If you were out gallivantin' just west of Ottawa lately, chances are you were greeted by a hearty G'day, g'day. Maybe you stopped to quaff a pint at a local pub. Or maybe you dropped in at your grandmother's house in Antrim—"Take off your hat an' stay a while," she chirped, "an' I'll put the kittle on." These and many other colourful expressions belong to a regional dialect of Canadian English quaintly called the Ottawa Valley twang.
So how did the twang come to be? In the 19th century, thousands of Irish, Scottish, French, German and Polish immigrants settled in and around Ottawa. In fact, most inhabitants of the region west and north of Ottawa in the 1850s were immigrants who lived in relative isolation before the railways were built. It wasn't long before this isolated, mixed population gave rise to the distinctive Ottawa Valley twang.
Also known as the Ottawa Valley accent or brogue, the twang is therefore a blend of many languages. With its distinct lilt, the nasal twang is said to be the tightest, most close-mouthed speech in Canada. Speakers tend to roll their r's slightly, end their sentences with an upward inflection and use short and soft vowels, like the i in kittle.
Some of you might remember Lorne Greene, the Canadian actor who played Ben Cartwright in the television series Bonanza. In reference to an interviewer's remark about his resonant speaking voice, Mr. Greene, an Ottawa native, had this to say: "I was raised in the Ottawa Valley, where the people are a mixture of Scotch, Irish, French, Indian and several other backgrounds. The dialect there is so thick that it's almost another tongue. Words like 'about' become 'a-boot.'" This sure wasn't your typical cowboy drawl! 1
While many languages helped to shape the twang, most English-speaking immigrants to the Valley were from Ireland, so the twang is most closely related to Irish. And talking and storytelling are as valued in the Ottawa Valley as they are in Ireland. So it comes as no surprise that the twang is peppered with colourful expressions that reflect the lives of nineteenth-century Irish farmers and lumberjacks and their descendants. Although many of these expressions are dated, you can still hear people from the rural regions of the Ottawa Valley using them. So whether you're from Calabogie or Camrose, the following "Valleyisms" are sure to make you chuckle.
bar the right leg (at Thanksgiving, for example): place first dibs on a turkey leg
chug a mickey: drink a 375 ml flask of liquor quickly
do the Ottawa Valley two-step: stagger wildly while drunk
gallivantin': gadding about
g'day, g'day: good day, hello
get'er: go after it
going to the show: going to the movies
how's she goin', lad?: how are you?
it'd knock a hound off a gut wagon: said about something very disgusting
let'er whistle: go fast
let's give'er a go: let's try it out
moolie: cow without horns
not having enough on to wad a gun: not being dressed warmly enough
quaff a pint: have a beer
take off your hat an' stay a while: you are welcome to visit
talking through your hat: exaggerating or lying
twofer or two-four: a case of beer
up the line a tad: north or northwest of the current location
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Od's Blog! – " 3Home Thoughts from a Far Piece Down the Line". – November 25, 2006.