Thursday, September 26, 2013

"No worries there"... The rise, and (hopefully) eventual fall of that dreadful word, 'Newfie'

Recently, there have been all these polls, asking Newfoundlanders whether or not they are offended by the term "Newfie". It absolutely stuns me to learn that about two-thirds of us think it's just dandy. Well, that's really just two-thirds of people who agree to participate in polls on NTV News, or take the time to answer pollsters on the telephone. I'm hoping that's a tiny minority of us.

Me? It makes my fingers twitch just having to type the word, let alone what it does to me on those rare occasions when I am actually forced to say it.

This is a topic that I've wanted to write about since the inception of this blog. It is the one topic, so close to my heart, to which I know that I can never do justice in expressing why that word is so wrong and so insulting and so hurtful to me, and should be thought of as wrong in the minds of my fellow Newfoundlanders.

When I was very young, I remember going to Dominion on Elizabeth Avenue to get groceries with Mom. While I was there, I asked for and got a small blue book of Newfie jokes. I thought this was GREAT!! Keep in mind - this was the 60s. Newfoundland was a small (population-wise), insular, oil-free island, hardly ever mentioned on the national news broadcasts, and when we were, they invariably pronounced it wrong. New-FOUND-lund. Still gives me the creeps. But, yes, I thought my little book of Newfie jokes was great! "Wow, Mom, someone wrote a book about us!!" I read the jokes, and I laughed at them. I was eight. Give me a break.

But then I grew up. My eight-year-old pride, which was happy with a book of bad, insulting jokes, grew out of that and grew into a patriotic pride, that saw the damage that such words can do. Other people changed and saw that damage, too. Sadly, the polls are saying that about two-thirds of us did not change, and they still just don't get it.

Newfoundland grew up too, at least it did politically and socio-economically. As the years went by, Newfoundland gained prominence not only on the national stage, but internationally as well.

There are so many things to be proud of, as Newfoundlanders:

 - We are the only country in the world that paid its war debt from WWI.

 - We lost over 700 men in the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, of whom it was said, "It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further." Major-General Sir Beauvoir De Lisle

 - Our men, particularly from the area of Harbour Main, are world-renowned as some of the best 'high steel' workers in the world, contributing to the construction of the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge, among others. Their fearless ability to work at great heights was, and is, legendary.

 - Ralph Klein, late premier of Alberta, rather than opine about building a fence to keep the Newfoundlanders out, should have thanked each and every one for building his oil sands empire from, literally, the ground up.

 - For 500 years, we had a thriving fishery. It wasn't until it was used as a pawn by the Federal Government that our fishing heritage was decimated to the edge of extinction, as we sat on the shore, watching European freezer trawlers hauling it all away.

 - We have a unique culture that other provinces, particularly Quebec, do not have.

 - We have endured tragedies - the 1914 SS Newfoundland Sealing Disaster, the USS Truxton and USS Pollux disaster, the Ocean Ranger disaster, the sinking of countless ships along our shores - with a resilience of character you just won't find anywhere else.

 - Speaking of tragedies, on September 11th, 2001, Newfoundlanders offered comfort, support, food, clothes, a roof and a bed to thousands and thousands of people from all over the globe, who suddenly found themselves here in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

 - We have the unique distinction of having remarkable, beautiful and elegant dogs named after both parts of our province; the storied Newfoundland dog, and the affectionate Labrador in all its varied hues.

 - We're probably the only place on earth that has a carnivorous plant as its honored flower.


 - And, have you actually gone outside and looked around? This is the most beautiful land God created, in all its harsh ruggedness. Stunning, really.

 - The Arts. We had an artistic community here in Newfoundland long before the LSPU Hall was used as anything other than a union hall. Mary and Christopher Pratt, world caliber artists. EJ Pratt, who gave us poetry...

It took the sea a thousand years,
A thousand years to trace
The granite features of this cliff,
In crag and scarp and base.
It took the sea an hour one night,
An hour of storm to place
The sculpture of those granite seams
Upon a woman's face.

...Writers and musicians. Actors and producers. A cultural potpourri of which we can be very proud.

And the list could go on. And on and on and on.

Sadly, despite everything we have to be intensely proud of, that word followed us, with its images of square rolling pins, and drunk fishermen, all those images that are so unfair and unrepresentative and insulting and offensive and belittling. WHY don't people get that?

Here's another word that underscores my point. One word. "Snook". Enough said.

Nope, I've changed my mind. Enough has NOT been said. It appalls me that our provincial newcaster will give this person a platform to spout his personal politics while standing there like an idiot, personifying every horrible "Newfie" stereotype out there. It absolutely appalls me. I equate it to a broadcaster in an African-American community having someone come on in blackface, ridiculing that community. Is there a difference? If so, I don't see it.

No one behaves like Snook here. No one speaks like that. But NTV, "Canada's Superstation", wants all its worldwide satellite viewers to believe otherwise, or else why would they give him that exposure?

I understand that Pete Soucy, who portrays "Snook", is very vocal about his intense dislike of the word "Newfie", too, and has discussed it on television. My initial reaction when I first heard this was, "What a bloody hypocrite!!!!" If that's the case, Pete, you might want to rethink the whole "Snook" thing. The character may not use the word, but he personifies it to a tee. Just awful, embarrassing and depressing.

We were dragged into this country in 1949. Your average Canadian didn't want us. Your average St. John's-man didn't want any part of it, either, but the Baby Bonus won the day. Our fate, and that of this island, was sealed.

According to the elemental proposition
the island
should not have been there;
but it withstood the assault
from all compass points
of unpunctilious waves
that struck out blindly
taking only
the weakest parts of the rocks:

And the men
were not broken by the sea.

But other
horn-rimmed, vertically moving
knowing nothing of the taste of tears
drew neat, symmetrical
and did
on some leisurely afternoons
what the sea could not do
in a thousand years.
Enos Watts, Long Pond, Nfld., (1939 -  )

Yes, nature couldn't do it, but Joey could.

The Canadians didn't know what to make of us. For God's sake, they weren't even interested enough to learn how to pronounce our name correctly. All they knew was that there weren't very many of us, we had a kind of Irish-ish accent, and fishing was our thing. Not high finance. Not maple syrup producers. Not wheat farmers. Fishermen. That was us, as far as they knew. So, the stereotyping began.

Have you ever seen a caricature of a Newfoundlander in a suit and tie? In a pair of work coveralls? In a nurse's uniform? No, you have not. The sou'wester and oilskins were our 'uniform'. And stupid things coming out of our mouths with a quaint dialect was our schtick. Enter "Snook".

They got around the issue of our unpronouncable (to them!) name by shortening it up to something that their forked tongues could handle. Newfie. But never once was it said in a tone of respect or politeness. It was always an insult, trivializing our proud name, the rich city mouse putting the poor country mouse in its place.


I will concede this much. Not every time it is used is it used as an insult. That IS the way it was conceived, but times have changed, if only a very little bit. I have met many people from both Canada and the USA who have used the term - ignorantly - as a term of endearment. This is because some idiot Newfoundlander in their past told them it was, and told them "That's fine!! Nuttin' wrong wit it, b'y!! We loves dat!!!"

Yeah, well, that idiot Newfoundlander was NOT speaking for ME, because there is EVERYTHING wrong with it. As I even state in the "About Me" section on the home page of this blog, I hate "...the other 'N' word...", because that is exactly the comparison I use. I would love to live long enough to see the day that Newfoundlanders would clue in, and decide, as African Americans did, that the 'N' word is off limits. The blacks in the States still have some internal education to do on that score, but they've made headway in the larger picture. We, on the other hand, are still encouraging the use of our own 'N' word, so the chances of me living to see that day are essentially nil.

Rest assured, I have taken it on as a personal mission to educate my fellow global citizens that "Newfie" is no term of endearment, and I'll continue to enlighten them, one-by-one-by-one if I have to, until the day I die.

I said that not every time it is used, is it used as an insult. However, one thing I know, from personal experience, is that it MOST DEFINITELY IS used as an insult more often than not. Don't let my little concession there lead you to believe that I'm softening on the issue. Will. Never. Happen.

Let me tell you just one of my tales of when it was no "term of endearment"...

I lived in Fort McMurray, Alberta for eight years, back in the late 80's / early 90's. I knew nothing about the town before I went there, but soon learned that it was populated by a large faction of Newfoundlanders, there to work in the oil sands. Admirable. Where there's work, you'll find us. No surprise there.

There were a lot of non-Newfoundlanders there too, of course, from all over Canada and the rest of the world, as well.

One woman I met there, I'll call her Karen (because that was her name), she and I became friends. She was from Alberta. She had a husband and two daughters, the youngest being around the age of eight at the time of this tale.

Karen and I were going out on the town one night, a girls night out. I went to her house to pick her up, and sat in the living room with her husband while she finished getting ready. Her daughter came in and sat by her Dad. Ken (because that was his name) asked me where I was from. I answered, "Newfoundland." Without pausing for breath, the little girl started in a singsong voice, "Goofy Newfie, goofy Newfie, goofy Newfie..." and would not stop until her father demanded that she stop.

I sat there in wide-eyed shock. It was stunningly awful on the face of it, but I had to ask myself, WHERE ON EARTH does an eight year old child learn this, and know enough to use it as an insult? Was it her parents? Was it in school? I have to say that I never thought the same of Karen & Ken after that. He made her stop, but he did not apologize, and did not look embarrassed, as parents generally tend to do when their children insult guests.

Maybe she learned it on the radio. After all, Stompin' Tom Connors (may he rot in the pits of Hell) made a fortune singing that despicable song, that I will not quote here, thereby giving a certain validity to the bigotry.

So, all I can say with 100% certainty is that there is no context where that word is anything but an insult. Even if some unknowing mainlander THINKS he's being endearing, the insult goes deeper than his or her ignorance. That word was conceived in hatred and disdain, even if it is trying to morph into something acceptable. It hasn't, it can't and it never will.

Back in July, 2012, I had a brief but very satisfying Twitter conversation with Allan Hawco, star of "Republic of Doyle". His initial tweet was concerning an Op-ed piece from the New York Times about the history of Newfoundland, and how if things had gone differently, July 22, 1948 would have been Newfoundland's Independence Day.

It was a very interesting article, full of historical references that every Newfoundlander should have been taught in school, but of course, wasn't. The only downside to the article was that the writer felt compelled to use that word. Dammit.

So, Allan Hawco tweeted the above, and I responded...

Couldn't fit all I wanted to say in one 140-character tweet, so I had to do Part 2.

And then I got a reply... three words that made me ecstatically happy, so happy that I used them in the title of this blog post.

So, to you Newfie-word lovers, I have a question or two to ask that you may or may not be able or willing to answer, but you may want to think about as you carry on, blissfully insulting at least one-third of your fellow Countrymen...

WHY, when you know that a significant portion of society finds this word offensive, do you continue to use it? (You probably think it's cool and edgy to say "retarded" nearly every second word, too, but that's another rant for another day...)

WHY, when any entertainer worth his or her salt (and also Pete Soucy), refuses to be associated with it, do you continue to think it's cool to use?

WHY, have you ever wondered, do you never hear the word used by anyone in the media, news, radio, or by any politician?

WHY do you think that being associated with square rolling pins, and mugs with the handles inside and all the rest of that abhorrent nonsense is anything other than insulting? Were YOUR ancestors that stupid that they used things like that? Where the hell did all that even come from?

So, all of you who think "Newfie" is cute, or funny, or represents who we are, consider this - Yes, we speak differently than those from Canada. Ridicule us for it? Not a chance. Those who care about our image in the world promote it, proudly...

If we are all "Newfies", why, then, do none of these tourism ads use the word? Consider that. If it was such a great, renowned "term of endearment", as its defenders like to call it, then why hasn't the Department of Tourism taken it and run with it? Because it's not.
It. Is. NOT.

It's very PC these days to pronounce oneself nonjudgemental. We're all brothers and sisters of Mother Earth, no matter our differences, isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Well, let me tell you this... you use That Word, I judge you. Harshly.

Long may your big jib draw.



  1. Maggie I am
    100% with ya..It is time we stop using the N word!
    !Don L

    1. Thanks, Don. I've been itching to get that rant off my chest for years. If it changes just ONE person's mind, I'll die happy. But people will continue to use it mindlessly, not giving one moment's thought to it's roots and it's horribleness. *sigh*

  2. Well said..............

  3. Could not agree more........I left my beloved Newfoundland forty years ago and still efn cringe when I hear that word.Unfortunately there will be a certain element that just don't get it!

  4. Thanks for your comment. It is very sad. Some very intelligent people have a part of their brain stuck at eight years old. No insight about this whatsoever.


Your comments are welcome here! Just keep 'em clean, that's all I ask. I welcome differing opinions, but it IS my blog... I'm going to have the last word!!