Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics

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Towards a fully revised and extended edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP-2): background, challenges, prospects [1]

(print instructions)

Stefan Dollinger (contact)

(University of British Columbia)

Received: July 2006, published August 2006 (HSL/SHL 6)


1. Why another DCHP?

In Sidney Landau’s highly stimulating introduction to lexicography, one finds the concise remark that the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP) is a “one-volume dictionary [...] modeled after the OED [Oxford English Dictionary, with dated, attributed quotations illustrating each entry and each definition” (2001:14). This sober statement, while perfectly correct, somewhat conceals the fact that the DCHP is nothing less than the flagship of English historical lexicography in Canada: no other source provides more precise and accurate information on an equally balanced set of Canadianisms than this work. The purpose of the present paper is twofold. First, the background and genesis of the DCHP-2 project will be introduced, which is in the process of transferring to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The DCHP-2 will be put in relation to the work on the first edition, and the advantages and challenges involved in reviving a project almost 40 years since its publication and some 25 years after the DCHP-1 project finally folded, will be discussed. Secondly, by way of illustration, three Canadianisms will be analysed from a viewpoint that illustrates both the lexicographical work that forms a significant part of the DCHP-2 project and shows how these data may be of interest to the historical sociolinguist.

The DCHP, in addition to being of national Canadian interest, has some claim as an innovation in the lexicography of former colonial Englishes. While it is true that American English (AmE) was the first ex-colonial variety which could boast its own scholarly dictionary on historical principles (Dictionary of American English, DAE 1938-44), both British English BrE and, at least since WWII, AmE have been the dominant varieties of English of the twentieth century. In this respect, when the DCHP-1 was published in 1967, it broke new ground as the first scholarly dictionary on historical principles of terms native to, or distinctively characteristic in a non-dominant variety of English. Comparable reference works of other such varieties followed with considerable delays: Ramson (1988) was the first to follow for Australian English, Silva (1996) for South Africa and Orsman (1997) for New Zealand.

Since its publication in 1967, however, the DCHP has become out of date to an extent that severely compromises its use today. While DCHP-1 is now outshone by the highly successful Canadian English (CanE) dictionaries of contemporary usage, such as the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (CANOX, 22004, 11998) and ITP Nelson Canadian dictionary of the English language (ITP Nelson 1997) dictionaries, it is clear that these dictionaries serve a different purpose and cannot provide the diachronic depth (if any) of CanE words. Even the OED, including its updates towards the third edition, cannot provide a historical documentation of CanE words, senses and uses, because its major focus has always been, until the second edition at least, on British Isles usage. The policy of the OED in respect to former colonial varieties has been called “ill-defined from the beginning” (Görlach 1990:1478), a bias which the new edition seeks to remedy as much as possible in the framework of a project of this size.

The DCHP-1 was designed to fill this void in relation to CanE. Conceived in 1954 at the inaugural meeting of the Canadian Linguistic Association, its completion was set to coincide with Canada’s centennial celebration in 1967, DCHP-1 testified not only to a highly successful start of Canadian historical lexicography, but CanE lexicography in general, as it served as the backdrop of the first truly CanE dictionaries.[2] The public’s response to the DCHP and its echo in the press, both pre and post-publication, in combination with the high regard the DCHP has held within linguistic circles, was very favourable, at times even enthusiastic. An impressive number of reviews in newspapers and magazines, both domestic and international (cf. entries in Avis and Kinloch 1977), as well as congratulatory notes from competing publishers testify to the warm reception of DCHP-1. Random House’s president Jess Stein at the time called the DCHP-1 in a congratulatory letter “a real landmark in English lexicography” (1 Dec. 1967),[3] and the editor-in-chief of Funk & Wagnall’s dictionaries at the time, Sidney Landau, wondered that “now that we have it [the DCHP] I cannot imagine how we managed to get along so long without it” (29 Nov. 1967). At the same time, spin-off publications based on the DCHP, such as the Gage Senior Dictionary, were being adopted by Canadian publishers as their in-house reference tool (e.g. The Telegram newspaper, Toronto). In a review of a different work, no less a dialect scholar than Raven I. McDavid (1970:289) both praised the DCHP and, from today’s perspective somewhat ironically, pointed to its ongoing updating and revision process, which was meant to set the DCHP apart from comparable dictionaries.

Almost 40 years and not a single update later, we can say that this goal was not met. Emerging disagreements within the editorial board and the sudden passing of the editor-in-chief, Walter S. Avis, in 1979, are two possible reasons. Through the acquisition of Gage Publishers by Thomson Nelson Publishers, however, we are finally in the position to open a new chapter in Canadian English historical lexicography. But why should we engage at it at all? There are a number of reasons why a second edition of the DCHP, a revision that remedies at least the biggest gaps of DCHP-1; a revision that corrects (and possibly purges) misconceived and outdated entries, a revision that updates the work for the twenty-first century is not only a long overdue addition of material to DCHP-2, but a necessary overhaul of a research tool that can develop its full potential only in today’s information age. As such, it has great potential to reach beyond the core circle of users of DCHP-1 such as lexicographers, diachronic linguists and historians.

Apart from these very general, almost obvious benefits of a revision, there are profound scholarly reasons why the time is ripe for DCHP-2. Some of these reasons were discussed among the linguistic community at a conference in early 2005. In the late summer of 2004, Terry Pratt and David Friend initiated a dictionary panel at a Toronto linguistic conference. The panel was part of the Canadian English in the Global Context conference, held in January 2005 in honour of Prof. J.K. Chambers, which provided the ideal interdisciplinary venue for a discussion of the demand for a revision of the DCHP-1, on whose content and outcome I shall report briefly in the next section.

2. The Toronto Dictionary Panel until mid-2006

The dictionary panel at the Toronto conference was both a first report of preliminary plans to revise DCHP-1 and a barometer test for its demand among the linguistic community. Convened jointly by Terry Pratt (UPEI = University of Prince Edward Island, General editor Gage Canadian Reference Series) and David Friend (Reference Publisher for Nelson Thomson), the panel was completed by Katherine Barber (editor of Canadian dictionaries, Oxford University Press) and John Considine (University of Alberta). A total of ten questions were raised by the panellists, which, for the record, are reproduced here:

  1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the first edition?

  2. Are there any basic principles that a second edition might change?

  3. What can be learned from other national dictionaries of –isms?

  4. What would be the logical stages through which the necessary new research and editing would proceed?

  5. What would be the funding prospects?

  6. Should the project attempt to access [research] materials not used for the first edition?

  7. What would be the best role for the current copyright holder, Nelson Canada?

  8. Would the aim be to produce the second edition electronically or only in printed form?

  9. How would this work connect with “Canadian English in the Global Context?”

  10. Why is a second edition worth undertaking at all?

It was evident from the start that not all of these questions could be addressed, and so the contributions and discussions focussed on questions 3. (J. Considine), 5. (in the open discussion), 10. (T. Pratt, K. Barber), and 1., viewed in a particular sociohistorical context (D. Friend). After the input by the panellists, the discussion was opened to the floor where the focus was largely on funding issues. A poll among the linguists showed, however, that more than 50% of the audience had actively consulted DCHP-1 in the past.

The panellists gave concise input statements. T. Pratt summarized the history of and key factors relating to DCHP-1, and illustrated one of the kinds of revision work needed at the example of skid road, when compared with more recent work such as the Dictionary of American regional English (DARE). K. Barber discussed in detail how OUP Canada took the DCHP-1 as a starting point for their research for CANOX-1 by including all twentieth-century attestations in their list of search words. She also pointed out that OED-3, which started with M, includes more CanE words than ever, as a result of work on CanE. John Considine compared the Australian, New Zealand and South African equivalents with DCHP-1 and OED-2 and gave estimates on their scope and the resources needed for a revision. D. Friend, finally, argued that DCHP-1 might have an inherent bias, as all of its editors were men past their middle age at the time it was composed. While holding high esteem for the editors, Friend argues that while

the DCHP is a kind of compendium of historical sources … it itself is a historical document and it’s a view of that source material through the lens of 1967, as seen by men who had attitudes shaped from their younger days. (transcript of panel discussion)

This is indeed an interesting statement, and we can see a change of perspective even within the DCHP-1 material. For instance, there is a striking difference between the draft and the final entry for Eskimo in the DCHP. Thus, Lovell, who contributed the core of the citation slips to the DCHP-1 collection, defines, along with the generally accepted terminology of the 1950s, an Eskimo (meaning 1) as A member of a race of short, stocky, brownish-skinned people living along the Arctic coasts of North America and adjacent to Siberia; one of the Inuit (Lovell 1958:18). The final entry was revised and edited so that it would appear in actually quite modern shape, defining an Eskimo as a member of a large group of North American aborigines inhabitating the Arctic and northern coastal areas from Greenland to Siberia (DCHP-1, s.v. Eskimo, 1). The final entry includes cross references to other terms, including innuit [sic!], making it still acceptable by today’s standards. In the case of muffin a steady female dating partner for a limited period of time, originally used by soldiers, however, the DCHP-1 choice was not as enduring. Following its otherwise often praised practice of conserving space by referring to one of the citations (from 1865) in lieu of a definition, we find muffin defined indirectly with the citation:

The fair Canadians may have been too kind in accepting the name and position of muffins from the young Britishry; but the latter cannot say that they have suffered much in consequence. A muffin is simply a lady who sits beside the male occupant of the sleigh - sola cum solo.

Although the definition is prompted by this particular space-saving DCHP-1 practice, no dictionary should be left unscathed today for providing a historical, sexist quote as the definition of the term. And, I presume, there will be many more cases such as these in socially sensitive areas in DCHP-1. Muffin is interesting also for another reason. If we compare the respective entry in the OED online version (accessed 15 June 2006), we see that meaning (4) is labelled as a historic Canadianism. We find there:

4. Canad. slang. A young woman, esp. one who regularly partners a particular man, by arrangement, during a social season. Now hist.

1854 P. HENDERSON Life of Oliphant (1956) 50, I had a charming muffin yesterday. She is engaged to be married, so don't be alarmed. 1856 I. L. BIRD Englishwoman in Amer. 260 Every unmarried gentleman, who chooses to do so, selects a young lady to be his companion in the numerous amusements of the season..when she acquiesces, [she] is called a ‘muffin’. 1873 R. A. FITZGERALD Wickets 118 We were then told that the term ‘muffin’ is not in good odour at the present day; that no lady will admit she ever was or ever could be a muffin. 1904 A. GRIFFITHS Fifty Years Public Service iv. 52 A pleasant tête-a-tête drive for many miles..with your ‘muffin’ by your side. 1965 G. R. STEVENS Incompleat Canad. 202 At the beginning of the winter season each young man chose ‘a muffin’ - a ‘steady date’ for the season - an arrangement terminated by mutual consent in the following spring.

Except for the definition, for which the OED does not refer to a citation but generally provides a new definition, we see the same citations as in DCHP-1, with the exception of the 1856 quotation from Bird, which is listed instead of the DCHP-1’s original 1865 quotation, perhaps because the latter uses muffin in inverted commas. It is easy to imagine where the input for the OED entry came from, which shows the usefulness of specialist lexicographical research beyond its original purpose. This largely agrees with K. Barber’s panel statement: where specialist work is being done and published, it will find its way into more comprehensive works; where this is not the case, information gaps are obvious.[4]


 3. After the panel: setting up the DCHP-2 project

In the spring of 2005, the project as such was beginning to take shape. The task of editor was taken on by myself, and a number of institutions (see footnote 1) began to express their support for the project, which facilitated research into ways towards a successful revision of DCHP-1. Much of 2005 was spent with preparations for the start of the DCHP-2 project. Naturally, the location of an academic home for the enterprise was paramount. This proved to be an easy task, however, as University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Department of English, realizing the potential of the project, agreed to host it. An advisory committee and a panel of consultants were formed[5] and, most importantly, two professors of the department, Laurel Brinton and Margery Fee, took on the task of associate editors, while the present author was offered a postdoctoral fellowship at the department as editor of DCHP-2. A focus at this early stage is the dissemination of the project plans among peers, both in academia and in the publishing world, for which a website is being designed at the moment. In the fall of 2006, major grant applications will be submitted and it is hoped that full-scale operations can be commenced at UBC’s Department of English in May 2007.

During the first half of 2006 the base materials of DCHP-1 were located and assessed, and first pilot studies were carried out: the letter G was collated in relation to new scholarship (T. Pratt), the information of the various data sets of DCHP-1 was compared and cross-checked to gauge the value of the legacy data (S. Dollinger) and a collection of post-1967 Canadianisms was begun (L. Brinton, S. Dollinger). Around the same time, an embryonic reading programme was started among the editors. In terms of existing DCHP-1 data, the University of Victoria (UVic) holds the largest collection of citation slips, filling 22 full-sized archival boxes in three alphabetical sections, with an additional revision section. In total, c. 85,000 citations are held there. In Kingston, at Queen’s University Archives, c. 13,000 more citations slips were found, all collected by the late Water S. Avis between the publication of DCHP-1 and his death in 1979. An additional c. 4,000 of these update slips were found at the Strathy Language Unit, which, thanks to the foresight of a former director of the unit, Margery Fee, were transcribed for research purposes.

In the light of such massive documentation, by a very conservative estimate,[6] it is assumed that at least 40,000 citation slips were not considered in DCHP-1, which will form a springboard for the new data collection programme of DCHP-2. Apart from the citation slips as such, a wealth of additional material was found at UVic and Queen’s, such as headword lists and antedatings of hockey terms, which further increase the wealth of this “legacy material”. With this, we are of course confronted with questions of digitization as one of our first tasks.


3.1. Digitization: legacy data and new information

Making use of the legacy DCHP-1 data implies having to migrate it into a reliable electronic format. This task, which will keep us busy for a considerable amount of time, is comprised of three major steps, which are complemented by (4):

  1. the development of a suitable database that allows future application beyond our immediate dictionary needs

  2. the scanning, OCR-ing of the DCHP-1 and its conversion into the database format via automatic parsing

  3. the identification of the citation slips not included in the DCHP-1, their transcription and their feeding into the database (incl. other legacy materials, such as the 17,000 update slips)

  4. the addition of new data from our reading and research programmes.

It became clear early on that the transfer of the legacy data, steps 1-3, would be a project on its own that would have to run parallel to some of the lexicographical parts of the project. It is estimated that some 6,000 person hours are needed to key in the legacy data, as the material, 4" x 6" filing cards, included newspaper clippings and both typed and handwritten excerpts do not allow for a simple, straightforward scanning procedure. To illustrate the problem, three citations slips of the best quality are provided in Figures 1 and 2. They are part of, in the words of the introduction of DCHP-1, the “great deal of material that for practical reasons could not be published” in the first edition (Avis 1967:xiii).Thousands of cards like these need to be digitized for DCHP-2 (University of Victoria Archives).

Figure 1. Two file cards from the DCHP-1 files. Salishans, dated 1898 (Lovell collection) and red-knives, 1956 (added by Charles Crate), as two examples for native band names (neither of them in DCHP-1).

While DCHP-1 was confronted with strict page limitations, DCHP-2, at least in its digital form, does not need to exclude entries and citations that would be desirable.


Figure 2. File card from Avis update files (Queen’s University Archives, Kingston, Ontario), with a brief assessment of a 1970s source for its historical relevance.

It is clear that even top-notch scanners and software would have some difficulties to OCR these very tidy and neatly kept slips, let alone the considerable number of handwritten notes.[7]

A digitization effort such as this one is a formidable task for any project. This why I am especially happy to announce that two of our most recent partners, the Strathy Language Unit and Queen’s University Archives, have agreed to join forces to transcribe their c. 13,000 citation slips as of September 2006. We are currently negotiating with UVic Archives towards a solution for the 85,000 base citation slips located there and we are hopeful that we will reach a similar, mutually beneficial cooperation as in the former case. 


3.2. Bank of Canadian English on Historical Principles

The digitization work relating to the second edition attempts not only to fulfill the needs of DCHP-2, but aims at putting the advantages of the current information age to the best possible use. The DCHP-2 database, therefore, is conceived as a multi-purpose database and research tool for use in many areas of inquiry, most notably, historical linguistics and dialectology, but also historical sociolinguistics, spanning the Late Modern English (LModE) period and the twentieth century in toto from a Canadian perspective. As the OED quotations database and its application in linguistic studies has shown, the linguistic community shows great demand for such databases. The DCHP database would supplement the existing Strathy Corpus of CanE (reaching back to the mid 1980s) in important ways, providing both diachronic depth, pre-1980s data, and additional PDE data, while it would also provide more convenient search tools than are offered by existing digitization projects with their different focus.[8] We believe that the DCHP-2 database should become the core of a Bank of Canadian English on Historical Principles, so to speak, which not only linguists of various trades and lexicographers will find useful, but also historians of all aspects of Canadian and North American life and related disciplines. It is with this intention that we design the DCHP-2 database.


4. Three Canadianisms: origins and spread

So far, I discussed the background of DCHP-1 and the genesis of DCHP-2 in administrative and logistic terms. On the lexicographical side, the DCHP-1 has many examples that are of potential interest to sociohistorical linguists. In DCHP-1, the editors aimed “to provide a historical record of words and expressions characteristic of the various spheres of Canadian life during the almost four centuries that English has been used in Canada” (Avis 1967:xii). As such, it provides many avenues for follow-up research on the spread of English in North America. For the purposes of the introduction of this project to readers interested as much in the socio as in the historical aspect of linguistic research, I would like to demonstrate some of the sociolinguistic implications of historical lexicographical data for three Canadianisms. While there are many interesting lexicographical problems in former colonial varieties of English, ranging from very profound ones such as the definition of a Canadianism for DCHP-2 and the question of whether to include regionalisms, to minor questions such as the inclusion of abbreviations and acronyms, I will focus on what, from a sociohistorical vantage point, is perhaps one of the most interesting questions, i.e. the origin and spread of a form, corresponding to Weinreich, Labov and Herzog’s (1968) classic categories of actuation and transmission/implementation of a change. With the use of new, mostly digitized data, I will try to demonstrate, for written sources, how much information lexicographical work can unearth today, as a side effect so to speak, concerning these two perennial questions of language change.

I will review two previously recorded Canadianisms, from opposite ends of the temporal spectrum, as well as a very recent one that has not yet been properly recorded. The terms are grow-op “an illegal operation to grow marijuana plants, often indoors”, which is of very recent use, hoser “a loser, an uninspiring person”, dating back some thirty years, and Canuck “a Canadian, sometimes used in a jocular or endearing way”, going back at least to the 1830s. While all three terms have a strong claim at being Canadianisms, they represent three very different types. Grow-op is a recent word, which is neither found in CANOX-2, ITP Nelson nor OED online. The first attestation in a large Canadian newspaper database[9] is from 1998 in a Vancouver newspaper, while hoser, not quite as new, already found its way into the OED with an attestation from 1981 from the Toronto Star; Canuck, of course, is by far the term of longest standing, with an 1849 attestation in DCHP-1 and a 1835 citation in the Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (DA) (1951), which is also the earliest source in OED online (15 June 2006). It is clear that Canuck is expected to have undergone the most profound forms of semantic change, judging by the time depth of its attestations alone. I will begin with the two more recent innovations, however, before discussing what a new edition of the DCHP may have to add to the story of Canuck. 


4.1 Among the new words: grow-op and (not so new) hoser

For recent coinages such as grow-op, we are today in a very good position to trace the spread of a word in various digital sources. While I will primarily take a look at newspaper data here, I will include student newsletters and student newspapers, which represent a less formal printed source. The UBC Archive’s digital selection includes UBC student publications since 1918, which can be accessed online and free of charge.

The first attested occurrence for grow-op that we could find is from 21 Aug. 1998, from the Vancouver Province in a report on the break up of a criminal-style, illegal marihuana grow operation in Langley, BC, and appears in a headline (example 1). In the text, the term does not occur as such, but twice in its unclipped form grow operation (example 2):

  1. Police sweep massive grow op: 'Sophisticated organized crime' behind pot: Police (Province, 21 Aug. 1998, Final Edition, A8)

  2. The suspects were out fishing, unaware their high-stakes commercial grow operation had been busted earlier in Langley's biggest-ever drug raid. (Province, 21 Aug. 1998, Final Edition, A8)

Is grow-op an example of notorious newspaper headline clippings? There is solid anecdotal evidence from around 1995/96 from spoken data in a British Columbia context for grow-op, which points towards its colloquial origins. Two days later, in the same newspaper, we find the clipping used four times (examples 4-6) and the unclipped version once (3):

  1. Police say the seized property was part of a sophisticated grow operation in which B.C. marihuana is traded in the U.S. for cocaine. (Province, 23 Aug. 1998, A7)

  2. His story is revealing, because it suggests that many of the estimated 2,000 marijuana grow-ops in B.C. are tended by people just like him. (Province, 23 Aug. 1998, A7)

  3. He described how Flashy came to his home with lumber, plastic, fans, fertilizer and plants and set up a hydroponic grow-op in his basement. (Province, 23 Aug. 1998, A7)

  4. Its not unusual to have fires as a result of amateur wiring in grow-ops, he said. (Losses through diversion are estimated at $3,500 per grow-op.) (Province, 23 Aug. 1998, A7)

The first occurrence is the unclipped compound, followed by four clippings from throughout the article. One day later, we find a report on the police raid in the Ottawa Citizen (Aug 24, 1998:A6), which is almost identical with the Province article from the day before, so that sentences (4), (5) and (6) appear verbatim in the Ontarian newspaper. Only three days after the initial report the clipping had made its way from a regionalism to a term of national currency. If our newspaper database is a good enough indicator of the spread of the term in writing, we might have evidence here that the article of 23 August in the Vancouver Province actually spread the clipping beyond provincial boundaries, at least in the print news media. Attempting to trace the word’s further use and distribution in Canada, I relied on search features in the Canadian Newsstand database (CNS). Figure 3 shows the results for the years 1998-2005, with a linear projection for 2006 based on data from 1 January to 15 June (red column)


Figure 3: Frequency of grow-op in CNS (2006 score projected, based on period 1 January–15 June 2006)

Leaving aside the projected 2006 data for now, we see that every year shows a steady increase in frequency. We can say that the problem has been discussed increasingly from 1998 to 2005 and that part of the increase from 2004 to 2005 was due to the tragic shooting of four police officers on a large scale grow-op in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, in early March 2005. Today, however, we can say that both the clipping and the long form are still in competition. We can also speculate whether the projected decline in 2006 is the result of successful police work or is simply reflecting that grow-ops usually get into trouble during the summer months, when rising outside temperatures increase the likelihood of fires in illegal grow-ops, which then make headline news.

As interesting as these findings may be, however, sociolinguistically speaking we would like to know where the word originated. With more types of data becoming available online, we can sift through various sectors of society by way of the texts they produce and compare incidence and attestations. If we compare this data with the UBC university publications, including student newspapers, we find that grow-op has not been much of a topic. Its oldest hit occurs in 2004 in an official UBC release on the medical benefits of marihuana for sick people and their problems acquiring it, and not in a student-run publication: “Few dying patients have the energy to start their own grow-op” (UBC Report, Jan. 8, 2004:7). It seems clear, at least from written evidence, that students did not have much to do with the spread of the clipping in its written form.

The case of hoser is quite different in many respects. First, it has been attested in various reference works (including ITP Nelson and CANOX-2, or the OED online), and second and more importantly, it is attested early, and with multiple hits, in our student paper data. Let us first take a look at the OED entry (15 June 2006):

hoser (n):

Canad. slang.

A stupid, unsophisticated, or loutish person, esp. one regarded as typically Canadian.

1981 Toronto Star 2 Nov. A4/5 MacKenzie brothers phrases like ‘hoser’ and their habit of wearing toques and ear muffs while drinking beer are being imitated in living rooms and schools across Metro... For parents puzzled by talk of hosers and such, Rick Moranis explained..that ‘a hoser is what you call your brother when your folks won't let you swear.’ 1990 M. MACRURY in C. Martin Local Colour (1994) 16 Coming toward them are a couple of hoser boys soddenly knocking back their buellers. 1994 Toronto Star 27 Nov. F3 Bettman arrived in Boston on Friday wearing ‘beige hiking boots, blue jeans, a flannel shirt and a ski jacket’. A real hoser, eh? 2003 M. SCHIFFMAN Hacker's Challenge 2 I. iii. 37 That'll show those American hosers! No more stealing our hockey teams or our beer.

It is striking that the OED entry is the addendum to the definition that a hoser is someone “typically Canadian” (it may be derived from the somewhat contradictory 2003 quote American hoser). Indeed, neither ITP Nelson (1997) nor CANOX-2 (2004) say anything of that sort:

Cdn slang 1 an idiot; a goof 2 an uncultivated person, esp. an unintelligent, inarticulate, beer-drinking lout (CANOX-2)

Cdn slang A gullible, uncouth, beer-drinking man (ITP Nelson)

When compared to these two Canadian dictionary entries, where could the OED specification and stereotyping come from? The spread of the term, if not its coinage, is closely linked with Canada’s SCTV Comedy skit show, which first went on the air in the late 1970s on Global TV, then a small private network, and was soon taken on by major Canadian and American networks. The term hoser was used by comedians Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, who played the Mackenzie brothers (Bob and Doug) in the skit The Great White North (or Kanadian Korner). This series ridiculed almost every Canadian stereotype, including historical ones, they could come up with. The first skit was aired on 19 September 1980 (http://www.sctvguide.ca/episodes/sctv_s3.htm, 22 June 06), and the term was soon taken on by students for parties and in more organized “Hoser Days”. From there it found its way into the Toronto Star, from which the OED picked it up (1981 quote.

What the OED also picked up, however, was the American perspective on the term, however short-lived it may have been. The earliest attestation from the Ubyssey student paper is from 21 January 1982, and there it occurs in an advertisement from an off-campus club on East Broadway, advertising Thursdays as “Hoser Night[s]”, when everyone with “toque, scarf and earmuff” got in for free. The club was responsible for 6 out of 13 hits (Figure 4):


Figure 4. The Ubyssey, 21 January 1982 (21/1/1982:20).

On 2 March, after five Vancouver Tonite Hoser Night ads, a glossary of student language was published in The Ubyssey This list, partly intended to “assist professors in understanding their students”, includes 22 words and expressions, one of them being hoser, which is defined as “jerk, undesirable person, silly person but without the affectionate overtone” (The Ubyssey 2/3/1982:5). While caution is called for with self-proclaimed glossaries of student language, it seems clear that the OED definition does not hold and carries, if anything, colonial overtones. No doubt, though, the term must have carried covert prestige in 1982.

In 1985 (29 March) we see the last cool use of hoser in the Ubyssey; since then, there has only been one attestation each in 1997, 2000 and 2005,[10] all in negative contexts. Hoser seems to have had only a short-lived stint in the student media in the early 1980s. In general, while students do not seem to have used the word hoser in writing to make it a term of even moderate frequency over the past 25 years, commercial enterprises such as Vancouver’s Tonite used it, evidently to accommodate to the language of students. At the same time, the expression seems to have largely left the student milieu and has entered mainstream CanE, which 1,001 hits in CNS, since the mid-1980s, suggest (3,384 hits for grow-op since 1998 put its frequency in relation, however). It is probably safe to say that the student population of the early 1980s played a crucial part in the transmission of hoser for CanE.

To clarify its ultimate origin, however, we would need to go back to data from the 1970s, i.e. prior to the airing of the TV skit, a period which coincides with one of the digitally least accessible periods: old enough to have missed early computing, young enough not to merit digitization at the present point in time. While one informal account links its origin to hockey slang, to hose a hockey team “to beat them soundly” (Thay 2004:67), an earlier commentator detected this verbal expression already in a WWII contexts (Eric Adams, Toronto Star, 26 February 1982:A19). An etymological entry in DCHP-2 for hoser, could perhaps, besides its link to SCTV, include the phrase, “of some currency in early 1980s student circles”.

Grow-op and hoser both have a good claims to being Canadianisms[11]: hits in the New York Times since 1981 indicate that hoser was used only as of 2001 in the sense described here. Grow-op also has a strong claim to being a Canadianism based on evidence from the New York Times, as its only hit is in a review of a book Douglas Coupland, the famous Vancouver author (21 May 2006). For less recent terms, such as our next example, we can start with the information in reference works such as DARE, DAE or DA and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary (EDD), which are invaluable resources for our next case, one of the most prototypical Canadianisms: Canuck.


4.2. The complex case of Canuck: some preliminary thoughts

The history of Canuck has been documented for more than 170 years and the term, quite in contrast to the two words discussed earlier, underwent significant shifts of meaning. While it is impossible to present a comprehensive account of it here, largely for lack of data, I would like to point out strengths and weaknesses in the existing documentation and propose a tentative scenario of its spread and changes of meaning based on new attestations. The current OED entry (15 June 2006) again provides a point of departure:

 Canuck colloq.

A. n.

1. A Canadian; spec. a French Canadian.

2. A Canadian horse or pony.

3. The French-Canadian patois.

B. adj. Of or pertaining to Canada or its inhabitants.
In U.S. usage, gen. derogatory.

1835 H. C. TODD Notes upon Canada 92 Jonathan distinguishes a Dutch or French Canadian, by the term Kanuk. 1849 J. E. ALEXANDER L'Acadie I. xvi. 273 ‘Come boys and have some grog, I'm what you call a canuck:’ a (Canadian). 1855 Knickerbocker XLV. 341 [We gave] our donkey into the keeping of a lively Canuck. 1860 HOLLAND Miss Gilbert's Career ii. 29, I'll hang on the tail of it and try legs with that little Kanuck of his. 1862 Congress. Globe 29 Apr. 1867/3 To Canada to buy the little Canuck ponies. 1884 Harper's Mag. June 125/1 A ‘Kanuck’ or French Canadian. 1895 Century Mag. Sept. 674/2 That would be convenient over the line among the Canucks. 1904 H. F. DAY Kin o' Ktaadn 145 ‘Roule, roulant, maboule roulant,’ it's all Canuck but a good song. 1910 T. E. LAWRENCE Let. 17 Dec. (1954) 121 The three Canuck priests. 1964 Calgary Herald 19 Mar. 18/6 The Scottish skip missed a wide open takeout in the fifth leaving the Canucks another single. 1965 H. GOLD Man who was not with It xxvi. 249 Bon jour, Grack, tu viens enfin? That's Canuck for you ain't been a son to your ma.

At first glance, meaning (2), “a Canadian horse or pony”, strikes one as peculiar. On closer inspection, we find that DARE (Vol. I, 1985) no longer provides this meaning, which is likely to have been taken over into OED from DAE (1938) and DA (1951). Relevant citations are the 1860 and 1862 quotations from above and an 1888 example from DAE, provided in (7):

  1. 1888: I have often since thought it would be a good way to advertise horses … for certainly no frontier town ever saw a grander sight than those four Canucks.

Both the 1860 and 1862 quotes and example (7) can be ruled out for DCHP-2 as American attestations; while (7) comes from a book on the 1849 California Goldrush, the 1860 quotation is from a book subtitled An American story, published in New York and the 1862 quotation from the US Congress publication Congressinal Globe. Thus, while meaning (2) should be in American dictionaries and also in the OED, as a storehouse of world Englishes, it should not be in a dictionary of Canadianisms.

Incidentally, DA (1951) is also the source for the oldest attested citation for Canuck, reproduced in the 1835 OED quotation. If we compare the OED with the DCHP-1 entry, we see that the separation of meanings is different, reflecting the different status of CanE vs. AmE and BrE: in DCHP-1 “native or citizen of Canada” is the prime meaning, with “French-Canadian” in second place, followed by a minor variant in meaning (3):

Canuck [IPA transcription] n. [origin uncertain; see suggestion at 1963 quote (def. 1)]

* It is not clear whether this term was first applied to French Canadians or to residents of Canada in general; in spite of the order dictated by the dates of the Canadian evidence, it is probable that the term first designated a French Canadian since in the early nineteenth century the term Canadian itself most often referred to a French Canadian.

1 Informal a native or citizen of Canada. See also Jack Canuck and Johnny Canuck.

* In spite of the definition given in many dictionaries still, the term Canuck as applied by Canadians to themselves is not at all derogatory, quite the contrary. Nor is the term, in modern use, especially associated with French Canadians; again, quite the contrary.

1849 alexander L 'Acadie I 273: "Come boys and have some grog, I'm what you call a Canuck; a Canadian." 1861 Cdn Naturalist Dec. 432:1 must add that it is somewhat supported ... by the analogy of another term, namely Canuc, which is used vulgarly and rather contemptuously for Canadian, and which seems to me to come from Canuchsa, the word employed by the Iroquois to denote a "hut." Here Canadian would mean a "townsman" or "villager," but a canuc would be only a "hutter." 1907 kennedy New Canada 192: "And don't you want to be Americans any longer?" I asked. "No," said they most emphatically, "we're Canucks now." 1963 Citizen 30 May 12/5: What is the origin of the nickname Jack Canuck ? It probably comes from the name Connaught, the nickname given more than 100 years ago by French Canadians to Canadians of Irish origin. 1964 Calgary Herald 19 Mar. 18/6: The Scottish skip missed a wide open takeout in the fifth leaving the Canucks another single.

2 Slang a French-Canadian.

1889 donkin Trooper & Redskin 148: But for pure and unadulterated brag I will back the lower class Canuck against the world. 1900 North American Notes & Queries July 64/1:1 would very much like to know the origin of the expression Canuck applied to the French Canadians. 1912 roe Whispering Hills 39: On the face of the swarthy Canuck guide who sat in the stern there was a weary contempt.

3 Rare a thing made in, or native to, Canada.

1887 Grip (Toronto) 19 Feb. 3/2:

"Who'll buy my caller herrin' ?

Cod, turbot, ling, delicious herrin',

Buy my caller herrin',

They're every one Kanucks!"

Canuck adj. Informal Canadian.

1887 Crip (Toronto) 5 Mar. 1/2: "Well, what do you think of the Canuck elections ?" 1963 Globe and Mail (Toronto) 2 Feb. 6/1: Any trend by the big brother to the south to tell Canadians how to run their affairs can raise Canuck dander very quickly.

Clearly, there is no mention of Canuck as a term for horses, because it was not Canadian. Let us then look at what is today the major sense of Canuck and attempt to sketch a scenario of its development and spread in CanE.


4.2.1. Referents of Canuck

While we can rule out meaning (2) as non-Canadian, it is striking that DCHP-1, published much later than DA, would have missed the 1835 antedating. It is worthwhile to take a more detailed look at the source as such. The source materials for DCHP-1 were limited to sources “written by persons native to or resident in Canada who were writing about Canadian life or by travellers and other visitors to Canada who were commenting on their experiences in this country” (DCHP-1:xiii). The 1835 attestation is from Henry C. Todd, who undertook his journey from England to North America in “the latter part of 1832” (Todd 1835:3), and would therefore qualify as an attestation by a traveller. He reached Toronto (then still called York) in late January 1833, almost certainly shortly before he returned to England, and the larger context of the first Canuck quote makes it quite clear that Kanuck, as reported by him, was American usage at the time. Point 263 provides the context for the attestation, which is added as a kind of afterthought of the portrayal of the Canadian settler:

263. Taking possession, after purchase, is called, in the phraseology of the country, drawing your land. The quantity of land described as located in favor of U.E. loyalists, is 1,664,600 acres, and for militia claimants 504,100 acres. Canadians are somewhat jealous of Americans; that they are secretly manoeuvering, not exactly with the inoffensive good humor of a much respected yeoman of England, in whose sequestered dwelling I some time resided […]. Johnathan distinguishes a Dutch or French Canadian, by the term Kanuck (Todd 1835:92).

Todd contrasts the high-spirited English peasant with the American and Canadian, but says that Americans use the term Kanuck, with initial, upper-case K-, only for Dutch and French Canadians. The term Dutch is interesting here. As has been shown for early Ontario (Dollinger 2006:71-75; 93f; 99), Dutch almost certainly refers primarily to German speakers (up to 1/6 of the total population after 1783), which were comprised of two groups: British mercenaries in the American War of Independence who decided to settle in Canada (cf. Bausenhart 1989:26) and Quaker immigrants and their relatives (and possibly Gaelic speakers). Dutch speakers, when they migrated to Canada, were more likely to retain their language after 1776. As a result, both High German and Low German (Dutch) dialects were spoken by around 15% of the population in the early years after 1783. For Americans, where multilingualism was discouraged after the revolution (Nelson 1961:89), members of Upper and Lower Canada’s two largest non-Anglophone groups before the 1830s, Francophones and Germanophones (including some Dutch speakers), would most likely be put into one category: Kanucks, of which the northern neighbour seemed to have a disproportionately greater share. Therefore, I would like to suggest that Canuck, attested first, not unimportantly, with initial K-, originated as an American term, with derogatory overtones, for Germanophones and Francophones. Since these two groups concentrated north of the border the association with Canada came into play as a consequence of the more multilingual nature of early Upper and Lower Canada.

German speakers tended to assimilate with mainstream society quite quickly and were only trumped by the Dutch in this respect (Weissenborn 1983:19; Schryer 1998:19f), so that it is little surprise that subsequent documentation of the derogatory uses of Canuck for Germanophones and Dutch are rare. For Francophones, in their cultural struggle for survival in Anglophone Canada, the documenation of Canuck as a derogatory term for French Canadians is found at regular intervals (see Spedon 1866:71f,[12] Laperrièrre 1881:207, Clapain 1894:67 and Harrison 1898:11). By the 1920s, the derogatory connotations seem to have been largely lost. The statement of francophone intellectual and former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre E. Trudeau (1919-2000), who claimed he “never heard [Canuck] used pejoratively in connection with French Canadians” (Globe and Mail, 26 Feb. 1977: 1) if it can be taken at face value coincides with this estimate. DCHP-1 evidence supports Trudeau's observation, as its last citation for derogatory use is from 1912.

Canuck was used already early on in the sense of Anglophone Canadian, however. Spedon (1866) is an interesting case, as first, after using the term habitants and Frenchman, he resorts to the Canuck Frenchman (1866:71), while on the next page he pejoratively refers to the Canuck lingo as French (1866:72),[13] illustrating the polysemic status of the term in that period. However, already some 20 years earlier we have evidence for use of Canuck to denote an English speaker: the first attestation in DCHP-1 from 1849 is again from a British traveller. The traveller and a group of British officers meet with a “lusty fellow in a forest road with a keg of whisky slung around him”, near London, Ontario, and they are invited, in perfect English, to have some “grog”. The lusty fellow explains that he is “what you call a canuck”. By then, an extension of meaning from the referent German, French or Dutch must have already happened, as Canuck is applied to an Anglophone Canadian, perhaps in contrast to the British travellers and British soldiers, who were likely to return home to Britain.

Just as DCHP-1 expresses in its definition (1), the emphasis on being native-born obviously had some currency in the 1840s. An attestation in a novel from 1878 has the protagonist declare that he was “a Canuck”, i.e., born in Canada, but was raised in Ireland, before he returned (Dobbin 1878:93). Another citation from 1878 goes even further and applies the term exclusively to Anglophones when Canuck is juxtaposed with other peoples of Canada:

The land of snow and ice [Canada] proved to be a land which carried off the prizes from all corners in grain and fruit. The home of the “Canuck,” the “Habitant,” the “Metis,” and the “Indian,” proved to be a land whose educational exhibit was confessedly superior to anything of the kind in the great collection (Leggo 1878:851).

We can see that quite early on, within a generation or two from the earliest attestation in 1835, the term was used by Canadians (as opposed to Americans) in a neutral, if anything, endearing, albeit somewhat informal way.


4.2.2. Possible origins and spread

The origins of Canuck, “a native or citizen of Canada, represent an unresolved puzzle in historical lexicography. Theories are numerous, some more jocular than anything else. It has been claimed that Canuck is derived from:

  • a derivation by French Canadians from the last name Connaught, a common name of the Irish post-1815 immigrants in eastern Canada (DCHP-1, 1963 quote)
  • Canada itself (CANOX-2)
  • from Iroquois Canuchasa ‘hut’ (DCHP-1, 1861 quote)
  • an ‘adaptation’ of the phrase “Genug [von Kanada]”, ‘enough of Canada’, which German mercenaries are thought to have used after the American War of Independence (Thay 2004:36)
  • an American adaptation of the French troops’ uttering the words quelle canule frequently during a siege on Quebec (Thay 2004:36)

Incidentally, the most promising theory of origin also seems a bit far-fetched at first glance, as it establishes a connection of Canuck with Hawaiian kanaka ‘man’. This idea,[14] first suggested by Mitford M. Mathews, the editor of DA, is reported by Adler (1975:158-60), only after it emerged from a discussion in a Honolulu newspaper and two readers objecting to this connection.[15] There are some striking pieces of evidence that, while far from being complete, suggest the merit of the idea so that DARE (I:1985), for instance, picks up the Hawaiian root theory (labelled Perh[aps]”). Sledd (1978) provides a summary on the evidence for the origin of Canuck until the late 1970s, where the discussion ends, proposing his own theory on the spread of the term in North America. Sledd establishes a connection between Hawaiians and Frenchmen only (1978:177), but it seems crucial that he thinks the term went via the Pacific coast to eastern Canada, i.e. suggesting that it was used the fur trading routes eastwards.

Mitford (1975) establishes the connection between Hawaii and New England via American whaling ships. Whalers often hired sailors on the Hawaiian and South Sea islands and he surmises that the American sailors would have heard the term kanaka “man” used by the Hawaiians, eventually using it themselves to distinguish Hawaiian from other sailors. Adler (1975:159) specifically suggests ship log books and sailors journals from the period of 1820-1840 from eastern Canada and the American Northwest as the best sources for conclusive evidence. This, clearly, stands in contrast to Sledd’s eastward expansion of the term, starting in Pacific Canada.

There is no doubt, however, that immigrants from the South Sea were present in western Canada and were referred to as Kanakas, which begs the question what influence the original use of the term may have had on the spread of Canuck in the west. It is known that Hawaiian sailors were omnipresent all across the arctic coast and also in British Columbia (BC), and some “Hawaiian words [were] introduced by the Kanaka sailors on the whale ships, which are universally employed between whites and Eskimo along the whole of the Arctic coast” (Murdoch 1883:55). In Le Jeune’s Chinook Jargon phrasebook (1886), a contact language based on English in nineteenth- century BC, we find the following entry for ethnicities in early BC: 

Figure 5. Clipping from Practical Chinook vocabulary (Le Jeune 1886:6).

Canada man is Chinook Jargon for Canadian, while the gloss for Kanaka suggests familiarity with the term by the contemporary speaker. While the Hawaiian connection with BC is firmly established (Kanaka Ranch in Vancouver’s Stanley Park was occupied by Hawaiians; Barman 2005, Forsythe 2006), there was also a BC Native Band in the late 1890s called Kanaka [Indians] (Sessional papers 1899:111).

The presence of Hawaiians, referred to as Kanakas, in British Columbia, and of a native band at that is likely to have had an influence on the spread of Canuck in the west, if its origin in kanaka, only a generation before British Columbia was colonized, is correct. Let us assume that Canuck originated with kanaka and was first used for Hawaiian sailors, and, during the time after the American revolution and the settlement of Upper Canada, for Germans, Dutch and French, i.e. the two or three relatively large groups of early settlers that must have been rather exotic to English speakers in the east. The term, however, was quickly adapted as a term of endearment for Canadian-born people, specifically for Anglophones, as we have seen earlier. From the 1890s onwards, Canuck was frequently used in the Toronto Star to refer to Canadians who had success abroad, particularly in sports columns, where it was often used allegorically, pitching Johnny Canuck (as of 1901 also Janey Canuck, Fee and McAlpine 1997:93) against Uncle Sam, and sometimes John Bull; but it never had derogatory overtones.

The frequency of Canuck was increasing almost steadily, with some sizeable increases. Figure 5 shows its increase in terms of absolute frequencies in the Toronto Star: 

Figure 4. Absolute frequency of Canuck(s) in the Toronto Star (Pages of the Past, June 2006), 1894-1999 (weighted numbers, according to average newspaper sizes, do not alter the picture to any great extent).


In Figure 5, we first see a considerable increase during the time of the Boer War (1899-1902), when Canada sent troops to South Africa, and next during World War I (1915-1919), and also in World War II (1940-1944), when Canuck was frequently used in headlines of Canadian victories. The word this had very clear positive connotations at the time. Cartoons figured also prominently in the decade following the outbreak of WW I. From then on, the word rapidly spread to other domains. In the 1920s businesses started using the term (e.g. Canuck Poultry Feed) and in the 1930s sports columns habitually employed the term, and this has been its major domain since 1945. Even before, however, the term was sometimes found in horse race news (e.g. when staging Canuck-bred events), but with the formation of a National Hockey League team of that name in 1970 in Vancouver (though the name dates back to 1946, Fee and McAlpine 1997:93), and the preceding coverage, together with the self-referentiality on the occasion of the Canadian Centennial in 1967, the term almost doubled its frequency in period 1965-1969.


In the west of the country, however, our evidence does not suggest an adoption of Canuck as early as in the east. The hits in Early Canadiana Online, which is a digitzation project of early Canadian texts, are from eastern sources and BC newspapersseem not to have used the term prior to WWI.[16] This, of course, is the biggest obstacle to Sledd’s conviction that the term travelled eastwards. WW I appears to have been of special importance for the spread of term in the west, as it was then that more sober headline language, shown in was replaced by more sensational, endearing headlines embracing the term Canuck, which had been used quite frequently in the east. See examples (8) and (9):

  1. Canadians carry out successful movement against the Germans (Vancouver Sun, July 24, 1917: 2)

  2. Canadian Artillery is active (Vancouver Sun, July 30, 1917: front page).

Example (10) is an early instance from BC: 

  1. Gains held by Canucks: stand firm. Important Gun Positions Won From the Germans Firmly Held by the Men From the Dominion (Vancouver Sun, June 14, 1917: front page)

Since attestations of Canuck in BC newspapers are also missing in sport columns, cartoons and war reports prior to WWI (e.g. particularly noteworthy is its absence from reports during the Boer War), I would tentatively suggest that WWI was not only important for the nourishment of Canadian national pride, but was directly linked to the spread of the term Canuck from the east westwards, or at least its firm establishment with positive connotations. While Jack Canuck cartoons appeared during the time of the Boer War in the Toronto Star (e.g. May 28, 1900, front page), the first cartoon that I found in a BC newspapers is from WWI. The evidence shows a temporal gap between eastern and western Canada of an astounding 82 years (1835 vs. 1917), with still 68 years when it denoted “Anglophone Canadians” alone.


I would suggest, therefore, that one reason for this delay of more than half a century lies in the strong presence of South Sea descendents in BC and the connection of kanaka with Canuck. While this is a hypothesis for the time being that leads the way for further research, it would be an obvious one on the grounds that British Columbians were familiar with kanakas, whereas Ontarians were not (as whaling ships usually called at American ports). In eastern Canada, the early adaptation of Canuck for big minorities such as French, German and Dutch to Canadian-born Anglophones would have dissociated the Hawaiian connection in eastern Canada, which would explain the problems of finding conclusive evidence. At the same time, however, the origin of Canuck barred its adoption in BC in the sense of “native or citizen of Canada”, because its cognate in the west had been in use to denote people from the South Seas. WWI and the dissemination of war news across the nation appear to have severed this connection in the west, which was facilitated by different spellings for Canuck and Kanak(a) (we have seen early spellings of Canuck with a K, and sometimes the u substituted for an a).


What would this hypothesis mean for a DCHP-2 entry? The kanaka connection appears to be the best explanation and would need to be given some emphasis. The early shift of meaning to denote the largest group of “heavily accented” foreigners in eastern Canada at the time, Germanophones and Francophones, and the early adoption by native-born Canadians would be suggested; moreover, the supposed direction of transmission, i.e. from east to west, more likely with the railway (as of 1885) and news wire than with the fur trade (Sledd 1978:177) and the different rates of spread in the east and west would need to be indicated, with the role of WWI stressed. The transmission of the term would need to be illustrated by adequate citations, and, as more data is made accessible, a more profound sociohistorical approach would become possible: was the term used in private correspondence at all? If so, by whom and in which context? These, and other questions pertaining to Canuck and other terms, could be profitably addressed.



5. Tasks and prospects for the DCHP-2

I have tried to show that both new and old Canadianisms present their challenges for lexicographical research, challenges that can be tackled much more quickly with the aid of electronic databases than has ever been possible. We have seen that grow-op is a new Canadianism, which is first attested in 1998 in writing. In terms of the actuation and transmission of the word, it seems clear that the term originated in British Columbia. It quickly transformed from a BC regionalism into a word of national currency, in a matter of days, with its use in an Ontarian newspaper. For hoser, a term that most likely had greater currency in spoken than in written language, we have written evidence that students played a key role in its transmission. We have also seen that the OED, for instance, adopts the American interpretation of the word, which is at odds with it being labelled as a Canadianism. The discussion of Canuck illustrates probably best how digitized data can be used to illuminate hidden aspects of a word with a comparably long pedigree in considerably less time than before. For the origin of the word it is important to establish, in sociohistorical fashion, the relationship of the addresser and addressee, as I aimed to show in the discussion of the earliest attestations. The scenario for the origin and spread of the term still lacks some important pieces in the puzzle, but it seems clear that its increase in frequency and its extension to other domains was positively influenced by WWI news coverage. I further hypothesized, basing myself on evidence of BC newspapers, that WWI coverage contributed to a nation-wide adoption of the term. The connection of Canuck with Hawaiian kanaka seems particularly appealing, as other languages share similar terms of abuse for people from the South Seas. French Kanak or canaque refer to people from New Caledonia (and people of a darker skin colour in general) and the Austrian German cognate Kanake was also used for a person from the South Seas, but is one of the most abusive terms for migrants today. It is interesting that the word underwent pejoration in French and German, while its apparent early amelioration in the mid-nineteenth century made it a key term in CanE.

In this article I analysed these three Canadianisms to illustrate some of the key tasks of a revision of the DCHP, tasks which are not limited to an updating with new terms that have come into use since the 1960s, but would necessarily entail the revision of existing entries as well, which would not stop short of prominent examples such as Canuck. Research published since the appearance of DCHP-1 provides one avenue for some of these revisions (such as Mathews’ or Adler’s hypotheses), but in many cases we do not yet know what domains would be worth closer attention. Chinook Jargon loan words or influences from Chinese pidgin in early BC are only two examples for areas that would have great potential to further increase the resources of the DCHP.

An updated, revised and extended DCHP-2 would not only serve important purposes for scholarly academic research, but also have great potential to make the diachronic dimension of CanE, and hitherto understudied aspect of the language, accessible to the Canadian public by way of word histories. If the research relating to DCHP-2 would provide the scholarly basis for readable accounts of the sort of Burridge (2005) and, on Canadian content, Thay (2004), and would help improve the quality of widely available word histories, I believe that a step in the direction of language awareness of CanE speakers would be made. I finally hope that the few examples chosen here illustrate the case that DCHP-2 can provide valuable data not only for the word buff, but also for the linguist, especially those of a sociohistorical conviction.



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[1] I would like to thank T.K. Pratt for his comments on an earlier version of this paper. Any shortcomings, however, are entirely the author’s responsibility.

The DCHP-2 project is supported by the following institutions: the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Philology, the University of Vienna International Relations and Research Division, the Canadian Embassy in Vienna, and Thomson Nelson Publishers, the Department of English at the University of British Columbia, the Strathy Language Unit and Queen’s University Archives.

[2] With the exception of the pre-1967 Gage dictionaries, such as the Beginning Dictionary (ed. Gregg et al. 1962), which included Canadian content (based on work by Barnhart and Thorndike).

[3] This, as well as the following information, is found in the University of Victoria Archives, 90-66, files 1-15/16.

[4] As one of these side effects, work for this article has produced an 1854 citation, coinciding with the earliest attestation, for muffin used in a compound, which suggests its use well before that date: “God gave you that gifted tongue of yours, and set it between your teeth, to make known your true meaning to us, not to be rattled like a muffin-man’s bell!” (Jameson 1854: 112).

[5] The members of the advisory committee are, at present, Laurel J. Brinton, J. K. Chambers, Sandra Clarke, Margery Fee, T. K. Pratt and David Friend. Currently, we are in the process of expanding the circle of immediate advisors to accommodate as many Canadian regions as possible. The panel of consultants is a body of more loosely attached collaborators, which is being assembled at the moment.

[6] At the time of writing, we are currently assessing what percentage of these citations already went into DCHP-1.

[7] I would like to thank UBC Archives for their assistance in the digitization effort.

[8] Early Canadiana Online, a Canadian preservation project also known as the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions – CIHM – offers impressive pre-1900 online coverage. Their search algorithm operates with pdf page images. This greatly increases user-friendliness via online access and keyword searches, but requires the user to read full pages carefully as hits are not marked, while sometimes, depending on the keyword and the quality of the scanned and OCRed document, reported hits do not appear on a given page. CIHM’s digitization effort, data sharing and retrieval methods, nevertheless represent a quantum leap for projects such as DCHP-2 in comparison to the older formats (e.g. microfiche searches).

[9] Canadian Newsstand (15 June 2006), henceforth CNS. CNS includes 45 regional and national Canadian newspapers, some continuously since the mid 1980s, but most since the late 1990s. All CNS frequency counts are based on searches from 15 June 2006.

[10] Using google.ca’s site search option for ubyssey.bc.ca for data since 2000.

[11] In a recent New York Times citation, grow-op is used in inverted commas, including an explanation, which confirms our suggested status as a Canadianism: “Ethan Jarlewski, the novel's narrator, is a disenchanted video-game programmer saddled with parents less mature than he is: his mother runs a "grow-op" (which is a nice way of saying she sells pot), while his father works as a movie extra, yearning for the day when he'll be allowed to speak a single line of on-screen dialogue (which may be a metaphor)” (site accessed 16 June 2006).

[12] Already with some overtones denoting Canadians in general.

[13] The 1965 OED citation shows a more recent example of Canuck to denote the French Canadian language.

[14] Much of this information of the genesis of the argument is found in the Walter S. Avis collection, Queen’s University Archives, Kingston, Ont., locator #3726, Box 1, File 3.

[15] The discussion was based on the Canuck entry in Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (1970) (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 16, 1975, p. E3).

[16] As western Canadian newspapers have not been digitized, the survey is based on a evidence from two BC newspapers, the Vancouver Sun and Victoria Daily Times, from the years 1884, 1902/03 and 1917, amounting up to four months of material.