Nova Scotia

Who's your father? N.S. man shares Gaelic origins of Atlantic phrases on TikTok

Cory Matheson talks about Celtic words and their history on social media.

Cory Matheson talks about how Celtic languages have influenced today's words and questions

Cory Matheson uses his Gaelic name, Coraidh MacMhathain, to honour his Scottish heritage and raise awareness for the language. (Cory Matheson)

Atlantic Canadians all know it: the quick affirmative inhale and nod.

It's a speedy way to indicate you agree to something — but many people might not realize it has its roots in the Gaelic language.

Nova Scotian TikTokker Cory Matheson (whose Gaelic name is Coraidh MacMhathain) recently started making videos to show how Celtic languages like Irish (also known as Gaeilge) and Scottish Gaelic have influenced current words and common questions.

Matheson started learning bits and pieces of Gaelic around 18. He's always identified with his Scottish Highlands roots, he said, and the provincial Office of Gaelic Affairs has also helped inspire his journey.

"I really wanted to reconnect and reclaim that lost culture. And for a lot of Nova Scotians, there is that broken transmission," Matheson told CBC's Mainstreet.

His most popular videos so far are a series on Celtic influences in Atlantic Canada, with one hitting over 200,000 views.

In that video, Matheson explains how the use of "right" as an adverb came about — as in "it was right foggy yesterday." He said it's rooted in the Welsh (or Cymraeg) word "reit," meaning "very."

There's also one on that quick intake of breath to mean yes, which Matheson calls the "Gaelic gasp."

He said it was passed down from the region's Scottish and Irish ancestors who would likely have used the words "tha" or "aye" with the gasp to show agreement.

Matheson said he was inspired to create the series after interacting with people outside of the Atlantic region who were confused by some of his expressions.

"I kind of wanted to show off how, you know, there is a reason for it. It's not broken English. There [are] those grammatical roots there," Matheson said.

"I've had an outpouring of positive feedback from people ... even in Ontario and Alberta who are originally from somewhere in Atlantic Canada, saying that they feel validated."

Matheson also has an explanation for the common East Coast question: who's your father?

It comes from the Scots or Irish phrase "who do you belong to?" which was very important because a lot of people had the same name, Matheson said. 

This way, the question opens up the ability to share one's parents' and grandparents' names, differing yourself from the other Seans and Iains.

"I just kind of wanted to shed some light on it. And while I'm no linguist, I'm not an expert on this field, I just wanted to get people thinking about it," Matheson said.

Scottish Gaelic is listed as "definitely endangered" on UNESCO's list of endangered languages worldwide. In 2018, the province estimated 2,000 people speak Gaelic in Nova Scotia.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?