Montreal English Meets Southern Drawl

BadlandsIf you’ve ever driven across the northern United States, then you know there’s a whole lot of not much for a mighty long time. Flat morphs into rolling hills, then back into flat again. Wisconsin oaks dwindle into South Dakotan grasslands, and somewhere along I-90 between nothing and nowhere, there’s a sign for Wall Drug, advertising five-cent coffee, homemade donuts, and the small comfort that only 350 miles of dust stand between you and that warm, gooey dough. It is a sobering fact. None the less, it gave me hope.

After crossing the Badlands—an unearthly rise of rock, mud, and silence—and reading dozens, perhaps hundreds, of billboards for what appeared to be the only roadside attraction worth considering in the state, I reached the infamous Wall Drug.

It was as sprawling and all-encompassing as the billboards proclaimed and I stumbled ’round its seemingly endless aisles, souvenir shops, Traveler’s Chapel, pharmacy counter, and taxidermied specimens until I hit upon the bakery and its promised homemade donuts.

A sign on what appeared to be the giant donut machine read “Closed on Wednesdays.”

I turned to the nearest clerk. “What day are we?” I pleaded. How could they close the donut machine when I had driven all the way from Montreal for one damned donut?!

The girl looked at me like I was from Mars. “I don’t know what day y’all are ’hon, but it’s Wednesday here.”

“It,” I said to myself, suddenly forgetting the glazed donuts and the bitter black beverage. I quickly thanked the clerk for her kindness and left Wall Drug.

Outside, the sun shone on the faux totem poles and iron horse tie-ups that lined the pharmacy’s exterior. “What day is it?” I said to myself and laughed. After a decade and a half in Montreal, I had come to rely on the old familiar translation of On est quel jour? and its response On est mercredi (literally What day are we? and We are Wednesday) that I had all but forgotten the simplicity of the word it.

It felt good to remember how wonderfully English the word it is, but it also felt good to speak that regional dialect known as Montreal English. Our regionalisms, like dep and in the juice, may not have been featured in as many Hollywood movies as y’all and ain’t, but they distinguish us as both a culture and a people.

What’s your favourite piece of Montreal-speak? Share your story with us!

Article by Erin Daley
Photo by Rob Fahie


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