Sometimes language smacks you in the microphone

I’ve already mentioned how easy it was to provoke calls on my radio open-line show in Charlottetown in the 1970s, by inviting listeners to share either recipes or gardening tips.

One desperate morning, I stumbled across a topic that lit up the switchboard for three days before I had to call a halt.

I started by musing about the fact that many people consider Canadian accents, speech patterns and idioms lifeless and boring, compared to those in Britain or the United States.

Au contraire, I suggested. Our country is full of delightful linguistic quirks far beyond such unique Canadianisms as “scooch over,” “two-four,” or “toque.”

For example, why is the doughy treat Ontarians call a jelly doughnut known as a jam-buster in Manitoba and a Bismarck in Saskatchewan?

Why is a toasted omelette sandwich called a Western on the east side of the Ontario–Manitoba border, but a Denver on the other side? Why are the terms “skookum” and “salt chuck” virtually unknown east of the Rockies, or south of the Yukon?

Do you recline on a couch, a chesterfield, a davenport, a divan, or a sofa? That may depend on where you live. Ditto for your outdoor relaxation. Do you do it on a porch, a stoop, or a verandah? Do you spend holidays at the cabin, the cottage, or the camp?

Newfoundland is rightly treasured for its colourful language, but it isn’t alone in that regard. Many parts of our country—especially rural areas—are rife with sayings as evocative as anything you’ll find in Dublin, Yorkshire or the Appalachian Mountains.

Prince Edward Island is no exception. I discovered that immediately after asking my listeners to phone in with their favourite Island expressions.

I soon learned what it means to say someone woke up “crooked,” or the difference between a winter sidewalk that’s merely “slippy” and one that is downright “slitchery.”

I heard 14 variations on the expression, “Hold ’er, Newt, she’s heading for the gatepost,” including “Hold ’er Newt, she’s headed for the buckwheat,” and even “Hold ’er, Jake, she’s raring.”

I learned that calling children “old-fashioned” doesn’t mean they’re out of step with the times. It means they’re mature for their age.

The most memorable came with a caller’s submission of, “Ain’t a fit night to leave a grindstone out.” An image more vivid than anything Edward Bulwer-Lytton could conceive on a dark and stormy night.

I’ll leave the last word on vibrant Island talk to the late Gilbert Clements, a colourful character who was Tourism minister and a frequent sparring partner during my days as host/interviewer on CBC-TV’s suppertime program in Charlottetown.

During one testy exchange about some questionable doings in his department, Clements calmly retorted, “Your Mother must have swallowed a roll of fillum, Kenny. You’ve got some awful negative views.”

Check. And mate.

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