"Whose mans is this?" And the rise of other Toronto slang words

Oct 16 2019, 9:50 am

If you feel like the use of Toronto slang is on the rise, it’s because it is.

Words like “mans” and “ting” are used regularly by “yutes” around the city, and a University of Toronto linguistics researcher recently dove into the emergence of the 6ix slang.

According to “Do You Know Toronto Slang?” published in U of T’s Magazine, assistant professor Derek Denis said that pronouns like “I” are “like concrete” and hardly ever change. But speaking with students, he found that “I” is being replaced with the word “man.”

“Mans has work in the morning, how about you?” read the U of T example, which Denis said was something that was initially heard in immigrant neighbourhoods of London, England.

The professor said that the use of mans was completely new adding that it’s “quite rare.”

“Pronouns tend to be one of the most stable aspects of the grammar, so this was really cool to me,” he told U of T Magazine.

Denis’ interest in what happens to language when immigrants from various different backgrounds come together to one place, like Toronto, showed that these cities are “multi-ethnolects” – meaning “dialects of the local language that include words from multiple ethnic groups.”

According to U of T, Denis has been studying the “Multicultural Toronto English” since 2015, and they say that he has become an expert in “Toronto Slang.”

Denis said the word “mans” is the most well-known example of the city’s slang, mostly because it was used during a Drake appearance on Saturday Night Live back in 2016.

That same year, Denis published an academic paper that looked at the history of “mans,” stating that its obvious origin maybe “London’s man” although he claimed this is highly unlikely.

Denis continued to pull the similarities between London and Toronto, which both have large Jamaican communities and use similar versions of Creole, and said the mans/man evolution in each city stemmed from the same Caribbean language.

University of Toronto Magazine’s “Do you know Toronto slang?”/ University of Toronto Magazine

Other words often heard in Toronto nowadays include “Ting” and “Wallahi.”

While some come from Jamaican patois, other words are of Somali and Arabic influences.

“Wallahi” means “I swear” in Arabic, which is the same background for “miskeen” another word now used in English that directly translates to a pathetic person or situation.

The three cultures are ingrained in Toronto’s slang because the city is home to immigrants from these places, according to Denis.

But there’s more to it.

“There’s an aspect of Jamaican culture that’s cool,” said Denis. “So, taking words from that culture is also seen as cool.”

And yes, it also can be controversial.

Denis uses Drake’s example, as he’s used certain words of Jamaican or Somalian origins, and some argue that he “doesn’t have an authentic claim to” use the words because he’s not from the communities himself.

The associate professor said that the “cultural appropriation” aspect will be in his next phase of research.