Nova Scotia

'Sobeys bag' and 'scribbler' are uniquely Maritime terms, says new dictionary

An updated version of a dictionary of Canadian English has enshrined some 20th-century Nova Scotia expressions that might be less familiar in other parts of the country.

Dictionary is the culmination of 10 years of research

Whether it has a Sobeys logo on it or not, all plastic bags are Sobeys bags to many Nova Scotians. (CBC)

An updated version of a Canadian English dictionary has enshrined some 20th-century Nova Scotia expressions that might be less familiar in other parts of the country. 

The  Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles is the culmination of a decade of work by academics. It's an updated version of a document that was published in 1967, for Canada's centennial. 

Stefan Dollinger is the dictionary's editor in chief and a professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. He told CBC's Information Morning that preparing the list of terms was painstaking work.

"You can't [just] say 'Well that's a Canadianism,'" he said. 

"You really need to do the legwork. So you need to get the data, get quotations, you need to trace them regionally, so where is it being used, you need to compare it ... to other varieties of English." 

If you call this a scribbler, you might just be a Nova Scotian. (

Maritime terms ranged from "mainland" — which can refer specifically to the mainland of Nova Scotia, although it's also used in other parts of the country — to "Newfie," which dictionary authors determined is used three times more often by Nova Scotians than those from Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The Sobeys bag

A familiar term to many Maritimers, "Sobeys bag" is defined in the dictionary as a general word for plastic bags, said Dollinger. 

The dictionary puts the earliest recorded use of the term at 1998.


Another regional term is "scribbler," which many people from Atlantic Canada will immediately recognize as meaning a notebook.

Dollinger said the term once had widespread use outside the Maritimes, and they have found quotations going back to 1890. But since then it's faded from the lexicon everywhere except the Maritimes.

'Come from away'

The updated dictionary in some ways reflects the different context of 2017, said Dollinger.

"The [first edition from 1967] is a wonderful pioneering dictionary, but of course the spirit of the times mandated that they look into the older terms like the fur trading and trapping terminology," he said.

"Our goal was to make sure we have better information on more modern terms."

While not exactly a new word, the term "come from away" has a place in the dictionary for being as relevant now as it was when a version of the phrase first appeared in 1836. 

In 2017, the dictionary defines it as "a person who is not from Atlantic Canada or any of its provinces."

The dictionary also includes some terms familiar to anyone in Canada, regardless of their home province: "double-double," "all-dressed" and "eh".

With files from CBC's Information Morning