55 Canadianisms: The Fallout and the Aftermath

Geek Culture
Canadianisms 1
Image by Jules Sherred.

National news headlines. Multiple radio interviews. A very honourable mention from the English department at the University of British Columbia.

This was just some of the “fallout” of the Canadianisms survey.

On October 1, 2013, when I decided to satisfy my curiosity regarding my use of Canadian English, I never imagined or anticipated the crazy bananas (in the best way possible) reception that would follow. My “55 Canadianisms” post was shared and discussed in various forums across the internet.

I’ve decided to share some of these experiences with you, plus address some of the most frequently asked questions and comments, because I simply am unable to address the thousands of comments left around the internet. Doing so as a new post seems to make the most sense.

For me, the most bizarre things started to occur once Tristin Hopper from the National Post interviewed me and wrote a very fab article about me and the Canadianisms post. If you are outside of Canada, the National Post newspaper is a pretty big deal. This article was syndicated in a number of newspapers in British Columbia and Alberta. Next, came an article by the CBC (the CBC is to Canada what the BBC is to the UK). Then came many radio interviews, which I was very happy to do. Sadly, I had to turn down a national TV news interview because, while all of this is happening, I’m also down with influenza, which resulted in laryngitis.

The radio interviews included:

–          CBC Radio One in B.C. for the B.C. Almanac radio show. That interview is available as a podcast.

–          CJAD Radio in Montreal, Quebec, where I was interviewed by Dan Laxer during a drive time show.

–          The Bill Good Show on CKNW based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. That interview is available as a podcast. My segment begins at about 19:58.

–          CBC Radio One in Saskatchewan for the Blue Sky radio show.

–          The Todd Veinotte Show in News 88.9, heard in Atlantic Canada.

–          The Kingkade & Kelly show in Calgary, Alberta, on News Talk 770.

Never in my wildest imagination did I think a post about Canadian English would skyrocket the way it did. I did the survey to satisfy my own curiosity and shared the results to satisfy the curiosity of those who were wonderful enough to participate. When I was on the Kingkade & Kelly show in Calgary, on News Talk 770, we decided to speculate about why people, Canadians in particular, were so thirsty for this type of information; information deemed worthy enough to make national headline news.

In the end, we decided that it is the result of Canadians, as a general rule, who like it when the things that make us “goofy” and unique are reinforced. While there are some things that we do share with not only our neighbours to the south, but also our Commonwealth brothers and sisters, Canada is also a unique country, with a unique culture, and unique language that is an interesting mix of “proper Queen’s English” and American English. Sometimes this is overlooked, not only by the world at large, but also by Canadians.

There were a number of questions and comments that I wish I had the time to address, never mind being healthy enough to do so. I also found it very interesting to see the amount of bickering over “toque” versus “tuque,” as well as “gotch” versus “gitch” versus “gonch.” My previous comment may sound negative, but I sincerely mean it to be a positive statement. I find it absolutely fascinating the things we, as Canadians, decide to fight over. Overall, most of the comments I read were quite positive. Considering the nature of the internet, I found this to be pretty amazing.

I saw a number of comments from people wishing they had more information on my methods and some who thought I approached people directly for this survey. I think this comment is important to address here, even though I was asked the same question, and answered it, in all of the interviews.

I didn’t approach a single person for this survey, because, unintentionally, I would have most likely approached people who speak in a similar fashion to me. I created it in Google Docs. Then, I tweeted a link to the survey, which didn’t include images, and posted it on Google+, asking non-Canadians if they wouldn’t mind taking a few minutes to complete the survey, testing them on their knowledge of “Canadianisms.” No one was able to see the results after they filled out the survey, leaving them completely in the dark as to how others were responding.

Once I had just over 100 responses from non-Canadians, I shared it again, this time asking Canadians if they wouldn’t mind helping. Because this was purely a vanity project, once I reached the 17, 000 data points threshold, I stopped sharing the link and began sorting the data. Eight of the 10 provinces were represented in the survey: B.C. (eight people), Alberta (13 people), Saskatchewan (three people), Manitoba (one person), Ontario (19 people), Quebec (one person), Newfoundland and Labrador (two people), and Nova Scotia (five people). No one from the three Canadian territories decided to participate.

Another frequent comment was that I forgot words. I didn’t forget them. I simply haven’t used words like “Duo-Tang” or “double double” when speaking with Americans, because it simply hasn’t come up. Other words mentioned are included in the downloadable full report which includes all 82 words on the original survey. I will say that immediately after sharing the link to the survey, I facepalmed because I did forget “First Nations.” But, when I was creating the survey, I was quickly thinking of words. Once I realised I was at 82 words, I stopped.

People have said I should do another one. I really wish I had the time and resources to do so. However, the first survey took just over two months to sort and write. I simply do not have the time, as much I would love doing another.

Finally, I want to address a number of people who decided the survey was worthless because it wasn’t rigorously scientific, or because it didn’t match their own personal experiences, or who made comments similar to:

Given sample size, the survey results lack statistical significance. At best it represents American familiarity with idioms the surveyor considers Canadian, with a massive margin of error.

One of the first things I addressed in my Canadianisms article was that it was far from scientific. The article was based on my personal experience. It was simply for fun and done on a lark. It is one of the reasons I’m finding the large reception to be so bizarre, as I did it to satisfy my own curiosity and that of others who took the time to participate. Also, I find the subject matter to be rather fascinating and thought other language nerds would also find it fascinating.

That said, even though I knew the resulting snapshot wouldn’t be rigorously scientific, thanks to lack of resources and sample size, the way in which I approached it (I was blind to who was participating, the participants were blind as to how others were responding), it was enough for me to think, “Okay. So these words may actually be quite common and they’re not just ‘Jules-isms,’ as some of my non-Canadian friends would say.”

But, the best “fallout” came when the Department of English at University of British Columbia posted the following on their English Language Studies blog:

This blogger (Jules Sherred), not a professional linguist, has done quite a good job identifying a number of new Canadianisms (by using a survey questionnaire).

Most all of these will appear in the forthcoming Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, 2nd edition, forthcoming from the University of British Columbia Canadian English Lab:

Personally, I cannot wait for this volume to be published. I’m quite curious as to what “most all of these” words will be making an appearance. I suppose I was much more accurate with my findings than I gave myself credit for, and they’re not “idioms.” As a language nerd, having the English Department at one of the best universities in Canada say, “quite a good job,” caused me to squee, just a wee bit.

All said and done, it was a very interesting way to end 2013. I want to thank everyone who got excited by this story, who shared it, and who discussed it with much passion. I really wish I could address even more than what I’ve addressed above and respond to everyone individually, but there really are not enough hours in the day. I also want to thank everyone, once again, who participated in the survey.

The response has been very overwhelming, especially while being on holiday, and juggling family and influenza.

Thanks for geeking out with me over a little piece of Canadian culture.

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8 thoughts on “55 Canadianisms: The Fallout and the Aftermath

  1. Bravo! As a transplanted Canadian (from Ontario) living in the U.S. (New England) for ten years now, I really enjoyed this list.

    I’ve gotten used to using college instead of university, not asking “where did you go to school?” (Americans answer with their high school), saying 2nd grade rather than grade 2. My kids think it’s hilarious when I refer to things like the garburator, a knapsack, or pencil crayons. Have to admit I didn’t even realize that no-one here says “turfed out” or “chocolate bar”! Oops.

    When I first moved here I asked for the washroom in a museum and the guide said “well, we don’t have a washroom but you could wash up in the restroom I guess” So funny!

    Other words that come to mind that people have either looked at me blankly about or outright laughed at are:
    Marks (for grades in school)
    He thinks he’s a big muckety muck (important person)
    A rubby (homeless person lying on sidewalk)
    Elastics (hair ties & rubber bands)
    Hydro (for electricity ie. “we have no hydro because of the storm”)
    Autoroute (highway)

    And yes my husband laughs like a little kid every time he sees “homo” milk when we visit family in Canada.

    Thanks for the great work! It’s always nice to have a little reassurance that it’s not just me that’s crazy, there is a whole country full of people who talk this way…

    1. You’re welcome! I glad you enjoyed it.

      I don’t know if you downloaded the full list of 82 words, but “marking” (the things teachers to do papers, exams, etc.) is on the list. So is elastics and washroom.

  2. Born and raised in BC, I use bathroom and washroom interchangeably for both public and private facilities. I use bathroom most of the time, actually, sticking to washroom if I’m trying to be more polite.

    1. Actually, now that I think about it, if I were at a restaurant, I would tell my friends I was going to the bathroom, but then ask the waitress where to find the washroom. Huh.

  3. I wanted to comment that I had actually used the previous article (although I think I had pulled it from a different site) to help me with the Canadianisms I used when writing the web series “The Canadians”. It’s a spoof satire about two married American spies posing as Canadians during a fictional US Cold War with Canada. I thought I would share this with you all as you might enjoy it: http://a.co/16Mxqxu

    (If you’re in Canada, the link may not work, but look up “The Canadians” in Amazon Video 🙂

    1. Hey Katie! Thanks so much for letting me know! This is amazing! Yes I’m in Canada and the show doesn’t appear to be available yet for us, but I’ll be sure to keep checking for availability.

      1. Hi Jules, thank you so much for the quick reply! I am honored that you tried to check it out 🙂 I was told by my distributor that it was live in Canada as of October 18th last year, so that is frustrating! Are you an Amazon Prime subscriber? Maybe that could be it …

        Luckily, we are also on Funny or Die in case you would like to give it another try: http://www.funnyordie.com/thecanadians

        Thanks again!

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