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Frances Peck

What’s That There, Then? More Cape Breton English

We take a lot for granted when we’re kids. Maybe most things. Growing up in Cape Breton in the 1970s and 1980s, enforced post-structuralist studies and a career of editorial skepticism still years away, I barely gave terminology a thought. Things had names. You might not always understand them (like boonabrayed), but you didn’t question them. They just were.

Photo credit: Travis Shelongosky
Photo credit: Travis Shelongosky

Take Lick-a-Chick, for example. I know — some of you are snickering already. But for 20 straight-faced years, I knew this phrase (which — admit it — you read as an imperative clause) only as a noun: the fried chicken joint that’s the biggest thing in Little Bras d’Or. It was only when my boyfriend from away asked, with an overabundance of smirks and winks, for one of the restaurant’s T-shirts that understanding dawned.

Cape Bretoners do love a tricky turn of phrase. Here are five more names of things that I never questioned as a girl but that now seem … queer (which, in Cape Breton English, just means strange). Alert: If you’re hungry, go eat something first, because they’re all edibles.

  1. Fat Archie: I never stopped to wonder, as I washed down these biscuit-like molasses cookies with a glass of milk or a cup of tea (which Cape Bretoners drink from the minute they’re out of diapers), where the name came from. The cookies are often fat, as in thick, but “Archie”? Though it’s the name of every third Island male of my father’s generation (those not called Huey or Donald), there’s no established reason for it to be the moniker of a cookie.
  1. Market and shack: Google these words plus lobster and you’ll get a bunch of eateries. In Cape Breton, however, these terms refer to lobster sizes. Markets are the big bruisers (up to one and a half or two pounds) — what you’d likely find on your restaurant plate. Shacks are smaller, as little as three-quarters of a pound. My family ate shacks. Sweeter, my father insisted. Also cheaper. For a family of Scottish descent, I suspect the price was the more persuasive attribute.
  1. Blueberry grunt: Involves no grunts, no sound effects at all, though your stomach might groan after a hearty helping. This dessert is basically a fry pan (cast iron, in my experience) full of stewed blueberries, topped with sweet dumplings.
  1. Pork pie: Not convinced that Capers are a sneaky bunch? Well, the pork pie contains no pork, and it’s not really a pie. This tiny shortbread tart filled with dates and topped with maple icing is arguably the most delicious baked good from the Island (and it may have created its fair share of Fat Archies — of the non-cookie variety).
  1. Iron Brew: On Sundays, we were allowed a treat from the gas station. My favourite combo was roast chicken potato chips and a cold Iron Brew. Like roast chicken, a chip flavour common in the U.K., Iron Brew came to Cape Breton across the Atlantic. But unlike the original Irn Bru, a Scottish soft drink that’s garish orange and — apologies, fans — disgusting, Cape Breton’s Iron Brew was a dark, spicy cross between cola and root beer. According to Wikipedia, after the drink’s local manufacturer folded in the 1990s, Pepsi took over production for a while, renaming the beverage “Cape Breton’s Irn Bru” and adding a disclaimer that it was not a source of iron. (Darn!) Nowadays the only Irn Bru you’ll find in Cape Breton is the unstomachable Scottish variety. My advice: Enjoy the spelling, then buy a Dr Pepper.

If you spend much of your life chasing after the right words, tricky names probably fascinate you too. What are some odd names of things you grew up with?

A warm thank you to EAC member, current Cape Bretoner and Fat Archie fan Patricia MacDonald, who reviewed this article for accuracy.

 

Previous Post: Notes From Away: Cape Breton English

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21 Comments on “What’s That There, Then? More Cape Breton English”

  • Marlo

    says:

    Hi Frances,
    I really enjoyed this article. I spent many years of my youth living in Cape Breton and the Cape Bretonism related to food that has always stuck with me was «cremco». (I don’t know if that’s spelled correctly.)

    Have you heard this one? I’d love to know the origin.
    Marlo

    • I’m stumped. «Cremco» rings no bells, and all I can find online are a few companies named Kremco, but none with a Cape Breton connection. Could it be a micro-regionalism? Where did you live on the island? And what’s your father’s name? 🙂 (That’s a question Cape Bretoners are notorious for asking.)

      • Patricia

        says:

        I’ve never heard of it, either. But I asked my mum and my brother, and they both thought it might have referred to powdered milk. Does that ring a bell, Marlo?

      • David E. Robertson

        says:

        The right spelling is Krim-KO– chocolate flavoured dairy milk, bottled by the C. B. Dairymens Co-Op Soc. Ltd , Sydney, N. S. I actually have one of the glass bottles it was marketed in and all the information i gave you is right on the bottle.

        • Frances Peck

          says:

          Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this, David.

    • Bruce MELONEY

      says:

      Krimco…nothing better than this thick chocolate milk…great with a fat archie!!

      • Marlo

        says:

        Bruce, you’re right, that’s what we called chocolate milk. Any idea where this comes from. I lived in the Sydney and Westmount area in the 1980s. I wonder if it’s a micro-regionalism, as Frances has suggested?

        • Patricia

          says:

          I contacted Bill Davey at the University of Cape Breton, who’s compiling a dictionary of Cape Breton English, and he sent me this definition (Note: The dictionary is scheduled for publication by the University of Toronto Press in early 2016):

          Dictionary of Cape Breton English, William Davey and Richard MacKinnon

          Krim-Ko noun; also spelled krimco, crimco
          chocolate milk
          1986 Beaton Institute Tape 2390 After I finished my run, I had to go to Cape Breton Dairymen on the Esplanade and pick up some milk and Krim-Ko and bring it back to South Bar. 1992 DONCASTER So Tiny 49-50 . . . we shoveled the snow / ‘til up the driveway cars could go . . . . / for one seven ounce bottle of this ~ / and Krimko was what it is. 2009 Kerfoot Email 20 Aug. I have looked through various materials, and can only find that Krim-Ko was a chocolate drink, seemingly bottled by various dairies in Canada, and certainly having a patent in the US. Survey I Inf. 23 . . . the bottle stopper would have Krim-Ko written on it.

          *Several respondents from Cape Breton County answering Survey I use Krim-Ko as a generic term for chocolate milk, which the Cape Breton Dairymen distributed in Cape Breton County. Chocolate milk bearing this name was produced by the Chicago based company, Krim-Ko Co., as early as the 1940s (Watson 2007, 56).

          • Marlo

            says:

            Wow, thanks so much for this, Patricia. A life-long mystery solved.

          • Dean

            says:

            It was Krim Ko period. No «also spelled».. I remember at one point you could buy it for 5 cents and it came in a glass bottle. cape breton dairymen. I helped deliver the stuff.

          • Wayne Anderson

            says:

            I worked in the mid-1960s as an announcer and news editor at CJCB-TV in Sydney… and I do have many memories of golden moments (and Krimko).. for instance the time my microphone fell off one evening while I was doing a live commercial and pouring a glass of milk while saying: «Cape Breton Dairymen’s Co-operative Society Limited pasturized and homogenized milk and Krimko chocolate drink….» I had to read from the teleprompter and pour the milk while trying to pin the falling microphone to my belly with my elbow. People in the control room thought I was having a stroke. Some lines you never forget.

            • That is a hilarious story! I have golden memories of CJCB-TV, though more from the 70s and 80s, so I didn’t see your commercial. Nowadays the fumble would be on YouTube moments afterwards…and we’d all be able to google Krim-Ko.

      • Andy

        says:

        Coming from a Point Edward boy…Krinko came in a thick glass 1/2 pint bottle with a paper pull tab lid…Great with a half moon pastry…was .07cents at the time….

        • Frances Peck

          says:

          Dean, it’s invaluable to hear from someone who actually delivered Krim Ko. Thanks for weighing in.

    • What a fascinating bit of sleuthing, Patricia. Thanks to you and Bruce for nailing down this term.

    • Thom

      says:

      It was called Krim-ko, from Cape Breton Dairy. It was the Cape Breton name for chocolate milk and came in unique 6-8 ounce bottles (which are collectible to former Cape Bretoners…like me).

      Another beverage was Double Cola (also in a unique bottle), which was popular because it came in a 16 ounce size for the same price as an 8 ounce Coca Cola.

      • Thom

        says:

        P.S. As a young boy, our milkman, Leo, would sometimes let me help him on Saturday mornings. My reward? Krim-ko, of course.

        Remember milkmen?

  • Al

    says:

    I had an elderly aunt way back in the late 50s and early 60s who imagined herself a bit more cultured than other family members who would always tell one of her less advantaged family members it wasn’t Blueberry Grunt it was Blueberry Groan. Likely you all know the type.

  • Susan Muise

    says:

    How about the word skicken or skiken.I grew up in Sydney and commonly heard the word when you asked someone if they wanted milk in their tea.They would reply oh just a skiken, meaning a little bit

    • Wow! That’s a new one to me. Guess that means you could ask for a skicken of Krim Ko. Thanks for the contribution.

  • Edward Mac Pherson

    says:

    My my it is some nice to hear that Krim Ko is still alive in the memories of many A Cape Bretoner and another one as I recall was moose hunters which were molasses biscuits and my dear sweet Aunty Annie made them for us every day almost so there is many fond memories to be had even if it were only A Cape Breton thing.

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