The Dictionary of Newfoundland English has been put online as part of Memorial University of Newfoundland‘s Heritage Web Site. The Introduction says:

It is the purpose of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English to present as one such index the regional lexicon of one of the oldest overseas communities of the English-speaking world: the lexicon of Newfoundland and coastal Labrador as it is displayed in the sources drawn upon in compiling the work, sources which range from sixteenth-century printed books to tape recordings of contemporary Newfoundland speakers. Rather than attempting to define a ‘Newfoundlandism’ our guiding principles in collecting have been to look for words which appear to have entered the language in Newfoundland or to have been recorded first, or solely, in books about Newfoundland; words which are characteristically Newfoundland by having continued in use here after they died out or declined elsewhere, or by having acquired a different form or developed a different meaning, or by having a distinctly higher or more general degree of use.

Thus, among the latter are articles on such words as cod, haul, quintal, salt water; articles on bawn, belay, cassock, cat, dog, graple, lanch, room, strouter, and tilt, for words which have been given a new form or meaning in the region; on droke, dwy, fadge, frore, keecorn, linny, nish, still, suant, as examples of the many survivals, or, equally common, dialectal items in use, or former use, in the British Isles; on bawk, caplin, janny, landwash, nunny-bag, penguin, steady, sunker, ticklace and water-horse among words apparently invented in Newfoundland or appearing first in books about the region. And to these are to be added a number of words which, while they are often in varying degrees part of the common English vocabulary, are nevertheless given entries in the Dictionary because they occur with important nuances in Newfoundland usage, are displayed with unusual fullness in our data, or themselves stand at the centre of semantic fields of great regional importance: barren, bay, coast, harbour, ice, salt, ship, shore, spring, trap, water, and so on. These take their place in the Dictionary side by side with many other words the precise regional discriminations of which have often been hard won—subtle, but critical, terms such as in and out, offer and outside, up and down, which display a people’s exact sense of place; terms such as bank, berth, ground, fouly, ledge, shoal, etc, which reflect a complex system of classification of water bodies according to the types of ocean floor perceived by and significant for a coastal fishing people; names for birds and plants, especially those of economic or other importance; the seemingly endless nomenclature of seals at every stage of growth and development (bedlamer, dotard, gun seal, jar, nog-head, ragged-jacket, turner, white-coat, and a score of others); words for conditions of ice (ballicatter, clumper, quarr, sish, slob); and names for familiar operations in the woods or on the water, at work or play, in the ordinary and long-established patterns of Newfoundland and Labrador life.

The Dictionary therefore has both a breadth and a detail considerably greater than we originally envisaged, and this realization has been forced upon us by the evidence at our disposal and has increased with the progress of the work. The levels and kinds of lexical record included might be displayed graphically as a series of concentric rings spreading out from a centre, these rings formed by successive stages of the historical experience of English-speakers in Newfoundland; or as a series of isoglosses marking the special lexical features shared by Newfoundland speakers with those of their principal points of origin, especially the south-west counties of England and southern Ireland, and, across the Western Ocean, with those with whom Newfoundlanders have been in language contact: the native peoples of the region (adikey, oo-isht, sina, tabanask), speakers in the Canadian North (fur, stove cake, trap line), along the Atlantic seaboard of North America from Nova Scotia to New England (banker, dory, gangeing, scrod, trawl, tub), and in a sea-faring world which has left a ubiquitous record of nautical terms and nautical transfers in the regional lexicon.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to link to individual entries (or at least I can’t figure out how) Individual entries can be linked to from here; to give you a taste, here’s the entry for bawn:

bawn n also bon [phonetics unavailable]. EDD ~ sb 4 Ir; JOYCE 214; DINNEEN badhún for sense 1.

1 Grassy land or meadow near a house or settlement.
1897 J A Folklore x, 203 Bawn … particularly where the Irish have prevailed, is the common name for the land about the house. P 113-55 Setting spuds on the bawn (flat expanse of freshly-turned sods). 1968 DILLON 131 ‘We have to break up some bawn tomorrow.’ ‘When cattle are dry, they’re out on the bawn in the spring o’ the year.’ M 69-29 About half-way between my house and the theatre there was a big grassy bonne (meadow) and this was a favourite place for courters to go. C 71-24 [In Calvert] a baun was an enclosed pasture which was used for the grazing of sheep. In Carbonear [it] meant ground that hadn’t been ploughed before. C 75-136 ~ a plot of grass land where children play and where fishermen spread their trap when they take it up to dry or mend.

2 Expanse of rocks on which salted cod are spread for the quick-drying process of the Labrador and Bank fisheries; BEACH. Cp FLAKE.
1895 GRENFELL 66 Newfoundlanders spread [cod] on poles called ‘flakes,’ or on the natural rocks, called ‘bournes.’ [1900 OLIVER & BURKE] 34 “Fanny’s Harbor Bawn”: Which caused this dreadful contest on [Fanny’s] Harbor Bawn… / So pray begone, all from the Bawn, or I’ll boot you in your bloom. 1936 SMITH 17 [The fish] would then lie in the waterhorse for twenty-four hours. It was then brought out on the bawn and spread ‘heads and tails.’ 1937 Seafisheries of Nfld 47 When the fish is dried by natural means, it is placed upon flakes, beaches, rocks and bawns (i.e. artificial beaches), where the sun and wind are permitted to perform the task of extracting the moisture. 1955 DOYLE (ed) 78 … ” ‘Twas Getting Late Up in September”: To spread fish on the bawn makin’ wages / We went there without much sleep. T 393-67 This is where they’d make their fish—on all those small rocks about the size o’ your fist. They used to call it the bawn. M 71-117 Finally the fish would be taken in hand-barrows to the bawns—something like flakes except that the boughs were laid on the rocks—and spread to dry. 1977 Inuit Land Use 218-19 First, the cod were washed to remove the salt, then they were placed on small flat stones called bons to dry. The bons were loosely separated to permit air to circulate around the fish.

3 Phr make bawn: to prepare beach for drying salted cod by making a flat expanse of rocks.
C 70-10 Sometimes the fishermen would fill in the crevices with beach rocks, and this would be called making bawn. My grandfather said that he has made bawn down in Labrador while fishing there in the summer-time.

Many thanks to wood s lot for this remarkable resource.


  1. Anthony Hope says

    A remarkable resource indeed. You can link to individual entries if you start from here:

  2. Ah. I thought there was probably a way; I am deeply obliged to you for pointing it out to me.

  3. I’ve had a copy of this “odd” dictionary for a number of years, and it is truly one of the gems of my collection. Thanks for the tip about it going online.

  4. “Thank-you-ma’am” (bump in the road), previously discussed here, shows up here as “yes-ma’am”.
    “Come ashore” means “come aboard”.
    “Yuck” verb means “vomit”.
    “Jenny” has three distinct meanings, two sometimes distinguished as “janny” and “jinny”.
    Interesting. No good material for Newfie jokes so far, though.

  5. Go ‘way b’ye! I have a copy of the paper version of this dictionary too: my wife is a Newfie so I need it to figure out what she means when she calls someone a streel or a sleeveen

  6. Hi,
    I think that this dictionary has been on-line for a number of years.
    I got one for my birthday the first year I lived here. I’ve been here five years and married into the fold. It is a deliciously complex place linguistically and I find myself looking in the book all the time.
    if you are interested in NF vernacular poetry you might be interested in Mary Dalton’s _Merrybegot_ (the term for a child out of wedlock).
    You can find her book here at

  7. Does anyone know what a “salt water rabbit” is?

  8. where and/or how did the word ‘newfie’ come into being? and is it now regarded as demeaning, pejorative or racial in newfoundland?

  9. where and/or how did the word ‘newfie’ come into being? and is it now regarded as demeaning, pejorative or racial in newfoundland?

  10. Ok, to answer some questions. John Christopher: Newfie Came into existence when Mainlanders/Americans started to come to the island. Newfoundland being a long name they started to shorten it up and say Newf as a quick referance to this great land. After a while these people who found it so hard to pronounce Newfoundland, found it as equally hard to call people newfoundlanders. So they then called the people Newfs too. It then through natural progression became Newfie. It was also commercial precepatated to the rest of the world by the crosbies producing newfie joke books. This is also how some people understood it to be a derogative term. Because these people who created the joke books had people who didn’t know anything believe that these jokes were a reality. Hence why this is now (depending on who you talk) either a thing to be proud of or insulting.
    D. Smith: A salt water rabbit are Rabbits who live near the ocean. It’s the same way that people call some ducks salt water ducks. They are those animals that live and feed near or on the ocean.

  11. haha newfies ruLe 🙂 wooooooo we aint got so shame nedder in sayin it

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