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.
- 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.
- A Canadian whose first language is English.
- A Canadian whose first language is French.
- A Quebec working-class dialect that's a striking mix of
English and French. Varies from region to region. Sometimes called
- 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
- 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.
- Chocolate milk, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.
- A pita containing spiced meat and a sauce made from sugar, vinegar,
milk, and garlic.
- 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
- 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."
- 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
- Small, chalky candies packaged in rolls wrapped in clear plastic.
- A brand of breakfast cereal, vaguely resembling Chex.
- 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.
- 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.
- A kind of meat pie, most popular in Quebec.
- Powdery stuff to put into coffee or tea. Called "non-dairy creamer"
in the US.
- Chocolate milk, in Saskatchewan.
- 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.
- A two-four.
- A bottle of liquor containing 40 ounces. Also called a "pounder"
or a "bottle."
- The Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Generally refers to the government-run chain of liquor stores.
- A measurement of alcohol (13 ounces: it's a flat, curved bottle,
supposed to fit in your pocket, but it doesn't, really).
- 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.
- drunk (not generally used to mean "angry," as it is in the States)
- rye & ginger
- A drink made from rye whisky and ginger ale.
- The Société des alcools
du Québec, the government-run chain of liquor stores.
- 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."
- A bottle of liquor containing 66 ounces.
- 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.
- 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.
- A package containing twenty-four bottles of beer.
- One hundred dollars. May be a local Montréal term.
- Loose change, like buttons you find on a shirt. May be a local
- dix or dixie
- Ten dollars, in a bill or coins. May be a local Montréal term.
- Five dollars, in a bill or coins. May be a local Montréal term.
"Spot me a fin, eh?"
- A dollar. The Canadian $1 coin has a loon (the bird) on the back.
- 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,
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.
- 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."
- 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.
- robe, bathrobe
- sneakers, running shoes
- Rhymes with "kook." A kind of hat, ubiquitous in wintertime.
- track pants
- sweat pants
The following were submitted by my friend Todd, who used to live in Winnipeg.
- 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."
- aspirin, which is a trademark of Bayer in Canada.
- A Saskatchewan term for a kind of hooded sweatshirt with a pocket in
the front to keep hands warm.
- 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
- To move quickly, especially across the border.
- A corner store or convenience store in Quebec.
- A gutter, the sort that is attached to houses and funnels rain
water down a pipe.
- rubber band
- A derogatory anglophone term for Quebecers.
- garbage disposal
- glove box
- glove compartment
- go missing
- to disappear, become misplaced
- 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.
- A francophone term for a hot dog covered in spaghetti sauce.
- A Montréal taxi cab.
- 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."
- 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.)
- backpack, book bag
- 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."
- The eastern Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince
- 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
- north of 60
- 1. The High Arctic. 2. A TV show of the same name.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Next to last, or penultimate
- 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
- 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
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A card game created by Cape Breton Islanders; very popular there.
- tea towel
- dish towel
- In Ontario, formerly a learner's permit for new drivers. Referred to
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
- 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.
- 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
- yankee, or yank
- An American. Used regardless of where in the US the specified American is
- 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.
- 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
- Tax-sheltered retirement savings plan. Similar to 401K in US.
- Highway. A French word used by anglos.
- 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
- 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.
- Hockey uniform top, called "jersey" in the States. ("Sweater"
also refers to that familar staple of winter wear.)
- small biting insect
- can refer to a cafeteria or snack counter
- versus "sack," especially in US midwest
- 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.)
- Manitoba drink made from about 1% real orange juice, 99% sugar,
water, food colouring. Another visitor reports this is also available
in the Maritimes.
updated December 24, 2000.