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FOULDS: The vernacular of age and geography

Whether you crave a pop or soda or soft drink, whether you need to use the washroom, restroom or water closet and whether you are sitting on a couch, sofa or chesterfield, your choice of descriptors likely reveals where you live and, more often now, your age.
Foulds Christopher column head

There was a sudden sound, like someone had rung the doorbell.

The dog barked and my 10-year-old stepdaughter ran to the front door. She opened it to find an empty doorstep.

“Someone ding-dong ditched!” she called out as she closed the door.

Turns out the doorbell chime was the washer telling us a load was done, but the description used by my stepdaughter intrigued me. “Ding-dong ditch” is a phrase I had heard before, about a decade ago when my daughter and son were that age.

But even then, that phrase caught me off-guard because, when I grew up, we often rang a bell or knocked on a door and ran away — but we called it “nicky-nicky nine door.”

Those were the halcyon days of the 1970s and 1980s in the Fraser Valley and I had never heard “ding-dong ditch” until moving to Kamloops in 2005.

Is it a regional lexiconic lean or a generational shift?

When I mentioned playing “nicky-nicky nine door” to the 10-year-old, a blank stare is what I received in return.

She had never heard that expression used to describe a pastime that, thankfully, continues on to current childhoods.

Consider the last word in the second sentence of this column.

I call it a “doorstep” and I believe most in B.C. label it likewise. But go back East and, in many locales, that “doorstep” is a “stoop.”

How and why and where we call things what we do has always fascinated me and that “ding-dong ditch/nicky-nicky nine door” episode once again piqued my interest.

Whether you crave a pop or soda or soft drink, whether you need to use the washroom, restroom or water closet and whether you are sitting on a couch, sofa or chesterfield, your choice of descriptors likely reveals where you live and, more often now, your age.

Imagine my delight when, two days later, Ian Austen of the New York Times sent out his weekly newsletter that touched on this very discussion of Canadianisms and how descriptions of things and actions can differ greatly from place to place.

Austen was writing about Katherine Barber, the founding editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary who died from cancer last month at the age of 61.

Barber was known as the Word Lady via her many appearances on CBC Radio, and she fostered an intense interest in Canadianisms found in the English language.

As Austen noted, Barber “always emphasized that no single word, spelling or pronunciation defined the ‘correct’ form of Canadian English. Her work was about discovering how English-speaking Canadians used their language, rather than telling them what they should be saying and writing.”

Austen wrote about Barber following her death and the obituary generated much discussion on Twitter with respect to Canadianism in language, including a spirited debate over what other words can be used to describe underwear.

Until I read his article, I had no idea Great White Northerners had so many ways to refer to that slip of fabric that resides under one’s pants or dress.

The long list included an impressive series of words beginning with the seventh letter of the alphabet: ginch, gonch, ginches, gitch, gitchies and gaunch.

Back in my school days, we referred to underwear as ginch and, now and then, as gonch.

But gaunch? Gitchies? Never.

I wonder what descriptors the kids of today use.

Have they inherited some of the language passed down by their older siblings and parents or has social media’s global reach led to those words disappearing off the playground and into obscurity with the stealth-like quickness of an expert ding-dong ditch/nicky-nicky nine door champion?

editor@kamloopsthisweek.com

Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds