Word Wonders: Canadian English’s confusing eh Part 2

Category: Education/Family


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. showy / ˈʃoʊ i / (adj) – very noticeable and attracting a lot of attention

    Jane doesn’t like showy displays of affection like giving expensive gifts or flowers.

  2. resentful / rɪˈzɛnt fəl / (adj) – feeling angry or displeased about someone or something

    Ken is resentful about losing his job.

  3. humility / hyuˈmɪl ɪ ti / (n) – the state or quality of not thinking that one is better than others

    A lot of people admire the tennis champion for his humility. He never brags about his skill.

  4. close call / kloʊs kɔl / (n) – an almost unsuccessful escape from danger or disaster

    I had a close call when a car almost hit me while I was crossing the road.

  5. ironically / aɪˈrɒn ɪk li / (adv) – in a way that’s interesting, strange, or funny because something is different from what most people expect

    Ironically, the house next to the fire station burned down.


Read the text below.

Continued from Part 1…

This understatement is a very Canadian trait. In Canada, showy displays of confidence or success are often met with a resentful “Who does he think he is?” attitude. We tend to dislike bragging, pushiness or outward confidence that approaches arrogance. Where an American or an Australian might use words like “terrific” or “fantastic” or “the greatest,” a Canadian might describe the Beatles as “a pretty good band” and say that caviar and an expensive bottle of Champagne are “not bad.” We will often boast or praise through this kind of reversed language and mock humility: “She won the Nobel Prize for curing cancer and making peace in the Middle East — that’s not too bad, eh?”

Sometimes “eh” can make a statement more forceful, as in: “It’s minus 30 degrees outside, I’m freezing, eh!”

“Eh” can also be used like the tag “ne” in Japanese to confirm that the listener is paying attention and understanding the conversation. “There I was face to face with this moose, eh? And it looked angry, eh, so I ran to the canoe and paddled away. It was a close call, eh!”

These Canadianisms are rarely used in writing (except ironically, to identify something as Canadian) or in formal situations. You wouldn’t expect to hear the prime minister greet the queen with “How’s it going, eh, your majesty?” or to tell Parliament “the state of the economy is not bad, eh?”

And now you can speak Canadian. Not too confusing, eh? (Kevin Wood)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Do you prefer the showy American/Australian style of speaking (ex. “terrific,” “the greatest”) or the more humble Canadian style of speaking (ex. “pretty good,” “not bad”)? Why? Discuss.
  • The writer explains that speaking in an understated way is a Canadian trait. What national traits does your country have (ex. speaking indirectly, being polite), and how do they influence your native language? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • “Eh” is rarely used in writing or formal situations. How well do you understand the difference between written and spoken English? How about formal and informal English? Discuss.
  • “Eh” can be used to confirm that a listener is paying attention and understanding the conversation. What techniques do you use to confirm that someone is paying attention when you speak? Discuss.