initial post, tries to answer the origin of this familiar tour de langue.

From here, things get a little crude. A child is the product of a sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, and the man always had his pleasure in the conception. A passe is a rather vulgar word for the said sexual intercourse, not necessarily involving any type of love, nor desire or even consent from the lady’s part. Calling a child by the name of the process at the very beginning of the human existence is rather disrespectful at best (in league with ‘son of a bitch’). Using such a harsh word as passe to refer to it is right-down insulting. But since it is here self-directed, one may decide it’s ok, though in the song, it is not really self-directed: Daniel is singing words that were thrown at him at some point.

So my guess is that whoever is addressing Daniel like this is in such a position of power that being this mean only has minimal consequences. This indicates that Daniel’s life ain’t easy and that though he may have high hopes for the future, he’s currently accepting to be badly bullied because there’s no way around it for now.

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    Who knows if there is one right answer given what we've found above about the unusual use of these terms, but this is a great stab at accounting for it. I particularly like the angle, inevitable in retrospect but somehow one I missed, that the chorus is addressed to him by a detractor with a sense of irony (or a supporter with no filter). One addition to make: some thirty years later, as he grew older, he apparently turned his bathtub singing from self-satisfied "sport" to instead singing "for the dead" :)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Mar 27, 2017 at 2:49
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    Dire Straits had at least a couple of songs about people trying to get into a musical career: Walk Of Life & The Sultans Of Swing (in the formidable live version found on Alchemy). I also couldn't help but think of Paul Simon's That was your mother when I was starting to realize the meaning of 'la passe à Thanase', but in the end, the link turned out to be fragile. And these have mostly nothing to do with French (except for the Lafayette reference). Mar 27, 2017 at 9:54

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