Maritime-isms

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Posted: 
February 25, 2019
Written by: Natalie Ballard , Language Portal of Canada

If someone asked you to identify a dialect of Canadian English, the first to come to mind would undoubtedly be Newfoundland English, or “Newfinese.” And it’s no surprise, given Newfoundlanders’ array of colourful expressions, particular pronunciations and unconventional grammar.

However, head a little farther west to the Maritime provinces, and you’ll find that Maritimers also have a way of speaking all their own, one that could have you looking for an interpreter! Well, look no further, because as a Bluenoser, or native of Nova Scotia, I can help you decipher some key Maritime-isms and have you speaking like a local in no time.

Say you run into a Maritimer friend one afternoon, and he or she greets you with “What’re you sayin’?” The person doesn’t actually want to know what you are (or were) saying; after all, maybe you weren’t even talking! Rather, the person is asking what you’re up to. It’s the equivalent of “What’s up?” Equally confusing is the expression “What a sin!” If you hear that from a Maritimer, he or she is not expressing shock at someone’s wrongdoing. On the contrary, it’s a genuine expression of sympathy, as in “Aw, that’s terrible!” or “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

While you may not have known that Nova Scotians are called “Bluenosers” or that east of Quebec “a sin” means “a shame,” one thing you surely did know is that Maritimers are well known for their friendly, sociable nature. But don’t be mistaken: the “buddy” you hear us talking about or calling to is not necessarily our friend. In fact, “buddy” could be anyone from the man who lives up the street, to the guy ahead of us in line, to the bartender who just served us our Alexander Keith’s ... actually, if he’s a bartender, chances are he is our friend! See, we Maritimers, like the Irish, are also known to enjoy a few drinks!

But we don’t get our pints from buddy bartender. Instead, we go to the liquor store, because on the East Coast, a pint is not a 20-oz. glass of our favourite brew, but a 16-oz. bottle of liquor. Oh, and “beer” is a non-count noun. That’s right, whether we drink one or six, it’ll always be “beer,” not “beers,” to us.

Don’t worry, though, we don’t let that unused “s” go to waste. Instead, we add it to words like “anywhere,” “somewhere” and “anyway” (e.g., “I can’t find my car keys anywheres. Where’d you leave them, anyways?” “Somewheres over there.”) In keeping with the trend of dropping and adding letters, we also drop the “d” on “old,” “cold,” and “supposed” (e.g., “That ol’ car won’t start again, and she’s too col’ out there today to be lookin’ under the hood.” “Well, how am I suppose’ to get to work, then?”).

Who’s “she,” you’re wondering? “She” is the weather. Maritimers like to use the female gender to refer to inanimate objects and abstract nouns, so “she” could be your cup of coffee, your car, the weather, your luck, or anything else, really.

And if you can’t keep all of these Maritime-isms straight (because, let’s face it, they’re not exactly rooted in logic), just use “some” and “right” as adverbs for emphasis (e.g. “That lobster was some good” and “It’s right col’ out there today”), and soon strangers will be calling you “buddy”!

What unique expressions exist in your region of Canada? Share some of them with us in the comments section!

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

About the author

Natalie Ballard

Natalie worked as a translator at the Translation Bureau for five years before accepting an assignment as a language analyst at the Language Portal of Canada in 2015. She is a self-proclaimed language nerd (or “wordie,” as she prefers to be called) who enjoys sharing her love and knowledge of language with others.

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