Fishing Language in Newfoundland
Though winter is still in full force around most of the island, fishing season is coming up and it felt like a good time to come back to some Newfoundland English, with a special focus on fishing. While I grew up hearing these expressions on a regular basis, it was only after confusing a fair share of mainlanders that I looked into their early usage on the island.
Barachois (pronounced locally as bar-a-sway, rather than the French bara-shwah) refers to a sand bar, or, a protective little pond for boats that connects to the ocean. With first documented usage in the mid-1700s, there are obvious links to early French settlers, namely in the areas of St. Pierre, Fortune Bay, and the St. George’s Bay area.
Flake (or fish flake) is a stage built of wood, typically held up by wooden poles, meant for drying fish. Documented usage in the early 1500s.
Gansey is a knit sweater with a popularity amongst fishermen and sailors.
Lop (or loppy) is a popular word used to describe rough, choppy water due typically to high winds. As in, “there’s some lop on the water today!” or “It’ll be loppier once the winds pick up.” Documents suggest usage around the 1890s or early 1900s. Apparently a similar expression, when talking about an icy surface, is knobbly.
Mug up (also known as boil up) is used to describe a snack consisting of tea and bread, though sometimes meant as something more substantial like beans or freshly caught fish. Generally cooked on an open fire, though any casual cup of tea can be referred to as a mug up, as well. See photo #1: a boil up on the shore (or, shore lunch) during a fishing trip in Whitbourne.
Throat (to throat, throating) is the act of slitting a fish up the belly to its gills. A throater was responsible solely for throating the fish, typically on shore and alongside a header and gutter. Calling this action throating has been documented as early as the 1300s.
Contributed by Justin Oakey (with photos by Amanda Row)