Canada, Eh?

Paul McFedries lists at MCFEDRIES.COM
Wed Nov 28 19:33:10 UTC 2001

"Eh" is used much less frequently nowadays, and you can blame (or praise)
the SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie. Before they came along, appending
"eh" to the end of a sentence was as natural as breathing for many
Canadians. The McKenzie brothers exaggerated this trait and, thanks to their
eventual popularity, inexorably linked the use of "eh" to the unattractive
"hoser" demographic. So although, as Herb Stahlke pointed out, "eh" remains
popular in working class settings (and with true hosers of all classes), the
decline of "eh" among the rest of the population (particularly in Toronto)
proceeded in four steps:

1. Imitation. People looking for cheap laughs at parties would imitate the
McKenzie brothers -- either with memorized skits or with improvisational
bursts -- a key feature of which was a hoserish "eh?" at the end of most, if
not all, sentences.

2. Self-consciousness. Since "eh" had become associated with hosers and used
for laughs, letting one slip into your regular conversation became a source
of embarrassment. If you weren't gently mocked by the listener, you'd mock
yourself by adding another exaggerated "eh?" in an effort to show that you
were really just kidding with that first one.

3. Erasure. People then became acutely aware of an impending "eh" and would
stifle it. This hi-eh-tus eventually enabled people to get some distance
from it, so that it was no longer a troublesome speech pattern.

4. Irony. Now people can (and often do) use "eh" ironically, particularly in
hoserish settings: "Gimme a beer, eh?", "That's a nice toque you got, eh?".
(To be effective, these need to be rendered with either a Bob and Doug hoser
accent or a Maritime lilt.)

Bye for now, eh?


> But now I've just returned from a 6-day visit to Toronto--and not ONCE did
> I hear anyone say "Eh?"  Is this quintessential Canadianism dying out, or
> has it always been regional and I was in the wrong region this time?

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