'Halloween apples!' Meet the Canadian Prairies' sing-song alternative to trick or treat

·2 min read

Growing up in southwest Calgary, Joel Cohen knew exactly what to do in order to get candy on Halloween.

"You'd go, 'Halloween apples'," he said, breaking out into a sing-song voice to demonstrate. "That's exactly how you'd do it."

Cohen went on to live in Edmonton and Toronto before moving to Los Angeles to work as a writer and producer for The Simpsons. Raising his kids, he was sure to teach them the phrase when they went out for candy on their first Halloween.

"The neighbours would open their door and wonder what the hell was going on," he said. "We pretty quickly switched to trick or treat. You adjust. You assimilate."

Cohen thought he had discovered yet another difference between the cultures of Canada and the United States, and he expected to be able to commiserate with two other Simpsons writers from his home country.

But he was surprised to discover that neither of them had ever heard the phrase, either — not even Jeff Westbrook, who had grown up in Calgary at the same time as Cohen in the city's northwest, rather than its south.

"I thought all Canadians knew it," Cohen said. "But it's very regional."

When the topic of "Halloween apples" comes up on Twitter or Reddit, responses indicate it was centred in Manitoba as well as parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta as far back as the 1950s and into the 1980s. British Columbians largely say they've never heard the phrase, though there are reports of its use in Prince Rupert, B.C., and the Kootenays.

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Linguist Nicole Rosen of the University of Manitoba said it's not surprising the phrase thrived in the Prairie provinces while being largely unknown in the rest of Canada. She said there are many words and manners of speech that make up the unique dialect of the region.

"There's certain things like instead of having "stags" before weddings we have "socials," she said.

Rosen said the phrase largely seems to have died out, even in Winnipeg where it was once widespread, and her own kids grew up chanting "trick or treat."

She said it's an illustration of how language changes as communities interact with people from other parts of the world, either through migration or by hearing words and phrases in popular culture.

"You don't really speak the way your parents speak or your grandparents did," she said. "You start speaking like everyone else around you."

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