yesterday afternoon on heritage road
Not to bad, . . . I guess
FTLComm - Tisdale - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Editor's note: the images on this page are just interesting pictures and do not directly relate to the content of today's story.

I was enjoying my lunch in a restaurant this afternoon when a young man came in and was greeting by another who asked him, "how are you today?"

The young man smiled and shrugged as he said, "not to bad, I guess."

A rather innocent exchange and relatively common but in retrospect we are what we say or perhaps even more importantly are we how we say how we are? It is just good manners and a normal way that people greet one another to inquire about how a person is and it shows that there is engagement and mutual concern in the greeting. What interests me is the double negative in this response then followed up with a condition, "i guess."

I remember so vividly my first years as a school principal in Northern Alberta and learning the speech patterns of the oil workers, almost all of whom came from the area around Pincher Creek. At that time it was the first time I had encountered on a regular basis the common Southern Alberta speech characteristic that ended almost every statement, or comment, with a rise in intonation and often the word, "eh!"

The rise in intonation and the "eh" on the end indicated the speaker was awaiting a response, and answer to his non-question. That was in 1968. In 1981 the Second City comics of the television program SCTV were working in Edmonton and noticed this regional speech pattern and of course it became the base joke in the sketch they repeated over an over each week in "The Great White North" and was released as a best selling album. Canadians across the country laughed as they copied the greeting to each other, "Good day, eh!"

Many people suggest that this essential Canadian-ness, a kind of understated desire to be liked, to be polite and yet inherently modest.

It was in the 90s that I really thought a lot about the way we Canadians greeted one another and I began responding to the standard query as to how I was with, "Outstanding." This takes people back a bit because the standard Canadian response is much more muted and always delivered with a humble qualification. The "I guess" part of the response is definitely interesting. Just pay attention to what you say and to the responses you are given over the next few days and see if you can make some sense out of it. Clearly, we are attempting to tell each other something in our greetings and yet not get involved in lenthy explanations.

"Not to bad, I guess."

Timothy W. Shire

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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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