An American's Guide to Canada: Canadianisms

This page is an eclectic collection of Canadian words and phrases that sound strange to most Americans. Many of these were contributed by visitors. Don't forget to check out the "How to tell you're in Canada" and Academia pages, too.

Language

allophone
A Canadian whose first language is neither French nor English, but who prefers English to French. A visitor cites this example: someone who "speaks Arabic and English, mother tongue is Arabic, speaks Arabic to the spouse, English to the rude government employee." I believe this term isn't used much unless it's referring to the language differences in Quebec.

anglophone
A Canadian whose first language is English.

francophone
A Canadian whose first language is French.

joual
A Quebec working-class dialect that's a striking mix of English and French. Varies from region to region. Sometimes called "Frenglish."

Food

back bacon
Canadian bacon. Sometimes rolled in peameal (like cornmeal, only it's made from peas).

brown bread
In most of Canada, whole wheat bread. If you are at a diner for breakfast and you ask for whole wheat toast, they'll understand you, but "brown toast" is a lot more Canadian. Down east, "brown bread" refers to a sweetened, molasses bread.

butter tart
A very small (single-serving) pie. They taste like pecan pies without the pecans. This is a fairly typical recipe. They're yummy.

candy floss
cotton candy

chocolate bar
Candy bar. Popular Canadian brands include Aero, Crispy Crunch, Crunchie, Coffee Crisp, Caramilk, Bounty. Mars Bars have darker chocolate and no nuts. Other Canadian candies include Smarties (imagine very sweet M&Ms in brightly colored boxes, not the sweet-tart chalky things), Mackintosh toffee, and Callard & Bowser toffees.

Crimcoe
Chocolate milk, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

donair
A pita containing spiced meat and a sauce made from sugar, vinegar, milk, and garlic.

Glosettes
Brand name for chocolate-covered raisins.

homo milk
Homogenized milk. Known in the States as whole milk. Nobody here thinks twice about what images milk cartons with the word "HOMO" in big letters on the side conjure up in the minds of Americans. A friend notes: "The term whole milk is actually used in Canada too, but refers to something different. Homo milk is homogenized milk with a butterfat content of 3.25%. Whole milk is not homogenized (it will separate if left standing for any period of time; this is the milk our parents drank). Almost all milk today is homogenized, although whole milk can still be found if one looks."

icing sugar
powdered sugar

Kraft Dinner, or KD
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. No difference between what's in the boxes, just what's on them. (Thanks to another visitor for this one.) Canadians eat a lot of KD. Referred to in some areas as "rubber bullets."

Mae West
A snack food similar to a Ring Ding. Popular mostly in Quebec. Usually consumed with Pepsi.

Nanaimo bar
A confection, named for the town of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, that resembles a brownie but is topped with a layer of white butter cream icing and another of solid chocolate. The brownie part usually has coconut. Here's a recipe from Tourism Nanaimo. A friend notes that in the western part of the country, a Nanaimo bar is sometimes called a "New York Slice."

pop
A sweetened carbonated beverage. Canadians: not all Americans call it soda. Some call it pop, some call it coke (regardless of the brand or kind: "D'ya want a Sprite coke or a root beer coke?") -- it's a regional difference, rather than a national one.

poutine (pron. poo-TEEN)
Quebecois specialty. French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. Hyurgh.

Rockets
Small, chalky candies packaged in rolls wrapped in clear plastic.

Shreddies
A brand of breakfast cereal, vaguely resembling Chex.

Smarties
Not the ones you're used to seeing in the US. In Canada, Smarties are a candy resembling M&Ms. They do melt in your hand, and they're a lot sweeter. (Thanks to a visitor for this one.) Smarties conoisseurs eat the red ones last.

Timbits
Do(ugh)nut holes from Tim Horton's. Several people with dark senses of humo(u)r have pointed out to me that these were introduced shortly after Tim Horton, a famous and beloved hockey player who started the chain, was killed in a car accident.

tortière
A kind of meat pie, most popular in Quebec.

whitener
Powdery stuff to put into coffee or tea. Called "non-dairy creamer" in the US.

Vi-co
Chocolate milk, in Saskatchewan.

Alcohol

Alcool
Pure grain alcohol. Known in the States as Everclear. The kind person who described Screech has this to say: "The name Alcool actually comes from the french word "alcool" (kind of pronounced like alco-ol, like alcove and awl, but no v) which means alcohol, (obviously) but since there is no other product name on the bottle, people have come to calling it "Alcool", rhymes with tool, instead of no-name alcohol. Alcool is also easier to say than alcohol when inebriated." He notes that it may just be an Ontario thing, but someone else tells me it's available in Quebec too.

Beer Store
Where you buy beer in Ontario.

Bloody Caesar
Just like a Bloody Mary, except it's made with Clamato (clam and tomato) juice instead of plain tomato juice.

case [of beer]
A package containing twelve bottles of beer. (Some tell me that a case isn't a twelve-pack at all, it's a two-four. People tend to feel strongly both ways. A friend suspects that the "two-four" meaning of "case" is unique to Ontario and points east. A visitor says, "Having lived in many parts of Canada, I have found that in Ontario a 'case' refers to 24 beer, while in other parts of the country (specifically the Maritimes) a case is 12 beer and 24 beer is called a two-four." I'm sure others will disagree with him.)

dep wine
Cheap, nasty, house-brand wine from a "dépanneur," or corner store, in Quebec.

flat
A two-four.

forty-pounder
A bottle of liquor containing 40 ounces. Also called a "pounder" or a "bottle."

LCBO
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Generally refers to the government-run chain of liquor stores.

mickey
A measurement of alcohol (13 ounces: it's a flat, curved bottle, supposed to fit in your pocket, but it doesn't, really).

mini-mickey
Six and a half ounces of alcohol. This one does fit in your pocket.

Molson muscle
Not a drink itself, but the potbelly one gets from drinking too much beer.

pissed
drunk (not generally used to mean "angry," as it is in the States)

rye & ginger
A drink made from rye whisky and ginger ale.

SAQ
The Société des alcools du Québec, the government-run chain of liquor stores. Pronounced "sack."

Screech
A kind of liquor popular in Newfoundland. I've always been too frightened by the name to try it.

A visitor notes: "It's actually a Jamaican dark rum. I believe the Newfoundland<->Jamaican relationship goes back a long period of time, i.e. when the Newfs had tons of fish to trade."

sixty-pounder
A bottle of liquor containing 66 ounces.

Swish
A kind of liquor made from putting water into barrels that have previously held some sort of alcohol (whisky, brandy, whatever) and letting the alcohol leach out of the wood. Drunk by university students who like to go blind.

twenty-sixer
A bottle of liquor containing 26 ounces. Sometimes called a "two-six" or a "twixer." This term is outdated; the equivalent bottle now contains 750 milliliters.

two-four
A package containing twenty-four bottles of beer.

Money

bean
One hundred dollars. May be a local Montréal term.
buttons
Loose change, like buttons you find on a shirt. May be a local Montréal term.
dix or dixie
Ten dollars, in a bill or coins. May be a local Montréal term.

fin
Five dollars, in a bill or coins. May be a local Montréal term. "Spot me a fin, eh?"

loonie
A dollar. The Canadian $1 coin has a loon (the bird) on the back.

pogey
Unemployment benefits. "I'm getting pogey" means, as the British would say, "I'm on the dole."

toonie, doubloon
The $2 coin. Gold in the middle, with a silver ring around the outside. The Queen is one one side, and a polar bear is on the other. (Several people have written to remind me of the painful little joke that the coin could be called a "moonie" because it's "the Queen with a bear behind." Har har.) When the coins were introduced in the winter of 1995-1996, Canada was overcome by a frenzy to pop out the middles of the coins. This was especially popular on the Prairies, where there's not much to do in the winter. (Would you go outside any more than you had to when it's -40 for days on end?) The most successful method for destroying this new piece of currency seems to be to put it in the freezer for a while and then hit it with a hammer. Throwing it off tall buildings was popular, too. The craze passed pretty quickly, though.

Holidays

Boxing Day
The day after Christmas. So named because of the British tradition of giving gift boxes to people such as mail carriers, milkmen, etc., on December 26. In Canada, Boxing Day is the date for many huge annual sales.

Canada Day
Canada's birthday. July 1, the anniversary of the Confederation of Canada in 1867. The day is marked by parties and fireworks.

The May Two-Four
See "Victoria Day"

Remembrance Day
November 11, known in the US as "Veterans' Day." Canadians were important and valiant fighters in the two world wars, and are still known and respected as military peacekeepers. See "Why everyone wears poppies in early November."

Thanksgiving
Celebrated on the second Monday of October, to reflect that Canada's harvest comes earlier than the American one. Very similar to the American Thanksgiving -- family get-togethers, big turkey dinner with potatoes, gravy, etc. -- but not as big a deal here, and there's no mention at all of Pilgrims.

Victoria Day
Queen Victoria's birthday, May 24th. It's celebrated the Monday before Memorial Day. Beer is the official beverage of the Victoria Day weekend, because it's more or less the first weekend of the summer, when everyone goes to their cottages or cabins and opens them up for the first time since fall.
If you're American, be aware that Canadians don't celebrate Independence Day (duh), Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Columbus Day, Memorial Day, or Presidents' Day.

Clothing

housecoat
robe, bathrobe

runners
sneakers, running shoes

toque
Rhymes with "kook." A kind of hat, ubiquitous in wintertime.

track pants
sweat pants

Miscellaneous

arena
An ice rink with seats around it. Could be any enclosed area with seats for viewing surrounding it, but the implication is that it's primarily for hockey.

Army Guy
A soldier

arse, bum
One's hind quarters. "He kicked me in the bum."

ASA
aspirin, which is a trademark of Bayer in Canada.

bunnyhug
A Saskatchewan term for a kind of hooded sweatshirt with a pocket in the front to keep hands warm.

Chesterfield
A couch, or sofa, or whatever you call it where you are.

corner store
A small variety store, usually on a corner in a residential neighbourhood of a city. Similar to the American "convenience store."

deke
To move quickly, especially across the border.

dépanneur
A corner store or convenience store in Quebec.

eavestrough
A gutter, the sort that is attached to houses and funnels rain water down a pipe.

elastic
rubber band

frog
A derogatory anglophone term for Quebecers.

garburator
garbage disposal

glove box
glove compartment

go missing
to disappear, become misplaced

Gravol
dramamine

GST
The dreaded Goods and Services Tax, 7% that goes on top of just about every purchase (in addition to the provincial sales taxes). The current Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, got elected partly because he promised to get rid of this tax (also called the "Grab and Steal Tax" or the "Gouge and Screw Tax), and then promptly didn't. If you're visiting Canada and spend enough money, you can get your GST back by mail after you've gone home. Ask about this at the border.

guedille
A francophone term for a hot dog covered in spaghetti sauce. Pron. "gay-DEE."

hack
A Montréal taxi cab.

holiday
A vacation or a trip. Also used in the American sense, meaning a day off work or school.

hydro, hydro bill
electricity, electric bill (used in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and elsewhere, but not throughout the entire country)

jockey box
glove compartment (in a car -- may be just East Coast)

Joe job
A job passed down to the person lowest on the totem pole, as in "Let Joe do it."

keener
Someone very eager and enthusiastic. Sometimes derogatory, in the sense of brown-noser, suckup, bootlicker. Someone obviously trying to get into someone else's good books. (Thanks to another visitor for this one.)

knapsack
backpack, book bag

laneway
driveway

lineup
line. "There was a really long lineup for tickets to last night's hockey game." Some Canadians also use the British term "queue." Canadians wait in line or in lineups, never "on line."

Maritimes
The eastern Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

minty
A Winnipeg term for "cool." A friend's example: "D'ja see that Farrah Fawcett-Majors poster? Minty, eh?" A visitor notes that it was later adopted by some Vancouverites, particularly those associated with a small record company, Mint Records, and incorporated into the phrase "Stay minty" for "Stay cool."

north of 60
1. The High Arctic. 2. A TV show of the same name.

parkade
A public parking lot. Term most common in western Canada.

Pepsi, pepper
Derogatory terms for a Quebecer, used probably because of the great popularity of Pepsi Cola in that province. Evidently Pepsi was much cheaper than Coke at one point, and the Quebecers never stopped drinking it.

Pogo
A brand name for a corn dog (hot dog dipped in batter and then deep fried). Attention Pogo company: if you make vegetarian Pogos I will buy them. Hint, hint.

postal code
The Canadian equivalent of ZIP codes. Postal codes are six characters long and are a mixture of three letters and three numbers.

RCs
Mounties. From RCMP, for Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

reserve, or "rez"
A parcel of land allotted for Native Canadians, aboriginals, or Indians.

Revenue Canada, or RevCan
Canada's analogue to the IRS (thanks to Dan for this one and "GST")

Robertson screws
Screws (for metal or wood) with a square hole in the top rather than a straight or X-shaped one. Robertson screwdrivers come in different colors to indicate what size they are. Green number ones and red number twos are the most common. Robertson screws are just about impossible to strip, unlike Phillips-head ones, which become unusable about thirty seconds after you've brandished the screwdriver at them. They'd be popular in the States except that Henry Ford wanted exclusive rights to them, and Robertson (the inventor, a Canadian) refused to sell.

second-last
Next to last, or penultimate

serviette
French for "napkin." This term is used by anglophones as well as francophones. One visitor noted that younger people don't seem to use this term.

shinney
Also spelled "shinny," it's an early form of hockey, and now means a pick-up hockey game where people just show up and play. Played recreationally all over Canada, in ice skates, on inline skates, or in shoes.

Sir John A.
A reference to Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister. "On Parliament Hill, you'll see a statue of Sir John A."

ski-doo
Generic term for snowmobile. "I'm going out on my ski-doo." Can also be used as a verb: "They're going ski-dooing later." The word "Ski-doo" is the brand name for snowmobiles made by a company named Bombardier (pronounced "bom-bar-dee-AY," not "bom-bar-DEER"). In Canada, "ski-doo" is one of those brand names that have evolved into generic terms.

snowbird
A Canadian who flees to the southern United States (usually Florida) for some or all of the winter.

south of the border
The USA (not Mexico).

The States
The USA. Canadians hate referring to the US as "America," because Canadians are just as much North Americans as Americans are.

stubby
A short-necked, fat beer bottle once used by Canadian breweries. Very hard to find now.

table (v.t.)
To bring up for discussion, as in a session of Parliament. Compare with American sense of "table" as a verb, which means "to postpone discussion about the issue indefinitely."

take a decision
To make a decision, or decide.

Tarbish
A card game created by Cape Breton Islanders; very popular there.

tea towel
dish towel

three-sixty-five
In Ontario, formerly a learner's permit for new drivers. Referred to the number of days that the permit was valid. In Nova Scotia, a 365 is a $365 fine you're charged when you get caught with open liquor in public.

transport truck
An 18-wheeler, or a tractor-trailer

washroom
bathroom

Whiskey Jack
Also known as "camp robbers," Whiskey Jacks are birds who are around all year and often come into logging camps and try to scavenge food from the guys working in the bush.

wicket
The desk at the bank where you conduct transactions with a bank teller. When the teller goes to lunch, he or she will display a sign that says "This wicket closed."

yankee, or yank
An American. Used regardless of where in the US the specified American is from.
The following were submitted by my friend Todd, who used to live in Winnipeg.

beater
An old beat-up car. "Winter Beater" qualifies that one is driving a beater only because the "summer car" is in storage. Other visitors mention that a "beater with a heater" is an oft-used term for winter beaters.

DUI
Driving under the influence. Same as DWI, although a lot easier to get arrested for as limits in Canada are about 0.08, vs. 0.1 in a lot of States.

RRSP
Tax-sheltered retirement savings plan. Similar to 401K in US.

Autoroute
Highway. A French word used by anglos.

klick
Kilometer, or kilometer per hour. "Better slow down, Vern, the limit's 90 klicks here. Hand me the bottle."

Joe Louis
Cake treat similar to a Twinkie, with chocolate cake and a white icing interior. Available in Ontario and Quebec. No actual natural or redeeming ingredients.

Central Canada
Refers to southern Ontario, actually 1300 miles east of the centre of Canada. But in their minds...

The West
Refers to any point from Manitoba (actually the dead centre of Canada) west to the Pacific Ocean.

sucking slough water
Exhausted. Prairie expression.

Sweater
Hockey uniform top, called "jersey" in the States. ("Sweater" also refers to that familar staple of winter wear.)

no-see-um
small biting insect

canteen
can refer to a cafeteria or snack counter

bag
versus "sack," especially in US midwest

chips
can describe potato chips or french fries

pulling, to pull
Saskatchewan term. Describes when an adult buys liquor or cigarettes for minors. (Someone else tells me this is called "booting" in Alberta.)

Beep
Manitoba drink made from about 1% real orange juice, 99% sugar, water, food colouring. Another visitor reports this is also available in the Maritimes.

--Emily Way (emily_@_americansguide.ca)
Last updated December 24, 2000.

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