Has a Canadian Slur Lost Its Sting?

“I hate the word,” said Overton Colbourne, 69, a professional engineer from Newfoundland who grew up at a time when the word delivered the sharpest slap. “I think it’s ugly.”

The sociologist, James Baker, 42, a proud Newfoundlander himself, grew up knowing the word as a slur. But when he talked to students at Memorial University in Newfoundland, where he earned his Ph.D., he found that the term had become “context dependent,” he said in a telephone interview, meaning that whether or not it is offensive depends on how it is used and by whom.

It can be taken as either an insult or an endearing nickname these days, he said, and young Newfoundlanders don’t need a field guide to understand which is which.


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