Atlantic Canadians all know it: the quick affirmative inhale and nod.
It’s a speedy way to indicate you agree to something — but many people might not realize it has its roots in the Gaelic language.
Nova Scotian TikTokker Cory Matheson (whose Gaelic name is Coraidh MacMhathain) recently started making videos to show how Celtic languages like Irish (also known as Gaeilge) and Scottish Gaelic have influenced current words and common questions.
Matheson started learning bits and pieces of Gaelic around 18. He’s always identified with his Scottish Highlands roots, he said, and the provincial Office of Gaelic Affairs has also helped inspire his journey.
Mainstreet NS8:04Who’s your father? It’s right foggy out. Where do these Atlantic Canadian phrases come from?
“I really wanted to reconnect and reclaim that lost culture. And for a lot of Nova Scotians, there is that broken transmission,” Matheson told CBC’s Mainstreet.
His most popular videos so far are a series on Celtic influences in Atlantic Canada, with one hitting over 200,000 views.
In that video, Matheson explains how the use of “right” as an adverb came about — as in “it was right foggy yesterday.” He said it’s rooted in the Welsh (or Cymraeg) word “reit,” meaning “very.”
There’s also one on that quick intake of breath to mean yes, which Matheson calls the “Gaelic gasp.”
He said it was passed down from the region’s Scottish and Irish ancestors who would likely have used the words “tha” or “aye” with the gasp to show agreement.
Matheson said he was inspired to create the series after interacting with people outside of the Atlantic region who were confused by some of his expressions.
“I kind of wanted to show off how, you know, there is a reason for it. It’s not broken English. There [are] those grammatical roots there,” Matheson said.
“I’ve had an outpouring of positive feedback from people … even in Ontario and Alberta who are originally from somewhere in Atlantic Canada, saying that they feel validated.”
Matheson also has an explanation for the common East Coast question: who’s your father?
It comes from the Scots or Irish phrase “who do you belong to?” which was very important because a lot of people had the same name, Matheson said.
This way, the question opens up the ability to share one’s parents’ and grandparents’ names, differing yourself from the other Seans and Iains.
“I just kind of wanted to shed some light on it. And while I’m no linguist, I’m not an expert on this field, I just wanted to get people thinking about it,” Matheson said.
Scottish Gaelic is listed as “definitely endangered” on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages worldwide. In 2018, the province estimated 2,000 people speak Gaelic in Nova Scotia.