Wadda ya’at. b’ys and duckies? I’m yer shit-picky chucklehead, Jon O’Guin, and long may yer big jib draw. For those unversed in the speech of the Newfies, you’re probably concerned that I’ve had a stroke, but I assure you, this kind of shit is just how I gets on. Today, we’re going to talk a spell about an interesting linguistic latitude I’ve been told ‘bout, and the nonsense I’ve heard them speak.
Alright, alright, I’ll drop the talk for a bit. Welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, I’m Jon O’Guin, and today’s post is going to be a weird one. (Though, really, are any of them NOT weird in some way or another?) To really understand what’s going on, let’s have some context:
I am, as should come as no surprise, a huge goddamn nerd. Specifically, I’m a big word nerd. I love unusual words, specific words, words with neat history, et cetera. For example, “Et cetera” itself is a Latin calque from Greek. “Calques” are when you just directly take either the words or thoughts from another language and translate them to yours. Like, you learn English calls tall buildings “Skyscrapers”, so you tell your friend in Spanish “Es un rascacielo” (“It is a ‘scrapes’-‘sky’.”) This is a little more easy to understand when your language is the recipient. Like, “Flea Market” coming from the French phrase “marché aux puces“ = ”a market with Fleas”. And consider that I didn’t blink at detouring through 2 different languages to discuss a concept I made examples of in 2 OTHER languages. (For the curious, Latin’s “Et cetera (And the remaining (things))” was a calque of Greek “Kai ta hetero (and the other (things))”. One of the reasons we know it’s a calque is that it explicitly leaves the object hanging(“things” is just implied in both, not stated) which is unusual in Latin, but less so in Greek.)
Yes, thank you, Homer.
Anywho, that word-nerd nature, combined with my love of research and reading, and my love of food, means I know a LOT of food terms. So whenever one I don’t know shows up, I perk up, like a dog hearing the word “walk”. Which lead to something of a critical moment recently. My family happened to be watching Andrew Zimmern’s show “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations”, an offshoot of his more simply titled “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern”. If you don’t know the shows, they’re the Travel Channel’s only real food based shows, and they follow Andrew Zimmern as he travels around the world and eats, well, Bizarre Foods. Things like Squirrel Brains, Bull Testicle, Candied Salmon, and those are all the ones he eats IN AMERICA. Trust me, things get weirder in other places. Through it all, he chows down with seemingly limitless aplomb, describing for instance Shanghai softshell turtle as “a strip of Vaseline” or describing how pig esophagus is tastes “A little like fecal matter” as if neither of those terms came across as negative.
An Inciting Incident
In any case, the episode in question is set in St. John’s, the major city of Newfoundland, one of the Canadian provinces, (No, Labrador, I didn’t forget you, I didn’t mention you on purpose. Eat it.) and the 16th largest island in the world. So I was anticipating some new things, some surprises, but…not like how things went down. I’ll try to give you a play-by-play:
Andrew is nattering on: “Yada yada the dish of Fish and Brews (sic)”
I fold my newspaper down, because I was at the minute impersonating a 1950’s father. Fish and Brews, huh? So some mixture of fish and beer, I assume?
Wait, this is 1915, not 1950! Damn you, Time Machine!
Now, I didn’t learn this until days later, but he didn’t say “brews”, there. He said “Brewis”, which is a completely new word for me, that happens to sound exactly like “Brews”. I didn’t see the spelling until later.
AZ: “Brewis is bread soaked in water. And in Newfoundland, that bread is Hardtack.”
Oh man, hardtack! Holy crap, that’s a food I haven’t had to think about in years! That hard-ass soldier bread! Haha. Well, if they soak it in water, I guess it makes sense to call it “brew”-
Zimmern interrupts me: “Lana makes toutens-“
Wait, what the fuck are “tottens”?
“A fry bread that’s a common side dish.”
Oh, okay. Brews with tottens, got it. Two breads, that’s kind of weird, but-
“The final component is scrunchions-”
And that was the last goddamn straw. This had all taken a little over 30 seconds, and they had dropped not one, not two, but THREE words I had NEVER heard before like they were nothing. And the third was “Scrunchions”! I’ve never heard a word that sounded more made-up in my life! I DEMANDED answers. Of course, Andrew immediately explained the culinary significance, (Scrunchions are pieces of salt pork diced up to add meatiness), but I didn’t want a food explanation, oh no. I needed to understand what made this Canadian island dwellers think they could vomit up words willy-nilly and pretend like they were normal.
No Man is an Island. Except Paul Bunyan when Swimming
The answer is, depending on your views, either fairly boring, or kind of cool: They’re an island.
I can prove it. I have maps!
Islands are something of linguistic sinkholes, especially those Islands settled by Europeans through the 1700’s. This is because, well, we tend to talk like our friends and neighbors talk, when we can. A good example of this is Australia: formed as a penal colony by the British, a… let’s generously describe it as “interesting” amount of Irish people were sentenced there. As were quite a few Scots and Welsh. Combined with the mixture of lower class Londoners and so on, and you had a mixture of Cockney, Irish, Welsh, all jumbled together. Australia went ever further, and when America hung out during World War 2, stole some of their terminology, resulting in a language that is slightly jarring to both sides of the various ponds: An Australian will pop the bonnet on his truck to see what’s wrong with the engine, using the British word for a “Hood”, and the American word for a “lorry”.
Newfoundland, on the other hand, takes almost nothing from America. This is likely at least slightly due to timing: the penal colony in Australia was founded BECAUSE Britain had just lost control of the American colonies. (1788) Newfoundland, on the other hand, had been a nominal British colony for over 205 years by that juncture. (Notably, they did this by kicking all the Spanish and Portuguese fisherman who’d been there for 20 years in the dick, and yelling “Mine now, get off!”)
A not-unusual Tactic for Britain, back in the day.
There was some back-and-forth with France for a couple centuries. And by “some back and forth”, I mean “multiple decades of war for control” that lead to some interesting results: the British seizure of the nearby region of Acadia and expulsion of its French inhabitants is the reason America has Gumbo, for instance. (“Cajun” is a bastardization of ‘Cadian’, after the Acadians moved to Louisiana.) But overall, the phonology and patterns of Newfoundland speech derive heavily from the West counties of England, with Irish and other facets at play, and so we’re going to dive in and-
What’s that? I’m sorry, it seems I’ve rambled way too goddamn long on the DEFINITELY interesting history of Newfoundland. I don’t know why my manager emphasized the word “definitely” so strongly.
WELP, guess I’ll just have to cover the actual Canadian Dictionary next Thursday. Join on us on Monday when my meal will be… “a spree of three kind-of meals, because I made them but none of them are big enough for a post on their own.” That’s a hell of a title. Let’s call it “The Hat Trick”, and move on.