Memories of Nova Scotia – Cape Bretonese


Cape Bretonese! The article below has been recovered from an old copy circa 2002 of The Chronicle-Herald, the renowned daily newspaper that has delivered news of the world, Canada and Nova Scotia to the people of the province since 1875.  I am proud to say that I worked there as an advertising copywriter from 1994 to 2003.

It is now several years since I left the Herald – as I moved to the Kingdom of Bahrain – but I still feel that I belong to that great community known affectionately as the Herald Family.  In addition, as any Bluenose Nova Scotian will tell you, once you become a Nova Scotian you’ll always be a Nova Scotian no matter where you go… or as they like to say “you can take the Nova Scotian out of Nova Scotia, but you can’t … (take Nova Scotia out of the Nova Scotian)”.

I dedicate this section of the blog to the memory of that most beautiful part of the world where the friendly warmth of the people can dispel even the coldest winter day.

Cape Bretonese – A primer

There are many idiosyncrasies that mark the Nova Scotian, among these is a tendency to take a breath or a gasp before we say even hello. I like to believe that that’s because for us everything is a pleasant surprise – even you. Then there’s this little tendency to end every sentence in an upward lilt, as if we’re asking you a question. Even if we’re just telling you our name? See, it’s easy! Stick around. We’ll have you believing you’re Nova Scotian in spirit before long. And the choice of spirit has to be rum – dark rum!

And then there’s this wonderful dialect of Nova Scotia – Cape Bretonese, to which you’re going to get a lively introduction, courtesy an article by Marjorie Simms, The Chronicle-Herald, unknown date 2002:

A pickle short of a jar: yes, something’s missing (in the brain).

“All righty then”: used to conclude a conversation, or as a precursor to a new action.

Busy as a flea on a hot shovel: you get the idea.

Drug: past tense of ‘drag’. Also used in lieu of reared – e.g. “Those kids were drug up some rough.”

Fill your boots (say Fillyer boots): help yourself to large quantities of food, fun, or whatever’s on offer, or you’re in the mood for.

Goes like 90: speedy!

Home: often used to express the family collective, as in ‘They love rice home’, or simply to signify one’s dwelling, e.g. ‘I have a tool box home’ – never preceded by ‘at’.

Head not screwed down tight: a loose connection to reality.

“Honest to God”: may begin, add to or conclude any conversation; vigorous nods to accompany the phrase.

Lord love him: often used in sympathy for a person’s travails. Or to express admiration, gratitude or deep affection.

Lord lifting, Lord lifting Jesus, Sweet Humpback Jesus, Lord Whistling/ Thundering/ American Jesus (and countless variations thereof): to express dismay, humour, chagrin, surprise – strong emotion.

Mad as a wet hen: that’d be some angry.

Right owly: really cranky; used to describe someone in an angry, even alarming state.

Right savage wild: utterly furious.

Some: used instead of very, as in some nice, some hard, some fierce, etc. (This is now common parlance in Nova Scotia).

Tee-tot’ly-ossified: to be found in the “liquid” neighbourhood of “wide open”.

Tot’ly: swallowed form of ‘totally’.

What a sin: shameful situation, action or event.

Wide open: as in throttle. Can be applied to parties or gatherings of any kind. Music is generally involved.

Yiss, yiss, yiss: threefold affirmative, occasionally stretched to four or five, occasionally with an accompanied Nova Scotian gasp.

You’se: plural of you, equivalent of American “y’all”.

Marjorie Simms is an award-winning writer who, when the article was published, lived in D’Escousse.


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