It was a moment of frustration from an exasperated Premier who was tired of watching people ignore bans on public gatherings to stroll crowded beaches or go to house parties. For his province, it has become a rallying cry in the fight against COVID-19.
When Premier Stephen McNeil scolded his fellow Nova Scotians last week by sternly telling them, “We need to stay the blazes home,” he unleashed an expression that has taken on a life of its own. What may be one of the most Maritime phrases ever uttered by a public official has taken off around Nova Scotia, plastered on coffee mugs, emblazoned on apparel and inspiring songs.
My Home Apparel, a Truro, N.S., company, has sold thousands of “Stay the Blazes Home” T-shirts and has donated all the proceeds – $90,000 in two days – to local food banks, homeless shelters and a Nova Scotia COVID-19 relief fund. Other clothing companies have since jumped on the bandwagon.
The phrase inspired a pharmacist from Pugwash and a songwriter from Port Hawkesbury to write a Celtic song urging people to follow physical-distancing guidelines. Halifax rock band the Stanfields joined in with a kitchen party-themed song with a “Stay the blazes home” chorus, while others have written similar songs set to accordions and acoustic guitars.
As the expression began trending on social media, an illustrator in Dartmouth started a website selling socks and hoodies emblazoned with the phrase. She even designed underwear with Mr. McNeil’s face on it and “Stay the blazes home” printed on the waistband.
Halifax’s Garrison Brewing also got on board, releasing a Stay the Blazes Home ale, which was raising $2 a can for local food banks. The beer boasts it’s “refreshingly unfiltered,” just like Mr. McNeil.
The Premier said he’s pleased Nova Scotians are having some fun with it.
“People are having fun with the phrase, and I think it is good to find humour at a time like this. We can all use a bit of that right now,” he said.
The “blazes" may be an old-fashioned expression in other parts of Canada, but in the Maritimes it’s still used as a euphemism for “hell” or to express anger. It’s the closest a politician can come to swearing without getting in trouble.
Mr. McNeil said he deliberately chose his words to resonate with Nova Scotians, who seem to have responded to what’s been dubbed his “angry dad” moment. The province was the last in Canada to report a case of COVID-19 but has since been jarred awake by the virus.
Nova Scotia announced 31 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the provincial total to 373. The province also reported its second COVID-19 death: a Cape Breton woman in her 90s who had underlying medical conditions.
Another 10 people are in hospital, five of them in intensive care.
In his daily briefings, the Premier has railed against people who still haven’t gotten the message about the need for physical distancing. He has criticized long lines of shoppers who crowded into a Halifax Costco and has shamed “reckless and selfish” people who were still gathering for parties during the pandemic.
“It’s important Nova Scotians, and all Canadians, heed the message behind the words: to stay home and follow public health protocols," he said.
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