Why We Say “Eh”


A recent study by a team of linguists at Queen’s University has revealed why Canadians all seem to say “eh”. The curious interjection first actually invented by Sir John A Macdonald as an attempt to distinguish Canadians from other English-speaking people. Macdonald was concerned that Canadians would be confused with British since there wasn’t any battle or historically-significant event surrounding the founding of Canada. The two countries still even have the same Queen. Macdonald recognized the need for Canadians to signify to anyone they met that they were a real Canadian and not just a British North American. Without any real difference between the two groups, he invented “eh” as the defining difference between Canadians and British North American. Macdonald even believed so strongly that this one word should be the defining aspect of Canadian identity that he tried to write it into the constitution by writing Part XII “Canadian Linguistic Identity”; however this part was removed after objections from leaders of other provinces.



Macdonald didn’t give up though. He began using the interjection regularly as the first Prime Minister of Canada, and it caught on. Soon all Canadians, even new immigrants, use the term.

Despite its near ubiquitous use in our speech, for years linguists have maintained the opinion that the word adds no additional meaning to any sentence under any context. With these new findings from Queen’s University about the words origin, it has become clear why Canadians say “eh”. The word simply tells the listener that the speaker is Canadian, so that foreigners do not have to ask the awkward question of why they smell maple syrup. While the word was originally intended to differentiate Canadians from the British, today it is mostly used to differentiate us from Americans, because let’s face it, us saying “eh” is really the only thing that makes us unique from our neighbours to the south.