Canadian nationalism, brought to you by the letter “zed”

It is a feeble country indeed that attaches itself so passionately to a zed.

What the hell am I talking about? Well, let me tell you. My son loves this online alphabet website,, and we spend quite a lot of time getting to know our ABCs there. He loves the site with all its funny songs and stories and he especially loves to sing "The ABC Song", almost as much as he loves singing Raffi's "Baby Beluga" and Cat Stevens' "Wild World"... oh, and Nirvana's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?".

Here's the problem: Whenever he sings “The ABC Song” with a certain type of person around, you should hear the almost-deafening roar that ensues once he gets to "zee". "Zee is not Canadian!" the loud protests echo throughout our entire home, as my little guy looks around confused while making a valiant attempt to finish the song with the "Now I know my ABCs..." coda.

"Zee is not Canadian", the indignant and proud Canadian proclaims again and again. "Well, neither are the automobile, the television or the computer, but we use all of them quite regularly now don't we?", I protest. But it is pointless. My appeals to rationality are no match for the raging nationalism of the True Canadian Patriot.

Fragile Sense of Self

But, really now—and I've been saying this for years—what kind of fragile sense of nationalism is it that feels so passionate about a "zed" or an extra vowel in words like color and labor... or an illogically backwards "e" and "r" in words like center? Hey, why not "playre"? Farmre? Bakre?

Seriously, what sort of country is built on the "zed", the extra "u" and the backwards "er"? Don't we have anything more significant to believe in about our country than that?

What We've Got

The French have their cheese, their fine cuisine, their wine, their cafes, and then their Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.

The Japanese have their work ethic, Zen, bonsai trees, judo, sumo, and all that fantastic food.

The Americans have their constitution, their never-ending military adventures, hot dogs, Hollywood, the creation of jazz, rock 'n' roll (and just about every other major form of music over the past hundred years or so), and, of course, The Cosby Show, Gilligan's Island and Survivor.

The Irish have their Guinness, Celtic music, bans on contraception even for married couples (until recently), and some damn fine pubs.

The Chinese have 5,000 years of history and culture, amazing food, and an iron grip on Tibet.

The English have their mushy peas and distant fading memories of Grand Conquering Britannia.

And all we've got here in Canada is the "zed", the extra "u" and the backward "er"? Really? All we've got are leftover remnants from the olde archaic English days of yore, left to us by our former colonial masters?

Feudal Remnant Extraordinaire

Which, incidentally, can't help but make you wonder whether these dedicated followers of zed and the backwards “er" are the same people I talked about in my "God Save The Queen Rant", the ones who pine for the days of British rule and who, still to this very day, drool over the archaic, asinine, and irrelevant monarchy? Why not bring back the Divine Right of Kings and let them rule us with absolute authority? The hell with this democracy thing. It's not Canadian, it's Greek! Plus the Americans use it, so it must be bad, right? Just like that despicable Zed.

The way I see it, many (English) Canadians are a lot like the French, who continue to battle to keep English out of their "pure" French language, never mind the fact that English is made up of thousands of French and Latin words.

American English is the world language now and that's simply a reality. Resisting that reality is akin to having the delusional belief that French is still the lingua franca of the world. Or that the Americans are actually fighting for "freedom" in the Middle East. Or that cricket is an exciting sport. Or that serving Coca-Cola in school cafeterias is a really good idea for the kids. Or, again, that the monarchy has some sort of relevancy in the modern world. Or that Starship's "We Built This City" isn't, in fact, the worst song of all time.

True Love of Country

I'll tell you what, I think Canada is a wonderful country and I think that all those of us who live here are extremely lucky and I think we have a shared Canadian culture that we can be proud of, one that is quite different in many ways from the Americans, and the Brits—and any other nation for that matter. But I'm telling you it has absolutely nothing to do with zed and the backwards “er”. Nothing! If that's all people can cling to in order to feel that Canada is distinct from America then it's time to say screw it all and simply become the 51st state. Either that or find something real to believe in about our country.

Come on people, the foundation of the country just can't be the letter zed. Show a little self-confidence, self-respect and pride. We're not just a great country because we use some old archaic British things rather than their modern American equivalents.

Think about it, we don't eat doughnuts, use tyres, study maths, change nappies, stand in queues, or get repulsed at the slightest mention of a fanny pack (or any other fanny for that matter). You better believe we don't give rubbers to first grade children to fix spelling errors in class and we certainly don't eat mushy peas. But we're still a great country nonetheless—at least if you ask me, my son, and his beloved rhyming-with-the-rest-of-the-song "zee".

Zed's dead baby. Zed's dead!

Mike Cowie is a writer currently embarked on a book about his three-year trip across Asia with his wife, Sonoko. Read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.




Mar 6, 2010 at 8:18am

Are you crazy... become the 51st state... that would be equivalent to hell frezzing over... if canada were to become the 51st state then i would move to europe. And zed or zee is not all we have to look forward to we have poutine and tim hortins and the rocky mountains and we share a mix of cultures from around the world. In cities like vancouver, montreal and toronto you have a great mix of people from many different countries and in nova scotia you have some scotish and irish heritage as well as some french or acadian, which ever term you like better. I feel that you are giving canada less credit then it deserves. And if you want to become part of the USA then move. Because canada is the way it is and this is how most "true" canadians like it

Canada, NB

Apr 21, 2011 at 8:11am

you point out what we have to be proud of, then say all the patriots cling onto 'zed' and 'er'. ENGLISH is the language we know, we use the same english as the people of the UK and much of the world, its the americans who changed the language over time. Don't blame us for sticking to the original system.