When some people from the South think about the North or the Arctic, they think igloos, dogsleds, and freezing temperatures and, well, they’re right…sort of; in the NWT people build igloos in the far North Regions for hunting and survival–and mostly for fun in the Southern Regions. People sometimes get around by dogsled on the lakes, but we also have roads with vehicles, buildings over four stories high, and a relatively adequate electricity grid with working traffic lights… unless a raven that is on fire hits a power line and the grid goes out for an extended period of time.
There is a wide variety of slang and sayings in the North that differ from Region to Region, and even from different communities within our five Regions. The following is a collection of terms that I’ve become accustomed to, but that have also been embraced by a lot of different cultures up here. A lot of our slang is used in ways to subtly tease with sarcasm, in order to communicate a feeling: that we are welcoming, or that we like someone. Overall though, a good 85 per cent of our sayings are to tell someone just to relax or to have a laugh.
As a Tlicho Dene, I am honoured to write this article because the cheeky slang of the North is something that provides us with a sense of pride, boldness, and humour within our families and friendships.
Eschia / Escha (Ess-cheeyah / Ess-cha)
“Eschia” is one of my favourite slang terms that brings me back to childhood, and is a way of saying “yeah right!”, “get outta town” or “you’re full of BS”. It can also be used to indicate that the speaker is being cheeky or defiant.
“They think they can make it to Yellowknife from Providence in 2 hours? Eschia!” or “Hey checkout this record breaking fish… *holding up small trout*…ahhh eschiaaaa!”
Holah / Holeh (Hoe-laa / Hoe-leh)
“Holah” is another one of my favourites, mostly because it seems to be a term that has been embraced by all cultures in the North, and is basically a different way of saying “Holy Moly!” or “Holy Smokes!”. It is a way to express amazement, disbelief, sarcasm, and sometimes verbal support .
“Holah those are some big waves!” ; “Holah… Just trying to carry all the wood by yourself…” or “Holah you just ever made good time getting back from the cabin!”
This is a word usually used at the beginning of a sentence to communicate sarcasm or an elaborate tone (I am putting it high in this list because it’s used often in the following examples) : “Juuuust partied hard last night boy…” or “You just think you’re good err what?!” or “Just settle down there… the fire is burning fine…”.
Wah! / Wah whay! (Wah / Wuh-whay)
This is old-school Yellowknife right here… It was said by family, uncles, aunties, and all of my grandparents throughout my life. “Wah!” can be used anywhere in a sentence to either communicate sarcasm, or to highlight excitement (I find it’s best used at the beginning or the end of a sentence); “Wah whey!” is an elaborated version of the previous.
For example as sarcasm: “Holah my gun jammed so I had to take the caribou down with my bare hands, wah!”
Or for excitement: “Wah whey! That was a good potluck!”.
Ever / Everrr (Eh-ver)
“Ever” can be used in order to strongly agree with someone, or used as an adjective in order to emphasize importance.
So if someone says “Oh wow that’s a big moose!”, a response would be “Everrrr!” or a popular example is “Mmmm this meal is ever good!”.
Anehwhays / Enehways (Eh-neh-ways)
Usually paired with other slang, or as something at the end of a sentence or saying in order to communicate excitement or importance.
“We got on our skidoos and just took off anehwhays!” or “Just ever nice day anehwhays ah?!”. It can also be used to agree with someone: “Nice day out eh?”, “Enehwaaayyysss” (usually accompanied with moving your head forward and back as if you’re “grooving”).
Tahell / Dahell (Ta-hell / Da-hell)
Basically meaning “what the hell?” (similar to “dafuq”), and is used whenever encountering confusion or disbelief.
“Tahell! They didn’t even bring gas for the generator?”. “Dahell” was provided to me from a connection in Fort Providence, which seems to have a lot of their own slang; in Yellowknife I’ve heard “Tahell” more often.
This is usually what people of different heights say to each other (*rim shot*). It’s usually said in a drawn out manner like “Naaaaawwwt Eeeeevveennnn!” when laughing, calling someone on their BS, or can sometimes be used with an angry tone for disagreement.
What kind / What next / How sick
These remind me of my elders… These terms are used to question the morals and actions of people, where something is far out of the norm or disrespectful.
I’ve heard things like “What kind! Just ever wicked that one…” (with a concerned look on their face). However, they are usually used to insinuate sarcasm or as way to emphasize how funny or ridiculous something is; for example, someone cracks a really funny joke and is met with “Whaaaat next!” or “Howwww sick! Geeeezzzz…”
The Lip Point / (Literally pointing with your lips)
Though this isn’t slang, this action has been in the NWT forever… For whatever reason we thought it would be more effective to point in a direction with our lips rather than our arm and finger; for convenience? for quickness? I don’t know… but it’s hilarious, and I’ve found myself doing it numerous times, to this day. The most entertaining is when people are trying to point behind them, so they throw their head in a direction and bend their lips sideways to point behind them. It seems to be a very quick but subtle action that is picked up by few people; when it happens it makes me feel good, because I know I’m home.
Mahsi / Mahsi Cho (Mah-Si / Mah-Cee / Mah-Si-Cho)
This is Tlicho / North Slavey / Dogrib (indigenous languages) for “Thank you” or “Thank you very much”. It is used and embraced by a lot of our population up here, and guests are very quick to either ask or understand what it means.
So now you have a sense of what our slang and humour is like up North. As mentioned, these are terms that I’ve come to know and love throughout my life living in Yellowknife, and have heard many different terms throughout various areas of the Northwest Territories.
Thank you / Mahsi Cho,