As It Happens

Why b'y isn't just a N.L. term, and how this TikToker from Northern Ireland found out

Whitney McCullough never knew she would find a connection with people who lived across the Atlantic Ocean. But that changed when she learned about the linguistic similarities between her home of Banbridge, Northern Ireland, and Newfoundland.

Whitney McCullough found Newfoundlanders have no trouble understanding her after posting about it on TikTok

A woman stands on a lawn with a sign that says Whitney.
Whitney McCullough never knew there was such a connection between Northern Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador. (Submitted by Whitney McCullough)

Whitney McCullough never expected to find a connection with people who lived across the Atlantic Ocean. 

But that changed when she learned about the linguistic similarities between her home of Banbridge, Northern Ireland, and Newfoundland and Labrador, from the word "b'y" to the expression, "the arse has fell out of it."

"And it all started because of Mary Brown's chicken," she told As It Happens guest host Stephanie Skenderis.

The 36-year-old uses her spare time to post about slang from Northern Ireland on TikTok. But she didn't discover the connection between her words and those of N.L. until she heard about a new fried chicken place opening in the nearby town of Lisburn. 

Mary Brown's Chicken, which started in Newfoundland, was opening its first international restaurant there. And before the grand opening, McCullough received a special invite to the launch party.

"Normally I don't do those kinds of things. I'm not an influencer or anything like that … but I had planned on going anyway," said McCullough. 

She posted on TikTok, asking if anyone knew what Mary Brown's was. She didn't understand why a Canadian restaurant would make its first international expansion in Ireland.

And that's how a flood of Newfoundlanders found her videos. 

"I noticed that some of the comments were expressions or words that we would say here," said McCullough. 

A serving of chicken strips on a blue food court tray.
Mary Brown’s opened a store in Ireland, which caught Whitney McCullough's attention. (CBC)

Being understood

McCullough doesn't always expect to be understood, especially by people outside Northern Ireland.

"I would travel to London quite a bit, forget myself, and I would just speak the way I normally speak and people would look at you like you've got 10 heads," said McCullough. 

"But here's these people in Canada that know exactly what I'm saying."

So McCullough started engaging with her new Canadian followers, and she found there were more and more similarities. 

She's now sharing what she's learned. McCullough has been going through the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, first published in 1982, and pointing out all the similarities between it and what she knows. 

She says many of the people commenting on her videos say their family immigrated to Newfoundland from Northern Ireland and Scotland. 

"What you'll find actually with a lot of the Northern Irish slang, is it's actually called Ulster-Scots and it's a combination of people have immigrated from Scotland over to Northern Ireland and then Ireland," said McCullough.

"So it seems to be just a mix of people moving over from years ago from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland."

A woman looks into the camera.
Whitney McCullough posts about slang from Northern Ireland on her TikTok account. (Whitney McCullough)

Similar phrases

There are some differences. McCullough says in Northern Ireland they would write b'y as bai, and would generally only use it to refer to a boy, unlike in Newfoundland, where it could refer to anyone. 

But the term, "the arse has fell out of it," which means something is no longer working, would mean the same whether you were in Banbridge or St. John's. 

"It's crazy the amount of words that are similar," said McCullough.

McCullough has never been to Canada, but now that she's established this connection, she's been told she must visit Newfoundland. And she plans to. 

"Someday I will definitely go, and at least I know when I'm there, I'll be able to understand everybody and everybody will be able to understand me," said McCullough. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Drost is a journalist with the CBC. You can reach him by email at philip.drost@cbc.ca.

Interview with Whitney McCullough produced by Cassie Argao.

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