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Thursday 18 September 2014


Every so often I hear a word and wonder about the origins. Did it start as a slang term? Did it come from another language? Is it something truly unique to Newfoundland and Labrador?

One of the earliest I can remember wondering about was coleslaw. I could see someone eating this tasty but unusual side and commenting on how it was basically cold slop and it could have evolved from there! Of course that's not where the name comes from. It actually originated with the Dutch word for a cabbage salad: koolsla. Now you know.

Another word I often wondered about was dandelion. It always seemed to me that it could be a French word meaning lion's tooth, based on the shape of the pointy jagged leaf. Turns out I actually got that one right. Not that it's a stretch to see that dandelion could come from dent de lion. This is really only where the interesting notes about dandelions in NL gets started.

I was lucky enough to grow up with my grandparents and as such they provided me with a link to a more traditional side to NL culture and language that I would have otherwise missed out on. When it came to dandelions my grandmother would often say her mother called them "piss-a-beds." This just sent me in a burst of laughter as a boy. How could it not? A while ago I was thinking about my nan and dandelions came into my head and how that always made me laugh. Then I started to wonder about where piss-a-bed could have come from?     

I'm not sure if I actually looked it up in french or if I happened to see it written but I was pretty surprised when I found that the french word for dandelion is not dandelion but is actually pissenlit. So not only is the regular english name derived from french but so is the Newfoundland word! To make it even better the Newfoundland word is a mix between french and english. The beginning is similar as pissen becomes piss-a but the funny part is how the end of the word gets translated into english as lit translates to bed. 

We are incredibly lucky in Newfoundland and Labrador to have such a mix of traditional culture and language. From english to french to aboriginal, we must to continue to explore and celebrate our cultures. They help us understand where we came from and indeed can help shape our unique future in a world of homogeneity. Isn't it more fun to call them piss-a-beds then boring dandelions!  


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