Sticks & stones

For some the word still cuts right to the bone. For others, it slides off the back. For even more, it has been chewed up and swallowed; used to help define who they are.

No one knows for sure where the word “Newfie” first came from, but it wasn’t truly until after April 1, 1949 that it started seriously taking root in our minds and the minds of other Canadians.

What is a Newfoundlander?

Newfoundlanders, what are we?

By the late 1960s, 20 years into Confederation, Newfie jokes had spread themselves thick across the mainland. For many Canadians, the word and the jokes became the first things to spring to mind about us and our island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Flash forward to 2009—past the eventual collapse of the cod fishery, the outmigration of thousands to the mainland, and past years of economic reliance on the rest of the country—we have found ourselves in a position of relative, if tenuous, prosperity.

“Have” status. A “revolution between the ears.” “I don’t think the Newfie joke is there anymore,” our premier has said.

But even now we can’t honestly look at Newfoundland identity without also looking at that word. No matter how much some people try, there’s no scrubbing it away, burying it, or drowning it. Has it taken on new meaning? Is it less insulting than before?

What does it mean now?

It depends on who you ask.

Compiled and edited by Sarah Smellie, Elling Lien, and Bryhanna Greenough. Photos by Elling Lien.

“Newfie”: Responses by e-mail from Bob Hallett, Kevin Blackmore, Brad Gushue, Ray Guy, Ryan Cleary, and more.

“Newfie”: Panel discussion with Ruth Lawrence, Tom Power, Bruce Johnson, Dan Banoub, and Neil Butler.

What do you think of the word “Newfie”? When’s the last time you heard it? Speak your mind here.


Casual Racism in St. John’s

“Lets drop the race shit, k?”

14 January 2012

  1. Elling Lien · January 14, 2012

    Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? What do you think of the word “Newfie”? Leave a comment here and have your say.

  2. kerri · January 14, 2012

    I couldn’t remember the last time I heard it.

    The Newfie situation is a tricky one. Most people who have called me a Newfie had no idea it could be seen as pejorative.
    I’m not saying that malicious intent is necessary to offend, but what separates Newfie from other offensive terms for other groups of people is that it’s not widely known that Newfie is offensive to many Newfoundlanders.

    To me, it’s all in the presentation, the context. I go to da mainland frequently for student newspaper dork conferences and I can tell when people are calling me a Newfie in a bad way or when they’re genuinely excited to meet someone from Margaret Wente’s scenic welfare ghetto.

    I’m not offended unless I sense malice, but I always explain that the term is a bit dicey, and best avoided.

  3. andreae · January 14, 2012

    To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been called a Newfie… maybe a couple times at McGill by people from Ontario, but I don’t have any real personal relationship with the word other than not liking it. I think more often than not I had to actually explain to people that Newfoundlanders are looked down upon, because they didn’t know, and then I would add that we’re actually just as good as everyone else… after a while I just stopped doing that.

    I don’t like “Newfie” because I find it patronising. I’m not sure I’d rank it with slurs used to degrade other groups of people, but it is irritating. I think that when people from away use the word “Newfie,” they expose their own ignorance about Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders. It’s not usually malice, though, just ignorance.

    I think I used to get more fired up about it when I believed that Canadians really thought of Newfoundlanders as second-class citizens. But as I moved around Canada I found that people actually have a lot of respect for Newfoundlanders. When I lived in Montreal, I felt like people there considered Quebec and Newfoundland to be kindred spirits, united against English Canada; In Yellowknife, Newfoundlanders are revered an workhorses; In Ontario, roughly 80% of people respond to the statement, “I’m from Newfoundland” with, “Oh my God, I love Newfoundland!” and then proceed to tell you about the adorable B&B they stayed in one time. It may be a skewed view, but it’s generally a positive one.

    The last time I heard the word “Newfie” was in CBC radio a few weeks ago, in a piece about Dick Nolan. Never has the word “Newfie” been more used in song than it was by that man.

    I admit that I often, inspired by a sketch by the Dance Party of Newfoundland, refer to overly quaint performances of Newfoundlandia as “a new old Newfie time.” And I do a little jig when I say it. Probably two, three times a week. Especially during tourist season. Loudly, and in public.

  4. Elling Lien · January 14, 2012

    An interesting article focusing mainly on the origins of the word:

  5. Andrew Hiscock · January 14, 2012

    Not offensive. Wear with pride. When used in an offensive manner, prove them wrong and throw it back in their face.

  6. Andrew Post · January 14, 2012

    I’ve never seen it used in a negative tone. I didn’t even know that many took offense to it.

    The people of southern Ontario do not think of Newfoundlanders as second class. I’ve lived in Barrie, Brantford & Ottawa. Still not once a used a demeaning tone. I’ve used the term at conferences to categorize where people are coming from. Like how east/west/prairies/Atlantic/Pacific/central is used.

    Interesting how the Atlantic joins forces against the rest of Canada. Ontario doesn’t view Quebec lightly, however we love the Atlantic’s.

    I’ll be attending a conference with Engineers Without Borders this coming winter. I’ll be sure to be more careful with the term :)

  7. aevans · January 14, 2012

    Interesting article. But I was surprised that no one talked about the other side of the coin. While Bruce Johnson identifies as a CFA, and Stan Dragland as a mainlander, nobody pointed out that we, as Newfoundlanders, also use names to identify the other in a pejorative manner. As someone who has been here for years now, I no longer find it offensive, but some people do, visitors in particular. So really, before you get offended when that person from Ontario calls you a Newfie think- what did you call them?

  8. Jonathan Lewis · January 14, 2012

    Thank you The Scope for bringing this conversation to light!

    The term makes me shriek and it erks me everytime I hear it, even more so when a person from Newfoundland uses it and Ruth, I too feel rotten when I hear a youth refer to themselves as one.

  9. Shelley · January 14, 2012

    I don’t like the word. I have been called newfie numerous times when I’ve been in Ontario, Quebec, BC, Alberta, Nova Scotia, traveling on the train across the country. While most times people say it thinking I’ll like it, several times it has been said to me as an insult.

    That said EVERY SINGLE ONE of my relatives – blood or by marriage – that live away call themselves newfies and refer to the province as newfie. This isn’t a handful of people, more than 30 easily – some who’ve lived away for a long time, others for just the past few years. Same with friends of mine that live on the mainland.

    And the overwhelming majority of my relatives that live in the province also call themselves newfies. They all live ‘around the bay’ and since moving to town and encountering more of the anti-newfie persuasion I’m inclined to think it is a significant marker of the whole bayman-townie divide.

  10. Brad · January 14, 2012

    I am not at all offended by the terms Newf or Newfie. It’s what we are! Why would I be offended? I love my province! However, I am offended by the term Stupid Newf….which I never hear and I know obviously isn’t the same. To be honest, people are usually delighed (on the mainland) when they find out I’m a Newfie! Usually the first things come to mind with them is that we’re friendly people…not to mention our adorable accents!

    I say let the term flourish and not be taboo!

  11. Ford Elms · January 14, 2012

    Newfie only refers to stereotypes. Granted, there’s good and bad stereotypes, and the word refers to both, but I don’t want to be understood in terms of stereotypes, positive or negative. I don’t really care if it’s being used in a derogatory fashion or not. If you have never heard it used negatively, I’m sure many of us could provide you with several joke books. But a “positive” use is just as bad as a negative one. That word doesn’t refer to who we are, but to who others think we are.

    It’s particularly noxious when those ideas actually become official. Remember a few years ago when some MP actually said we shouldn’t want control of the offshore, because it’d mess up our equalization payments? That’s the same as not wanting the Lotto money because it’d fool up your EI! So that’s a Newfie joke being seriously promoted by someone in government. That kind of thing tells me the word and its stereotypes aren’t harmless.

  12. George · January 14, 2012

    I’m from away but live here now and have Newfoundlander children. I’m of Irish descent and when I was growing up in Ontario, all of our friends were either expat Irishmen or Newfoundlanders. Every one of them referred to themselves and the province as as “Newfie”. I wonder now if this was merely a sign of the times, a preemptive thing, or a reclamation thing.

    I lived in New York for a while and have quite a number of Jewish and Black friends there who refer to themselves by formerly verboten terms, in part as a reclamation thing, in part to emphasize and revel in the cultural barriers, and in part to put people in their place or at ease by making them confront it. I’ve met a few NLers like this as well.

    I’m interested in the word as a social phenomenon, because I have encountered such a wide range of opinions on it here. (I’d never use it myself, except with my closest friends, who know where I stand on everything.) So thanks for starting this discussion.

  13. John Feltham · January 14, 2012

    I hate the word, and it makes me cringe to see it and to hear people say it. To be honest, I actually turned the latest issue upside down on my table when I brought it home over the weekend, as it angered me so much to see the words “Stupid Newfie”

    Several people here left comments stating that they never had many problems with its use outside of Newfoundland; however, I experienced the exact opposite. That’s not to say that there’s not good people on the mainland, but, I did experience more bad experiences and feelings that we are somehow of lower class and intelligence because I was from Newfoundland.

    The majority of people outside of this province use the word Newfie as a synonym to stupid or of low intelligence. And, as long as we as Newfoundlanders continue to use the word ourselves, we only fuel that stereotype.

    As far as I’m concerned the provincial government should ban the use of the word. Also, places like Grand Falls that have a “Newfie Night” during their annual Salmon Fest, or stores that sell “Newfie” products should be ashamed of themselves.

  14. Michelle Butler Hallett · January 14, 2012

    I loathe the word. Never heard it used neutrally. I’ve seen Newfoundlanders on Facebook use it to describe themselves — and use it proudly — but I never will. Even when it’s used with apparent kindness, there’s a verbal pat-on-the-head to it. I also dislike “come-from-away.” Why do we keep dividing ourselves, keep labelling one another?

    I am a Newfoundlander, a Canadian, a citizen of the world.

  15. Dianne · January 14, 2012

    I am from NL, but have been away for 8 years. Whenever I tell people I am from Newfoundland, almost every time, they say – “you’re a Newfie!?” with great delight, often followed by “I love Newfies – I met/worked with one/some, and they were awesome/friendly/hard workers/fun/funny”. This makes me proud. I have never felt any sense of humiliation.

    The discussions presented here do not seem to really directly address reasons for disgust at hearing the word. It’s like no one really seems to know why they feel negatively towards it. Looking at Elling’s linked article (written by someone who obviously feels very passionate disregard for the term), seems as if back in WWII the term Newfy was used derogatively in combination with other terms, but it seems as if it was also simply used as a nickname. Maybe angst with this word has been passed down through the generations, and I can understand that people were directly offended by these terms, but I expect no one outside of Newfoundland remembers these roots, and the word has already evolved to become something different. No one is calling us Newfy now in reference to our slow trains, or gonorrhea. To me (I am 30 yrs old) it has always been just a nickname.

    To address others opinions of us: I have had friends from other parts of Canada and the world visit Newfoundland, and they see the broad spectrum of people that live on the island. They see the great music, art, and crafts scene, the huge university, the heritage, the beautiful land. And some of what they see is ‘stereotypical’ – the accents, the fishing villages, clothes on clotheslines in winter, rubberboots, flipper pie. What is wrong with that? We are different, but in a great way. It doesn’t mean no one is taking us seriously, or that we have to get our backs up when people from away mention these things. Every province has its range of people and personalities, from the big city to the small mining towns. One thing that stands out for me whenever I return to Newfoundland, is how appreciative we are of everything, our close families, the bag of moose someone just gave us, putting on a new pair of socks. And I don’t think this is simple or twee, I think this is beautiful and I am proud of it. And everyone I have met who has called me a Newfie thinks it is beautiful.

    I’m not trying to change people’s minds on how they feel about the N word, but as someone living away, I would like those at home to know that most intelligent, normal people I have encountered from the mainland have nothing but respect and love for Newfies. I’m sure there are bad seeds, but why would those people’s opinions matter to us? If people have preconceived notions that we are inferior in some way, just correct them on that, as Andrew Hiscock previously stated.

    p.s. I love the food nerd

  16. Duncan Howell · January 14, 2012

    Let’s face it….it’s another N-word. I gag every time I hear it. Someone suggested that the provincial government ought to ban the word. Any such attempt would be absolutely futile. It’s like the junk in Pandora’s box…it’s all out there on the loose and beyond recall. But perhaps a motion in the House that the members of that honourable Assembly find the word pejorative, insulting and unacceptable would get a few sound bites on the evening news upalong on the mainland, and would put expatriate Newfoundlanders up there on notice that they should KNOCK OFF USING THAT AWFUL WORD. It has been my observation that the word is in common use among Newfoundlanders on the mainland, but I hardly ever hear it uttered by anyone living in this province. Why is that? Is it that the word was in use here at home before those people moved away and they took it with ’em? Don’t think so. I’m gettin’ bit long in the tooth now and I can’t recall it ever being commonly used here. In any event, we here at home must have some kind of inherent right to say to every offender “STOP IT!”

  17. Dave Sullivan · January 14, 2012

    The N word.

    First of all, an accent can never be stereotypical, it can only be regional. It’s who we are and we shouldn’t make apologies for it.

    I find the comment about how we never really use ‘newfie’ on the island, but the populous abroad bandy it about. Perhaps it’s a coping strategy to try and maintain some face amongst the hustle and bustle of mainland life.

    I’ve always been very quick to correct those who use it away. I’ve been in several media interviews for shows I’ve toured and as soon as the interviewer says the word newfie (which they LOVE to do) I stop them dead in their tracks and let them know that in order for the interview to continue I would prefer to be called Newfoundlander. I’m pretty strict about that word.

    I also get the biggest kick in the world when I hear our mainland brethren say, “Oh newfies, my god, they work some hard, and funny, you’ve never heard funny till you’ve heard a newfie!”

    We are Canadians, it can be said that all canadians are hard working, honest, down to earth people. I can’t help but to feel like a novelty act when I hear people say that. It’s almost like when white Americans say Obama is well-spoken. I find it patronizing and it irks me to the core.

    We had to work hard. We carved an existence from a giant hunk of rock while being battered by the north Atlantic.

    It is my biggest wish that when tourists come here they leave with the knowledge that we are greater than the advertisements and Globe articles. That we are complex people working and living in unity to try and make things work.

    But that’s hard to achieve when the tourists go to theatre festivals are lambasted with people walking around in burlap like they just fell out of the 1920’s. They watch plays called My Cousins Uncles Brother’s Sister’s Mother’s Aunt and think to themselves… oh my, what a goings on? It’s hard for me to believe that all of them are leaving a show like that and going home to New Hampshire or Edmonton and saying, “my God, those people are just as intelligent and wise as us. What a beautiful group of people.” Instead I’m sure, they go home and talk about the big old “Newfie TIME” they had when they went into a bar and had to suck the lips off a codfish.

    We NEED change. We have to take off our burlap. Open our damn eyes. And show the world who we are today. Not who we were pre confederation, or before the collapse of the fishery… but today.


  18. Marcus NEWFIE Taylor · January 14, 2012

    Okay, I said it before (with much more venom, so it may have been harder to recognize) but STOP TELLING ME HOW TO REFER TO MYSELF.

    You don’t like the word? FINE.

    *I* *AM* *A* *N*E*W*F*I*E*, and if you don’t like me using that word that *I* identify with and like, you’re _free_to_leave_or_stop_reading_, just as MY RIGHT TO USE IT (without deliberately attempting to attack or deny others their rights) IS PROTECTED BY LAW.

    Honestly, if the worst misfortune to ever befall you is being the butt of a ‘stupid newfie’ joke (notice I *qualify* the usage of the term with further adjectives and context), you have a) led a blessed and sheltered life, and b) are in for a cruel and shocking baptism by ‘troll-flames’ if you decide to hang around here on ‘teh Intarwebs’. I highly recommend you see about growing a thicker skin than you have, otherwise you’re going to waste a LOT of time complaining about things that NO ONE ELSE WILL LISTEN TO.

    And if you’ve had worse hardships than be insulted by “the N-word’s not really at all equivalent sibling” and yet you are getting all motivated to BAN A SIMPLE HARMLESS WORD, you really need to re-examine your priorities, and remember what George Carlin said “it’s not the word that’s the problem; it’s the asshole using it to hurt people” and banning that malicious element from using ‘newfie’ isn’t going to stop him, just make him use *DIFFERENT*WORDS*; you deal with this sort in a VERY different manner.

    I’m not surprised to see ANY comment regarding the ‘redeeming virtues of Newfie’ has been negatively rated, whilst any whining about the inherent evil of A SIMPLE DAMN WORD is positively rated; glad to see that the ‘community’ here is of one mind.

    …just a tip tho; you may want to STAY in this shallow little SAFE tidal pool you have here; it’s pretty rough out there in the deep end, and I don’t have a cup I can loan you…

  19. Dave Sullivan · January 14, 2012

    Just to clarify… this is just my personal opinion. I just happen to feel strongly about it. Go forth and believe what you wish. The beauty of canada.

  20. Pete · January 14, 2012

    I come from away as they say and far enough that I had never heard of a “newfie joke” or the fact the newfie ment anything bad. Just assumed it ment someone from Newfoundland. I will just say two things that I have taken from this post and from living here for five years

    1.Newfie is NOT another “N word”. I am sorry but you cannot equate making jokes about where you are from with 200 years of slavery!

    2. I am from the US and I hear Newfoundlanders (and Canadians in general) saying bad things about Americans all the time. How come that is ok? How is saying a*#hole American any different than saying “newfie”. Or if you want it to keep it Canadian, I hear Newfoundlanders make bad comments about people from Ontario and especially people from Toronto almost as much as I do about Americans. Is that any different?

    There are good people and bad people everywhere. People need to realize that we are all the same and should be judged “on the content of their character” not on their place of birth, religion, color, or what bay, province or state they are from.

    The bottom line: If you make a big deal about the word newfie…it will be a big deal…if you dont, it wont.

  21. Dashiell Brown · January 14, 2012

    Since I’m not from here, I’m pretty objective about the whole issue, but endorsing censorship of any kind gets you into heaps of trouble since it dissuades people from having a dialogue about it, like right here on The Scope. But when I first moved here, it didn’t take me long to learn that saying “Newfie” could get you into trouble. Thanks, Scope, for raising the issue. I’ve long been interested in the debate, here is my further opinion about it:

  22. Paul Whittle · January 14, 2012

    Ballad of a Thin Man Revisited

    Mr. Jones comes into the room
    with pen and paper,
    face all abloom
    in hippy-dippy clothes(1)
    to hit up the old and the poor
    he loves a good stary
    loves people up the shore
    fishing in a dory
    b’y tell us one more!

    Mr. Jones came back with the seventies team
    silver spooned Farley’s
    with happy adventure dreams
    (until he ran out of steam)
    now he’s back, doubly loaded,
    came back to be slagging(2)
    dressed up in multi-coloured baggies
    on India he isn’t scrimping
    he’s full of faux-Irish chimping(3).
    but we can’t help love those fools
    (oh, sometimes like myself)
    romancing arses to barstools.

    Mr. Jones ain’t no Propsero though
    has he seen Wreckhouse(4), no?
    just likes us Calibans about
    with clowns and fools he hangs out
    he hasn’t even got Shawn’s(5) bay creds
    just a grant from the feds
    but he loves us so much,
    (‘cept when we comes too near)
    on and on he drones
    you don’t know what this rant is, do you? Mr. Jones.

    Since I needs me grant,
    I must soften my rant
    so I will talk of how I loves this country,
    and its patronizing colonialist decrees
    listen we’re no better or no worse
    just tired of this curse
    of playing the fool
    cause it ain’t no joke
    when you don’t have a choice
    up to your ears in a Red Ledger(6)
    and all the newfies in Alberta,
    who are lost in drinking in
    the land of – oh so Canadian-
    leveling-down socio-cultural thinking.

    1. Recent anthropological evidence shows suggests the “summer of love” in San Francisco was populated largely by upper middle white kids from the suburbs wanting to score ☺.
    2. See The Idiots, a film by Lars Von Trier.
    3. Thank you Ed Riche!
    4. Frank Barry play, text available for purchase.
    5. Shawn Majumder, not Shaun McCann, who says we’ll be all right when we get rid of all these “newfies.”
    6. See the financial situation of the province’s people over the last 50 years or Mary Dalton’s fine book of poetry.

  23. screwedbyanewfie · January 14, 2012

    The only Newfoundlander I’ve ever known was a lazy drunk who screwed me out of thousands looking for a way off the rock.

  24. Colleen · January 14, 2012

    Newfie…I like it. It’s more than just a word that “mainlanders” use. It symbolizes (to me at least!) a group of people who have fought and battled some tough times in their lives and lived to tell the tale. I’m a Newfie in Calgary now. Do I want to be here?…We’ll somedays I don’t mind it, other days I’d rather be home in the rain and fog on a fall evening. But a Newfie has a reputation that we are hard working, we do joke around, we don’t take everything seriously and the stuff we do take seriously you better now pull no malarky about it.
    I’ve lived in Calgary for 10 years now (not 100% willingly, but working on changing that to head back home). When I was asked why I came to Alberta to work, my repsonse was this: “Us Newfie work so good, that we got all the works done that needed to be done in Newfoundland and had to come out West to finish off your crap cause you’re too slow”. The looks I got, with a reply: “Really?”. We’ll who’s stund now. People who’ve I met learned there’s nothing stund about a Newfie (or as some like to call us Newfoundlanders). It’s good to be a Newfie. I love being Newfie..and I’m proud of it. I say it, show it and shout it whenever I can. It’s the context of it’s usage that drives some around the bend. My mom and dad are both “true” Newfies – both born before confederation…I admire that…they are Newfies, and I’m their decendant…Proud to be Newfie.

  25. Rosi · January 14, 2012

    The last time someone referred to me as Newfie was a month ago. I’m almost a senior now but I was crucified from age eleven with jokes and stupid sayings, when I arrived in Toronto. It has left scars, in that my back feels scratched each time, I hear the word, but I wear it proudly.

  26. don kavanagh · January 14, 2012

    I always thought of it as an insult.But sometimes I feel that we deserved it. You have to live away from Newfoundland for awhile, then come back here ,and you will know what i mean.

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