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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why are coasters called coasters?

You know, if you're going to use dictionary-style "entries" for Canadianisms as the concept for your product you should at least get your info right. No, our Canadian toque is not pronounced like toke. It rhymes with "spook". 
For more on toques, see this post: 

I saw these coasters, made by an Ontario company from upcycled beer bottles, on sale at the Royal Ontario Museum gift shop. You can also get matching beer glasses if you really want to spread the "toke" mistake around. 

Once I got over my "Why did we go to all the trouble of writing the Canadian Oxford Dictionary for these people?" shock at this, I started to wonder, "Why the heck do we call those things coasters, anyway?"

A "coaster" was originally a person or  a ship who sailed from port to port along a coast, or around the coast of an island.  In the late 1800s, some wit saw a similarity between this and the silver tray on which the after-dinner bottle of port (the other kind of port) circulated around a table, stopping at every welcoming "harbour" along the way. Coasters gradually became smaller and more stationary, until they designated the type of object above.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.