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Introducing... Terry Pratt: author of Prince Edward Island Sayings and Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English.

The first day I was on Prince Edward Island (1972, age 29, just hired from Toronto as a U.P.E.I. professor), I was taking a stroll around Charlottetown, when I met a little girl with a big black dog. “What a nice dog!” I said. “You from away?” she instantly replied, an expression I had never heard before. So this was the first saying I ever collected, along with the knowledge that there was something “foreign” (which can mean the same as “from away”) about the way I spoke.

As I got into analyzing Island speech, I realized that it was a highly complex blend of uniqueness and sharing with other dialects. “From away,” for example, is used in several places that consider themselves special and apart, and need a cover term for the rest of the world, including Newfoundland, Nova Scotia’s south shore, Maine, Boston, Kentucky, Georgia, and the West Indies. Then again, “Islanders” (a VERY tricky word) don’t always fix the outer limit of “away” at the world or universe, but may mean North America or the rest of Canada only. The rest are “foreigners.” People from Ontario, I have learned, are especially said to be from away. And it is only non-native Islanders who refer to themselves as “PFAs” or “CFAs”—people, or come, from away.

Meanwhile, other Maritimers may NOT be “from away” but “from the other side,” which is much friendlier. Anne of Green Gables was from the other side; she might never have made it in Avonlea at all if she had been from away.

Prince Edward Islanders have uniquely mastered a language fondly referred to as “Islandese.” Islanders are accustomed to responses such as “whaaa?” when someone hasn’t heard what has been said and “I’m donna that,” when a task has been completed. When asked how a person is feeling some typical Island responses may include “I’m feeling right happy, eh,” and “I’m fine altogether.” Words such as “wash” are more often pronounced “warsh” and frequently “slippery” is replaced with “slippy.” Ironically, what may be a well-known saying in Prince County may never have been heard in Kings County. Here are some sayings that are commonly heard throughout Prince Edward Island.

Prince County
“As big as a haystack.” Describes very large, well-fed senior men.
“If their brass were gold, they would be millionaires.” Describes a saucy or brazen person.
“They couldn’t afford the first instalment of a free lunch.” Describes someone extremely poor.
“Not operating on all batteries.” Describes someone not behaving in an intelligent manner.
“Running around like a fart in a mitten.” Anxious, overworked, acting at random with little effect.

Queens County
“As wide as a two-by-four.” Used to describe a small or thin person.
“Is it cold up there?” Common expression when speaking with a tall person.
“Crooked as a crowbar.” Describes a fundamentally dishonest person.
“They couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles.” Describes one who could not sing in tune.
“Too cold for a fence post.” Describes below average temperatures and wind chills.

Kings County
“Wouldn’t that boil your britches.” Describes a shocking or anger provoking event.
“You could have bought someone for two cents.” Describes someone showing embarrassment.
“As bright as a burned out light bulb.” Describes someone not especially bright or intelligent.
“Busier than a cat having kittens.” Describes someone very busy or absorbed in their work.
“You could fry eggs on the floor.” Too hot in one’s home.

All Localities
“Calm your hormones.” Commonly used when trying to calm a person.
“Clean the dirt out of your ears.” Said when someone has not heard a statement that was made.
“They must have run that cow to death.” Describes a meal with extremely tough meat.
“Always a day late and a dollar short.” Describes someone repeatedly unreliable.
“I’ve been better but it costs more.” Humorous reply to the question “How are you?”

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