A Canada Day Lesson

 

 


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?

Eh

Pronunciation: /aye/

definition

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.


 


45 Comments

  1. Amanda says:

    Have a good holiday, eh! I got to say I grew up watching Strange Brew and never even knew they were canadian until I re-watched it as an adult. LOL mostly I liked the flying dog at the end…

    I do thank you for your basic explanation of the word, eh. It is much nicer to hear than the latest round of grammer in America which is just shortening words like your too lazy to pronounce syllables… and the word is “brother”… I can even stand “bro” but my “bra” is underwear not another person!
    sooooo anyway have a great federal holiday tomorrow!

  2. I am born, bred and whole heartedly Canadian but I live in the US. I laugh when my new people point out how much I say “eh” (which isn’t all that much in comparison to the eastern Canadians; I’m from BC.) The amount of times I hear an American say “huh” far outweighs the amount of times I hear a Canadian say “eh.”

    • Deborah says:

      That is SO true Lindsay, especially if you follow NASCAR like I do :D. The Americans also have a lock on “I tell you what…” (spoken with a very pronounced Southern drawl)

  3. Beckie says:

    eh! I have earrings made out of beer cans!

    true story, eh?

    ((did I do that right??))

  4. Laura Bee says:

    It’s going to be a beauty day, eh? I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed reading this – maybe more!

  5. Tracy says:

    The funniest thing I’ve heard about “eh” was in a joke (that is much better said aloud rather than written). The joke goes like this: Before Canada became Canada, they got together to pick a name. Nobody had a great suggestion. So they decided to draw letters out of a box and use those letters to create their new name! Everyone was excited and agreed! The person appointed to draw came up on stage and reached into the bucket for the first letters. The Scribe’s fingers trembled as the first letter was called out: “C, eh!”

    • Karen says:

      Tracy – THAT’S hilarious! Love it. ~ karen

    • Spokangela says:

      Nice work Tracy 🙂 I was going to tell that joke!!! My stepson just told it to me which consequently means it’t the only joke I know right now. I only have room in my head for one joke at a time.

  6. turktime says:

    Ya’ll talk funny! Ha!

  7. I’ve never heard that joke…and that is hilarious…N,eh! Hahaha! Very informative, and of course, super funny post, eh!

  8. Barb says:

    I’m a Yank but my ex was Canadian, one of my few fond memories of him was when he said “eh” (which was often) I would respond “B”. To which he would respond “C”. Sometimes we would end up going thru the entire alphabet. He also set Canadian & US relations back 100 yrs by correcting our Yank friends on the pronuciation of “Canuck”, when they pronounced it “Canook”, he’d say “No, it’s Canuck, like “yuck”, hmmmm, eh.

  9. Susan says:

    I don’t know nothin’ bout the word eh…but your explanation killed me! Sounds like a conversation in my family when my mother (who wears hearing aids) is present! ….pass the catsup…” The cat shit? Where?!” ……Seems like that was the last conversation drift! Sound familiar,eh?:-) Happy Canada Day!

  10. Kathryn says:

    Where I am – on the island far off the East Coast – no one says “eh”, lots of “hey” and “whatyat” 😉

  11. jojo says:

    So, Canada Day (July 1) is being celebrated on July 2.

    You have no idea how many people have asked me when we (in NY) are celebrating July 4. Not asking about Independence (US) Day… but when are we observing July 4. My answer, with the straightest of faces, is that we will observe July 4 on July 4. Tricky, eh?

    • Shannon V. says:

      Canada Day is July 1st….all the celebrations take place then but the 2nd is the stat holiday this year since the 1st fell on Sunday.

  12. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    We have a lot of different accents in the US..I like the way you Canadians talk..I miss Bob and Doug..Love Red Green too..eh..A Happy Canada Day to you & the Fella..

    • Karen says:

      Nancy – Here’s a funny fact. “Doug” of Bob and Doug grew up around 3 blocks away from me. Red Green lives about 10 minutes away from me. Martin Short … again … grew up in my city and Jim Carrey, about 15 minuts away. Clearly … something goin’ on in these here parts. ~ karen

  13. Barbie says:

    Thank you so much for the tutorial! I always wondered!

  14. candace says:

    I just recently visited Canada for the first time, and was extremely disappointed that I heard not one “eh” or “hoser.” I really had my hopes up.

  15. Anna says:

    Here in Michigan, we’ve got advanced methods of detecting Canucks: not only from the “eh”, but also the socks/sandals combo, the word “hawkee” (hockey), and as you said above, the proclivity to go “oot and aboot in a boat”…

    Happy Canada Day, Karen!

  16. Rita says:

    I thought the ‘eh’ was hilarious when I first moved to Canada over 30 years ago. One day I was teasing my brother-in-law about it and he ‘naturally’ denied that Canadians said it (much) until we drove down the 401 and saw a huge billboard sign advertising Export Eh! (cigarettes were allowed to be advertised back in the bad old days) 🙂

    • ally says:

      FYI – Export A (or eh) is beer, not a cigarette brand.
      And as a red-and-white blooded Canadian, I will freely admit to the use of ‘eh’ but I have never understand the ‘aboot’ comments because I don’t know anyone in Canada that says that. Head-scratcher. To add to the explanation, using ‘eh’ in a sentence allows you to shorten a conversation tremendously. For example, “Hot eh?” is much easier than “it’s really hot out isn’t it?”. “Crazy eh?” is much easier than “did you see that nutcase that just drove down the road weaving from side to side?”. See? It’s easy to use, eh?

  17. kelliblue says:

    heeey Karen howz it goin, eh? Happy Canada day and all that. Don’t be a hoser, eh.

    So being formerly from WisCANsin (which is how they pronounce my home state here in Texas), we didn’t say ‘eh’ but we did say ‘hey.’ A LOT.

    As in: ‘wow, it’s a cold one, hey?’ or ‘Imma gonna take a walk down dere by the river, dere hey.’ Dontcha know.

    I got made fun of mercilessly when I first moved to TX but oddly, when I now go home to visit, the first thing I notice is those wacky Fargo-esque accents. Of course *they* all think I have a TX accent….but nah…I just toss some y’alls and fixin to’s into my speech to weird people out. Ya, you betcha! 🙂

  18. Bonnie says:

    I loved your explanation of eh, but I really love hoose and aboot. However, I notice that you refer to U.S. residents as Americans. I thought Canadians were also Americans. I am so confused! Anyway, the best nonstandard word is y’all. So useful. Everyone should adopt it, eh?

    • Karen says:

      Hah! No. Canadian’s don’t refer to themselves as Americans. 🙂 ~ k

      • Gayla T says:

        What about N. Americans? Those living on the N. American Continent? Aren’t we all N. Americans? I think those of us in the US think that.

  19. Bonnie says:

    Maybe all of those Americans were saying “huh” because they couldn’t understand what you were saying, eh? Not me, I’m just sayin.

  20. Gayla T says:

    I wasn’t going to say anything being the polite reserved person that I am but you’uns do have a strange language.Some would almost think you are trying to speak English. Silly, eh? I did notice you very wierd spelling of the word color. You keep putting an extra letter in it. Whelp, you’uns would never get away with that here in the US because correct usage is a think we prize our selves on. Another tiny thing you’uns ot’ta work on is say’un or writing the word Yup. The word you are lookin for is Yep! That can even be carried out to it’s longer form, Yeppers. I know how much you have appreciated this little lesson but there is absolutely need in you sending me a thank you. I feel it is my duty as a true American to get you ready for the planned annex of Canada into our wonderful country. We have allowed as though we had forgotten the War of 1812. Nah, not us, not never! The real question is, what are we to do with them thar Frenchies? Now, they do talk wierd.

  21. Jimmie (girl, btw) says:

    I love this!!!
    I am currently importing my very own Canuck (married to the Dude — and seriously, he looks and sounds just like “The Dude”!) I am Texan, born and raised. BTW: “Y’all” is how it’s spelled.
    His favorite Texas word: Yonder. Yep, he had no clue what “yonder” meant when a ranch hand told him “that fence over yonder.”
    My favorite Canadian colloquialism: “Buddy” (Yes, he’s from Calgary). When we first met, um, yea, he was my boss — he would tell the guys on our crew “call Buddy” for this, “call Buddy” for that, get a “hold of Buddy”, etc. I kept thinking “who the hell is this Buddy guy because he’s really, really the heart of this crew and I haven’t met him yet.” Then The Dude told me to call Buddy for something and I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Who’s this Buddy guy? I havent’ met him and don’t know his number so how am I supposed to call him? My man first looked at me with the most stupified expression for about 4 seconds then burst into laughter and literally fell to the floor. I of course, just stared at him in exasperation and indignation.
    This is the moment The Dude fell totally and helplessly in love with me . . . . Me? Not so much. 😉

    (I am sure Karen gets this so I will explain to my fellow Americans) “Buddy” means “that guy”. You know, “Hey give ‘that guy’ a call, you know ‘that guy’ that does/knows/gets _____.” Or as the Dude says, “Buddy-what’s-his-face-you-know-the-other-feller”

  22. Robin says:

    Thanks for this comprehensive guide to “eh.” I think that in the future, I’m not going to bother explaining, I’m just going to refer folks to your post here!

  23. Pat says:

    Yup, ‘buddy’ gets tossed around often at our house. And ‘eh’ gets a workout, even though we don’t notice. My husband and I got picked out of a crowd of Aussies/Kiwis when we were in New Zealand many moons ago by another Canadian; he told us we kept saying ‘eh’ and he strolled over and introduced himself. We were from Calgary, he was from Vancouver!

  24. Kathy says:

    I’m with Ally. I have no idea what Americans are talking about when they say Canadians say aboot. I have NEVER heard this. I keep listening for it though. I would love to know where this myth came from.

    Happy Canada Day and Happy July 4th!

    • Margaret K. says:

      The “oo” in “aboot” is not quite as strong an “oo” as some of the commenters probably think, but it is definitely different from the way Americans say “about”. However, as best I recall when i lived in B.C., not all Canadians say it that way. There were a lot of “eh”s, though. Some of the American students at UBC picked that one up while living in Canada.

  25. Deb says:

    Hi Karen. I’m a Canadian living in Chicago. As a salute to my heritage my vanity plate reads CANEHDN. It was my husband’s attempt at humour (with a “u”). Love your blog!

    • Karen says:

      Deb – I love that! Canadians aren’t nearly patriotic enough. My house was one of only 3 on my block that had a flag out for Canada Day. ~ karen!

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