b Papa Dog's Blog: Talk Like a Canadian

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Monday, December 06, 2004

Talk Like a Canadian

Last – Ho Ho, was it? Yes, Ho Ho – Mama Dog and I spent an evening in the company of an old school chum or hers who has for years resided in Ireland. Though this chum was born and raised in Santa Barbara, her time in Ireland has given her voice a lilt. She no longer sounds quite like a Californian, nor in fact exactly like an American. Living abroad will do that for you.

I likewise have ended up, after 20ish years in the U.S., with a voice that’s neither quite fish nor fowl. Last time I talked to my cousin Mike, he accused me of having an American accent, but Americans are forever thinking my voice sounds like – something, they’re never quite sure what. Not American, anyway.

Part of the muddling of my accent was conscious and intentional. Word choices, for instance. You only have to receive so many blank stares from counterpersons upon your request for directions to the washroom before you start asking instead for the restroom.* I must also admit that I’ve consciously altered pronunciations as well. I started to say “record” as “reh-KERD” when I worked at a place where the word came up pretty much every day. I got tired of the looks of amazement on people’s faces when I was forced to reveal to them that they’d been saying it wrong all their lives.

I never did take to saying “sorry” as though it were a homonym for the Indian garment – thankfully that remains a regional variation even in this country, and there are still Americans who say it properly (as a rhyme for “gory”). That is, I didn’t take to the Indian garment pronunciation until it became a joke betwixt Mama Dog (who also says it properly). I made mocking use of as Midwestern a “sarry” as I could manage until eventually I didn’t notice I was doing it. Mama Dog worries now that I’ll teach the mispronunciation to Baby Dog, which is certainly a compelling reason for me to stop screwing around.

For her part, Mama Dog seems to delight in adopting Canadianisms. She learned as a teen-ager from a Canadian friend that a bum was an ass, and she knows that the last letter of the alphabet rhymes with Fred and really doesn’t work very well in the big finish of the ABC song. I try to give her more obscure regionalisms, dredging up the most inane slang terms I can remember from high school in northern Alberta. If you were a ditz back there and back then, for example, you were said to be “spinny.” A socially awkward (or perhaps retarded) person was for some reason a “dibbly.”

High school in Alberta being exactly like high school anywhere else, it was common practice between teenage boys to use the word “fag” as a catch-all imprecation. In theory, it meant “homosexual,” but in practice it could mean “idiot,” “jerkoff,” “person I don’t like,” or “hi there.” And of course there were a million synonyms in use, most of which you already know. The one that the youth of Alberta could claim for their own was “bumstabber,” shortened for handy use to “bumstab.” We were a classy lot.

Mama Dog’s favourite of my high school expressions, though, is “Just a-givin’ ‘er.” This is used to connote great energy or vigour being brought to bear in the performance of a task. So, if one of my little high school chums were to catch sight of a known homosexual of a flighty and darkish nature shovelling snow like a steam engine, he might be moved to say, “Look at that spinny bumstab dibbly. He’s just a-givin’ ‘er.” Thought probably not.

Today I second-guess my accent so much that I feel like I really can’t sound properly like a Canadian if I try. I don’t remember exactly how to say “house” naturally. The one thing I can always do when called upon, though – and the one thing that’s sure to reduce Mama Dog to helpless giggles, is my one-sentence impersonation of “dumb Canadian guy.” That’s when I put on my best Bob and Doug voice and say “Oh, geeze, eh?” It gets her every time. And no, I won’t do it for you, unless you’re Mama Dog. Or Canadian.
*Although I detest that particular euphemism. Does one really rest there? If one’s hiding in a stall instead of working, I suppose, but I’ve settled on “men’s room” as my compromise of choice.


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