Archive for June 8th, 2009


Only in Canada, You Say by Katherine Barber. Oxford University Press, 2007.

In the introduction, Katherine Barber observes that the inspiration for this book began with the production of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary in 1992. Barber and her team found that many Canadians had a poor knowledge of distinctive Canadian words and phrases. While the dictionary, which was published in 1998, included these Canadian words, Canadians kept asking for a separate list of words unique to Canada. Only in Canada, You Say is the answer. Each of the 15 short chapters, prefaced by a brief introduction, addresses a different subject area, from words dealing with geography, food or clothing, to terms derived from aboriginal languages. The book can be read through in a couple of sittings.

Barber begins by debunking the notion that “eh?” is strictly Canadian. Other English speakers use this expression as well, although Americans tend to use “huh” instead. Many of the words included are regional or connected to a specific occupation. I have never heard of terms such as coyau (a Quebec term for a steep roof design with wing-like gables to channel runoff snow and ice) or bangbelly (a Newfoundland term for a dense cake) or kakivak (a three-pronged fish spear used by the Inuit). Some terms are also age-sensitive. I know what Stanfields are, and well remember the Trudeaunian “fuddle-duddle”, but my kids don’t. With some names, such as Nanaimo bar, you can understand that other English speakers would have a different term for this food item. Words like Loonie and Toonie and Mountie have obvious Canadian roots.

What I found most interesting were the words and phrases that see everyday use but that I never conceived of as Canadian. Barber lists “had the biscuit”, “give someone the gears”, “take off the gloves” “rhyme off” “go to the washroom” and “make strange” as Canadian expressions. Really? When I told Ponygirl that the book lists Cheezies as a Canadian word her response was “Noooooooo! That can’t be right. Cheezies are cheezies. What else would cheezies be?” Which brings me to the one thing I found lacking in the book. We’d like to know, if other nations don’t call cheezies cheezies, what DO they (mistakenly) call them? And if other nations don’t buy return tickets (a British term) when they travel, how do they ever get home? And if their babies don’t make strange, what DO they do? And as to butter tarts, it just defies belief that butter tarts are found only in Canada, eh?

Read Full Post »