Friday, December 14, 2007

Bye Boatmen and the da By's

A friend asked me the other day why Newfoundlanders very often used the term by’e when referring to other people. Most CFA’s and indeed many Newfoundlanders assume the term as meaning "boy", but most likely it's related to the The Bye Boat Fishery which emerged in the mid-17th century.

Bye boatmen owned fishing rooms and operated inshore fishing boats in the waters around Newfoundland, but did not live on the Island year round. Many of them resided in England. They traveled Newfoundland on the fishing ships and worked from spring to fall on the Island and were paid fixed wages rather than a share of the profits. Even though they bye boat fisherman never owned anything, and did not share in the overall season’s profit, they were able to supplement their fishing income by finding other employment when they returned to England for the winter. When the men returned for work on the Rock in the spring, they brought over tackle and provisions purchased in England at prices much lower than available in Newfoundland. While many bye boatmen made the annual trek back and forth from Newfoundland to England some remained to look after equipment and property.

It has been suggested that the early byeboat fishermen were likely refered to as "by's" by the other fisherman. A practical term, and likely one used to indicate status in the community as well.

"Who is that man?" - "He's one the by's."

And there you have it!


Steve said...

Well... I just learned something new!

I always thought it was short for "boy". Kind of like the word "man" being used by hippies and cool dude wannabes.

To that end, I have a funny story. I was working in Montreal many moons ago (19 years old), unloading a semi-trailer. I was deep in the trailer and throwing boxes out to my Jamaican co-worker. We were chatting as we worked and at one point I said "Yes, b'y!" There was a box flying towards him and he just stepped out of the way, letting it fall. This big, muscle-bound Jamaican man walked toward me, pointing a finger at me, saying in a VERY thick Jamaican accent "Don't call me 'boy'!" I was beside myself... I stammered and struggled to find a way to explain the term to him before he finished is walk toward me and fed me my own teeth. I was still squirming, stuttering, and planning my escape when he started laughing. Again, in a thick accent, "I know, I know, man, you are from Newfoundland... you should have seen your face, man!"

Funny. Very frickin' funny. :-)

nadinebc said...

"Well... I just learned something new!"

I live to serve.

And your story cracked me up! I can just imagine your face.