En Français!: French and the DNE

Panoramic view of French Landing on the Newfoundland Island from the west side of Saint Jean [today's St. John's] (around 1762). Bibliothèque et Archives Canada R9266-3250/Collection de Canadiana de Peter Winkworth. Image is public domain.

Panoramic view of French Landing on the Newfoundland Island from the west side of Saint Jean [today’s St. John’s] (around 1762). Bibliothèque et Archives Canada R9266-3250/Collection de Canadiana de Peter Winkworth. Image is public domain.

August marks the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. While the Treaty was important internationally for several reasons, article 13 held special significance for Newfoundland, or Terre-Neuve at the time. Under this article, Newfoundland was recognized as a British rather than French possession and France surrendered the fort at Plaisance, now Placentia. Those French settlers then moved off to Cape Breton, but not before retaining the rights to fish the French shore, stretching from Cape Bonavista up and around the northern tip of Newfoundland, then down the western side to Point Riche. This area is also known as the treaty shore. With the exception of a few communities, Newfoundland is fairly Anglophone today. The focus of this Twig entry is on French or French-influenced words in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. As always, if you’ve got others to share, please drop us a line!

Etymological notes in the DNE are somewhat limited and exist, for the most part, as cross-references to other works such as the OED or other dictionaries that have traced origins of a particular word. Folk etymologies and popular explanations have not been given a place in the DNE headnotes as the editors were extremely careful in deciding what would go into the dictionary. Some of the word-files presented here are in the category of folk etymology and did not appear in the dictionary.

One example of a folk etymology that is widespread in the province but did not make it into the DNE is the suggestion of how the bakeapple came into its name. Most Newfoundlanders have had the great fortune to try bakeapples in various preserves. They also know that bakeapples are not apples at all, instead they are berries that grow close to the ground in marshy areas. The folk etymology is that the name for these berries came from the French baie qu’appelle, or very loosely, “what’s that berry called?”.   There are several citations of this type in the word-files and it should be noted that folk etymologies are not evidence of a word’s origin. Just because the story is widespread does not make it true. Below is another twist on the story of the bakeapple‘s name, also appearing to be folk etymology pending further evidence. Have you heard any other stories?

Word-file for 'bakeapple'. 'Apponatz' word-file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Word-file for ‘bakeapple’.  Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Barachois is one of the more obviously French terms in the DNE. An anglicized local pronunciation of this word is barasway. There are several Little Barasways in the province, a number of Barasway Ponds and so on. A barasway is a sand-bar in its first sense and a shallow body of water such as a river estuary in its second sense.

'Barachois' word-file. 'Apponatz' word-file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

‘Barachois’ word-file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Those of you living in or having visited St. John’s may be familiar with the restaurant Bacalao, which fuses modern, traditional, and local cuisine. The first sense of baccalao in the DNE refers to cod fish generally, dried or salted cod more specifically. Its second sense refers to the naming of the island of Newfoundland, primarily by the French who referred to the island as Baccalao (with several variations). The term was used more widely by other European settlers to denote adjacent regions as well as the island as a whole and is likely not French in origin, though there are several pieces of evidence that indicate the French used this term, or something more like Baccales, to refer to the island. The citations for baccalao in the DNE 1st edition date from the early 1500s to the late 1800s. There are a place names such as Bay de Verde, Port aux Basques, etc and landmarks like Crevecoeur (a rock face in Placentia that looks like a broken heart) that are more distinctively French in origin but these are, for the most part, outside the scope of the DNE.

Word-file for 'baccalao'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Word-file for ‘baccalao’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

The French brought a number of terms to the fishery. Only some of these made it to the DNE due to the number of criteria to be met and the amount of evidence required for inclusion. Bateau may be familiar to some readers as the French word for boat. In Newfoundland, however, the term refers to a specific kind of fishing boat that is rigged with a lug-sail and was used primarily on the north-east coast. A shalloway is another type of French boat that could stay at sea for about a week.

Word-file for 'shalloway'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Word-file for ‘shalloway’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

At different stages in the fish drying and salting process, a wooden trough with slatted sides can be submerged in water allowing scrubbing and washing of fish. Such a trough can be called a ram’s horn (with several other names listed in the DNE). One DNE citation, which also appears in the OED, suggests that ram’s horn comes from the French rinçoir.

Word-file for 'ram's horn'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Word-file for ‘ram’s horn’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

During the winter months, a gardien would be in charge of the fishing gear and premises. This was particularly so for the French-Newfoundland migratory fishery.

Word-file for 'Guardian'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Word-file for ‘Guardian’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

As for sea life, common porpoises are also known as puffing-pigs or puff-pigs. Although not used in the DNE, the word-file below gives some interesting etymological notes on the term in reference to the French.

'Puffing-pig' word-file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

‘Puffing-pig’ word-file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

New fishing methods were introduced by the French. They have been credited by some for bringing the bultow or trawl method of fishing to the island. This method involves extending lines and hooks around a ship that can be miles long.

Word-file for 'bultow'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Word-file for ‘bultow’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Finally, from the withdrawn files, there are a couple of word-files that mention French origins. The first is apponatz. This was a name used by the French for the Great Auk but it may have come into their vocabulary from contact with Aboriginal peoples or nationalities. The spelling of this word suggests that it is not of French origin but there are several sources that indicate this is the word used by the French to refer to the animal in question.

'Apponatz' word-file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

‘Apponatz’ word-file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Billets refer to small sticks of wood as seen below. This term was withdrawn because of its widely attested use elsewhere in the world.

Withdrawn word-file for 'billet'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Withdrawn word-file for ‘billet’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

There are more word-files for words with French origins in the DNE collection along with general notes on the French presence on the island. If you are interested in them, please drop by the ELRC and have look!

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2 Responses to En Français!: French and the DNE

  1. Dianna K. Goneau Inkster B.A.(ed.), B.A., M.L.S. says:

    http://www.spanishdict.com/translate/bacalao
    Baccalao is the Spanish word for “cod”. It’s not a North American Indian word. Did the French not borrow that term and apply it to the island of Newfoundland or the area around it? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baccalieu_Island The word, Baccalieu is in the song, “Jack was Every Inch a Sailor” and that term is a corruption of Bacalao. I was with a group of Newfoundland teachers in late July of 1976 in Conche (on the Great Northern Penninsula) when we talked with an old man in his 90s then. He remembered the French navy officer who came to the French Shore every summer. The old man said that the people there said the French navy officer must have brought a clean white shirt for each day he was on the French Shore. I suppose rough Great Northern Penninsula fisherman would have been amazed at the appearance of a spiffy French naval officer overseeing the French Shore.

  2. Dianna K. Goneau Inkster B.A.(ed.), B.A., M.L.S. says:

    http://www.auvilfruit.com/auvilstuffedapplesrecipe.html I always thought that the berry, the bakeapple resembled very closely a baked apple that has burst through the skin a bit. The recipe I quickly picked off the internet gives you an idea of how to make “a baked apple” although you can put anything in the hole once the core has been removed. We used to fill the hole with cinnamon, butter and brown sugar and, maybe, raisins or currants. Apples aren’t as plentiful in Newfoundland outports as they are here in Eastern Ontario, but I still feel that is why “bakeappes” are called that, because they resemble baked apples.

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