CAN YOU SPEAK CANA­DIAN?

Ottawa Citizen - - NP - thop­per@na­tion­al­post.com

For the first time since 1967, there is a new edi­tion of the Dic­tionary of Cana­di­anisms on His­tor­i­cal Prin­ci­ples. Assem­bled over years by an in­ter­na­tional team of lin­guists, the dic­tionary’s goal is to as­sem­ble a time-tested cat­a­logue of words that were in­vented in Canada or are “dis­tinc­tively char­ac­ter­is­tic of Cana­dian usage.” The Na­tional Post rounded up the high­lights, which fea­ture a made-in-Canada kalei­do­scope of racial slurs, drink­ing terms and words that sound dirty but aren’t.

GHOST CAR

Coun­tries all around the world fea­ture un­liv­er­ied po­lice cars, but Canada is the only one to as­sign these ve­hi­cles with the mag­nif­i­cent term of “ghost car.” Ev­ery­where else, they go by the more pedes­trian terms “un­der­cover car” or “un­marked car.”

CUBE VAN

An­other ex­cel­lent Cana­dian term

for a ve­hi­cle that the rest of the world is too stub­born to adopt. A cube van refers to the type of two-axle mov­ing truck typ­i­cally rented out by U-Haul. In­cred­i­bly, on­line analy­ses by dic­tionary edi­tors found al­most no men­tion of this term out­side Canada.

BYLAW

Eas­ily one of the most sur­pris­ing en­tries on the list. While “by-law” orig­i­nated as a Bri­tish term, only Canada has taken it up as an al­most uni­ver­sal de­scrip­tor of a com­mu­nity-spe­cific law. The rest of the English world has mu­nic­i­pal laws, to be sure, but they re­fer to them as “reg­u­la­tions” or “or­di­nances” or sub­sec­tions of a “code.”

GRET­ZKY EF­FECT

The dic­tionary is ut­terly filled with hockey terms that, while not nec­es­sar­ily Cana­dian, are con­sid­ered Cana­di­anisms sim­ply be­cause we have so many hockey fans. The Gret­zky Ef­fect refers to how Wayne Gret­zky’s trade to the Los An­ge­les Kings in 1988 helped to pop­u­lar­ize hockey in Cal­i­for­nia and other warm-weather U.S. states. No­tably, this ap­pears to be a skill unique to the Great One. While English foot­ball great David Beck­ham was sim­i­larly ex­ported to Los An­ge­les in 2007, North Amer­ica still re­fuses to care about soc­cer.

IDIOT STRING

A string that is used to at­tach a pos­ses­sion to one’s body to pre­vent it from be­ing lost. While this could con­ceiv­ably re­fer to wal­let chains or corded key hold­ers, Cana­di­ans usu­ally use “idiot string” to iden­tify a length of string used to bind two mit­tens to one an­other.

BARLEY SANDWICH

A nick­name for beer, often em­ployed when the bev­er­age is be­ing used to sub­sti­tute for a proper meal. This term is al­most never seen out­side Canada, pos­si­bly be­cause they have health­ier drink­ing habits — or are at least more di­rect about it.

MOLSON MUS­CLE

An­other clever term in­vented to smooth over Canada’s na­tional drink­ing prob­lem. A Molson mus­cle is a beer belly, and the term is al­most cer­tainly not en­dorsed by the Molson Coors Brew­ing Com­pany.

POISONED

Thanks to their unique brand of English, New­found­land punches far above its weight in con­tri­bu­tions to the Dic­tionary of Cana­di­anisms. This one — which has likely caused no end of con­fu­sion on safety-con­scious Al­berta work sites — refers to be­ing an­noyed. “I’m poisoned with the lot of ’em I am,” reads a 2009 ex­am­ple cited in the dic­tionary in which a New­found­lan­der com­plains about Danny Wil­liams’ gov­ern­ment.

HAD THE BIS­CUIT

Deep sixed. Bought the farm. Gave up the ghost. The term “had the bis­cuit” doesn’t need to specif­i­cally re­fer to death, it just refers to the state of be­ing fin­ished, spent or done with some­thing. There is spec­u­la­tion that the term orig­i­nated in the First World War, when dy­ing sol­diers were placed on “bis­cuits,” or field mat­tresses.

CYBERSPACE

Not an ex­clu­sively Cana­dian term, to be sure, but it was in­vented here. Au­thor Wil­liam Gib­son was in Van­cou­ver when he first in­cluded it in his 1982 short story Burn­ing Chrome. How­ever, Canada can lay claim to mo­nop­o­liz­ing an­other “cy­ber” word: Cy­ber­bul­ly­ing.

BEAVER FEVER

It doesn’t take a lot of imag­i­na­tion to imag­ine a sex­ual con­no­ta­tion for this word. In fact, as IMDB in­forms us, there are at least five X-rated movies with this ex­act ti­tle. How­ever, in Canada, beaver fever is a de­cid­edly un­sexy par­a­sitic dis­ease trans­mit­ted in part thanks to beavers. The term is not ex­clu­sive to Canada, but seems to be in wider usage by sim­ple virtue of us get­ting sick from beavers more often.

BUMPER SHINING

The only term on this list ex­clu­sive to Man­i­toba. It refers to the ap­par­ently pop­u­lar win­ter­time Man­i­toba prac­tice of grab­bing onto a pass­ing car for a free ride. The Na­tional Post would like to take a mo­ment to re­mind our read­ers that this is a very dan­ger­ous pur­suit.

BREAKUP

Most of the English-speak­ing

world knows this word to mean the end of a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship. But only in Canada and parts of Alaska is it a joy­ous an­nual event to de­note the day when ice in a neigh­bour­ing river, lake or har­bour be­gins to break apart in the spring. And in the Yukon, at least, both river and ro­man­tic breakups have a weird ten­dency to co­in­cide.

CRAWFISH

This was a slur against An­glo Cana­di­ans used in some cor­ners of Que­bec. The in­tent is not known (An­g­los eat a lot of crawfish?), but no less than Que­bec premier Réne Lévesque said in in­ter­views that the term was a fea­ture of his Gaspé child­hood.

PEASOUPER

So in re­sponse, Cana­dian An­g­los re­ferred to Réne Lévesque and his friends as “pea­soupers.” These are hurt­ful terms, to be sure, but Canada can at least take pride that they merely seem to be based on a group’s par­tic­u­lar food pref­er­ences. In the vast global cat­a­logues of in­sults and slurs, it usu­ally gets way worse.

BAY WOP

An­other pe­jo­ra­tive term, but sur­pris­ingly, it has noth­ing to do with peo­ple of Ital­ian her­itage. Used ex­clu­sively in New­found­land, it’s em­ployed by ur­ban­ites to re­fer to the in­hab­i­tant of a coastal set­tle­ment — sort of like call­ing some­one a hick or a yokel.

MANGIA-CAKE

Speak­ing of Ital­ians, here is an ex­clu­sively Ital­ian-Cana­dian term used as a joc­u­lar slam against non-Ital­ian white Cana­di­ans. It means “cake eater,” and refers to how most of Canada prefers sweet white sandwich bread — in sharp con­trast to the more so­phis­ti­cated bread tastes of Ital­ians.

SQUARE HEAD

This can re­fer to the Cana­dian­designed Robert­son screw­driver or it can be an all-pur­pose slur against any num­ber of white eth­nic­i­ties. The darker cor­ners of Cana­dian his­tory have fea­tured the term “square head” be­ing hurled at Ger­mans, Swedes, Poles or sim­ply English Cana­di­ans.

BUSH APE

This one’s not a racial slur. It’s a B.C. term for a log­ger, and “does not seem to have been deroga­tory,” says the dic­tionary. As B.C. log­ging terms go, it’s also no­table for not con­tain­ing the “f-word.”

FRENCH FRENCH

Canada proudly has our own, bet­ter, French peo­ple than the ones in Europe. Nat­u­rally, this has ne­ces­si­tated an An­glo term to dif­fer­en­ti­ate some­one from Ri­mouski rather than some­one from Avi­gnon. In French-speak­ing ar­eas of Canada, the usual term is “French from France” or “those damned French.”

HIYU

Par­tic­u­larly in the ter­ri­to­ries,

English fea­tures a lot more bor­row­ing from abo­rig­i­nal lan­guages. While “skookum” (good) is the most well-known, parts of in­te­rior B.C. once saw heavy usage of “hiyu,” meaning “many.” “Satur­day night was a hiyu suc­cess,” reads an 1899 ex­am­ple un­earthed by dic­tionary edi­tors.

KIRSTEN LORENZ

The spring breakup in Daw­son City, Yukon.

RAY GIGUERE / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Wayne Gret­zky, tear­ing up at a press con­fer­ence af­ter his trade to the L.A. Kings was an­nounced in 1988, lead­ing to the birth of The Gret­zky Ef­fect.

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