Those outside of Canada often cite “eh” as the quintessential Canadian linguistic identifier. I thought the sentence suffix was unique to the Great White North, until I came here. Australians, especially those from New South Wales (at least more so than those from Victoria) have a habit of tacking “ay” onto the end of their sentences. One may think that this is no different than the Canadian “eh”, but I have noticed a few subtle differences. For one, the two words sound completely different, revealing the full force of each national accent. Also, Canadians often say “eh” with the sort of upwards intonation typical of North America, while Australians tend to use neutral or downward intonation.
Both are rather charming colloquialisms that entrench caricatured versions of Canadian and Australian National Identities. For example, the other day, I felt it was necessary to inform my friend that his serial use of the word was starting to make him sound like a bogan. Like any slang word, “ay” can easily be overused. However, since it is relatively harmless and in an odd way reminds me of home, I don’t mind hearing it. It actually sort of makes me feel more comfortable ay (eh).
Yesterday, I was about to catch a lift home with a friend, and asked him if we could stop at the liquor store on the way home. His friend loudly, but politely corrected me, “Do you mean the bottle-o?” That is indeed what I meant. In Australia, liquor stores go by any iteration of bottle-o, bottle shop, or, in my defence, liquor store, depending on where you are.
The key difference between bottle shops and their Canadian counterparts is that drive-through bottle shops exist in this country. That’s right folks; you can drive up to a store, ask for a case of beer from your car window, and receive your libations from the comfort of your vehicle. This troubles me. Of course, you’re not going to crack a cold one right then and there, but the proximity to the idea of drinking and driving still makes me feel a bit uneasy. In Australia’s defence, I guess you can’t put a price on convenience, but I definitely rest easy knowing that the town I live in is too small for a large drive-thru bottle-o.
I know what you’re thinking. How can one of the most common words in Canadian English (or any form of English for that matter) be an Aussie word? The answer is context. Canadians generally only use the word beautiful to describe something visual, while the Aussies use it to describe taste as well. For example, that vanilla slice was beautiful. This pizza is beautiful. Personally, I am in favour of this use of the word. Something about hearing it makes my food taste better. For instance, if someone were to tell me that those meat pies were just beautiful, I’d enjoy them more than if someone simply said they were delicious.
I’m not sure why hearing a different word works, but psychologists and linguists should look into this. Restaurant owners could make a killing.