A literary and scientific analysis of an iconic Canadian colloquialism.
An Investigation and Explanation of the word, Eh.
and how to use it
The History of Eh
Think “Eh” is exclusively Canadian, eh? Well it’s not. The word eh is in fact found around the world. New Zealand, Australia, Wales and America (where it’s disguised as, Huh). It just so happens that we, as Canadians, are more adept at using the word eh, it in a variety of colourful ways.
The word eh has a rich history in literature including, but not limited to the prose of Bob & Doug Mackenzie. The first recorded literary use of “eh” (spelled ey) appears in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written somewhere between A.D. 1387 and 1400.
Hemmingway, Dickens, Arthur Miller, J.D. Salinger and George Bernard Shaw all used the word eh in their works at some point. Of course looking at that list, it’s possible they were all drunk at the time.
“Let this cup pass from you, eh?”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Yup. So to all of you Americans who make fun of the Canadian, eh, even To Kill a Mockingbird was infiltrated with the eh. And you can’t get much more American than To Kill a Mockingbird, huh?
An interjection or exclamation used within or at the end of a sentence. Has a variety of meanings often differentiated by placement in sentence and tone of speech used when saying it.
Ways to Use the Word, Eh.
1. As a spoken question mark.
Hey gramma! Jimmy only paid a buck for that beaver dam, eh?
2. As a way to say I didn’t hear you.
Eh? You say, Jimmy shot the f*ck outta that beer can?
3. As opinion confirmation.
So … you never got your hearing aid fixed, eh?
4. As an mid sentence interjection.
I don’t know anything about an earring raid, eh, but if I hear anything I’ll let you know. Are they taking everyone’s earrings or just the ones made out of beer cans?
This of course has been the most rudimentary of lessons in the Canadian useage of Eh. Not wanting to confuse you all with the finer intricacies of the word I’ve kept things simple.
So lessons learned? There are many ways to use the word eh. All different, all with their own finely finessed nuances. Eh can caress the middle of a sentence, punctuate the end of one, or carefully, casually, ever so politely, seek an agreement of opinion. Which is very Canadian, eh?
And, although Canadians are the most prolific with their use of the word eh, it is indeed seen around the world from Wales to Australia to the America.
So even though it seems possible, don’t count on always being able to identify someone as being Canadian based solely on the way they speak. Believe it or not some of us don’t even use the word eh. Ever. We could be in your midst. In your schools, your stores, your churches and synagogues. And you wouldn’t even know it. Without the eh, there’s nothing to give our identity away.
Now. If you’ll excuse me. I’m aboot to finish cleaning my hoose.
Happy Canada Day, eh.
O.K. Technically Canada Day was yesterday (Sunday), what with Sunday being July 1st, but today is the official Canada Day holiday. And by holiday I mean official, government sanctioned, day off to do whatever I want.