The Real Origin of the Canadian “eh?”

Here is my take on the origin of the Canadian “eh?”

The French keyboard layout.

When you want to type in French, the easiest way is to switch to the French keyboard layout, instead of using the Alt + 0XXX codes for the accented vowels and the c-cédille. However, once you switch to the French keyboard layout, some other keys, such as the forward slash (/), become harder to find, so we Canadians in the French speaking provinces often switch back and forth between the English and the French layouts. Sometimes, though, we forget to switch back from the French layout to the English layout. And this is what happens when you ask a question in English, while typing with the French keyboard layout:

“So you want to go to China Town tonightÉ”

You see that “É” at the end of the sentence? That’s what happens when you try to type out the question mark (Shift + /). In the French keyboard layout, that key combination gives you the e accent aigu instead of the question mark.

The sentence ends up being read as “So you want to go to China Town tonight, eh?”

And that’s how the Canadian “eh?” was born. 🙂

  • M Shepherd

    While I found your post while trying to figure out how to switch “out” of the french layout…for some reason, my keyboard seems to randomly switch to this all on its own…I found your last line somewhat amusing. 🙂

    The Canadian’ism “eh” has been around so very much longer than even computers, that I must assume you either must be joking, or must actually believe your own tripe.

    In the event that you are indeed serious, let me just say that the Canadian’ism “eh” is just that…it’s Canadian. Not a french creation…nor english…simply Canadian!

    I AM!

  • andrea

    So how do you switch back and forth??? My computer is doing the same thing…please help

  • Kal

    M Shepherd, I am, of course, joking.

    I have never had random switching of the keyboard happen to me. Windows remembers the current keyboard layout in use per running program. If you get a different keyboard layout when you switch between programs, it’s normal. Microsoft Office also has a feature where it automatically switches the keyboard depending on where your typing cursor is. For instance, in Word, if it thinks that the typing cursor is presently in a paragraph of French, it may automatically switch the keyboard to the French layout (given that the French layout is installed).

  • Eliott

    andrea, if you’re using Vista, it’s because they put a stupid shortcut to switch keyboard layouts (Ctrl-Shift-Tab). I happen to use this shortcut regularly in Firefox, so I had the same problem. To turn it off, go

    Control Panel->Regional and Language Settings->Keyboard and Languages tab->Change Keyboards->Advanced Key Settings

    You can turn off shortcuts from there.

  • Kal

    I’m happily taking refuge in Mac OS X because Windows broke again. 🙂

  • Someone

    hi, my friend has windows live messenger and she has a problem with her symbols. for instance, her question mark becomes “É” and her “>” becomes the question mark. does any one have any ideas how to fix this? thanks 🙂

  • a Torontonian

    That’s a funny joke Kal! 😀 Good one

    And thanks for the tip Eliott, I was having that problem in Vista.

  • Brennen

    The way to fix this is almost like what Eliott mentioned.

    Go to Control Panel->Regional and Language Settings->Languages Tab->Details

    Then under that there should be a box with all your Languages and such, I removed all french languages and also click on the “Key Settings” button and it should say your shortcut keys to switch between languages.

    My default was left alt + shift

    And it I tryed it and it switched back to english.

  • I’ve suffered the random layout switching too. I use Dvorak, but occasionally Windows decides to switch back to Qwerty while I’m in the middle of typing something. In the “Regional and Language Settings” dialog, I HAVE disabled the shortcut keys. They all say “None,” yet the switching happens anyway. Very frustrating! 🙁

  • Leesa

    Thanks Eliott- I’ve been having the switching problem ever since I got Vista and could NOT figure out what I was doing or how to switch is off. I swear, this is the only help anywhere online about this- I’ve looked on multiple occasions!

  • I echo what Leesa said: THANKS ELIOTT!!! God love you!

  • Peter A

    Elliot ,you are the best. I recently has this problem with my vista and nobody knows what to do.Thanls to you I am happy now. Thanks again.

  • You see that “É” at the end of the sentence? That’s what happens when you try to type out the question mark (Shift + /). In the French keyboard layout, that key combination gives you the e accent aigu instead of the question mark.