Folks from New York are New Yorkers. People from Calgary are Calgarians. And those residents hailing from Smithers, BC?
They’re Smithereens, of course.
But what should we be calling residents of Osoyoos?
Osoyians? Osoyoosites? Osoyogonians?
We asked our Facebook followers that question awhile back — and received as many different responses as there were responders. It appeared difficult for two people to agree.
We got the three aforementioned demonyms — that’s what experts call a word that identifies residents or natives of a particular place — and a few others we weren’t expecting.
Some suggested a play on words, penning terms like Osocool or Osohottie.
Others had more general terms. Locals was proposed, as was OtownLocs and the even more general (and perhaps a bit cheeky) Senior Citizens.
(To which one of those seniors replied, “And you will be one soon young man, if you are lucky.”)
Well, with that much dissension in the ranks, we had to go to an expert.
Stefan Dollinger is an associate professor of English Languages and Literature at the University of British Columbia.
He’s also the keeper of an online reference manual of everything Canadian called Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. He did a quick look around online, wondering if he could find evidence of what we call ourselves.
“I applied our smart big data method and saw that Osoyoosite is in the lead (37), followed by Osoyoosian (7) and Osoyian (5),” he says. “But it looks like in most cases folks still paraphrase the word, e.g. the woman from Osoyoos, etc.”
In other words, he concluded, the jury is still out on what “the woman from Osoyoos” should be calling herself — and how others should be referring to her.
“The short answer is: there are a few patterns, so what happens usually is that people try and test, and here Osoyoosite is so far the most established one,” he said. “But the counts are low, so the race is still open, I’d say.”
Settling on a demonym for a particular group of people doesn’t happen overnight. And while there are some rules that suggest what a particular suffix should be, more commonly it comes down to what Prof. Dollinger describes as a “rat race.”
“The speakers are always right,” he explains. “It’s self-determination — you pick your term. And then you all have to use it. Usage is the only factor.”
What that means is a demonym or two will slowly emerge from the pack, with more and more Osoyoos residents beginning to use the word to describe themselves.
“You’re going to have something where the suffix that creates the Town into the dweller of the Town, the suffix should be something that makes it more clearly pronounceable,” says Prof. Dollinger. “If people are going to use it, it’s got to be easy.”
With the limited number of online entries for potential low-hanging names, the matter. he says, is far from settled.
“People must feel awkward using Osoyite or Osoyoosite or whatever. The counts are fairly low. Once they reach thousands, then we’re talking.”
So, Osoyoos, what do you want to call yourself?