Tag Archives: Canada

Poetic inversion in all of us command

Originally published in Active Voice, the national newsletter of Editors Canada

Our anthem has been updated! It’s gotten royal assent! If you haven’t yet, you will need to get used to singing “true patriot love in all of us command.” And, perhaps less frequently, to hearing people complain about the change.

Some will contest the grammar: “Shouldn’t it be ‘in all of our command’?” And some will fulminate against the perceived “political correctness”: “It’s an inversion of the natural order!” Both sets of people are off base, but – inadvertently – the second set have the answer to the first set’s complaint. It is an inversion… but a grammatical one.

Here’s the old version: “O Canada, our home and native land, True patriot love in all thy sons command.” What don’t you see there? An apostrophe on sons. It’s not a possessive! The sentence is an imperative – a command (fittingly). It addresses Canada (the O gives that away), says it’s our home and native land, and then tells Canada, “command true patriot love in all thy sons.” Only because it’s an anthem, and it’s in a formal register, and it’s poetry, it moves the verb to the end to make it work with the metre and rhyme.

This is something we ought to learn in school: poetic inversion, or anastrophe if you like twenty-dollar Greek terms. Poetry often made use of it when end-rhymes were in vogue: “‘Sir,’ said I, ‘or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore’” is from Poe’s “The Raven”; “Else the Puck a liar call” is from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You occasionally find it in other national anthems; Nigeria’s has the line “Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey.” But for our own times, with free verse in the ascendancy, we’re more likely to hear anastrophe from Yoda: “Begun the Clone War has.”

The grammatical confusion is no surprise; you can’t hear the lack of apostrophe. But if it were “all thy sons’ command” – and now “all of our command” – the sentence would have no verb; command would be a noun. As it is, it’s not saying that true patriot love actually is in all of our command; it’s an imprecation, fervently wishing that Canada command true patriot love in all who sing the anthem.

Is the phrasing awkward? Very. Could it be rewritten better? Much. Would a larger change ever get through parliament? I sincerely doubt it.

Anyway, we can’t let mishearings win the day. If we did, the French anthem might declare that Canada’s valour has been fooled twice and will protect our hearths and fingers: “Et ta valeur, deux fois trompée, protegera nos foyers et nos doigts.”* Nope. Won’t get fooled again.


*The original is “Et ta valeur, de foi trempée, protegera nos foyers et nos droits”: “And your valour, steeped in faith, will protect our homes and rights.”


Californian accent? Or Canadian?

My latest article for TheWeek.com is about the similarities between the typical Californian accent and the typical Canadian one:

Why it’s difficult to tell a Canadian accent from a Californian one

For fun, Google some news or weather videos from Canadian TV stations and from Californian ones. Give them a listen, and you may be surprised just how similar they can be.

Canada ≠ America

It has become a fashion for people in some places to “point out” that the USA is only part of America, and that “Canada is America too!” I would like to ask them to stop doing that.

I don’t think I know any Canadians who would say that Canada is part of America. Canada is part of North America – North America is Canada and the US and (if you include Central America) Mexico and so on down to Panama. South America is, well, South America. In total they are the Americas. But only the United States of America is simply America. Canadians are North Americans but not Americans.

That’s just plain and simple established usage. It’s so well established, I am reflexively offended when I hear someone say Canadians are Americans. (Canadians often complain about Americans. They don’t mean themselves.) It really doesn’t matter if your sense of logic tells you it should be otherwise; logic, as most people tend to think of it, has precious little to do with language use. North America can’t be shortened to America; would you call West Virginians Virginians?

So take it from a Canadian. Take it from as many Canadians as it takes. Canada is not America.

Licence to smear?

The CRTC is proposing changing the Broadcasting Act so that where it formerly said “shall not broadcast any false or misleading news” it will now say “shall not broadcast any news that the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.” You may know that some people are up in arms about this.

Others feel that it’s not unreasonable to allow broacasters some slack. It’s not illegal for me to lie to a friend, and we all make mistakes, so why have the government interfere so much? Why not let the news media get the same slack we’d like to get? Continue reading