The proper spelling of the Newfoundland slang “B’y”

30 Jul, 2009

There was some debate todate as to the proper spelling of the word b’y. Any good geek will look up the real answer to any debate so here I am.

The Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador spells it “b’y.”

b’y {pronounced: BY} ~ 1. a young male person, a boy. 2. any male person regardless of age. “Have another piece of the cake, my dear, the b’ys are working”

About the author


I am an ex-pat Newfoundlander who has uprooted and moved to the big city of Toronto. I develop web applications for work and for fun. I play ultimate and ice hockey year-round and camp every chance my girlfriend will let me.

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  1. July 30, 2009

    That’s what I always figured. That it’s boy, shortened (as much as a one syllable word can be shortened) so the “o” is replaced with an apostrophe.

    Now as for “what are you at,” in Newfoundland slang form, I’m clueless. Any ideas?

  2. Greg Pike
    August 03, 2009

    @Darcy Fitzpatrick
    My best guess is: Whadd’ya at?

    That is what is listed under Newfoundland English Expressions on the Newfoundland English page of Wikipedia.

  3. Quahog
    December 24, 2010

    Yep! Remember well my Uncle Norm and Aunt Julie who practically raised me using the term “by” as “boy” when referring to a “man”. The greeting was always . . . “eh by . . whaddya at taday” They were originally from Harbor Grace, Norm was a veteran of the Newfoundland Regiment and served in WWI seeing serious action in France, Gawd, I loved those people and still miss them to this day.

  4. j p
    May 30, 2011

    Ahh, I always thought it was a contraction of the word ‘buddy’.

    @Greg Pike
    And ‘Whaddaya at’ or ‘whaddayat’ are acceptable forms. However, a lot of our slang is for speech only, we don’t write like that. Hence, you just have to sound it out and spell it as best you can!

  5. May 31, 2015

    b’y — [BAI] boy; pragmatic marker of discourse or informal direct address to a male: pal, buddy, guy, chum, man, dude, mate. Ow bes ya, me b’y? “How are you, buddy?” May include personal name: Good f’ we, John b’y, dere bes nar breeze on d’ go. “Lucky for us, John, that it is not windy.” See NE me son, o man, o
    trout, o cock, skipper, sir, Mr. Man. (-‘Traditional Newfy Talk’, Nimbus Publishing)

  6. July 13, 2015

    “However, a lot of our slang is for speech only, we don’t write like that. Hence, you just have to sound it out and spell it as best you can!”

    Any reference to Newfoundland English as “slang” depreciates the traditional speech of all Newfoundlanders. The language of any ethnic group is one of the most important components of its culture, so downgrading it to the level of “slang” also encourages a disparaging attitude toward that culture itself.

    Newfoundland English has its origins in the dialects of West Country England where they were once respected enough to have had the Bible translated into them, which, of course, implies they had their own orthography (dialect spelling systems). Unfortunately, despite its centuries-long history, a dedicated spelling system was never devised for Newfoundland English and so it was never considered seriously enough to have the Bible translated into it, nor was it used to write anything resembling serious literature. Thus, Newfoundland English has no significant literary heritage.

    Having been descended from West Country, Newfoundland English is, historically speaking, unrelated in any direct way to other World Englishes including Canadian or American English (which have their roots in a midlands London dialect) except for any loanwords borrowed from them over time. Again, unfortunately for the credibility of Newfoundland English, Newfoundlanders who do not know the history of our traditional language have acquired the idea that “we don’t write like that” and so must “sound it out and spell it as best you can”.

    So, what would Newfoundland English look like with its own spelling system? The answer is found in ‘Traditional Newfy Talk, The First English Language of North America” (Nimbus), already mentioned elsewhere in this blog and available from your local bookstore.

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