Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Only in Canada, You Say: A Treasury of Canadian Language by Katherine Barber

Books Completed: 20
Completion Date: January 20, 2009
Pages: 288
Publication Date: March 15, 2007

Reason for Reading: I live in Canada and I was curious! New Author Challenge. 2nd Canadian Challenge.

Ask any Canadian about a distinctly Canadian form of English, and most will offer an enthusiastic Bob-and-Doug-McKenzie 'eh' in response. A passionate few might also bring up the colour vs. color debate or our pronunciations of 'out' and 'about'. And some may point to the ubiquitous Canadian toque as evidence of a language that is all our own. If this is your idea of Canadian English, then it might surprise you that Katherine Barber, Editor-in-Chief of the best-selling Canadian Oxford Dictionary and author of the best-selling Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do With Pigs, has written a new book filled with nothing but made-in-Canada vocabulary. Only in Canada You Say highlights more than 1,200 words and phrases that are unique to our neck of the woods. Did you know, for example, that every time you ask for Gravol at the drug store, you're using a word that is unknown anywhere else? That those tasty butter tarts your mother used to make don't exist beyond our borders? Or that there are three distinctly Canadian sex words? And jokes about living in the Great White North aside, it is still pretty interesting to discover that there are 17 Canadian words for ice! Organized thematically, Only in Canada You Say covers Canadian English from coast to coast to coast, with sections dedicated to the things we love to do, where we live, how we get around, and what we wear. The entertaining and informative introductions to each section provide a fresh, often eye-opening, perspective on the reality of Canadian English from Canada's own 'Word Lady', Katherine Barber. Only in Canada You Say maybe 'eh' is just the beginning of this story! '
I always love a good book about Canada, so when I saw this reviewed somewhere I added it to my wish list. It just happened to be on the page that I chose for my library browsing, and the library had it, so I was very happy to finally get around to reading it! Canadian language is an entertaing thing, apparently. I highly enjoyed this book, and I would actually like to own my own copy! I was really surprised about the words that I hear or say all the time that are mostly only said in Canada. They are just common wording for me. I mean, I have always been proud of the fact that I am a Bluenoser (live in Nova Scotia) and that I am a Canuck (I think this one people know). Now, I know some of the words that I use that others might not.

The way this book works is it is broken into large sections and then those large sections are broken into related smaller sections. At the beginning of each large section, the author talks about some of the words that are going to be included in this topic. The intros are actually pretty funny because she says things that I would never even think about. Canadianisms are just common to me, so I never considered what it would sound like for people that are not Canadian to hear them. This goes beyond 'eh', of course. I know that is the most common word associated with Canada, and I have to say, I live in Canada and I hardly ever say 'eh'. It is more common in Central Canada, I think, but I could be wrong!

The first section in the book is called "Canadians Say the Darndest Things". This was probably my favourite section because I found myself trying to remember if I have ever said them before or heard them before. Some are of a historical notion, like 'fuddle duddle', which is claimed to be what Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said in Parliament one day instead of a profanity. Not a phrase I have used before, but one that I have heard. One of my favourite, and one that I might have uttered before, is 'holy jumpin'. I was also surprised about some of the ones that come from Atlantic Canada. She says that 'sook/sookey baby' is from my neck of the woods. I just assumed everyone says that! Oh, and I said that quite often when I was younger. I am not sure if I have had much reason for it in later years. Then, there is phrases like: 'done like dinner' or 'go to the washroom'. I have used both of those before.

Then, she moves on to Geography, which includes things like the weather. I was really surprised that the phrase 'spring break-up' is largely Canadian. I am looking forward to the 'spring break-up' right about now! The food and drink topic was another favourite. I was both surprised, and not, by food that is Canadian. I know that 'rappie pie' was largely Canadian, but I didn't think about 'butter tarts' or 'blueberry grunt' being only from around here. (Butter tarts are no big loss, but blueberry grunt is awesome! Unless, well, I cook it... It didn't turn out so well.) Drinks was the same. I know that 'double-double' is from Tim Hortons fame, but I was surprised it was Canadian to say 'two-four'. (Believe me, I have heard two-four my entire life! It was particularly common during my university years.)

I learned a lot from this book. I took special note about words and phrases that are supposed to be from my neck of the woods. There were a lot I have never heard before, so no idea who says them! Then, there is the obvious ones like the 'loonie' and the 'toonie'. I know when I was little, I was in the U.S. and my sister asked at a store for a 'loonie'. The man working had no idea what she was talking about! So, if you want to know more about crazy Canadians, this is a great book to see just how different we really are! For those that live in Canada, though, it is just as interesting. I am very glad I took the time to read it, and I probably will have to add a copy to my household in the future.


  1. Awesome! I give my husband books on being Canadian - he is a dual citizen and grew up mostly in England (he was born here but left early in his childhood) so that he can figure out what we're saying sometimes! I'll have to get this, so you're getting a point, bad blogger! :-) I'm also trying to figure out what expression I use that is tendency is to pick up what I hear, so I use English expressions sometimes now, like 'done for' (as in, 'I've had it - I'm done for, tired, at the end of it) - it's the only one I can think of tonight! of course...I love hearing the different words - chips and french fries are another....and I say two-four, had no idea it was just us! thanks, Kailana :-) great review.

  2. Growing up in Ont. I always thought two-four was normal everyday language as was the holiday The May Two-Four Weekend.

    But then I moved to Alberta and they don't sell two-fours there so nobody knows what you're talking about and May two-four is simply called Victoria Day or the May long weekend.

    I'd like to know the three Canadian words for sex, though! LOL

  3. PS. I use words that my husband, from Saskatchewan, doesn't have a clue what I'm saying or just thinks are weird. But I don't know if they are Ontario words or English words since I was born in England and my parents, obviously, are English. Words and phrases like "fish and chips" "tidy up" "give over" "out or nout" "anarak" "chesterfield" and I know there are lots more but that's all that comes to my head right now.

  4. This sounds like a fun read! They don't have two-fours across the country? Surprising.

    Like Nicola, I want to know those 3 words. hehehe

  5. I guess since the US and Canada are so close together, I always forget that you guys have a completely separate culture from us. It's very neat though!

    I have an award for you here.

  6. Anonymous12:06 PM

    I read this for the first Canadian challenge, and now want to go back and thumb my way through it again. It certainly is interesting to see what we say that is a "Canadianism". (And I will admit that I use the word "eh" fairly frequently.) Hope you can get your own copy soon!

  7. Susan: ha ha! I hope your husband enjoys the book! I got my copy from the library, but I think I will probably buy it before long.

    Nicola: We say two-four here. I hear it quite often! You know, the problem with this book is I read Righting the Mother Tongue at around the same time, so I find that things are all running together in my head and I can't remember which book said what thing! As to the sex words, great initiative to read the book, right?

    Chris: It was fun to learn the differences between American and Canadian language. I was surprised by some of the words that were uniquely our own!

    Tink: We try to have a separate culture, but I don't know how well it works at times. A lot of the words in this book aren't really common anymore with the technological age and television and things. American culture is spilling over.

    Court: Yep, it was you that inspired me to read this book. I am glad I did, it was really interesting!

  8. Anonymous7:51 PM

    That looks like a fascinating book - thanks for the review, I am going to try and get my hands on a copy once I am done with Canada Reads.

  9. This looks awesome! I love books like this, I think it was Nimbus Press that published some good slang/language books exclusive to the provinces in the 1980's.

    I don't find I say eh too much, but I notice that saying b'y is getting quite normal now. My accent isn't too heavy, although if I talk too fast I get a heavy Liverpool sound - "Ah can drive the cah".

    I never knew two-four was Canadian, but I did know that 'mickey' was. But the best is calling a hoodie a 'bunny-hug' :)

  10. You meant darnedest, not darndest. (It means “most darned,” not “most darnd.”)

    Your single quotation marks are British, not Canadian. Periods and commas go inside. It would help if you weren’t using neutral quotes, too. 'holy jumpin''. was a particularly unpleasant usage.

    Eh is a Canadianism only in mid-sentence uses like “So I was doing 110 on the Gardiner, eh, and this guy in an Escalade cuts me off!” Tag-question eh is used worldwide.

  11. Melanie: I hope you enjoy it!

    Joanne: Yeah, bunny hug was one of my favourite discoveries in the book. I don't know why! lol I enjoy books like this too!

    joeclark: Uh, thanks for the proofreading. I am the worst for writing up my reviews fast and then not rereading them... I fixed some of the obvious ones.

  12. This does sound like a lot of fun. I think I missed out though growing up in Manitoba and then moving to B.C. because I don't know half the words or phrases you said you're familiar with like two-four, sook, and rappie pie. I had to look them up! LOL.

  13. Wonderful review! This sounds like such a fun book. I'm adding it to my TBR.

  14. tanabata: There are terms that are common to the west, so I am sure that you will find out a lot of interesting things if you read this book! Since I don't live out west, I mostly tried to concentrate on the part of the country that I live in or this would have been a very long review!

    Teddy: I hope you enjoy it! It was a good read!


Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

I am so sorry, but I turned anonymous commenting off. I have had it from the very beginning, but that is how the spam is getting by my spam filter at the moment. If it is a big deal I will turn it back on and moderate all comments. I also changed moderation from older than 14 days to older than 7.