The Debunker: Do Canadians Say "Oot" and "Aboot"?

by Ken Jennings

Since it's July, we're celebrating North America's most important patriotic holiday. Put that watermelon on ice and stock up on fireworks, because Canada Day is here! July 1 celebrates the Constitution Act of 1867 that unified Canada into a single dominion—but have American really studied up on our neighbor to the north, or do we take its many accomplishments for granted? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is not Canadian, but he does live just two hours from the border, and is very pale and polite. All month, he's going to be correcting our counterfactual Canadian conjectures, eh?

Do Canadians Say "Oot" and "Aboot"?

The most common stereotype of Canadian English to American ears, after the omnipresent "eh?", is the idea that Canadians pronounce "out" and "about" with a long 'u' sound. "Let's go oot and get some Tim Hortons, eh? How aboot that?" Even the BBC [http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150820-why-is-canadian-english-unique] props up this notion, but I always thought it was crazy when I heard it from the mouths of American impressionists. I grew up on a strict diet of Degrassi, and I knew those kids were actually saying something more like "aboat." "Soh-rry, we're just going to hang aboat the hoase."

Canada

"To American ears, the Canadian pronunciation of about often sounds like aboot," writes Ontario linguistics professor Taylor Roberts, "but this is only an illusion." There are a few varieties of English that turn the "ou" sound into "oo," most notably the one spoken by Scottish Highlanders and Scrooge McDuck, but Canadians don't do it. Their dominant accent—which is pretty standard nationwide—is a variant of English influenced both by indigenous speakers and by waves of immigration from Britain and America.

Canadian English's most distinctive feature is a vowel shift called the "Canadian Raising." Our "ow" sound is a diphthong—a combination of two vowels. When Americans say "out," we're combining a short 'a', like in "man," and then a long 'u', like "boot." Canadians pronounce both vowels differently, with the tongue slightly higher in the mouth, to produce two sounds that we don't have in American English. The second vowel sound is closer to an "uh" or an "oh" than our "oo." The result sounds more like "oat" than "oot"—though it's really a combination of two vowels that are both pretty hard to pin down.

Bottom line: our version of "aboat" actually has a stronger "oo" than the Canadian one does, so its time to let this scurrilous stereotype die. I don't know how it got started, anyway. I've been watching Bob and Doug McKenzie sketches all morning, and they never said "aboot."

Quick Quiz: Toronto FC's Dwayne De Rosario was the only Canadian ever to receive what organization's "Golden Boot" award?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.