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Last Words - Strangers Within Our Gates
by Alec McEwen

0NTARIO EXCLUSIVE. Municipal World, a St. Thomas, Ontario, monthly magazine, lists but three categories for its subscription rates: Ontario, U.S.A., and Foreign. What about potential subscribers in other parts of Canada? They are certainly foreign, in one sense of the word, but so is the United States. Since all three destinations are offered the publication at the same subscription cost, there seems to be little reason for their separate identification.

EXOTIC, OUTLANDISH. In origin, the adjective exotic described a plant or animal that was foreign or had been introduced into one's own country from abroad. Although it is still used in that sense, exotic now extends to anything that appears fascinating or unusual. But whereas an exotic cruise may be a legitimate application, especially if it holds promise of romantic travel to faraway places, the barroom striptease commonly known as exotic dancing is, all too frequently, sleazily domestic. Yet outlandish, once synonymous with exotic, has become mainly a derogatory reference to something that is extreme or bizarre, or even ridiculous.

BARBARIAN, TRAMONTANE. Barbarian was first used by the ancient Greeks to signify a person with a foreign mode of speech. It eventually became equated not only with absence of learning but also with offensive behaviour and cruelty. Tramontane, a word of Italian origin, meaning outsider or "person beyond the mountains," was once used as the depreciatory equivalent of barbarian. It also means a north wind, blowing across the Alps, and hence any cold blast coming from the other side of the hills.

COME FROM AWAY, OVERNER. "So you're from Canada then?" inquired my landlady, when I moved from Ottawa to Newfoundland in 1972 to begin four years' residence there. No malice intended, just the harmless curiosity of a woman who had grown up during the pre-Confederation era and was still accustomed to regarding as a denizen of "Upper Canada" anyone originating west of Cape Anguille. Come from away, often abbreviated to C.F.A., remains a favourite Newfoundland expression to describe an outsider, but even within the province there is a separate nomenclature for urban and country dwellers. The townie of St. John's and the bay wop of the outports are appellations by which each holds the other in affectionate contempt. And the capital city itself once contained the two warring factions of Up-Alongs and Down-Alongs, from the west and the east ends of the town respectively. Newfoundland is not the only place where geographical insularity inspires a special terminology for non-islanders. Oldtimers on the Isle of Wight, for example, use the term overner to describe a newcomer who has travelled over the water from England's south coast, a mere four miles away.

Cheechako, a popular expression for a person who comes to the Yukon for the first time, stems from a combination of Chinook and Nootka words meaning a newcomer. It originally applied to a tenderfoot or greenhorn. Associated with the gold rush days of 1897, cheechako was immortalized by Robert Service in his ballads of that name. Eric Partridge, in his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, claimed that cheechako had become obsolescent by 1949, but perhaps that information has never reached the Canadian Northwest.

Creole is a multipurpose word that was once reserved as a name for European colonists, especially those of Spanish or French descent, who were born in the West Indies. It was later applied in some other parts of the world to humans, animals, and plants of foreign origin, and also to a language derived from more than one source. For example, in the officially English-speaking Seychelles, Creole refers to the mixed language of the ordinary working people, related to but distinct from the standard French used by the more formally educated Seychellois, and supplemented by African and other words.

PALE. Pale, in the sense of a fence made of stakes or palings, became extended to mean the jurisdictional limits of territory that was not necessarily enclosed physically. It especially signified the exercise of control by one country over part of the lands of another. An example was the English Pale in Ireland, the residents of which were palemen. Anyone not living within the jurisdiction was considered to be beyond the pale, an expression that now applies figuratively to a person who is outside civilized behaviour.


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