What’s in a Word?

I’ve always liked language, which could explain why I love to read, why I’m a journalist and tell stories to other people for a living. Language has always fascinated me, especially its evolution.

For example: My nephew came over the other day, and being that he is just over 1 year old, he is starting to attempt to make sounds and words. He doesn’t say much, but what he does, he says a lot!

As of now, his new favorite words are “bubble” and “apple,” with the standard “mama” and “dada” thrown in every now and then for a bit of variety. Watching him discover the different sounds that make up words in the English language is fascinating.

But, having spoken English since I was a young kid, it has made me wonder more about the language itself and the little idiosyncrasies that pop up everywhere you go across the world.

Take my home, Canada.

Since Canada is so close to the United States, it is understandable that they heavily influenced our language. However, we were also proud members of the British Commonwealth (and still are), so we also put in a bit of British into our language as well. Put those into a pot, add some maple syrup, a hockey stick and a dash of snow, and you’ve got Canada!

But, like any species left alone to the forces of change, the Canadian language started to evolve and reflect more and more of our beliefs and history until new words began popping up in our vocabulary. Slowly but surely, unique words began to worm their way into our language and become speech staples that Canadians use every day without thinking.

Those little words and phrases that are unique or different are almost like a bit of shorthand for the people in that country, but outsiders can become immensely confused. As a kid, realizing that not everyone knew how to get a “Timbit,” what “poutine” is, or what a “kerfuffle” is, can be a bit of a shock.

That is very first hint that the world is much bigger than you can possibly comprehend at that moment, and opens up great new worlds of imagination and brilliance. Eventually, you uncover the notion that while not everyone is identical, each person is unique and different.

That grand realization can change your point of view forever.

For example, here’s a bit of Canadian language to test you and your friends with (as long as neither of you are Canadian!):

Do you know what a “toque” is (pronounced as: tuke)?
What about “pop,” “serviette” and “garburator”?
What are “loonies,” “toonies,” and “beaver tails”?
And finally, what does “eh” (pronounced “ayyy”) mean?

The answers for what the words mean be found below.

There are lots of words out there that may mean something to you and your neighbors, but not to anyone else in a different country that speaks the same language. Pay attention to what you say, and you’ll be surprised how often these words come up!

Feel free to add some of your favorites in the comments.

Answers:
Toque – A knit or woolen cap usually worn in the winter
Pop– Carbonated non-alcoholic soft drinks like Pepsi or Coke. If you ask for “soda,” you’ll probably get soda water
Serviette – A napkin (from the French word for napkin)
Garburator – A garbage disposal found in your sink
Loonie – The Canadian one-dollar coin (so named because of the loon on it)
Toonie – The Canadian two-dollar coin
Beaver tails – Flat pastries that are deep-fried and resemble the tail of a beaver with a wide assortment of toppings including ice cream, powdered sugar and chocolate
Eh – Usually placed at the end of a sentence, akin to saying “right?” or “don’t you think”?

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Comments (2)

  1. Anonymous

    “couch” is another good one

  2. Daniel Manly

    Here are a few that I like:
    chesterfield
    Knapsack
    Homo Milk (In the US it is known as Whole Milk)
    Mountie
    And finally
    Newfie/Newf

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