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News about the Strathy Language Unit and Canadian English studies          

Sneak Peak: ANTHEM
Date: June 13, 2021 |  Category: News

Get a sneak peak at the Canadian Language Museum's upcoming exhibition, ANTHEM: Expressions of Canadian Identityon their website.

From the exhibition team:

ANTHEM: Expressions of Canadian Identity invites artists with roots in Canada to interrogate the meaning of the anthem’s lyrics and their relation to national and individual identity, as well as reflect on the lands upon which they personally live, work, and learn. Through this exhibition, we welcome audiences to reflect upon the often dissonant nature of Canadian identity as both a product of colonialism and a sense of belonging for many. We hope that the artworks spur discussion about how you have come to be on this land, the importance of language, and what being “Canadian” means to each of us.

Cayleigh Eccles, Jessica Lanziner, Megan Sue-Chue-Lam


Are you "cheugy"?
Date: May 10, 2021 |  Category: In the Media

Do you call Toronto's Rogers Centre the Skydome? If so, you just might be "cheugy". This TikTok-coined word has taken the internet by storm, and now a journalist at The Star has some ideas about who is "cheugy" in Toronto.


Remembering Canada's Word Lady
Date: April 28, 2021 [Updated May 4, 2021] |  Category: In the Media

We are very sad to learn of the passing of Canadian English expert and advocate Katherine Barber, founding editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and Canada's beloved "Word Lady". You can enjoy some of Katherine's thoughtful and funny reflections on Canadian English on her blog, and read these obituaries from the National Post and Globe and Mail.


Slang with the Levys
Date: March 25, 2021 |  Category: In the Media

Test your slang with favourite Canadians Dan and Eugene Levy.


Canadianisms in The Great Canadian Baking Show
Date: February 9, 2021 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Jet McCullough

[Editor's note: This is the final piece in our series: Canadian English in The Great Canadian Baking Show]

In the previous three pieces of our series, we explored the use of British vs. North American baking terminology in The Great Canadian Baking Show, as compared to The Great British Bake Off. Another way that the Canadian show distinguishes itself linguistically from its European antecedent is in the presence of Canadianisms, words that are, if not strictly Canadian, at least “distinctively” so (“Canadianism,” Oxford English Dictionary (OED)).

One such term is “poutine,” referring to the dish of French fries, gravy and cheese curds, a term which appears in season one, episode 4 (S1:E4), in contestant Sabrina’s “s’mores and poutine doughnuts.” The dish originated in Quebec, and the term as used here derives from Canadian French (“poutine,” Canadian Oxford Dictionary (COD)). According to A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP-2), it originally would have “referred to any kind of pudding-like dish.” There appears to be some disagreement about whether the word “poutine” derives from the French “pouding” (pudding) or the English “pudding” (“poutine,” OED), the latter origin being favoured by linguist Charles Boberg (“poutine,” DCHP-2). In any case, the term is distinctively Canadian, and when used in Canadian English, it refers strictly to this dish of Québécois origin (DCHP-2).

Continue reading this piece

Date: February 2, 2021 |  Category: News

Wes and Nilu are back with another episode of Wes and Nilu Talk Slang!


Rural Ontario Dialects on Screen: An Interview with the Creator of Letterkenny
Date: February 1, 2021 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Molly Stewart

The Canadian sitcom Letterkenny follows four friends in a fictional Ontario community, humorously exploiting the characteristics and stereotypes of rural life. I had an opportunity to interview the show's creator, Jared Kesso, about one of these characteristics - language.

Since Letterkenny started out as a web series about experiences relatable to residents of small, rural Canadian towns, to what degree do you focus on the accent/dialect of the Letterkenny residents to emphasize this aspect of the show's identity? 

Not much regarding the accent. You'll notice Wayne is the only character on the show who speaks with that specific accent. This is true to form in Listowel [the town upon which the show is loosely based]. Some people speak with that accent and some don't. It's usually people who live in the country that do. Regarding the language, I've absolutely helped myself to every small town Ontario expression I've ever found charming/witty. Why wouldn't I?

What models, if any, did you use for the rural Ontario dialect? Did you use models based on your own community?  

Yes, I used models based on my own community and other small towns I lived in or went to school in or played hockey in (Strathroy, Arva and Kincardine to name a few).

For those characters who are not residents of Letterkenny, such as the Quebecois "hiques," did you use any models when writing their dialogue? 

I co-wrote Les Hiques with Jonathan Torrens. There wasn't a great focus on a Quebecois specific dialect. We were just trying to hit every Quebecois cliché possible for the sake of humour (I doubt the Quebecois found it funny). That episode was written for an English audience. If I was writing to please a Quebecois audience, I would certainly put more focus on quirky language specific to them. I know there is a tremendous amount of it.

Is Wayne's accent and way of speaking something that comes naturally to you, or is his dialect part of the character you play? 

Wayne's accent comes naturally to me. I had a lot of practice with it while making fun of my hick friends growing up. My pals from Listowel and I all catch ourselves slipping back into it when we drink.

'Chocolate Bars' and 'Coffee Cakes' in The Great Canadian Baking Show
Date: January 15, 2021 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Jet McCullough

[Editor's note: This is the third piece in our series: Canadian English in The Great Canadian Baking Show]

Watching The Great Canadian Baking Show through the lens of Canadian English demands inquiry into Canadian usage regarding baking terms, and the names of relevant foods, sweets, and bakes. In the previous two articles we explored the blend of Canadian, American, and British terms used in show, an exploration we will continue here with two new terms: "chocolate bar" and "coffee cake."  

Consider this factoid from the opening of episode six, season two: “In 1947, hundreds of Canadian children went on strike because the price of a chocolate bar went from five cents to eight cents.” The term used here, “chocolate bar,” seems a common lexical marker of Canadian English. A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles notes that the term “is often contrasted with ‘candy bar’, the more popular variant in the US” (“chocolate bar,” DCHP-2). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (COD) also notes the American (US) nature of “candy bar” and implies “chocolate bar” to be a Canadian default in its definition of “candy bar”: “noun esp. US = chocolate bar.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), contrasting slightly with these sources, marks “candy bar” as a North American term, though not strictly a US one (“candy, n.2.”), while “chocolate bar” carries no region marker in either the OED or the COD

Continue reading this piece


Newfoundland Dialects on Stage: An Interview with the Creators of Come From Away
Date: January 13, 2021 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Molly Stewart

The hit musical Come From Away tells the story of Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001, when dozens of international flights were diverted to the Gander airstrip and the local community warmly embraced the stranded passengers. The show is also a celebration of the unique culture and language of Newfoundland. In this interview with show creators Irene Sankof and David Hein, I asked about the role of Newfound dialects in the show.

How did you find writing Newfoundland characters? How did you go about making their dialogue feel as authentic as possible? What models, if any, did you use to write them?

We didn’t set out to write “Newfoundland” characters so much as to just evoke the people and place that had been so kind and welcoming to us. When we arrived in Newfoundland for the ten year anniversary to do our research for the show, we didn’t have a preconceived notion of what “story” we were looking for - we just knew we wanted to hear everything. We talked to everyone we could - and everyone had a million stories and each one was better than the last. At some point we stopped interviewing and just started hanging out, becoming friends - and trying to capture each person’s unique phrases and rhythms of speech - whether they came from Newfoundalnd or from Away.

We also had some freedom to combine interviews, since every character on stage is an amalgamation of people we met - because there were 7,000 people on the planes and almost 9,000 people in the town. We had to combine some of the things together, but they are all based on real people who we interviewed.

In terms of models that we knew of already out there, there was The Laramie Project - we sometimes called our show “Laramie - The Musical” . We thought we’d make something like The Laramie Project meets a Newfoundland kitchen party - we were definitely not at all thinking about Broadway! But we did look at the music in the musical Once and the storytelling in Peter and the Starcatcher - both of which informed Come From Away.

A few of the songs in Come from Away - particularly "Welcome to the Rock," "In the Bar/Heave Away," and "Screech In" - emphasize the Newfie accent/dialect. Do you have any comments on how these songs came together?

Continue reading the interview


The Great Canadian Baking Show and the 'Icing/Frosting' Question
Date: December 21, 2020 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Jet McCullough

[Editor's note: This is the second piece in our series: Canadian English in The Great Canadian Baking Show]

Looking further into The Great Canadian Baking Show’s use of baking terminology, we can see more examples of the mixture of British and North American vocabulary that characterizes Canadian English. We shall consider usage of the terms “icing” and “frosting.” Both the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (COD) and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) mark “frosting” as a North American term, so we might expect Canadian English speakers to be familiar with it:

N Amer. icing for a cake etc. (COD)
… = ICING n. 1a. Now chiefly North American. (OED)

Linguist Charles Boberg writes, however, that Canadian English is more in line with British English on this choice of terms, favouring "'icing rather than frosting for the top layer of a cake” (“Canadian English,” The Canadian Encyclopedia). This preference is confirmed by the definition of “icing” in the COD bearing no regional marking, which implies that in Canadian English it carries no inflection of region, and is thus a default term, so to speak. We might expect, then, for usage in The Great Canadian Baking Show to tend toward “icing”, but perhaps include “frosting” as well. Is this tendency apparent in the series? “Icing” is easy enough to find on the show, as in the “marshmallow icing” seen on a s’mores-themed birthday cake in season 2, episode 1 (S2:E1), or the question “do you love icing?” posed to a contestant who “went a little heavy” with the cake’s coating (S3:E1). “Frosting” is not absent from the show, however, with “raspberry cordial frosting” being featured on an Anne of Green Gables-themed cake (S2:E1).

Continue reading this piece


Date: December 18, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

The American Dialect Society (ADS) has voted and the results are in, 'Covid' is the 2020 word of the year. From Ben Zimmer, Chair of the Words Committee, in the ADS press release:

“A year ago, the word Covid didn’t even exist, and now it has come to define our lives in 2020. The selection recognizes how ubiquitous the term has become, from the time that the name for the disease caused by novel coronavirus was dubbed Covid-19 by the World Health Organization back in February. That was quickly clipped to Covid, which then appeared in phrases like Covid crisis, Covid relief, and Covid vaccine – and even Covid baking, Covid hair, and covidiot. It has become a stand-in for the entire pandemic and the societal impacts that we’ll be experiencing for years to come.”


Shawn Mendez Explains "Timmies"
Date: December 16, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

Test your knowledge of Canadian English slang with the Pickering pop star...


The Great Canadian Baking Show and the 'Biscuit/Cookie' Question
Date: December 9, 2020 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Jet McCullough

[Editor's note: This is the first piece in our new series: Canadian English in The Great Canadian Baking Show]

The unique character of Canadian English vocabulary is apparent in The Great Canadian Baking Show. This reality show baking competition has a choice to make regarding baking terms: whether to use British terms, as does the original series upon which the Canadian show is based, North American terms (those common to the US and Canada), or Canadianisms, terms specific to Canada. As the show reveals, a fascinating aspect of Canadian English is that it blends the three.

One instance of this vocabulary mixture will jump out to any Canadian viewer: the use of “biscuit” in the “Biscuits and Bars” week of baking challenges. The term is straightforward enough, being transplanted directly from “Biscuit Week” in The Great British Bake Off, and is used in both series as in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)’s second definition of the word: “A small baked unleavened cake, typically crisp, crumbly, flat, and sweet, and usually made from a mixture of flour, sugar, butter, and flavourings.”

Continue reading this piece


Date: November 30, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

We have another 2020 Word of Year, and it is a double winner. "Pandemic" was chosen by both Merriam-Webster "based upon a statistical analysis of words that are looked up in extremely high numbers in our online dictionary while also showing a significant year-over-year increase in traffic" and by because "... of all these many queries, search volume for 'pandemic' sustained the highest levels on site over the course of 2020, averaging a 1000% increase, month over month, relative to previous years". Sadly, we are not surprised.


It's Unprecedented
Date: November 23, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

It's that time of the year for words of the year! After such an unusual few months, Oxford Languages could not settle on just one word, so they have instead complied a list. "Given the phenomenal breadth of language change and development in 2020, Oxford Languages concluded that this is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word." From 'superspreader' to 'zoombombing', "what was genuinely unprecedented this year was the hyper-speed at which the English-speaking world amassed a new collective vocabulary relating to the coronavirus, and how quickly it became, in many instances, a core part of the language".


Date: November 17, 2020 |  Category: News

Enjoy this gucci new video from Wes and Nilu Talk Slang!


Zed Rules
Date: October 28, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

A new ProbIt survey finds that 'zed', rather than 'zee', remains the pronunciation used by an overwhelming majority of Canadians across regional and demographic groups. When it comes to spelling, however, there is some interesting variation. Check out the survey here. (The language questions follow the questions about COIVD-19.)


So Long, Asbestos
Date: October 21, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

The residents of Asbestos, Quebec have voted to change the name of their town to Val-des-Sources, to shed the negative association with the poisonous mineral after which the town was originally named.


Pandemic English
Date: October 20, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

The coronavirus is changing our lives and our language...


Date: September 21, 2020 |  Category: News

Wes and Nilu are back with a new episode of Wes and Nilu Talk Slang! Yeet!


Evolution of the Period
Date: September 7, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

"I actually really don't like getting text messages that end in periods because it always feels so harsh and passive-agressive." This piece from NPR explores the meaning of periods in text messages (and includes commentary by former Strathy Unit researcher Gretchen McCullough!).


We Are All Sailors
Date: September 1, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

The Royal Canadian Navy is going gender-neutral, replacing the term 'seaman' with 'sailor'.


No Shade!
Date: August 28, 2020 |  Category: News

Episode 4 of Wes and Nilu Talk Slang is out!


Date: August 25, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

Learn a new Canadianism each week as linguist Stefan Dollinger shares words from the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles on Twitter:


That's Bait
Date: July 26, 2020 |  Category: News

Your hosts Wes and Nilu are back with a new episode of Wes and Nilu Talk Slang!


Space Speech
Date: July 22, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

“Right after I landed, I could feel the weight of my lips and tongue and had to change how I was talking. I didn't realize I had learned to talk with a weightless tongue." - Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield


Canadian Language Museum
Date: July 20, 2020 |  Category: News

You may not be able to visit many physical museums this summer, but you can still learn about Canada's languages by accessing the resources and exhibits of the Canadian Language Museum online!


Are You Lit?
Date: July 8, 2020 |  Category: News

Watch the second episode of Wes and Nilu Talk Slang!


Date: June 5, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

In a time of crisis, slang may not only be amusing us, but soothing us...


Wes and Nilu Talk Slang!
Date: June 1, 2020 |  Category: News

We have a new video series: Wes and Nilu Talk Slang! During their internship at the Unit, Wes Paubst and Nilu Hosseinkashi interviewed students on campus about slang words, and our fantastic film student David Vassos has since been editing a selection of the words. Episode 1: Chirping is up on our YouTube channel. More to follow!



Harold Paddock
Date: May 27, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

We were very sorry to hear of the passing of Harold Paddock, a great scholar of Newfoundland and Labrador dialects. Among his many accomplishments are his contributions to The Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador. Here are links to his obituary and a tribute from a former student.

Rest in peace, Professor Paddock.


Canadian English in Texas?
Date: May 14, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

The 'cot'-'caught' merger, widespread in Canada, is making its way to Texas. Listen to the Director of the Texas English Linguistics Lab hypothesis about causes of the change:


Working at your Isodesk?
Date: April 24, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of our lives, including our language. Read about the dozens of new pandemic-related words that have entered English in the last few weeks.


English Language Day 
Date: April 23, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

Today the United Nations recognizes English Language Day


Office Update 
Date: March 20, 2020 |  Category: News

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, our office hours have been greatly reduced. We continue to work remotely, however, so please feel free to get in touch with questions and comments. You can access Queen's information on the coronavirus here.


Date: March 5, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

An online campaign is calling on Oxford Dictionaries to change its sexist definitions of 'woman'.


Pronouns and Politics 
Date: March 2, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

A look at the past and present of pronouns in Canadian law and politics...


Language of Loss: Canadian English Epitaphs in the First World War 
Date: February 18, 2020 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Louisa Simmons

[Editor's note: This piece is the third instalment in our new series Words of War: Canadian English in the First World War.]

Words fail our loss to tell.
Driver Reginald Frank Davey, Canadian Field Artillery, 5th September 1918 – age 25

These are the words inscribed on 25-year-old Reginald Frank Davey’s headstone nestled in the front left-hand corner of the H.A.C. Ecoust-St. Mein First World War cemetery in France. A driver with the Canadian Field Artillery, Davey voluntarily enlisted in Kingston, Ontario on November 20th, 1915. Over the next three years of war, Davey would survive a fractured tibia and fibula, a diagnosis of shell shock (contemporarily known as post-traumatic stress syndrome), and endless nights in cold, damp trenches. It was in one of these trenches when, at about 9:30 a.m. on September 5, 1918, a German shell dropped down from the bright sky above, killing Davey and six other soldiers. 


One of Reginald Davey’s enlistment documents. Photo: Library and Archives Canada

Davey’s headstone is one of hundreds of thousands inscribed with a message from loved ones. When a soldier or nurse’s body was officially interred by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in the early 1920’s, families were given the option to add a personal epitaph to the headstone. By exploring the different ways that Canadian English was used in these epitaphs to express immense personal loss, it is possible to gain insight into the sentiments and values of the broader society.

Click here to read the full article.


Embracing an Accent 
Date: February 11, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

A journalist reflects on the pride and peril of speaking Canadian English with a foreign accent.


Hidden Profanity: Language and Identity in the First World War 
Date: February 3, 2020 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Toni Pascale

[Editor's note: This piece is the second instalment in our new series Words of War: Canadian English in the First World War.]

The significance of profanity in the First World War relates to the role it played in forming soldiers' identities. Historian Tim Cook writes, “Swearing and slang reveal new ways to better understand the social and cultural history of civilian soldiers, how they made sense of the war, how they distinguished themselves from civilians, and how they unified aspects of their identity.”


Canadian Soldiers in an unknown location posing for a photo. Photo: Kitchener Public Library.

There were two types of profanity that emerged at this time: euphemisms and explicit profanity. Examples of euphemisms include Tom-titJane Shorefour letter man, and NBG. To civilians, these terms did not have any meaning, but in the trenches, these words were widely used and known by all. Tom-tit was another word for sh*tJane Shore was used to describe a promiscuous woman; four letter man was a man who was of bad character; and NBG meant no bloody good. These terms emerged as a way for soldiers to describe how they were feeling without having to be as graphic or vulgar in their speech. This was also a way for them to disguise what they were saying from other troops outside the Canadian forces. 

Click here to read the full article.


Canadian, British or Both?
Date: January 27, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

There's more speculation about royal baby Archie's future accent...


Potato Diggers and Mouth Organs: Canadian English Weaponry Slang in the First World War 
Date: January 21, 2020 |  Category: Guest Column
Author: Louisa Simmons

[Editor's note: This piece is the first instalment in our new series Words of War: Canadian English in the First World War.]

If you were to stand in one of the many winding trenches occupied by the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, not only would you be ankle-deep in mud and shell casings, but you would likely hear soldiers speaking in a string of words that made no sense to you. That’s because the Canadian soldiers who fought overseas from 1914-1918 developed a kind of code for communicating made up of unique slang terms and expletives that described trench life, weaponry, and the general conditions of war.


Canadian soldiers looking at a sign for an upcoming performance of an entertainment troupe
named "Whizz Bangs" after the common slang word for a flying shell.
Photo: Canadian War Museum

One of the most plentiful categories of slang terms to become part of Canadian English during this time is in relation to weaponry. Canadian military historian Tim Cook argues that “in a response to the industrialized nature of death, soldiers reacted to the impersonal killing devices of shells and bullets by drawing them back to the knowable and understandable. The rocketing shells overhead were likened to trains running or trucks driving out of control.” It makes sense then, that soldiers who were constantly threatened by weapons firing around them would create humorous nicknames as a way to cope with the danger they experienced.

Click here to read the full article.


Royal Accent
Date: January 16, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

Amidst the speculation about the Royal Family's move to Canada... Whose English will baby Archie speak?


Canadian Prairie Dialects
Date: January 16, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

Don't all Western Canadians sounds the same? Not so, according to new research at the University of Alberta...


'My' Pronouns
Date: January 6, 2020 |  Category: In the Media

The American Dialect Society has chosen 'my' pronouns as Word of the Year, and singular 'they' as Word of the Decade. As Society President Ben Zimmer explains, "When a basic part of speech like the pronoun becomes a vital indicator of social trends, linguists pay attention." 


Click here to read 2019 posts