This year’s iHeartRadio Much Music Video Awards on Sunday, June 19, 2016, host Gigi Hadid, and presenter and actress Lucy Hale, kicked off the event by saying, “Here are a few things I’ve learned – number one, they [Canadians] have the world’s hottest Prime Minister… they have no issues sharing bathrooms, so that’s pretty cool… plus, there’s definitely a language that Drake’s created, and it spread beyond Canada.”
Recently, Toronto has been creeping out of the shadows of its neighbouring cities and Torontonians have received positive reactions when expressing that they situate in The 6ix. Pop music darlings, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, and our self-proclaimed 6 God, Drake, have also helped to raise Toronto’s profile. This, coupled with the late Mayor Rob Ford’s crack cocaine scandal, the legendary Bautista bat flip, Toronto Raptor’s ‘We the North’ campaign, and our (devilishly handsome) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have caused Toronto – and Canada – to be the talk of the town. Included in this phenomenon is Toronto “talk” – which has become one of the city’s biggest cultural exports. So, what is Toronto slang exactly? What classifies it as belonging to Toronto vs. everybody else?
To get some insight, we contacted a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in ‘Linguistic Change and Variation in City and Ontario English’. Our inquiry included questions on the origins of phrases such as, Dun know dawg, I haven’t seen you in a minute, Don’t cheese me, mans throwing shade, It’s a proper ting, still and Yaaaaas Queen. Ironically, the linguist had absolutely no idea what we were referring to and instead went on to explain terribly dated teen words like “cool” and “like”. Swipe left!
“Dun know dawg, I haven’t seen you in a minute.”
“Don’t cheese me, mans throwing shade.”
“It’s a proper ting, still.”
Thankfully, we found a recent York University linguistics graduate, Shea Solomon, who had the perfect amount of enthusiasm and understanding of Toronto’s new language. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:
Glossi Mag: “Why is Toronto slang so prominent right now?”
Shea Solomon: “Language change is typically associated with social change, which makes sense because language is a tool used to interact with others and express thoughts, feelings, and orders. Language unifies and differentiates groups, but for it to take hold, it has to be accepted, learned, and used by a group of people.”
Glossi Mag: “Would you consider this a legitimized language?”
Shea Solomon: “It’s definitely starting to! There is a strong city pride for Toronto and people are PROUD to speak this [Toronto slang], which contrasts language changes due to pidginization and interlanguage. Caribbean and East Indian cultures have been more prevalent and more people are participating/accepting of it. Many people under 40 are generally open to cultural change and diversity.”
Shea Solomon: “… Then add Drake into the equation, who not only EXUDES Toronto pride, but also legitimizes the language in front of AMERICA.”
In the early 2000’s, Canada’s hip hop ambassador, Kardinal Offishall, was shaping and defining the Toronto vernacular. In his classic track, BaKardi Slang, Kardinal breaks down the city’s slang in each verse. The song became an instant hit and popularized Toronto’s nickname “T-Dot“. Lyrics include, “We don’t say ‘you know what I’m sayin,’ T-Dot says ‘yuh dun know’”, referencing a key influence in what has shaped Toronto’s talk up to this moment. Torontonian’s are indebted to the city’s West Indian population for their contribution to the local cultural landscape. As a result, Patois dialects have become prevalent in local popular culture, with words such as, Man dem, Tingz, and Ah lie used across the city.
As an avid lover of his home city, rapper Drake is a great example of someone who has contributed to raising the profile of the City of Toronto. Drake is also a large contributor to the city’s local lexicon. Words such as Sweeterman, YOLO, #blessed, and Views have become common in conversation. In a recent SNL skit, Drake acts as a Torontonian named Jared as he competes in Black Jeopardy. Throughout the skit, Drake drops Toronto slang, such as Dawg, Dun know, and Fam. As Drake showcases Canadian humour, he mentions notable Canadian names, while the American host acts as though he is a cultural alien.
Burning Down the House
The combination of Patois and Kiki jargon – slang created by Ballroom culture – is another interesting item that differentiates Toronto jargon from the rest. Kiki is a now a big part of popular culture and is often heard spoken in tandem with Patois-inspired local parlance.
It may be assumed that terms, On Fleek, Or Nah, and Yaaaaaaas are online phrases that have become IRL speech. Wrong. These online terminologies may appear to be new; however, they were first established by the New York ballroom and Kiki scenes of the 1980s by queer people of colour. In a Guardian article titled, Burning down the House: Why the Debate over Paris is Burning Rages on, Ashley Clark explains how Jennie Livingston’s landmark documentary film Paris is Burning is “endlessly quotable, with characters dispensing terminology that’s since passed into popular parlance”. Daily Dot writer, Emily O’Hara, points out, “If you’ve ever used words like “fierce” or “shade” or commented “yasss queen” or “work” on a cute Instagram pic, you’ve been speaking the language of the ball scene – likely, without ever realizing where it came from.”
The next generation
Language, and slang, often derives from an originating source. Whether it’s derived from popular rappers, the Kiki scene, or a prominent subculture within a city, the growth of language allows for the development and accessibility of community. Solomon explains, “Maybe one day, more people will pick up the language because they are proud to be from Toronto and have a distinguishable accent, similar to New Yorkers or Bostonians and their accent.”
Who else in the world can confidently say that they run through The Six with their woes? It’s a Toronto ting.
Abigail is an OCAD grad and freelance photographer. A creative soul and lover of the female nude, this quintessential Pisces enjoys indulging in strange food and taking photos.