Outside of hockey, and possibly beer, the main way to determine a person's "Canadianess" is their usage of the word "eh." And it's not even really a word, is it? It's only two letters in length and it's really more of a sound than a word.
But, despite this, it is central to the Canadian identity.
But what does it even mean?
In general, "eh" usually means "do you agree?" For example, a Canadian would say "It's pretty nice today, eh?" But, like all iconic slang, the Canadian "eh" has many meanings.
For example, a Canadian might say "That's really far, eh?" In that case the Canadian isn't asking if a person agrees, they are using the word to emphasize what they just said. The common Canadian response to "That's really far, eh?" is usually "I know, eh?" Again, it's used more for emphasis in this case.
Confused? Well, hold on, because it gets even more complex.
Canadians have managed to include the word "eh" into pretty much every sentence. It's quite common for a converstation like the one above to degenerate into a series of "ehs" that become increasingly meaningless but still important.
"That's really far, eh?"
"I know, eh?"
"You should leave now, eh?"
"I guess I should, eh?"
"I've been there before, eh?"
"Yeah. It's really nice there, eh?"
"Maybe I should take a camera, eh?"
"You should, eh."
"It's a nice day, eh?"
"We've had a nice week, eh?"
"I said 'we've had a nice week, eh?'"
A non-Canadian looking at the exchange above would consider the usage of "eh" ridiculous and unnecessary. A Canadian would wonder why there weren't a couple more "ehs" in there.
Now, this is important. As prevalent as the word "eh" is, it cannot be used in every sentence. It does have a correct and an incorrect usage.
Non-Canadians don't understand this. They don't get where "eh" is appropriate. In an attempt to fool the Canadian spotters they will throw in too many "ehs" into awkward points of the conversation. A faux-nuck would say something like "I gotta go out there, eh? It's really cold, eh? And I need to eh outside eh Thursday, eh?" That person is clearly not Canadian. No Canadian EVER needs to "eh outside eh Thursday." True Canadians ALWAYS eh outside eh Monday. It's a known fact amongst Canadians.
So, if you're trying to spot a Canadian you'll need to be careful. You will need to learn correct "eh" placement and hope that you have learned it better than your subject. Of course, since "eh" isn't really a word, it's difficult to learn about its usage. One will typically need to immerse his or herself into Canadian society for several years in order to learn proper "eh" usage. Only through putting in a great deal of time and effort will a non-Canadian learn the correct "eh" usage that all true Canadians have known since birth.
Fact: 98% of Canadians admit that "eh" was their first word. The other 2% state that "eh" was their second word, after "Mama."
"Mama, eh?" is a popular sentence among Canadian babies.
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