East Yark's favarite pizza shap

East Yark Pizza Shap

I can’t help but channel my best Fargo accent whenever I read the location on this pizzeria’s flyer.

As funny a mistake as that is (and as much fun as it is to say “East Yark” over and over and over again), the sad part is that an earnest businessperson is probably losing a significant chunk of potential business from people who think that if you can’t take the time to spell-check the name of your neighbourhood, you can’t be putting much care or attention into cooking pizzas either.

My mother mused for a while about starting a side business doing nothing but quick proofreading of flyers and brochures for local businesses before they get printed and distributed with howlers of mistakes on them. For a few bucks, she’d make any necessary corrections before releasing the work to the printer. She got started by correcting flyers that she received and sending them back to the offending business along with a business card and a brochure of her own. She eventually gave up after getting no responses and continuing to receive misspelled flyers months after she sent in her free corrections. But there must be a viable business in here somewhere, even if only for a printer who looks at the client’s copy and says, “Hey, wait a sec…” instead of just shrugging and starting the press.

Who's up for burbee?

A story in Sunday’s Star highlighted the difficulty of counting the number of words in the English language, partly because of all of the local dialects constantly spawning words that never make it into dictionaries. And these aren’t just national or regional dialects, either; words can be hyper-local:

In Toronto, a popular schoolyard game involves painting (or chalking) a rectangular strike zone on a wall. There’s a pitcher, who aims for the strike zone, and a batter, who stands in front of it. It’s called “burbee” in Toronto’s east end, “french” in parts of East York, and “wall ball” in other areas of the city.

None of those expressions made it into Barber’s book, Only in Canada, You Say, a treasury of words unique to the great dominion. Nor does “squared,” a Torontoism of ancient coinage that means, well, kicked in the groin.

I grew up in three different parts of East York and we didn’t call it french in any of them. We always played burbee. I didn’t encounter the term french (for this or other entertainments) until well into my teens, despite regular exposure to kids from all over East York. There was a severe shortage of suitable walls during my Scarborough years, so not only did I not play burbee, but I have no memory of ever even mentioning it. Good thing too, as I probably would have been laughed out of the borough for calling it burbee instead of wall ball. As for getting squared, how can such a wonderful term for such an awful thing be limited to use by Torontonians? For that matter, I don’t think I’ve heard it for 20 years or longer.

It’s wonderfully surprising to discover that some of the language I grew up with would have sounded foreign to kids just a few blocks away.