Newfoundland has a deep connection to its Irish and English heritage, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the island’s slang, which today still closely mirrors the Gaelic and West Country dialects spoken by early settlers. Add a dash of isolation, and you end up with phrases that sound like a foreign language to the rest of the country.
For those of us who are come-from-aways, here’s a quick guide to some common Newfoundland phrases.
Translation: “What are you up to?”
This roughly correlates with “What’s up?” Though it’s not exactly a literal question—the standard answer, as Newfoundland actor Allan Hawco explained to George Stroumboulopoulos in this video, is: “This is it.”
“Where y’ longs to?”
Translation: Where are you from?
The speaker is not, in actuality, asking you where y’longs are or where they’re going. Rather, he or she is saying, literally, “Where do you belong?”
“Who knit ya?”
Translation: Who’s your mother/parents?
This one doesn’t need too much explanation, but try telling your mother that all she was doing for nine months was “knitting.”
“I’m gutfounded. Fire up a scoff.”
Translation: I’m hungry. Make me some food.
According to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, “scoff” has its origins in the Anglo-Manx dialect, and means food or a meal. A scoff often consists of a Jigg’s Dinner—a delectable collection of boiled salt beef, cabbage, carrots, and turnips, which may or may not be accompanied by pease pudding (boiled split peas) and followed by figgy duff (boiled pudding made with raisins).
“Long may your big jib draw.”
Translation: May you have good fortune for a long time.
As a seafaring people, Newfoundlanders have their fair share of nautical slang. A jib is a sail, and a jib that’s drawn is one that’s full of wind—a good thing, unless you really like rowing, of course.
This phrase forms part of a ceremony known as a “screech-in,” where an islander welcomes a mainlander. The mainlander must kiss a (real) cod, and answer the question, “Is ye a screecher?” The appropriate answer is, “‘Deed I is, me old cock, and long may your big jib draw.” At this point, the mainlander drinks a shot of rum known as screech.
“Stay where you’re to ‘til I comes where you’re at.”
Translation: Stay where you are until I get there.
If you’re calling a Newfoundland friend after a screech-in and the accompanying celebrations, this is the way they might tell you to stay put until they come and rescue you. Of course, if you’ve had a few shots of screech, you might have a hard time figuring out what they mean.
“It’s a mausey/mauzy day.”
Translation: It’s a cloudy, foggy day.
When you make your living on the water, you develop a wide range of descriptive words to match the weather. “Mauzy” generally means wet and foggy, but can also imply warm, windless, and heavy—like the air before a thunderstorm.
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