By James Fife
Ever since I was a small kid, I was aware of differences in dialect. I observed how, after we moved from Massachusetts to California, my parents used some very odd phrases and words that drew blank stares from those unfamiliar with the New England idiom. Everyone back in 1960 (when Kennedy was elected president) knew the stereotyped Boston accent ("Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd."), just as we down south are aware of the Canadian "aboot the hoose." But my parents’ using words like "tonic" and "package store" left Californians bewildered.
Recently, I tried to track down some equivalent, uniquely Canadian lexical items. I did this partly out of professional interest as a former theoretical linguist, but also as part of my current crash course to make up for 58 years of being ignorant that I am Canadian. Linguists are not always useful for practical things, but they are often given assignments in teaching languages. So my academic experience as a teacher showed me that the best way to learn a language is to use it intensively, not just in isolated phrases.
In that light, I constructed a little story where I could employ as many of my newly discovered Canadian phrases as possible, and in proper context. The result is not very realistic linguistically. It combines some regional English terms with Quebec argot with Chinook jargon. It’s kind of a ‘super-Canadian’ amalgam of phrases from all over the country. But it will all mystify Americans, the same way my parents’ Yankeeisms did in Southern California. Since readers of the Beacon may well just use some of these words without realizing they pass right over many Americans’ heads, I have underlined the Canadianisms for easy identification.
At least three days a week while we're in residence at Home North, I am up at crow piss to go on an extended walk to the Breakwater. As this is the Wet Coast of Canada, I put on over my gitch several layers of clothes and wear my waterproof runners, just in case of a booter, and my wool toque.
Marilyn is still in blanket harbour, but I ask if she wants to come along and see the sunrise. I hear some mumbles from under the duvet that sound a lot like "mange-tu du pain blanc." But I don't have a hairy canary about it and just say "gotta head 'er" and take off for my walk.
There's a skookum wind down on Dallas Road and the salt chuck looks pretty tyee. I decide it's not a fit day for a fence post and head back quickly. I'm pretty chilled by the time I get home and feel ready for a double-double to go with my raised chocolate. Marilyn's up now, and when she finishes running the garburator, I ask about what we should do today. I suggest we could go crop checking out toward Sooke, or beyond, to those little places on the way to Jordan River that look like where God buried his socks. Or maybe a cultus cooley through Beacon Hill Park. But we settle on a trip into town.
I strip out of my walking clothes and leave 'er where Jesus flang 'er. Marilyn is piling on layers of jumpers against the 'frigid' 15° weather, so I accuse her of being a mangia cake. I'm putting on shorts with thongs and my T-shirt with the preamble of the U.S. Constitution on the front. For her part, Marilyn accuses me of wearing the full Nanaimo for spread eagle effect. But I don't usually make strange about my American connections, any more than about my Canadian ones, so I tell her "ferme ton gorlot" and leave it at that.
We head down the Causeway and along Wharf Street. We pass the Sally Ann and go into the thrift store to check out the latest offerings. Some may think only a rubby or someone on the pogey would shop there. But we find a lot of great heritage stuff for only a loonie or a toonie. But it's true there's also a lot of kétaine junk that only a joual would call a treasure. Still we've found items in the resale stores that are cheap and in great condition, and that's better than a slap in the belly with a dead fish.
After we have wearily visited every antique store along Fort Street, stopped by to say hi to Cody, and traversed the length of Cook Street, I'm ready for lunch. So, I boneyize a stop at Big Wheel. Marilyn is in agreement and exclaims, "Give 'er." We both get a banquet burger, of course all dressed, with fries. It's a lot, and I'm wondering if Marilyn can get outside all that. Over lunch we discuss some of the cheechakos at my office: a couple keeners and couple who are as sharp as a beach ball.
When we get home again, we are tired and sated. I'm not sure now I'll have room for the KD we had planned for dinner. But I'm happy—basking in the knowledge that I spent the whole day using so much Canada-speak. I am so impressed by my feat that je vais me pèter les bretelles. It gives me hope I might one day not sound like such a kabluna and more like a real Johnny Canuck. Now wouldn't that jar your preserves?