One of the things that excites me about having my novel published is that I’d been told by industry professionals that if I hoped to sell my book to an American publisher, I needed to move the setting from Canada to the United States. That was one hill I was prepared to die on. Keeping my story in Canada is important to me, and I refused to believe American readers are that narrow-minded! I’m glad to be proving these naysayers wrong.
As I’ve been working with my editor Shari in Oregon (a nose-to-the-grindstone experience if ever I’ve had one), she sometimes points out words or expressions I’ve used that might be uniquely Canadian and together we wrestle through how to keep them without confusing non-Canadian readers. In most cases, they are no-brainers like “Grade Seven” instead of “Seventh Grade.” But at one point, I referred to the RCMP and she asked if I could spell it out to ensure readers would know what that meant.
I tried to explain how awkward it would sound for the character to say, “there are two Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers at the door.” We just don’t speak that way.
I tried to explain how we sometimes call them “Mounties” but that might cause even more confusion, especially since Mounties haven’t been “mounted” for about a hundred years.
In the end, I think I settled on simply “police,” but I’ll know for sure when the book comes out next January.
“Your characters say ‘eh’ a lot,” Shari noted. Then she caught herself. “Oh, duh. They’re Canadians. Never mind.”
“What?” I thought. I couldn’t remember using a single “eh.” I did a word search and “eh” came up exactly three times in an 80,000 word manuscript. Seems to me I actually underused it, eh?
Having married an American and having lived in the States for nearly ten years, having read American books and watched American movies, sometimes I don’t even remember which words are Canadian any more. At one point, my editor suggested I change some wording so that my character tells her little brother to “fetch” some apples from the cellar. I replied that I didn’t think we typically used “fetch” in that context. Later in the manuscript, I found two or three places where I had used the word “fetch” myself! So now I’m asking, do Canadians speak this way or do I just write this way due to American influences? I don’t know anymore.
A Google search led me to learn some uniquely Canadian words that were new to me. Maybe they’re new to you, too. Oh, we all know “double-double,” “toque,” “parkade,” “pencil crayon,” “loonie,” and “rink rat.”
But do you know what a “Whale’s Tail” is? I suspect it’s an east coast thing, but it’s a fried pastry known elsewhere as elephant ears or beaver’s tail. Did you know that “gandy” is a term for “pancake” in parts of our country, or that “scoff and a scuff” means a meal followed by a dance?
I love that Canada has its own unique words, enjoys regional accents and dialects within our borders, and is home to a wide array of languages beyond the two official ones. I hope we always preserve our uniqueness and work hard to understand one another. Even when a fellow Canadian says, “Stay where you’re at and I’ll come where you’re to.”
Happy Canada Day, everyone!