Today we will look at Canadian use of the English language. We have already looked extensively at that little word “eh?” so today we will turn to other words.
Canadians employ an eclectic mixture of British and American spellings. Consider the term “Tire Centre” – a place you might visit to buy new tires for a car. Consistency would dictate that we should refer to it as a Tyre Centre (using British spelling) or “Tire Center” (using American). Instead we strike the happy median, taking one word from each.
Take a look at the following quote, which I have once more taken from How To Be A Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson, paying attention to the use of words. “Canadians write cheques for their colour TVs. They turn off the tap, eat porridge, put jam on their toast and gas in their trucks, and munch potato chips as they relax on their chesterfields.”
British English: cheque, colour, tap, porridge and jam (in the US it would be check, color, faucet, oatmeal and jelly).
American English: TV, gas, truck and potato chips (in Britain it would be telly, petrol, lorry and crisps).
Some difficulty arises with words that employ the letters “ou,” such as “colour” or “neighbour.” In formal writing, such as essays in high school or university, Canadians are instructed to maintain the British spelling rather than casting aside the “u” as do our American neighbours (or are they neighbors?). Similarly, Canadians are expected to employ the spelling “re” rather than “er” in words such as “centre.” In informal writing, Canadians tend to adopt an either/or approach. I generally use the American spelling of “ou” words simply to avoid spellchecker annoyances.
The Fergusons provide the following paragraph as a test for Canadian citizenship. Only a Canadian would be able to decipher most of the following:
Last night, I cashed my pogey and went to buy a mickey of C.C. at the beer parlour, but my skidoo got stuck in the muskeg on my way back to the duplex. I was trying to deke out a deer, you see. Stupid chinook, melted everything. And then a Mountie snuck up behind me in a ghost car and gave me an impaired. I was sitting there dressed only in my Stanfields and a toque at the time. And the Mountie, he’s all chippy and everything.
Here are definitions of the terms from the preceding paragraph as well as others you are likely to encounter in Canada:
2-4 (two four): a case of 24 beers.
bachelor apartment: a one room apartment with a small kitchen and a bathroom. Mostly just referred to as “a bachelor.”
back bacon: elsewhere called “Canadian bacon.”
Blochead: a member of the Bloc Quebecois.
brown bread: whole wheat bread.
butter tart: a single serving, sweet pie, often with raisins.
chesterfield: a sofa, couch, or loveseat.
chinook: an unseasonably warm wind that melts snow on the prairies.
chippy: aggressive or angry.
college: refers to either a post-secondary technical or vocational institutions, or to the colleges that exist as individual institutions within some Canadian universities. Most often, “college” is a community college, not a university.
deke: to fool. It is used especially in hockey to refer to a player who dodges around another.
donut: a cake snack with a hole in centre (ie doughnut). Also refers to spinning a car in circles as a recreational activity.
double-double: A cup of coffee with two creams and two sugars.
draught: beer that comes out of a tap instead of a bottle or can.
duplex: a building with two apartments.
garburator: a garbage disposal unit located beneath the drain of a kitchen sink.
ghost car: an unmarked police car.
Grit: a member or supporter of one of the federal or provincial Liberal parties (but not the Qu’bec Liberal Party).
homo milk: whole (homogenized) milk.
impaired: an infraction for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Joe job: a low-status, low-skill task.
keener: an enthusiastic student, not necessarily a positive term.
Kraft dinner: Often shortened to “KD”, known elsewhere as “Kraft macaroni and cheese.”
loonie and toonie: Canadian one- and two-dollar coins.
may two four: the Victoria Day weekend which is celebrated the Monday of or following May 24th.
Mountie: a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (who are only very rarely mounted these days).
mickey: a small bottle of alcohol.
muskeg: a bog characterized by scattered and stunted evergreens.
Nanaimo bar: a confection named for the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia.
parkade: parking garage.
pencil crayon: elsewhere called a “coloured (or colored) pencil.”
pogey: unemployment insurance (the government recently changed this to “employment insurance.”).
Robertson: a Canadian square-headed screw or screwdriver. It is used in other countries, but is much more common in Canada.
skidoo: a brand name now used generically to refer to any snowmobile. Can also be used as a verb.
snowbird: a Canadian, probably retired, who spends the winter in the States (usually Florida).
Stanfields: men’s underwear. Used only rarely these days (the word, that is. Most Canadians still wear underwear, especially in the winter).
Timbits: a brand name of doughnut holes made by Tim Hortons that has become a generic term.
toque: a knit hat.
trousseau tea: a reception held by the mother of a bride, for neighbours not invited to the wedding.
washroom : bathroom, restroom. Bathroom is used only occasionally and refers to a facility that has a bathtub or shower.
whitener: powdered non-dairy additive for coffee or tea.
yogourt: a unique spelling of yoghurt which is used in both English- and French-Canada.
zed: the final letter of the alphabet.
There are a few distinctively Canadian swear words, as well, which I will mostly spare you. I did not realize that most of these words were used only (or primarily) by Canadians until I began to research this topic. The one that was often used to refer to myself and my friends as children was “s–t disturber.” Obviously this refers back to the days when people used outhouses. Mischevious children would sometimes “stir the pot” which would create a nearly-unbearable stench. They would often do this at outhouses outside of schools or churches. Today this terms retains some of its original meaning, referring to mischevious people (and children, in particular).
One difference between Canada and the US that is often noted in television programs concerns education. Americans tend to refer to “10th grade” whereas Canadians speak of “grade 10.” The terms freshman, sophmore, junior and senior are used only very rarely in both high school and university. A third year university student is more likely to say, “I’m in third year” than “I’m a junior.” Canadians rarely speak of “middle school” and are more likely to speak of “junior high” which includes grades 7 and 8. And Canadians do not care about cheerleaders or captains of the football team. High schools and universities are not likely to celebrate homecoming or prom. Instead, there are dances, formals and semi-formals. In general, Americans are far more serious about education than Canadians.
That is a brief introduction to some of the language you may hear when you visit Canada. Canadians employ a strange mixture of American, British words, along with a selection of words that are distinctively Canadian. Put it all together, and Canadians have a language all their own. It’s a fact, eh?