BY: KEYSHA WATSON
Breaking down the slang culture within Toronto’s urban scene.
Toronto is known as a major source for modern urban arts and culture in North America.
Toronto’s multicultural society has been praised for fostering the diverse and unique talents of those who live here. Just under fifty per cent of the city’s population is foreign born according to Statistics Canada’s 2011 census.
To accommodate for the various accents, and colloquialisms Torontonians have adopted as a result, it is not surprising that Toronto has developed its own lingo.The cultural mosaic that thrives within the city has helped in uniting those of various backgrounds by connecting and combining cultures.
Through conversations and collaboration Torontonians have fused their languages together to create new terms and phrases in order to better interact and understand each other.
“It’s an organic miss mash of dialect, dialogue and language. It is new, innovative and fresh.”
– Author, and cultural music critic Dalton Higgins.
The unique slang has gained international popularity as of recently, following the ongoing use of Toronto slang in urban media and by prominent Torontonians.
Mainstream T.O hip-hop artists such as Tory Lanez, Mississauga born r&b singer PartyNextDoor, Rexdale native Nav, and Drake are just a few artists that have risen to the top of the charts using slang in their musical works.
Drake’s latest album More Life, set social media buzzing following its release March 18th. Drake plays on his Toronto roots, using popular T.O slang throughout the album reflecting it in track titles such as ‘Blem’ and lyrics. With his intentional popularity, it was only a matter of minutes before Drake fans from all ends of the world began adopting the terms and phrases. This sparked conversations of cultural appropriation between West Indian Torontonians who believed that T.O slang is a fundamental aspect of Toronto’s Identity. Some of the negative reviews of More Life, accused Drake of being a ‘culture vulture’ for including T.O slang.
Award winning Toronto music video director Cazhhmere, says that after hearing all the slang on More Life, many people argued that all Drake does is take other people’s cultures and claim them as his own.
“But you guys have to realize that that’s Toronto slang, that’s what everybody says now.”
Cazhhmere, who has directed videos in the music industry for over thirteen years; has worked with Canadian artists such as JRDN, hip-hop identical twin duo A-Game, and Kardinal Offishall – whom she credits for putting slang on the map globally.
“Music is the first to embrace any type of slang and that’s where most people get their slang from. Everybody says ‘lit’ because it was in a song, before that it was ‘crunk’ because it was in a song,” she said.
The Toronto music industry has helped to revamp the perception of slang in urban media by using it in an artistic manor versus the constant portrayal of the stereotypical ‘T.O hood man who sell drugs and post up in clubs.’
“I remember Kardinal Ofishall had a song called BaKardi Slang, and the reason why Americans loved it so much was because throughout the whole song he talked about different types of slang we use here in Toronto,” said Higgins.
However, Cazhhmere says media still has a long way to go in terms of appreciating the rawness of T.O slang.
“To be honest, I don’t think slang is embraced enough,” she said.
Unfortunately, without proper context many Torontonians fear that T.O slang may now be used by those are unfamiliar or ignorant towards the true meanings behind the words that they are saying or rapping along to.
Americans bout to use slang outta context mad times and frankly I won't be correcting y'all anymore. pic.twitter.com/lWMNiPpP0a
— OXTAIL GAWD (@ThatDudeMCFLY) March 19, 2017
“Slang in Toronto music especially with drake and those guys now, there’s a lot of people that are using our slang in places we would have never though it could reach or be understood.”
– Toronto YouTube personality and actor Marlon Palmer.
Palmer, a.k.a ThatDudeMCFly, 28, has lived in Toronto and Scarborough throughout his life. He garnered a large social following through the use of social media as a platform to display his many talents including comedy, as a way to address issues facing the community. With YouTube videos such as “Shit Toronto People Say” and “Shit Jamaican People Say” gaining over 2 million views, Palmer has created a successful digital platform for himself.
He says although he was initially apprehensive about the globalization of Toronto slang, he can now understand why so many people are fascinated and enticed by it.
“At first I was against it just off of the fact that the people who use it aren’t always using it right, but over time I guess I can see why it’s so attractive to people because it’s hilarious just hearing it,” says Palmer.
I feel like because of the patois that’s mixed into it like the rhythm of the words is where the comedy is. It’s funny hearing people in Texas saying ting or people in Cali saying mandem,” he said.
As Toronto slang becomes more popular generationally, it is important to break down the meanings and explain the origins of these terms so that Torontonians can be more widely understood on a global platform. Most people outside of Toronto who think they know all of the ins and outs of T.O. slang are typically only familiar with the common words such as wasteman, real talk, ting(s), and yeah eh.
Toronto slang is primarily defined by those who use it.
However, attribution of these slang terms can become a bit muddled.
Who came up with it?
When did T.O start developing its own slang?
Depending on who you ask, you could get a different answer each time.
“[Slang] is such a universal language for people in Toronto that you don’t really know where it stems from, says Palmer. “Nobody ever really knows exactly where the slang starts from, I personally never know.”
The truth is many of the words that Torontonians use within their slang vocabulary can be attributed firstly to the West Indian community.
“We’re not paying homage to where the language, style and culture is coming from. Instead were just using [slang] very loosely and casually and theirs a huge issue there. It’s that thin line between appreciation and appropriation,” said Higgins.
You may live in Toronto, pick up a few slang words here and there but if you have no connection to the source (Caribbean) you're just a fan.
— Wanna (@WannasWorld) March 19, 2017
The large and growing population of West Indians in the Toronto Area heavily influenced and continue to leave a lasting impression on the T.O slang terms we are familiar with today.
“If you talk to some Caucasian twenty-one-year-old, and you hear him speak he’s essentially using slang that comes from the black community.”
Almost sixty percent of people in Canada who reported they were of Caribbean descent live in Toronto, according to the 2011 Statistics Canada report.
Terms and phrases such as wa’gwan, mandem, ahlie, dun know, cyattie and many more originated from Jamaican slang.
“I feel like Jamaica runs the culture when it comes to slang and determining what becomes popular in the city but as far as recognition I don’t feel like they get recognition for anything they do but the impact that it’s had on the city to me is unmatched,” said Palmer.
Although slang may have its roots tied to the West Indies, Torontonians have remixed their own adaptation of these terms and phrases to better suit the city’s multicultural environment.
“Everybody that uses Toronto slang gets accused of talking like a Jamaican, but people have to realize that’s just Toronto slang. You can’t call someone out saying ‘oh you’re trying to talk like a Jamaican,’ because that means everyone in Toronto is trying to talk like a Jamaican.”
The true origin of many of Toronto’s infamous slang terms may be in dispute but one fact remains, the slang itself has helped break down language barriers.
Toronto’s distinct slang is already breaking boundaries by opening up communication lines between individuals belonging to individuals of varying communities, says Musse Musse, 20, a native of Rexdale, often regarded simply as Rex.
“Our slang is something different. It’s not what you would hear at any other place, so you can communicate with people in different ways that allows us to really understand each other,” said Musse.
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about being able to use and understand Toronto slang, something like a certain swagger that’s attached to it.
It’s almost like a secret society that only Torontonians belong to.
Toronto Lingo Is Not A Canadian Thing. Nobody Outside Of Toronto Talks Like People From Toronto.
— Godiva Chocolate Martini (@DemiCaruso) March 18, 2017
“As a Toronto person you can hear a slang word for the first time and depending on the way it’s used you automatically know what it means without even having to ask anyone.”
As the dynamics of the city and T.O society continues to change the slang terminology has evolved along with it.
With new words being introduced on a daily basis it can be hard trying to keep up.
It seems the only sure way to stay in the loop on T.O slang is to introduce your own words and phrases into the mix, and that is the exact route Palmer decided to take.
During a chill session with his bros, Palmer says slang came up as a topic.
“We were just going over words that would work as slang and I said blended. I started using it in a sentence, since blend obviously means more than one thing put together we were like ‘yo maybe if your drunk and you are high you’re blended,” he said.
After promoting ‘blended’ on his various social media accounts to over a million of his loyal followers, the word became a sensation quickly being added to the T.O terminology.
I been trying to make "blended" a slang word in Toronto for too long. Y'all are gonna put some respek on my slang dammit.
— OXTAIL GAWD (@ThatDudeMCFLY) July 20, 2016
Although Toronto slang is widely accepted overall, there are a few rules you have to be aware of if you plan on using it. As cool as slang may be, it is essential that you keep in mind the audience and circumstances in which you use it.
Using a slang term that you do not know the true meaning of can be both offensive and dangerous.
You definitely don’t want to be walking around calling your bestie a ‘cyattie’ thinking that it means beautiful, when really you just called her a loud, obnoxious, ghetto woman.
Just imagine being at a house party with that one friend who doesn’t know their drinking limit.
Two hours and five shots of Hennessy later that one friend is drunk and yelling that he wants to ‘scrap.’
You have no idea what that means and laugh it off. The punch to the face that you receive immediately after however, is no laughing matter.
After tussling with your friend on the kitchen floor of someone’s house, in front of what feels like all of Toronto, it quickly sinks in that scrap really means fight.
Unfortunately, without knowing what the slang word meant beforehand, you had no idea of knowing that you laughing it off was a sign of disrespect which then lead to the fight that ensued.
It is best to use slang with people who are already accustomed and who understand exactly what it is you are saying, says Palmer.
“The obvious negative is people not understanding,” he said.
The environment in which you use slang is also important.
There are serious negative repercussions of using slang in a professional setting.
“You have to know when to use it so that people don’t look at you a certain way and think that you’re uneducated or unintelligent,” says Musse.
Slang may be controversial to some in professional environments but as society continuously becomes more culturally accepting it has taken on a more profound artistically expressive connotation, in stark contrast to that of the typical ghetto stereotype.
Toronto’s unique slang lingo is propelling the city’s already, forward thinking progressive society, onto a global platform showcasing Torontonians linguistic flare.
Check out Keysha Watson’s second installment of her Made In Toronto podcast series, translating some common slang terms and phrases within Toronto’s urban scene.
Keep up with Made In Toronto by following Keysha’s website KeyshaWatson.wordpress.com