A Newfoundland Language Lesson Part 4: The Dangerous Politics of the Word “Newfie”

In one of my previous posts, a commenter left a message saying he loved my blog, but hated my use of the word “Newfie.” For some reason, during my last year of travel blogging, I completely forgot to explain the word’s complicated politics. I’m not kidding, friends. This is a serious issue.

“Newfie,” as you can imagine, refers to someone from Newfoundland. I grew up thinking “Newfie” described anyone born before 1949, when Newfoundland became a part of the Canadian Confederation. But people still use it to refer to people from the island today.

The problem is that “Newfie” can have very, very negative connotations. In fact, if you’re a CFA (Come From Away) and you use the term in poor taste, it’s very much considered an ethnic slur.

The whole thing originates from “Newfie jokes” generally depicting Newfoundlanders as dumb. Here’s a mild one:


“A Newfie saw a sign at a restaurant.

It read….
Happy Hour Special:
Lobster Tail & Beer.

“Lard Tunderin Jaises!” he says to himself, “Me three favourite things!”


However, because we’re awesome, we don’t mind poking fun at ourselves either, and most of the time we love these jokes.

But the stigma of being a “Goofy Newfie” is seriously problematic. Have you ever read the commentary on CBC articles published about Newfoundland? Don’t – they’re often so hate riddled, your blood will boil. Laziness, alcoholism, stupidity…these things are all associated with being from the island.

Why? One reason is because the province is incredibly isolated, something I’m learning more and more as I’m travelling. As a result, we’ve developed a super strong identity, and we’re damned proud of it. Our language, lifestyle, and culture are unlike anywhere else in Canada. In many ways, we lead very simple lives based on strong personal connections and communal ties.

Pretty Newfoundland.

Pretty Newfoundland.

(Photo by jhetzel.)

Another reason is because of the MASSIVE Newfoundland population living on the west coast, specifically in Alberta. Often the work is contractual, leading to months of EI benefits where the employee takes the cash and heads home. This isn’t because we enjoy the downtime – au contraire – our hearts will always belong to the island, and any chance to get back is a good one. The problem is opposite, actually: Newfoundlanders tend to steal jobs because they make such dedicated, hard workers. Just ask my best friend’s father who is currently doing construction work 12 hours a day, with only every third weekend off. Then ask my father who built our home in Bay d’Espoir…alone.

The list goes on.

Generally, people in my age group don’t mind the word “Newfie.” We often use it as a term of endearment. But if you don’t live here, be careful how you toss it out there, especially to your elders. Once, a furious driver nearly pulled his cab over when my friend Coady said the word, and he didn’t even use it negatively.

While travelling around Nova Scotia these past two months, I’ve had nothing but incredibly positive responses when telling someone I’m a Newfoundlander. You’re not so likely to meet anybody badmouthing “Newfies” nowadays, but if you ever do, punch them in the dick/ovary for me. Then take a picture, and I’ll personally send you a sample of Screech Rum, b’y da jaysus.

  • October 10 2010

    I’m really glad you posted this, because I learned “Newfie” from your blog and totally would’ve used it. I had no idea it had negative connotations.

    Also, every time I visit this site, it just makes me want to visit so bad! My dad actually worked in Newfoundland for about 9 months a few decades ago, and loved it (but froze his ass off!)

  • October 11 2010

    Yeah, I’m with you. It does have a bad connotation. I avoid it but still refer to my buddy Steven as my Newf bud, Steven. Maybe this is a bad thing. Never meant it to be so tho’. He’s a gem of a friend.

    By the way, I’m curious- how did Bay Espoir get its name. Gotta be a story behind it. :-)

  • October 11 2010

    My roommate in first year was born in Newfoundland, but grew up in alberta/ontario, and several of the boys we lived with would ride her for it and call her a goofy newfie and such… and she loved it ;) She was very proud to have been born here and never took offense to the term because of that.

    I generally don’t use the term, because I gre up believing it had negative connotations ;P And I have friends back in Ontario that call me newfie intending to be derogatory ;P

  • October 11 2010

    Interesting, and eye-opening post.

    I’m an Albertan who has had the distinct pleasure of working with many temporarily transplanted Newfoundlanders in the construction industry. I had no idea that “Newfie” could have negative connotations. To me (and to those I worked with), the term is one of endearment. In fact, taken one step further, one of outright adoration. I miss my boys a great deal whenever they return home to their island.

    Thanks for the information, it’s something that I will keep in mind should I ever get the chance to travel to Newfoundland.

  • October 11 2010

    I’m from Newfoundland and don’t mind that term at all. In fact, if a newfie got offended aroundme by someone using that term, I would tell them to get their nose out of the air & relax!

  • October 11 2010

    I had no idea that Newfoundland was so ill-thought-of by other Canadians. That’s weird! It’s great that you and other Newfoundlanders have a sense of humor about it. Maybe in part it’s because not many outsiders ever make it to Newfoundland so they develop notions about it and never find out that they’re wrong? It sounds like a culture onto itself, which is really cool

    • October 12 2010

      I have yet to meet someone in Canada who thinks poorly of Newfoundland nor its inhabitants. If they exist I assume they’re the same types of Racist Trash who think blacks suck, asians blow, and all native americans are freeloaders. Unfortunately those types exist all around the world.

      Big thanks for the heads up thoe Candice, won’t be tossing that out in any cab rides when I make it there.

  • October 12 2010

    When we owned our house, our neighbours were from Newfoundland and they always called themselves Newfies. They were the best neighbours and we had a blast with them every weekend. They loved their province and were very proud to call themselves a Newfie. When their parents came to visit for the summer it was even more fun!
    Like Corbin, I don’t know anyone who thinks poorly of Newfoundland. But yes, you are right, growing up, we heard all the jokes. (But then again, we heard jokes about everything back then.) I think it is because the world was a bigger place then. The East coast was isolated from the rest of Canada. Heck all of Canada was isolated from each other. Nobody knew much about anything outside of where they grew up Ignorant people tend to make fun of what they don’t know. I heard the jokes as a youngster and didn’t even know what a Newfie was!

  • October 12 2010

    I must say, I am learning so much about Canada just from reading your blog!

  • October 12 2010

    Now is the perfect time to use your Omni pass! They were super nice about it, even though I didn’t pay for anything but valet parking. You may want to live the rest of your life in their bathrobes. For reals. I would but I doubt it would help my cat lady appearance.

  • October 13 2010

    Ah, I didn’t mean to scare you all from using the word entirely, nor did I mean to imply that most Canadians outside the province think poorly of Newfoundlanders! Lori and Boomergirl, use it around the people you know whenever you want! The best thing about being a Newfie is that we LOVE strong bonds and friendships, calling us a Newfie in those cases are just signs of endearment. I don’t mind being called a Newfie either!

    I think mostly it’s the older generation who will occasionally get offended. None of my friends are bothered by it. We laugh it off.

    Claire, I’m glad you’re learning so much! Hehe.

    Also, there’s like a billion different stories behind the reason why “Bay d’Espoir” is named the way it is, hahaha. It means “Bay of Hope” in French, but there’s no French people living there…at all. Some people say it’s “Bay Despair” taken out of context, and others say it’s supposed to be “Bay of Spirits.” Hah!

  • October 27 2010

    I’m always leery on using slang terms to identify the locals, not sure if it will make me sound like cliché tourist or fling someone the wrong way….. on the other hand ‘goofy newfie’ made me laugh @(^_^)@

  • July 25 2011

    I’m from Australia and lived in Canada for 12 months. 4 of those were in St. John’s, Newfoundland. I had an amazing time there and made an amazing friend whose family basically adopted me while I was there. They’re my “Newfie family” and I’m their “little Aussie”. I just love the thick Newfie accent and the slang. I found that mainland Canadians gave Newfies a ribbing but it was always in good fun and usually coming from friends. It’s a bit like in Australia where the mainlanders joke about the Tasmanians. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of friendly rivalry.

    • July 27 2011

      OOh, yay! I’m so glad you came to the east coast, especially since most Aussies seem to gravitate toward the west. And I agree, I’m never offended by the word “Newfie” unless it’s outright used in a negative way. But the older generations sometimes get finicky about it.

  • April 20 2016

    Hey candice

    I’m moving to Newfoundland this summer (corner brook to be exact) and am really looking forward to getting my hands on your guide to newfoundland. I already subscribed for info but I was just wondering if there was a release date set yet? Thanks so much for your time. best

    • April 28 2016

      Hey Patricia! I’m so sorry it’s taking me so long. I’m so caught up with other projects at the moment. I hope to have it out by at least mid summer but I can’t say for certain. Sorry! I want it to be the best guide possible, so I’m ironing out all the kinks. :)

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