How to use the word b'y

A Newfoundland Language Lesson: Using the Word “B’y”

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as a writer is separating proper English from Newfoundland English. I come from a province where the dialect is not only often entirely different from the rest of North America, but it also takes on different forms across the island. While my mother dropped her h’s from her speech (“’oly” instead of “holy”), my father living just 20 minutes away would not pronounce his th’s (“maff” instead of “math”).

In fact, we have our own dictionary. I’m not kidding.

There’s nothing wrong with this use of language, and I’m often surprised when others criticize the way we talk (Newfoundlanders included). Why should we be ashamed of individuality? Being from “the bay,” people automatically assume I should have a rough accent.

Mostly it’s disappeared over the years, but when my parents came to visit last summer, I slipped back into words and phrases I hadn’t used in awhile. My roommate couldn’t understand me.

So it’s my duty to school you all about Newfie-speak, in hopes of easing the transition should you ever make it here. We’ll begin with one of the most fundamental words in the language: b’y.

“B’y” (pronounced “bye”) is dynamic and complicated. Even the Newfoundland Dictionary doesn’t seem to know much about this word, but I’m certain it isn’t a warped version of “boy” as it applies to females too. My best guess is that it’s a shortened form of “buddy.”

You can toss this word into almost any conversation, but you have to do it right. There certainly cannot be any pauses, hints of uncertainty or improper emphasis.

Your best bet is to use it when speaking with friends and acquaintances, as “b’y” suggests amiable terms or at least an open, honest setting.

Here are some examples.

Disbelief, shock, dismay: “Go on b’y! You’re not serious?!”
Sarcasm, ridicule, impatience: “Oh yes b’y, like I’d do something like that.”
Happiness, endearment, excitement: “You knows I loves you b’y!”

You also can’t throw it into a normal conversation void of other Newfie words/attitude.

Not okay:
“Excuse me b’y, could you please hand me that glass of expensive Merlot? I’d be ever so grateful.”

Fail.

The delivery is just as important as the word itself. Nobody should be able to tell that you are an outsider. One evening my roommate, while removing his coat, said something like, “It’s pretty cold out there tonight b’y.”

I looked up slowly from my laptop. The word just hung there in the air, fat and lazy and uncomfortable.

While the context of the sentence was fine, it lacked attitude. And he knew it.

The word should flow like music. For your homework, I’d like you to study the following musical example and use the word at least once in your conversation with a respected superior tomorrow.

There you have it, your first lesson in Newfoundlandia. I hope you’re all the wiser for it.

Coming to Newfoundland? Check out my Newfoundland travel guide, available soon!

  • March 08 2010

    This is fantastic! I admit, I’m nervous about visiting Newfoundland as I’m not sure I’ll understand what people are saying to me. Great post! I think this should be a weekly thing ;)

    • March 11 2010

      Hahaha, I might just do that! And don’t worry, it’s not really THAT bad…you’ll hear something really strange every now and then, but for the most part, it’s a dying trend.

  • March 08 2010

    I’m, fairly sure that’s a song I sang for my boy as a lullaby when he was a baby or maybe that was What Do You Do With a Drunkin Sailor, one of those two I’m sure.

    And what I wouldn’t pay for a copy of that Newfie dictionary, I love language.

  • March 08 2010

    Haha! Funny post! :)
    Its a great idea! Doing insightful pieces on on the tricks of the local language! Or of the things one notices in the language of the places visited..

    • March 11 2010

      Thanks! And yes, it gets to be quite hilarious sitting down with a bunch of Newfies and listening to them jabber. Especially after a few drinks.

  • March 08 2010

    You’ll have to go over this again at TBEX. I don’t get it. Are you for sure going to TBEX, by the way????

    • March 11 2010

      Got the plane ticket booked and the TBEX ticket bought, I am indeed going! I will give you a personal one on one lesson.

  • March 09 2010

    Fun post! I remember when you described b’y on our post about the Canadian Word. I love the language. Our old neighbours were from Newfoundland and whenever we had a few beers with them, we couldn’t understand a word they said. But we always had so much fun! The best people on the planet are from the east coast! We really have to make it out there soon.

    • March 11 2010

      Aww, thank you! We really are a fun bunch. If you ever make it back out here, we’ll have a blast!

  • March 09 2010

    Im working with a heap of newfies, and some of the stuff that comes out of their mouths is worth a head scratch and a half. Love it thoe. You should definitely be proud that the rock’s got it’s own version of English. North America in general seems to be losing a lot of its unique accents. Be sure to hang on to yours tight.

    • March 11 2010

      Hahaha, there are most definitely a lot of Newfies in Halifax, eh? You’ll pick it up in no time!

  • March 09 2010
    maggie

    Almost everyone I work with is from NL, so there’s lots of dialect thrown around and I’m a sponge. I have recently caught myself going to say “b’y” but I tend to stumble if I notice it, because everyone knows I’m not from here so I feel like an imposter ;P (but I’m sure it slips out without me noticing as well… like I said, I’m a sponge.)
    There’s a few phrases and expressions I definitely have picked up and use regularly without even thinking, but it probably helps that I already had an island influence on my speech ;) (there’s a few ways of speaking here that are also present in PEI in pockets..)
    It’s been 10 months, and I still get the occasional client I can’t really follow :S And definitely get cab driver’s I can’t understand….

    • March 11 2010

      Oh the cabbies! They’re the worst. You’ll figure it all out eventually though, you might even pick up the lilt. I suggest a trip “out around the bay”! ;)

  • March 09 2010
    maggie

    ps – most common use of b’y at work: “yes, b’y!” whenever someone says something painfully obvious, or asks an obvious question . . . which is probably why I most often almost say it when I’m away from work and someone is being dumb. ;D

  • March 09 2010

    How cool! I desperately want to hear this used in speech!

    • March 11 2010

      I think I need to make an instructional video at some point, I can’t find one anywhere.

    • March 18 2017
      Myrt

      Watch Republic of Doyle on Netflix for sure b’y!

  • March 09 2010

    haha, that is awesome!! I really can’t wait to visit newfoundland. but i would never ever attempt to try to use local words, because i would likely fail miserably. i’ve been trying to use a southern accent while i’m down south, buuut i’m getting funny looks.

    • March 11 2010

      Hey, an attempt is better than nothing! Hah. Don’t worry, no one would hold it against you. ;)

  • March 09 2010

    Hmmm…. I agree with SpunkyGirl. This should be a weekly post. Give us a word a week, so that when we visit we’ll have a full vocabulary of words we can try out on the locals.

    • March 11 2010

      Hahaha you know, I might just do that. Next week: nunny fudger!

  • March 09 2010

    Oh man, I can nerd out on linguistics any day of the week. I’d heard about the accent/dialect in Newfoundland, but had no idea what it actually was. Thanks.

    • March 11 2010

      Hahaha, there is SO much more to it. I need to find some good videos or something!

  • March 09 2010

    Hahaha! Candice, you would make a great teacher! I love your delivery! Strict, no-nonsense, yet approachable and definitively authoratative. I give you an A-plus. Oh, wait. I can’t do that. I’m the student.

    • March 11 2010

      Lol, first time anyone’s ever said that to me, thanks Sabina! I’ll make this a regular thing, I think.

  • March 09 2010

    Love it Candice. I say with my Aussie lingo and your Newfie speak we could so confuse an entire room of people :)

    • March 11 2010

      Oh my god! Can you imagine?! We’d even confuse each other. We need a conversation.

  • March 09 2010

    If you started saying b’y elsewhere (pronouced bye/bi?), do people think you’re accusing them of being bisexual? As thats how this reads to me :/

    • March 11 2010

      Hahaha no, not at all, that’s never happened to me. It doesn’t really work in context, y’know?

  • March 09 2010

    Love it! I don’t have a respected superior to practice my new language skills on, so I’ll have to talk to my cat.

    • March 11 2010

      You know, that might be the best “person” to practice on. ;)

  • March 09 2010

    Not a good advertisement for me moving to Newfoundland :)

    • March 11 2010

      Aw, come on! I think that’s one of the BEST reasons!

  • March 10 2010

    God I love reading your stuff!!! Great job and I think a post of some of the Newfie sayings would be great. I have always loved (and I hope I have this right) ‘Stay where you are and I’ll come where you’re at.’

    • March 11 2010

      Close! “Stay where you’re at and I’ll come where you’re to.” Hehehe. Or actually, the other version might be used too. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

  • March 10 2010
    Matt

    Candice! Suggestion for your next word of the week, or WOW as it may be…Nunny fudger! Look it up! Hilarious.

    • March 11 2010

      I am SO including that in next week’s post!

  • March 10 2010

    Very fun post, Candice!
    I studied Linguistics for my Masters program, so I love this stuff!

    • March 11 2010

      Hahaha, glad you liked! I’ll keep adding to this list.

  • March 10 2010

    That was just freaking hilarious.

  • March 10 2010

    Amazing! I agree it should be a weekly feature. I’d feel much more confident visiting Newfoundland knowing tips like this!!

    And I don’t think I’ve said this before, though I’ve thought it, I *love* your writing style!!

  • March 10 2010

    Great post! I have a friend from Newfoundland, sometimes I still have a hard time understanding her. I’ll send this link to her, she’ll love it!

    • March 11 2010

      Hahaha thanks, and thanks for stopping by. B’y?

  • March 11 2010

    Candice, on a side-note, I am literally on Twitter right now adding you. I kept saying that I was going to do it, and figured there’s no time like the present. LOL.

    • March 15 2010

      I haven’t seen your Tweets yet, geeez!! Get started! Hahaha.

  • March 11 2010

    So the big question… Pop or soda? Rubber band or gum band? LOL.

  • March 12 2010

    LMAO! This is awesome! I’m still trying to wrap my head around the correct way to use the word b’y but you’ll have to excuse me. I just finished a 50 hour work week.

  • March 18 2010

    Some friends of ours tried explaining the Newfoundland accent to us, and eventually sent us a YouTube video with a guy talking about his dogs.

    I thought, no joke, I was having a stroke. Absolutely amazing, and I couldn’t understand a word he said (and I grew up in a menagerie of accents, from Italian to English to Aussie to German to god-knows-what, so I usually don’t have a problem with accents).

    Please tell me when the instructional videos come out, because speaking like a Newfoundlander is a superpower that I would very much like to have. :)

    • March 19 2010

      Hah! Mine’s not even that bad, honestly. I don’t even think I could impersonate some accents I’ve heard around here. I think I might have to get it a shot though.

  • July 27 2012
    T

    Hmm. I haven’t studied (much) folklore or linguistics, but I’d still bet it is derived from “boy” and not “buddy.” There are plenty of masculine words that (immediately or eventually) apply to females as well, whether in casual contexts like this (“you guys” in the plural is one) or just in formal language, when the masculine pronoun is used to apply to all comers (or was before more of us started saying “he or she”). And “buddy” doesn’t make nearly as much sense self-referentially, in the “I’se the B’y” way.

    And you have absolutely nailed it on the head when you say it’s all about delivery and attitude! I’ve been away almost 20 years now, and my accent is pretty much a thing of the past. I can’t use the word at all anymore, because it just sounds like an extra word at the end. No flow at all. It’s sad. (However, I can still sell “stay where you’re to ’til I comes where you’re at” and “whaddayat?” Phew.)

    • July 30 2012

      Good point! I hadn’t thought of that.

      • February 18 2013
        hmfr

        You might be able to find some video on line of South West UK accents, but to my ear the Irish accent and phrases are very strong too in a Newfie accent.

        Do you also use yonder, as in, ‘it’s over yonder.’ and hark, ‘Ooh, ark at ‘im.’, usually used when someone is being big headed? They are my favourite West Country words.

    • February 14 2013
      hmfr

      Of course it’s derived from boy. I come from the South West of England and grew up hearing the old folk saying it. Mind you, it was maid for girls. Maids and bays. It is still common to hear people saying ‘where’s it to? as well.

    • February 14 2013
      hmfr

      Of course it’s derived from boy. I come from the South West of England and grew up hearing the old folk saying it. Mind you, it was maid for girls. Maids and bays. It is still common to hear people saying ‘where’s it to? as well.

      • February 15 2013

        “Maid” is used often here too. “Where’s it to, maid?”

      • February 15 2013

        “Maid” is used often here too. “Where’s it to, maid?”

  • June 20 2013
    Luna

    I’m actually way on the opposite coast, in Vancouver (natural to it’s Island, though) and i have to say, my god this is going to kill me xD I’m trying to write a story that involves a newfie, so I figure, hey! Let’s look up how to talk like one. Oh dear lord xD

  • November 08 2015
    Allan

    This word is not just in NFLD. We use it here in NS as well!

  • April 30 2016
    Ann

    I’ve been watching Republic of Doyle on Netflix. It’s a riot! I have to turn on closed captioning every now and then to figure out what they are saying. :)

    • May 04 2016
      Candice

      Lol! Love it

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