The Strathy Blog - 2017

News about the Strathy Language Unit and Canadian English studies

[Please note that this page is an archive of blog posts from 2017. Some of the links to articles are no longer active.]

Canadian English Bibliography

Date: December 6, 2017 | Category: News

We continue to add resources to the online Strathy Bibliography of Canadian English. Our recent update brings us to 3053 items! Use the bibliography to find journal articles, books and pieces from the popular press on all aspects of Canadian English. Feel free to contact us with your feedback and alert us to missing resources!


​Canadianisms on The Current

Date: December 5, 2017 | Category: In the Media

On today's episode of CBC's The Current, linguist Paul De Decker of Memorial University explains the Canadian Vowel Shift. Also on this episode are discussions of lost English words and grammar in the age of social media. (The Canadian Vowel Shift discussion begins around 16:40.)


​How We Talk About Aging

Date: November 28, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Is it time to change the conversation around getting older?


​Edmonton Elks?

Date: November 28, 2017 | Category: In the Media

We do not yet know what new name the Edmonton Eskimos might adopt, but as this op-ed assures us, the change will come...


​The Benefits of Swearing

Date: November 28, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Don't feel guilty the next time you let a "bad" word slip. It's good for you!



Date: November 27, 2017 | Category: In the Media

What do you call a word that when written backwards spells a different word, like stop/pots or stressed/desserts? When six-year-old Levi Budd in Victoria, B.C. realized that there is no term for this phenomenon, he proposed "levidrome", and the Oxford Dictionary is listening.


​How "Sorry" are You?

Date: November 21, 2017 | Category: News

Our latest informal "bulletin board" survey asked respondents to reflect on their pronunciations of the words "pasta" and "sorry". Canadians typically use a different vowel in the first syllable of each of these words than do Americans. Learn more and see the results by clicking on the image!


​"Hoodie" or "Sweater?"

Date: November 13, 2017 | Category: News

The results from our second bulletin board survey reveal that Ontarians are torn between hoodies and sweaters! Check out the poster for more...

Poster of hoodie/sweater results


What Do You Say?

Date: October 31, 2017 | Category: News

The results from our first bulletin board survey are in! Strathy research assistant Olena Pankiw designed survey posters for the bulletin boards outside the Strathy offices in Mackintosh-Corry and the third floor of Kingston Hall, asking passerby to indicate their preferred term for a cottage/cabin/camp/chalet/etc. Click on the image below to view the results, and check back in two weeks for results from her latest survey!

Poster of cabin/cottage survey results


​TDSB Drops Title of "Chief"

Date: October 15, 2017 | Category: In the Media

The Toronto District School Board is discontinuing its use of "Chief" in administrative job titles, out of respect for Indigenous communities. The decision has been criticised by those who believe the gesture is unnecessary and even harmful to achieving the goals of Truth and Reconciliation.


Congratulations Margery Fee!

Date: October 2, 2017 | Category: News

Former Strathy Language Unit Director Margery Fee, currently a Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, was recently named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Dr. Fee is recognized for her work in Indigenous literatures and English lexicography. You can read about her early days at the unit and her work on the Guide to Canadian English Usage in this blog post she authored several years ago.


Which Canadian English do you Speak?

Date: September 18, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Canadian English comes in many varities, depending upon your age, gender, ethnicity and myriad other factors. The website The 10 and 3 recently did a lexical survey based on one important factor - region - and this article touches on some highlights:


Stick to Your Knitting

Date: September 13, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong's comment that former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat should "stick to the knitting" rather than express her opinions on city matters, raised the ire of many who felt the phrase was sexist. Reporter Edward Keenan explores the origins and associations of the phrase in this recent article:


The Language of Love

Date: September 12, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Every generation creates its own terms to discuss dating. Not surprisingly, much of the current terminology relates to online dating. Read up on the latest phrases, along with some insight from linguist Sali Tagliamonte, in this recent article:


Farewell Watchwords

Date: September 11, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Watchwords, the Montreal Gazette column written by Mark Abley, has sadly come to an end. Mark tackled many language issues in his column over the years, a number of which focused on aspects of Canadian English. We will miss his insights! You can read his final piece here.

Recent Media Stories

Date: September 4, 2017 (updated September 12) | Category: In the Media

The blog is back! Here are some of the summer media stories about Canadian English...


Summer Hiatus

Date: June 21, 2017 | Category: News

The blog is taking its annual summer hiatus! We will return in September with an overview of the Unit's summer activities and Canadian English media stories. Meanwhile, work at the Unit continues, so feel free to get in touch with your comments, questions and ideas!

Summertime view out the Strathy Unit windows
Summertime view out the Strathy Unit windows


Canadian Shift

Date: June 20, 2017 | Category: In the Media

This article offers an overview of ongoing vowel shifts in Canadian English, featuring new research by University of Victoria linguist Derek Denis.

Research tracks shifts in Canadian's distinctive accent (Inside Science, June 15)


Gendered Language

Date: June 20, 2017 | Category: In the Media

In his Watchwords column, Mark Abley explores the shift to general neutral terms in Canadian English.

As English becomes more gender neutral, 'bachelorette' endures (Montreal Gazette, June 16)

We're Canadian, Eh?

Date: June 15, 2017 | Category: In the Media

"Eh" is clearly a marker of Canadian identity, but how much do Canadians actually use it? This article draws on research by Derek Denis at the University of Victoria. (See also the related links in our "Here to Stay, Eh?" post from May 23 below.)

Researcher says Canadians don't really say eh that often, eh? (Times Colonist, June 15)


The Grammar Battles

Date: June 14, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Do you fight on the side of the prescriptivists, passionate about usage standards, or the descriptivists, accepting of ongoing changes to our language? Or perhaps, like The Walrus' copy-editor, Sarah Sweet, your allegiances are shifting over time?

Barbarians at the gates of grammar (The Walrus, June 7)



Date: June 8, 2017 | Category: News

Do you know what a "droke" is? If not, you should visit the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. The second edition, which just came out this spring, is filled with fascinating Canadian words and their histories!

Image of "droke"


Here to Stay, Eh?

Date: May 23, 2017 | Category: In the Media

In a CBC radio interview and article, linguists Derek Denis of the University of Victoria and Martina Wiltschko of UBC share their insights on the history and usage patterns of everyone's favourite Canadian word.


Is Your Doggo a Fan of the Habs?

Date: May 19, 2017 | Category: In the Media

In his latest Watchwords columns, Mark Abley contemplates our creativity with language by exploring abbreviations and internet speech.


Are you a "Newfie"?

Date: May 17, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Is "Newfie" a slur or does it connote local pride and belonging? Or both? A McMaster sociologist explores the origins and associations of this controversial term.

'Newfie': Offensive or endearing? (CBC News, May 15)


Fishers or Fishermen?

Date: May 15, 2017 | Category: In the Media

In her latest Word Nerd column, The Walrus copyeditor Sarah Sweet tackles sexist language and the uniquely slippery debate around "fishermen".

Why women who fish are still fishermen (The Walrus, April 27)


Why the Maple Leafs?

Date: April 25, 2017 | Category: In the Media

... And not the Maple Leaves? Canadian English scholar Jack Chambers shares the grammatical rule for proper noun plurals - and reassures us that the Leafs are all right.

The less-than-thrilling reason the Toronto Maple Leafs are not the Maple Leaves (Washington Post, April 19)


'Neverendums' on the Rise

Date: April 24, 2017 | Category: In the Media

When this term was coined in Quebec decades ago, no one could foresee its need in an increasingly fragile Europe.

Coining 'neverendum' has conquered the globe (Montreal Gazette, April 22)



Date: April 17, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Would they be less annoying if we called them 'puddle holes' or 'chuckholes'?

The strange history of 'pothole' (Montreal Gazette, April 8)


Harmless Drudges

Date: April 12, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Merriam-Webster editor Kory Stamper shares both the technical and the emotional challenges of making decisions about language for the masses.

A dictionary editor's concession: Language is 'really squishy' (Macleans, March 14, 2017)


Manitoba English

Date: April 4, 2017 | Category: In the Media

This article on English in Manitoba includes a nice journey through some of Manitoba's linguistic history and features research by University of Manitoba linguist Nicole Rosen on varieties of English spoken by Indigenous and and immigrant communities.

The Manitoba sound (Winnipeg Free Press, March 25)


Rampant Verbification

Date: April 3, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Are you more future-ready for the coming verbs than Montreal Gazette writer Mark Abley?

Not quite future-ready for adjectives to become verbs (Montreal Gazette, March 24)


Welcome Sali Tagliamonte

Date: March 31, 2017 | Category: News

We were thrilled to welcome University of Toronto sociolinguist Sali Tagliamonte to the Strathy Unit earlier this week. She shared her insights on corpus research and gave two guest lectures. Thanks to Professor Tagliamonte for a productive and fun visit!

Photo of Sali Tagliamonte presenting at Queen's


Celebrating Canadian Words

Date: March 30, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Here are​ two nice articles introducing the new Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles...


Of Truckers, Cheese, and the Oxford Comma

Date: March 29, 2017 | Category: In the Media

The Oxford comma was already a polarizing punctuation mark, and then along came a controversy over truck drivers and overtime pay...


Canadian English Guest Talks

Date: March 28, 2017 | Category: News

Students in the Canadian English course at Queen's were treated to guest talks by graduate students from the University of Toronto. Thank you to speakers Emily Blamire, Lex Konnelly, and Katharina Pabst and to instructor Joanna Chociej!

Photo of speakers at Canadian English seminar

Photo of Canadian English seminar presentations


More Praise for the DCHP

Date: March 24, 2017 | Category: In the Media

The new edition of Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles is getting some well-deserved attention beyond Canada...

A delightful dictionary for Canadian English (The New Yorker, March 23)


Indigenous Englishes

Date: March 19, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Varieties of Indigenous English, also referred to as Aboriginal English or First Nations English, are used in communities throughout North America. This new article offers some background as well as discussion of a new study on prosody.

How "Rez Accents" Strengthen Identity (Yes! Magazine, March 9)

For more on the topic, you can also read this piece written for the Strathy Blog by Sharla Peltier.


Dictionary of Canadianisms

Date: March 15, 2017 | Category: In the Media

The upcoming second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles is getting some nice coverage in the press. Here is associate editor Margery Fee (and former Strathy Unit Director!) sharing her insights on the research process in an interview with CTV News.

[Media no longer available]


The New DCHP is (Almost) Here!

Date: March 13, 2017 | Category: In the Media

The long-awaited second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles will be released online this month. We'll post more information about this soon. Meanwhile, get a preview of the content in this article from the Globe.

Dictionary of Canadianisms is 'tabled' and 'all-dressed' (The Globe and Mail, March 10)


Taming Your Inner Grammar Troll

Date: March 12, 2017 | Category: In the Media

When should you let an error drive you mad, and when should you let it go? One writer struggles to find a balance.

Grammar Nazis: We have bigger problems than the Oxford comma (Calgary Herald, Feb. 17)


​Adventures in Canadianisms: Tuque

Date: February 27, 2017 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Noor-E Ferdous

[Editor's note: Adventures in Canadianisms is a series by Strathy Literary Intern Noor-E Ferdous, a master's student in the Department of English at Queen's University. Noor is writing a series of posts on her experiences discovering Canadian English. Click here to read her previous posts.]

Hello dear readers! I’m back with the last word – my final ‘word of the week’, that is. Now, this word is perhaps one of the most commonly used Canadianisms and, interestingly enough, as someone who has travelled quite a bit throughout the English-speaking world, this is the first time that I have stumbled upon it (which just goes to show how distinctly Canadian it is!).

Word of the Week: Tuque (also “Toque”)Bunny wearing a toque

What does it mean?
A tuque is a woolen, knit cap worn by Canadians during winter – your standard issue winter hat. Even though this sort of hat is donned by people all over the world, what is so uniquely Canadian about it is the name, since this type of hat only seems to be called a “tuque” here in Canada.

Me (about to leave the house): What’s the weather going to be like today?
Canadian roomie: Cold! Don’t forget your tuque!
Me: Huh? What’s a tuque?
Canadian roomie: A hat, of course!
Me: Oh! Thank you!

Where did it come from?
Toque is French, spelled "toque" in France but "tuque" in French-speaking Canada. In Canadian English either spelling is acceptable. (Canadian English speakers seem a bit flexible on the whole spelling issue in general – i.e. favour/favor, analyze/analyse – confusing for a newcomer, I might add!). Various sources place tuque’s origins in Arabic, making its way to French via Spanish toca, and the Canadian Collins English Dictionary suggests that toca probably comes from the Basque tauka. The French and Métis fur traders may have been the ones to popularize the term in Canada. Bottom line – clearly we humans have been wearing hats for a long time, pretty much everywhere.

It seems that the type of hat referred to as tuque, however, has varied somewhat over time and place. A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals different types of toques for chefs, judges, professors and athletes, a silky embroidered style donned by 12th century women (fancy, eh?) and even a series of tuques worn in the Napoleonic era to signify military rank. The Guide to Canadian English Usage states that the Canadian English meaning was originally a long knit winter hat, but today the meaning has expanded to refer to any knit winter hat.

Who uses it?
Literally everyone and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE. Unlike the other words that I have worked on for this project, everyone I asked clearly knew what a “tuque” was, and they all claimed to use the word – and to prefer it over alternatives such as “hat”.

Did you know? (Because I certainly didn’t!)
Throughout history, the tuque has been a symbol of freedom. In ancient Rome it represented emancipation from slavery. The tuque later became a symbol of revolutionary France, particularly those red in color, leading to the term bonnet rouge, or red bonnet. They served as symbols of freedom during the American revolution as well, where they were referred to as liberty hats, and during the Quebec Patriotes Rebellion. Today the tuque is used as a symbol of freedom throughout Latin America and the Caribbean as well. Pretty cool, right? So, the next time you wear your tuque, wear it with pride and don’t be ashamed of the pom pom hanging off the back!

This brings me to the end of my official journey in Canadianisms for the Strathy Blog, but I know that my learning has only just begun. Thank you, readers, for riding along with me, and thank you, Canada, for all of your interesting and colourful (or is that colorful) words!


​Like is, Like, Nothing New

Date: February 26, 2017 | Category: In the Media

You may hate "like" but you can't blame the younger generations. Sociolinguist Alex D'Arcy at the University of Victoria traces our "like" usage back 800 years and finds that while patterns have changed somewhat over time, this controversial little word has been with us from the beginning.

Like, don't blame 'like' on kids these days, says sociolinguist (CBC, Feb. 22)


​Adventures in Canadianisms: Hangashore

Date: February 20, 2017 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Noor-E Ferdous

[Editor's note: Adventures in Canadianisms is a series by Strathy Literary Intern Noor-E Ferdous, a master's student in the Department of English at Queen's University. Noor is writing a series of posts on her experiences discovering Canadian English. Click here to read her previous posts.]

Greetings readers! I’m back again with another word of the week—perhaps the strangest one that I have encountered on this journey. Not only does it sound strange (at least to me—I can barely pronounce it), it has quite an interesting history too!

Word of the Week: HangashoreCat image with text "I'm busy being lazy"

What does it mean?
This is a term used to refer to someone who is really lazy, especially someone who is too lazy to go fishing (*awkwardly raising hand*). It can also be used to refer to a weak, sickly person worthy of pity.

Nathan: Morning James! Where’s your brother? Won’t he join us on today’s fishing trip?
James: I’m afraid not; he doesn’t like doing much on Sundays!
Nathan (shaking his head): John’s such a hangashore!

Where did it come from?
According to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, “hangashore” originated from the Irish Gaelic word “angishore”, meaning a “poverty-stricken creature” or an “unfortunate person or thing”. In Irish, when a word begins with a vowel, an “h” can optionally be added to the beginning, which is how the pronunciation “hangashore” arose. There are many words of Irish origin in Newfoundland, given that a large portion of the island’s settlers were from Ireland, in particular those from the Waterford area arriving in the 1800s. The other large group of settlers were English, mostly from the Southwest of England. It was likely the English settlers who adopted and spread the “hangashore” pronunciation. These two large groups of British and Irish settlers had a profound affect on the way English is spoken in Newfoundland, which explains why it is different from the English in the rest of Canada.

Who uses it?
This word is associated with Newfoundland as well as the other eastern islands of Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. I am not sure how common the word is in those areas today, but it does seem to be part of folk culture, given its use in names and titles, for example the Hangashore Folk Festival, the Hangashore Bed and Breakfast or the book The Hangashore Newfoundland Dog. Although I have only been in Canada for a few months, it appears that “hangashore” is not too popular here in Kingston. All the people I’ve asked about the word (even the random strangers waiting at the Downtown Bus Transfer Point) either responded with a really confused look and a disgruntled “No?” or asked me to explain it to them after a moment of thinking. They all looked surprised to learn its actual meaning and judging by this, it appears that “hangashore” is a part of a regional dialect rather than a word that is used all over Canada.

Did you know? (Because I certainly didn’t!)
“Hangashore” is only one of many interesting and unique words in Newfoundland. In fact, there is a whole dictionary full! (This is how I learned, for example, that a synonym for one definition of “hangashore” is “sleeveen”. Isn't that amazing?) You can explore words in the online version of the dictionary here. You can learn more about Newfoundland dialects here and even listen to sound samples. Maybe my next series should be Adventures in Newfoundlandisms!

Well, that’s all for this week folks, tune in next Monday for my final word!


​Me and You are Annoyed

Date: February 15, 2017 | Category: In the Media

... Annoyed by changes in the use of pronouns! Mark Abley explores this common reader complaint in his latest column.

Mixing up me, myself and I (Montreal Gazette, Feb. 10)


​Newfoundland Word Challenge: Teeveen

Date: February 14, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Don't throw it out; just put a teeveen on it!


​Adventures in Canadianisms: Hoser

Date: February 13, 2017 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Noor-E Ferdous

[Editor's note: Adventures in Canadianisms is a series by Strathy Literary Intern Noor-E Ferdous, a master's student in the Department of English at Queen's University. Noor is writing a series of posts on her experiences discovering Canadian English. Click here to read her previous posts.]

Yet another week calls for yet another interesting Canadianism. I like how Canadians have some of their own descriptive words for people. The first week, I wrote about “keener” (click here to refresh your memory.) This week, I look at “hoser.”

Word of the Week: HoserBob and Doug MacKenzie

What does it mean?
This is a derogatory term used to refer to someone who is uncivilized, or in simple terms, it is the Canadian version of “idiot.”

Sally: Did you see the new guy in school today? Geez, he’s such a hoser!
Catherine: I thought he was pretty cool.
Sally: Ugh, honestly Cathy, you have no taste!
Catherine: (*rolls her eyes*)

Where did it come from?
As with the other Canadianisms I have examined so far, the origin of “hoser” is a bit unclear. The word is widely associated with the 1980s Canadian comedy show, The Great White North, in which the fictional brothers Bob and Doug Mackenzie parodied various Canadian English expressions (such as ending each sentence with an “eh”). It was their catchphrase “Take off, hoser!” that really popularized “hoser” and secured its place in the Canadian vernacular. But where did it originate? Some online theories attribute the word to ice hockey – a reference to the losing team hosing down the ice after a game; others claim the word refers to the hosing, or siphoning, of gas during the Great Depression. Interestingly, however, I did not find any occurrence of the word with either of these definitions in the few corpora I checked, and I didn’t find any occurrence of the word at all before 1981 – a reference in the Globe and Mail which, incidentally, refers to the Mackenzie Brothers. This leads me to suspect that the comedy show didn’t just popularize the word, it originated it! (If you think I’m wrong, send me your evidence to the contrary!)

Who uses it?
This is where things get interesting. Although every member of my informal subject pool (an admittedly not terribly diverse range of students and professors on the Queen’s campus) claimed to be highly familiar with the word, all said they do not use it. This does not mean that no one uses it, of course, but perhaps that the use is fairly restricted to certain contexts or groups of people. Everyone did, however, make reference to the Mackenzie Brothers, lending additional support to the idea that the word originated with the comedy sketch.

Did you know? (Because I certainly didn’t!)
“Hoser” is apparently used outside of Canada to refer to (um, make fun of) Canadians. (Perhaps this is thanks to the popularity of Strange Brew – the Mackenzie Brothers movie –in the United States?) This is in contrast to a word like “keener”, which Canadians know and use but seems to be rather unheard of elsewhere in the English-speaking world. This makes “hoser” more than just a Canadianism – it makes it another great Canadian export!

Thanks for reading, and see you back here next Monday!


​Bituminous Sands

Date: February 7, 2017 | Category: In the Media

... Or is it oilsands or tar sands? Stephen Hume explores the difficult decisions newspapers must make about word choice.

Words count no matter what spin you're in (Vancouver Sun, Feb. 5)


​Adventures in Canadianisms: Had the Biscuit

Date: February 6, 2017 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Noor-E Ferdous

[Editor's note: Adventures in Canadianisms is a series by Strathy Literary Intern Noor-E Ferdous, a master's student in the Department of English at Queen's University. Noor is writing a series of posts on her experiences discovering Canadian English. Click here to read her previous posts.]

Hello readers! It’s Noor again with another word of the week. Actually, this week I bring you a phrase. As someone who loves playing with different words and phrases, my interest was piqued when I came across uniquely Canadian idioms.

Word (or rather, idiom) of the week: Had the biscuitPhoto of dog looking at a cookie

What does it mean?
In case you’re wondering, no, it has nothing to do with eating biscuits. It actually refers to an object that is no longer of any use or cannot function anymore. It can also mean being worn out or on the verge of death.

Stephen: Hey Jim, why do you look so down?
Jim: My truck has had the biscuit, man, I don’t know how I’ll go without it.
Stephen: The one that belonged to your old man, you mean?
Jim: (sighs) Uh huh.
Stephen: What can you do, things grow old too (pats Jim on the shoulder).

Where did it come from?
Using the rigorous methodology of the online search, I came across a few theories for the origin of the phrase. Although the details vary, all were in agreement that “had the biscuit” comes from the Catholic practice of last rites where someone who is facing death is given final sacraments, which includes receiving the communion wafer. Some suggest that the reference to the wafer as a “biscuit” was a derogatory term coined by Protestants. Others suggest that the wafers were referred to as “biscuits” by soldiers during the First World War, who were all too familiar with last rites. In either case, the reference to the death of a person has extended to the “death” of objects that are old and worn out or broken. I have yet to find any theories, however, on how and why this phrase came to be uniquely Canadian!

Who uses it?
Unlike the word “keener”, which I discussed in my previous post, “had the biscuit” does not appear to be too popular these days. Most (okay, nearly all) of the friends I threw this phrase at responded with “Huh?”, which just goes to show how familiar they are with it. However, while having one of those deep talks at 3:00 in the morning with my housemate Catherine, I randomly blurted out the phrase “had the biscuit” to refer to our apartment heater (which had just decided to stop working) and surprisingly she replied with “Hey! My grandma uses that to talk about our old couch and literally, EVERYTHING else!” From what I gathered from our discussion that night (which, if you must know, lasted till 8:00 in the morning), this phrase is more popular amongst the older generations than the younger ones. The current lack of popularity of this idiom amongst adolescents and twenty-somethings could mean that the usage of this phrase is declining.

Did you know? (Because I certainly didn’t!)
Even though “had the biscuit” has nothing to do with actual biscuits, I became curious about the origin and meaning of “biscuit”. In much of the English-speaking world, including my home country of Bangladesh, a biscuit is what North Americans call a cookie. A biscuit in Canada, I’ve discovered, refers to a type of soft, unsweetened roll rather than something crispy and sweet. The word itself, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, derives from the Latin “biscotum” which literally means baked twice. It’s unclear, however, how the two different definitions arose.

Well, that’s all for today. I’ll see you back here next Monday for another Canadianism!


​Powder your Pipsi?

Date: February 5, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Are your Newfoundland word skills improving? Find out with the latest challenge.


​Adventures in Canadianisms: Keener

Date: January 30, 2017 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Noor-E Ferdous

[Editor's note: Adventures in Canadianisms is a series by Strathy Literary Intern Noor-E Ferdous, a master's student in the Department of English at Queen's University. Noor is writing a series of posts on her experiences discovering Canadian English. Click here to read her introductory post.]

Word of the Week: Keener

What does it mean?
This popular term refers to someone who is extremely eager to please or to do well, often a student who is very enthusiastic to succeed or to impress a teacher. It has the negative connotation of a student who sucks up to teachers.

Scenes from Friends. Photo of character Monica raising her hand in class with text "I know I know I know." "Monica, you asked the question."Example:
Sam: Hey! How was your history class today?
Anne: It went all right… until Jeremy started talking (rolling her eyes).
Sam (laughing): He’s such a keener, eh?

Remember that Friends episode where Phoebe takes Monica to an English class and Monica keeps asking the teacher questions (and answering them too)? Yeah, in case you’re still wondering, Monica is a keener!

Where did it come from?
“Keener” is based on the word “keen”, an ancient word dating back to Old English meaning smart or clever. But the origins of “keener” are much newer and more mysterious. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “keener” was used in the United States in the 1800s to mean someone who “drives a hard bargain” or is “in some way superior”, but this meaning of the word seems to have fallen out of use.

The first citations of “keener” in Canadian English appear in the 1970s. I found many examples in Canadian newspapers beginning around that time and continuing to today, but nothing earlier. How did “keener” enter Canadian English, and how did it come to be associated with being nerdy and overenthusiastic in class? These questions remain a mystery to me, but if you know anything more, let me know!

Who uses it?
Judging by all the people I have conversed with—starting from my friends at the department to my professors and housemates, “keener” is quite a popular word here in Canada. Unlike some classic Canadianisms that are falling out of use (“chesterfield”, anyone?), it seems to be used by almost everyone. It is not only popular, but its use is growing, according to a 2009 study on lexical variation in Toronto.

Did you know? (Because I certainly didn’t!)
Although “keener” in Canada means a zealous student, it does not have the same meaning in the rest of the world. Elsewhere, especially England and Ireland, “keener” is used to refer to someone who wails or sings for a dead person as a form of grieving. Hmm…Probably best to be careful while using this term outside of Canada.

That’s all for this week, folks! Tune in next Monday for another word of the week!


​Watch your Pro-noun-ciation

Date: January 29, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Have your "chickens" become "chekans"? In his latest Watchwords column, Mark Abley tackles readers' complaints about spoken language.

Pet peeves about how English is spoken (Montreal Gazette, Jan. 27)

​Adventures in Canadianisms

Date: January 25, 2017 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Noor-E Ferdous

[Editor's note: Adventures in Canadianisms is a series by Strathy Literary Intern Noor-E Ferdous, a master's student in the Department of English at Queen's University. This is the first in a series of posts by Noor on her experiences discovering Canadian English.]

Canada—the land of blistering cold winds and snow, of poutine and a Tim Hortons around every corner, with friendly people and their “thank you”s and “have a nice day”s. You’d think that these are things that would attract the childlike attention of a person who had travelled all the way from the warm and humid Bangladesh to Kingston (I mean okay, the weather was a bit of a shock for me, especially since the winters we have in Bangladesh would be considered fall weather here in Canada), but do you know what really stood out to me? The language!

The first time I came across a word that sounded strange to my ears was “loonie”, while grocery shopping at the Metro. After checking out a bag of Lays ketchup chips (God bless Canada for this amazing snack!) and paying in cash, the cashier handed me the receipt and a one dollar coin, “Here’s a loonie as your change! Have a nice day!” For a second, I thought she called me “loony” (and I could totally understand why she’d call me crazy—if she had actually known me, that is) but before I could even respond with an “Excuse me?”, I was pushed forward by the customer behind me. When my roomies later told me that “loonie” is used to refer to a dollar, I became curious about what other words are used by Canadians and how they came to be a part of Canadian English in particular rather than the global English vernacular.

While keeping an ear open in pretty much all situations and hearing snippets of words I’m assuming to be Canadian, I came to realize that my idea of Canadian English is not only quite limited, but also highly misconstrued. So, being the curious and slightly adventurous person that I am, I decided to embark on this quest to look for Canadianisms, their meanings and their origins.

Starting on Monday, I will bring you a new word each week for the next five weeks. I hope that you will join me on this adventure and have as much fun reading the entries as I do writing them! Stay tuned for our first word - "keener"!



Date: January 24, 2017 | Category: In the Media

This Newfoundland word challenge has participants truly stumped...


​Evolving English

Date: January 23, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Bad grammar or new grammar? Canadian English scholars weigh in on how language standards change.

Like correcting people? Then take up Latin. Why grammar Nazis aren't just annoying - they're often wrong (Jan. 14, National Post) [no longer available]


​Canadian Dialects

Date: January 17, 2017 | Category: In the Media

What does your pronunciation of "milk" or "Saturday" say about your origins? Even your pronunciation of "pronunciation"?! Western University linguistics student Michael Iannozzi gives the CTV News morning hosts a lesson in Canadian dialects.

[Media no longer available]



Date: January 17, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Can you pass the Newfoundland Word Challenge this week?



​Fascinating, Eh?

Date: January 17, 2017 | Category: In the Media

There are many interesting characteristics of Canadian English, but none seems to fascinate us, or English speakers elsewhere, more than "eh". Here's a nice new overview of the tag which draws on research by Jack Chambers and Elaine Gold.

Why do Canadians say "eh"? (Atlas Obscura, Jan. 10)


​How to Love Your Dictionary

Date: January 11, 2017 | Category: In the Media

The dictionary may be your friend, but as with any good relationship, you have to put in some effort to make it work.

Can you trust your dictionary? (The Walrus, Jan. 6)


​Linguistic Identities

Date: January 6, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Being a speaker of Canadian English often means grappling with multiple linguistic identities. In this piece from Victoria College's publication The Strand, Kathleen Chen reflects on her identity through the lenses of English, French and Mandarin.

(Un)learning the (un)spoken rules of language: Speaking my identity (The Strand, Jan. 4)



Date: January 4, 2017 | Category: In the Media

Don't be an oonshik when it comes to Newfoundland English vocabulary!


​Words of 2016

Date: January 2, 2017 | Category: In the Media

What are your words of 2016? Columnist Tristin Hopper shares his own candidates... old words that took on new lives in 2016, and which we may be happy to retire in 2017.

What's the matter snowflake? Are you too lit to adult?: The words that 2016 wrecked forever (National Post, Dec. 30) [no longer available]

Click here to read 2016 posts