How do you say 'sesquicentennial'?

It's a word you'll hear a lot during Canada's 150th anniversary. But how do you say it? And what does it mean?

The term for a 150th anniversary is tough to pronounce… but they're worse off in Montreal

Youtuber Matt Philips takes to the streets to see how many Canadians can say the Latin-derived word for 150th anniversary: sesquicentennial. 1:56

Canadians had it a lot easier in 1967 — at least when it came to chatting about the country's big year, the Centennial.

The word for 100th anniversary had a nice ring to it, rolling off the tongues of ribbon-cutters across the country. Centennial College. Centennial Park. Centennial Voyageur Canoe Pageant. Oh, those were the days. 

Now, 50 years later, Canada is marking a new milestone … but, let's be honest: it's tricky to say "happy sesquicentennial" with a straight face.

Many Canadians have never seen the term, much less spelled it or said it out loud. 


In an effort to literally get the word out, we asked intrepid YouTuber Matt Philips to spend a Saturday asking ordinary Canadians to sound it out. (You can watch them mostly failing in the video above.)  

Most folks hummed, hawed and hesitated. One man shuddered and took a step back. One woman even burst out laughing.

By deadline, Matt was only able to find one single person who could get it right.

"Well, it seems like Canadians have a really hard time saying sesquicentennial, so we're in real trouble on our 175th," he says. "Good luck, Canada." 

C'est si difficile

Meanwhile in Quebec, people are celebrating 375 years since the founding of Montreal. But if they're not throwing around fancy Latin-derived words, we can hardly blame them. Even Harvard Magazine had trouble figuring out the right term for that milestone.

On the university's 375th anniversary, the magazine polled three academics — a Latin language and literature professor, a professor of the classics and a professor of Medieval Latin — and still came up short. 

"I have proven unable thus far to come up with anything that would not make sesquipedalian look brachylogical," said Medieval Latin professor Jan Ziolkowski. (Translation: I can't help you.)

But for all you word nerds out there, here's a rough breakdown of some proposed anniversary names. (The Canadian Oxford Dictionary–approved words are asterisked.) 

Some terms are more disputed than others. The word for 175th, for instance, has been rendered as demisemiseptcentennial, terquasquicentennial, septaquintaquinquecentennial and holy heck I give up.

Let's talk about it in 25 years, shall we? 

YearAnniversary Name
10th                         Decennial*
50th Quinquagenary
100th Centennial
Matt Chin roams the streets of Toronto looking for people who can confidently pronounce the Latin-derived word for 150th anniversary. (CBC)


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