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Barbara McClintock

Survey of Canadianisms

Canadianisms and the Oxford English Dictionary
Canadianisms in the Oxford English Dictionary
Gennady Kireev © 123RF.com

These days, language professionals in Canada are starting to turn to the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED) or other reference books to replace the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which is now 15 years old and not likely to be re-edited. An interesting initiative has been started at the University of Toronto by Sali Tagliamonte, professor and chair of Linguistics and the Canada Research Chair in Language Variation and Change, to contribute Canadianisms to the OED. She hopes to help make the OED better reflect Canadian English.

Criteria for Canadianisms

After studying unique Ontario expressions for about 10 years, Tagliamonte is now compiling a list of Canadian words for the OED with the help of her team at the Sociolinguistics/Language Variation and Change Laboratory. Before adding a term to the dictionary, the OED editors look at the frequency with which it appears in every 10 million words. Some words are not used all across Canada; for example, parkade is only used in western Canada and a hoodie (hooded sweatshirt) is called a bunnyhug in Saskatchewan. Such terms may be overlooked or rejected by the OED, so research and documentation are needed before terms are submitted. According to Tagliamonte, out of more than 600,000 words in the OED, only around 700 entries are dubbed “Canadian.”  

Tagliamonte’s team uses the following criteria to select Canadianisms for submission to the OED:

  1. The word is not in the OED at all;
  2. The word is in the OED but does not have the same meaning as in the Lab’s archive; or
  3. The word is in the OED with the same meaning but is listed as having a U.S. origin or affiliation without any mention of Canada.

How to submit a Canadianism

Kudos to Tagliamonte for her initiative. If more Canadian words were included in the online OED, it would benefit all Canadians.

Tagliamonte and her team would love to receive suggestions from the Canadian public. You can submit a message on the website, and the Lab team will follow up on word suggestions and gather data about the origins and frequency of use.

Please also share your favourite uniquely Canadian words below.

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Previous post from Barbara McClintock: The Demise of a Dictionary: Is the Canadian Oxford Dictionary a Victim of its Own Success?

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Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintock (she/her/elle), who is a certified translator not the Nobel prize winner, enjoys editing and revision in a bilingual context. She dabbles in writing because of her love for the English and French languages and her interest in bridging cultures.

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