Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s TV show has set off a social media storm after it used a controversial nickname for Newfoundlanders to promote an upcoming show filmed in Canada’s most easterly province.
In the lead-up to an episode featuring a visit to Newfoundland and Labrador, the Twitter account for CNN’s Parts Unknown encouraged viewers to “Embrace the Newfies as they are.”
The tweet — which has since been deleted - provoked a swift reaction on social media. “Ah, you had me until you called me a Newfie. I find it a derogatory term,” wrote one, while another pointed out that the word is “highly offensive to many here”.
Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s minister of veteran affairs, who hails from Newfoundland, also weighed in, writing simply on Twitter: “We don’t like it.”
The origins of the word has been linked to Americans, who are believed to have coined it in the 1930s or 40s to imply that Newfoundlanders are unintelligent and lazy, said James Baker, a Newfoundlander and postdoctoral fellow who has delved into the history of the word.
“The consensus is that it was something that was created not by Newfoundlanders themselves, but by outside groups to refer to Newfoundlanders in a derogatory manner,” he said.
At times the word has made waves nationally; in 2015, the then federal NDP leader, Tom Mulcair, apologised for using it as a synonym for stupid some two decades earlier while speaking in Quebec’s National Assembly.
CNN’s tweet, however, was embraced by many online. “I sir am a proud ‘Newfie’. I only find the term derogatory when someone means it to be that,” wrote one person. Another noted: “I believe I speak for the vast majority of Newfoundlanders when I say this really wasn’t a big deal.”
The show had unwittingly waded into what some described as one of the island’s hot-button topics. “Newfie is one of those words that non-Newfs should avoid. There’s always been the debate here about whether or not it’s offensive. Newfs use it to describe themselves but many don’t like mainlanders using it,” another person said.
Those behind the Parts Unknown account later apologised. “We regret our use of the word Newfie to describe the people of Newfoundland. We apologise for any offense and will stick to Newfoundlanders going forward,” they wrote on Twitter.
Soon after they added a tweet aimed at distancing the account from the show’s host. “Tweets on this account are not written or reviewed by Anthony Bourdain,” they wrote. “Once again we apologise.”