A Johner’s take on city slang.
By Pat Bonner
What do the good people of Fredericton mean when they call our city The Dirty J? What’s so bad about Port City, or just simply The John? I mean, why the condescending connotations? Sure, sometimes the mill stinks, and the brewery can get fairly rank; but even the best of North American cities stink sometimes. Frederictonians are thoughtful, educated, and real bright. Are we really going to start name-calling over a fleeting stench? Something tells me the inhabitants of Freddy Beach are neither this petty or short-sighted. But there’s surely something to this underhanded name they love to so incessantly refer to us as. I’m sure it seems harmless enough; every Johner has on more than one occasion, lamented the scent of our industrial abode. But it’s getting to a point where Fredericton can sometimes come off as the privileged ivory-tower schoolkids calling the kid with the meagre lunch, dirty.
All jest aside, it’s pretty clear why we’re referred to as The Dirty J. Homelessness is rampant in our city. Child poverty is worse here than anywhere else in Canada. There is a massive divide between the rich and the poor. Take away this cutesie coded language that we’re referred to by and these people who love to bring up that we’re “Dirty” might as well call us “That Poor Place” or something. Is our depleted economy really something to mock, something to project to the world at large as our most important characteristic? Lately I’ve been seeing our artists billed as being from The Dirty J, with no mention of our city’s name proper. I don’t think those doing this are intentionally trying to bring us down, but there’s an element of condescension here, and although it might seem playful (the fact that some seem to think us even having a thriving arts culture is “cute” is another matter), it’s super harmful to our image and identity in a lot of ways.
This is myth-making, and it’s detrimental to our public image. Why does anyone feel the need to project us, on a significant stage, as being “The Dirty People”? Why is it necessary to build up our public image as a homeless-ridden, economically ravaged shit-pot. We all work insanely hard; we’re industrious as hell. We have a top notch community; every facet of the arts community works together, young and old, to support artists of every medium. Ask any touring artists who’ve been through here lately. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: it doesn’t matter. We come out and show our support. We want everybody to keep coming back, to know we’re passionate about supporting the arts, and that we’re proud of our city. So what are our artists supposed to say, when we come up to play a Fredericton event, and an artist from BC or Ontario asks us, if they can even find our city’s actual name anywhere, “Why are you guys called the Dirty J?” I’d honestly have to say, “Oh, they just like to make sure people know that our city has a pretty poor economy. No big deal though.”
It would be nice if we could be billed by our proper name when we play your city. Or something with less conspicuous connotations. Maybe try calling us what we call ourselves? Like The Port City, or The John? Personally, I’d just prefer Saint John (Not St.). I really don’t want to seem brash. I just want to open up the conversation, and see if we can work something out. We all know your intentions aren’t malicious, but think about what your words mean for a second. I love you Fredericton, but you’re bringing me down.