Canadian Terms and Expressions Explained
Attorney vs. barrister vs. lawyer vs. solicitor: An attorney is anyone who conducts somebody else's business. Many attorneys are lawyers. In the United Kingdom, solicitors prepare cases and barristers plead them in court, but in Canada a lawyer can do either or both, so the distinction doesn't mean much. Use the less pretentious lawyer.
Allophone: Someone whose first language is neither English nor French.
Anglophone: Someone who speaks English as a first language.
AWL: The Canadian term for absent without official leave or AWOL.
Bill vs. check: Canadians ask for the bill.
Billion: The British say that a billion is a million million (1,000,000,000,000). American say that a billion is a thousand million (1,000,000,000)
Boot vs. trunk: Canadians store their jumper cables in the trunk of their cars.
Brown bread: When you order toast, you can get white toast or brown toast. Brown toast doesn't mean "really toasted." It means whole-wheat bread.
Caisse populaire: A kind of co-op bank, found mostly in Quebec. Popularly known as a caisse pop.
Can vs. tin: Younger Canadians tend to eat out of cans, while older Canadians often eat out of tins.
Canadian bacon: This is what Americans call back bacon. The long strips you usually eat for breakfast are called side bacon in both countries.
Canadian food: There's Chinese food and Italian food, but what kind of food is Canadian food? Some menu items have been created in Canada, notably poutine and beavertails. But hamburgers (first served at a New Haven, Conn., lunch counter in 1900) and hot dogs (first served at New York City's Polo Grounds in 1906) are American fare. (See Poutine, however, for an example of a Canadian dish.)
Chemist vs. drugstore vs. pharmacy: Canadians don't go to chemists, at least not when they need aspirin.
Chesterfield vs. couch: Canadians may sit on either, depending on where you are in the country and how old you are. Couch, sadly, appears to be predominant now, although many Canadians use sofa.
Chips vs. fries: Menus will usually specify fries or French fries, unless they are serving fish and chips. Canadians tend to use chips in spoken language, but chips can also refer to what the British call crisps (the snack that comes in bag). Canadians usually put vinegar on their chips, rather than ketchup.
Click: Canadian slang for kilometre. "I drove 50 clicks last week."
College: A Canadian college is very different from an American college. An American college is a limited version of a university, one that can grant only bachelor's degrees. A Canadian college is at best a halfway house between high school and university. Most can only grant diplomas, although many of the older colleges now grant degrees and are actually called university colleges. Adding to the confusion, colleges in Quebec are known as cegeps.
Corn vs. maize: In Canada, corn is a specific cereal plant with yellow kernels. In England, corn refers to a broader range of cereals, including wheat, rye, oats and barley. What we call corn, the English call maize.
Curb vs. kerb: Canadians walk on the curb, not the kerb.
Deke: Football, baseball and boxing have all enriched American English, so it's not surprising that hockey has added to Canadian English. A deke occurs when one player tricks and then skates around another. In Canada, to deke is to feint, although you also deke out of meetings if you slip away unnoticed.
Dick: Our Internet penpals tell us that only Canadians use "dick" to mean "absolutely nothing," as in, "Last weekend I did dick all." There are, of course, other meanings.
Doubloon vs. toonie: The Canadian Mint does not officially assign nicknames to its coins. We like doubloon because there was a Spanish coin by that name, but toonie (also spelled twoonie) seems to have caught on.
Duo-Tang: Working in a hayloft on the outskirts of Chicago in 1931, Charles Ellingsworth developed the signature duo tang fastener that would give the company its name - and would serve generations of school children. Today, Duo-Tang™ is a leading brand of presentation folders, organizers and other processed paper products for school, home and office.
Eh?: A famous Canadian way of ending sentences. Save this for quotations and for instances when you are playing up the Canadian identity of something. (In case you were wondering, it usually means "don't you think?")
Elevator vs. lift: Canadians take elevators.
Eskimo: We had heard that this was actually the word that Cree use to insult the Inuit. It supposedly means raw meat eater and is akin to calling black people watermelon-eaters. We have since heard that this theory has been debunked on the alt.english.usage FAQ. Eskimo is still current in the United States, however. Inuit is a plural. The singular is Inuk. See "Indian" for more.
Faucet vs. tap: Canadians turn on the tap.
Floor vs. storey: Floor is preferred in Canada. Note that the first floor of buildings in Quebec is actually the second floor in the rest of the country.
Francophone: Someone who speaks French as a first language, as opposed to an anglophone.
Gallon: A British gallon is different from an American gallon. Canadians, of course, use neither. A British gallon is 4.5 litres and an American gallon is 3.8 litres.
Gas vs. petrol: Canadians fill the tanks of their cars with gas.
Goodbye: This is the Canadian spelling. Note the lack of a hyphen.
Grasslands vs. prairies: Grasslands is a generic term that refers to &ldots; well &ldots; land covered in wild grass. Grasslands in specific parts of the world have different names. Canada has prairies, the United States has plains, Russia has steppes, North Africa has a savannah, South Africa has a veldt and South America has pampas.
Holiday vs. vacation: Canadians generally go on vacations.
Homo milk: This has nothing at all to do with niche marketing. Homo milk is homogenized milk, called whole milk in the States.
Honour guard: The Canadian equivalent is guard of honour.
Hoser: This is supposed to be a word that Canadians use to insult each other, except that no Canadian ever seemed to have heard of it before Bob and Doug Mackenzie started using it in the 1980s.
Housecoat: A housecoat is the kind of bathrobe you can wear to get the morning paper, and not worry about being seen by the neighbours.
Humidex: A term referring to the combined effect of heat and humidity on temperature. So weather announcers will say that it is 28 degrees today, but with the humidex it feels like 33. (Remember that those are metric degrees!)
Keener: A brown-noser whose excessive keen-ness for the unpleasant task at hand makes the rest of us look bad.
Kerfuffle: This Scottish word refers to a flurry of agitation, as in, "There was quite a kerfuffle after Mike asked for the project three days early."
Indian: There are two types of Indians. East Indians are from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and so forth). The other Indians live in North and South America. It is perfectly acceptable to refer to Indians as Indians. However, the Inuit and some other northern peoples are not Indians. Their ancestors arrived later and came from different racial stock. The Métis aren't Indians either. They were originally a mixture of Indian and French blood. You have a variety of options when you want to refer collectively to Indians, the Inuit and the Métis. Some newspapers like First Nations, but this is unwieldy, especially when used as an adjective, and in any event only applies to treaty Indians on reserves. Another possibility is Native Canadian, but anyone born here is a native Canadian, and a capital letter is not enough to reduce the confusion. Our preference is Aboriginal.
Loan vs. lend: Loan is a noun, while to lend is a verb, the past tense of which is lent. Loaned is not a word. Americans don't usually make this distinction, though, and it is becoming more acceptable in Canada to use loan as a verb. In any event, never confuse loan and borrow.
Loonie or loony: This is a colloquialism for Canada's dollar coin. The plural is loonies. The nickname comes from the loon on the coin.
Mickey: A mickey is one of those curved, flat, 13-ounce bottles of booze that winos carry.
Offence vs. offense: Canadians prefer offence, but offensive. Not that we're ever either, being the notoriously polite people that we are &ldots;
Off side: From the hockey term offside, meaning that a player has raced too far ahead of the puck, this phrase is often used in Canada to mean someone is not on board.
On side: Used frequently in Canada to mean that you're in agreement, this term may come from hockey, where players can be offside.
Phone: One of our Internet penpals tells us that Americans don't phone each other, they call instead. Canadians can do either.
Pissed: Pissed is now common on American television shows, where it means annoyed, although in Canada it can also mean drunk . If a Canadian is annoyed, she is pissed off.
Pogey: This is a mildly pejorative Canadian word for welfare or, occasionally, unemployment insurance. (Speaking of which, unemployment insurance is now called employment insurance.)
Poutine: Poutine is a cholesterol-rich Canadian "delicacy" consisting of French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. When prepared badly, it congeals in your guts like concrete.
Pure laine: From the French words for pure wool, this expression refers to French Canadians whose roots go back to colonial New France. It also connotes racial purity, and as such is mildly offensive.
Railroads vs. railways: Canadians prefer railways.
Reserve vs. reservation: American Indians may live on reservations. Canadian Indians may live on reserves.
Riding: In Canada's Parliament and in provincial assemblies, elected members represent ridings, roughly equivalent to congressional districts in the United States.
Serviette: Canadians refer to serviettes instead of table napkins, especially if they (the napkins, not the Canadians) are made of paper. This is fading with time.
Sneakers: Canadians prefer running shoes or simply runners.
Sniggler: A sniggler is someone who takes the parking spot you wanted, or who otherwise does something perfectly legitimate, but which nonetheless inconveniences or annoys you. (This isn't a real word, but it is incredibly fun to say aloud. Try it and see for yourself.)
Soda vs. pop vs. coke: Canadians drink pop. Ask for a soda and you'll get soda water. Avoid referring to coke unless you mean a product made by Coca-Cola or the drug that was once added to it. (There is some regional variation here.)
Some vs. somewhat: Some is an adjective, but somewhat is an adverb. "I was somewhat annoyed to see that some of the forks had been stolen." Unfortunately, there is a wonderful intensifier from Newfoundland, some shocking good , that is eviscerated by this rule.
Sook or suck: A crybaby. The adjective is sookie or suckie. Sook rhymes with hook. For some reason, you can get away with using sook in polite company, but never suck.
States: The US of A is almost always referred to as the States, except in writing, when it becomes the US.
Stockholder vs. shareholder: Canadians are usually shareholders.
Taps: This the American bugle call. The Canadian equivalent of Taps is Last Post.
Tory: In the US, Tories were supporters of King George during the Revolution. The word connotes villainy. In Canada, these "Tories" are called United Empire Loyalists, or simply Loyalists. Our Tories are members of the Progressive Conservative party. And by coincidence, in many circles, the Canadian word Tory also connotes villainy. (The rarely used equivalent for the Liberals is Grit.)
Traveller's cheque: Note the placement of the apostrophe and the Canadian spellings.
Twenty-sixer: Actually, with the introduction of metric, this should be called a 750er, since the bottles of booze now contain 750 millilitres rather than 26 fluid ounces. Young Canadian men frequently boast about consuming twenty-sixers and two-fours, all by themselves. You can safely assume they are either lying or dead. See "Pissed."
Two-four: Also called a two-fer, this is a case of 24 bottles of beer. Some idiot DJs call it a two-fer when they play two consecutive songs by the same artist (as in, Two for Tuesday -- hilarious, eh?).
Tuque: In Canada, a tuque is a knitted woollen cap. It rhymes with kook.
Utilidor: Short for utility corridor , this term is used mostly in the Canadian North.
Washroom: Canadians head for the washroom when they need to use the toilet. Bathrooms are places with bathtubs in them.
Zed: This is the proper way to pronounce the last letter of the alphabet.