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Word Nerd: We are a distinct society after all

The Oxford Companion to the English Language is missing an “s” at the end of its title.

OCEL has headings for over four hundred varieties of our multitudinous mother tongues, such as Australian English, Singapore English, and Black Vernacular English.

I’ve never even heard of some of the varieties, such as Babu English, which is described in the OCEL as “a mode of address and reference in several Indo-Aryan languages, including Hindi, for officials working for rajahs, landlords, etc.”

My mother tongue is actually one of the mutants listed in OCEL. To illustrate the particulars of this form of English, I’ve concocted the following paragraph which consists of many words and terms found in the OED that might only be understood by Canadians: “The party was attended by rubbies sporting Molson muscles drinking mickeys and Bloody Caesars. The food eaten by the hosers consisted of tourtieres and Nanaimo bars, along with poutine mostly uneaten and chucked down the garburator.” Some explanation may be in order. Rubby is defined in the OED as “an alcoholic who drinks an improvised intoxicant, such as rubbing alcohol…” Molson muscles is a jocular term for a paunch, mickey is defined as “chiefly Canadian, a small bottle of libation holding 3.75 ml.” and a Bloody Caesar, is a drink consisting of vodka, Clamato juice, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce that’s virtually unknown outside of Canada. It was invented in Calgary in 1969 by bartender Walter Chell. A hoser refers to a stupid, unsophisticated person and the term was popularized by the fictional McKenzie Brothers in their skit Great White North on SCTV. Surprisingly, poutine only made it into the OED in 2006; Nanaimo bar, originated in Nanaimo, B.C, in the 1950s. It is defined as a “dessert consisting of a base made from a mixture of crushed biscuits and covered with a vanilla buttercream filling and a chocolate glaze, served cut in squares.” A garburator is a waste disposal unit found underneath a sink designed to shred waste into small pieces that can pass through household plumbing. The OED adds that “the form Garberator is a proprietary name in Canada.”

The OED informs us that certain words take on distinct senses in Canada. Not surprisingly in Canada, bilingualism means more than speaking one language and refers to the government that promotes the use of French and English throughout large segments of the population. Acclamation also acquires a distinct Canadian sense when it is used to mean an election to an assembly without opposition or by unanimous or overwhelming support. Even adjectives can be Canadianized as is the case of impaired, when it refers to improper driving caused by alcohol or narcotics.

If you spend any amount of time with Americans, you’re likely to be apprised that part of your lexicon is quaint Canadianisms. For example, when an American is nauseous, she won’t reach for Gravol, but for Dramamine. And while Javex and Varsol may be Canadian household items, an American will not know what these terms mean and will reference them as chlorine bleach and mineral spirits respectively. The OED extends this point by listing the terms block heater and power bar as “chiefly Canadian.” In Canada, it is clear that a power bar refers to an electrical cord containing a number of outlets, whereas in the US, the OED informs us it could mean a proprietary name for a type of snack food and, in the past, to a tread on a tractor tire. Also, I was not aware that the term crowd-surfing originated in Canada. The OED defines it as “the action of lying flat while being passed over the heads of members at a rock concert, typically from jumping into the audience from the stage. Its first citation occurs in the Globe and Mail in 1989 but by 2002 we find its use in the New York Times.”

I was perplexed as to why the OED includes the term pocket rocket which is defined as “a nickname for a small person regarded as a very fast or energetic person (originally a nickname given to Canadian hockey player Henri Richard).” (Those who followed hockey in the 1950s will also recall the third hockey-playing brother, Claude Richard, known variously as Vest Pocket Rocket or Socket Pocket Rocket.)  Surprisingly, this term isn’t considered worthy of inclusion in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary which has a far larger collection of Canadian terms. On the other hand, the OED does not contain these jewels of Canadiana: all-dressed, smoked meat and shit-disturber, but worry not as I have appealed for their inclusion.

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