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Canada’s slang borrows from dozens of languages and heritages from coast to coast. Writer Martha Nelson takes us on a linguistic tour.
Text by: Martha Nelson
Country: Canada

nyone who has ventured to Canada, or the Great White North, as it is affectionately known, will be familiar with a few special words and phrases unique to this part of the world. As a culturally rich and diverse country that has welcomed newcomers from all over the world, Canada boasts slang and expressions that have developed to reflect the various historical influences and combined to make up the modern language of Canada.

In addition to the two official languages of French and English, Canada is home to over 65 distinct Aboriginal languages and dialects. Furthermore, 20% of Canadians speak a language other than French or English at home.

This huge linguistic diversity has resulted in the development of mixed languages and dialects, such as Acadian French, Canadian Gaelic, Franglais, Chinook Jargon, and Basque pidgin. Moreover it has resulted in the incorporation of new and interesting words into Canadian English.

Eh, Mountie, double-double

Some of the most famous Canadianisms that you may be familiar with include “Eh”, “Mountie”, and even “double-double”. But these words are far from the extent of modern Canadianisms and barely scratch the surface of Canada’s cultural diversity.

But what do these words mean? “Eh?” is a quick and easy word pronounced like the letter “A” and added to the end of any phrase to mean, “don’t you agree?” Tea-Time Mag sure is great, eh?

A “Mountie” is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, also known as the RCMP, who are famous for their red uniforms, wide-brim hats, and of course, the horses on which they are mounted. Although modern RCMP officers are rarely seen in the traditional uniform, or on horseback, Mounties are still present at ceremonies, and special events.

A “Double-double” is a coffee order made famous by the Canadian fast-food chain Tim Horton’s and means “two creams and two sugars”. You may also hear people ordering a “triple-triple” and even “quad-quad” if they have a real sweet tooth.

In addition to these more famous words, you will come across some less familiar words such as “pop”, which refers to a carbonated beverage, like Coke or Pepsi; and “Canuck”, which is slang for Canadian. You will probably also hear people talking about “loonies”, which are $1 coins, and “toonies”, which are $2. This name comes from the depiction of the Canadian bird, the loon, on the back of the Canadian dollar.

Newfoundland eccentricities

Many regional words relate to places, such as “T-dot” for Toronto, or “The Peg” for Winnipeg. The “GTA” is short for the “Greater Toronto Area” and is home to many Canadians. You may also hear people describing Newfoundland as the “Rock”, and Newfoundlanders talking about “the mainland”, meaning the rest of Canada.

Darren from Newfoundland comments that “most of our terminology comes from old English and Scottish terms. You will hear people saying ‘me old trout’ as a form on endearment, or ‘me old cock’ between men. ‘Nary the one’ is a common way of saying ‘another one’. We also use the word ‘to’ differently. I would say ‘where are you to’, instead of just ‘where are you’, or ‘where is that to?’, meaning ‘where about is that?’”

“One of my favourite Newfoundland sayings is, ‘what’s after happening now’”, says Sydney. “People will say this instead of ‘what’s going on’ or ‘what did I miss’, as in, if you walk into a room of people laughing and want to know what is so funny”.

“‘By’ is also very common,” notes Darren. “People will say that all the time to mean pal, or buddy. If you hear a Newfoundlander say “buddy”, they’re talking about someone they don’t know and don’t necessarily like, and if they say ‘by’ they’re talking about friends. You may also hear people say someone is ‘nish’, which means ‘weak of body’, for example someone who can’t cut wood”.

“I remember being confused when people would talk about ‘skipping pans’” says David, an Ontarian who now lives in Newfoundland. “I couldn’t imagine what that meant, until I realised they were talking about ice pans and how they would jump across them as kids. Newfoundlanders have a lot of sayings about the weather, such as a ‘lazy wind’ that blows straight through you, instead of around you”.

The Atlantic Provinces of Eastern Canada are often regarded as being the most linguistically distinct communities within Anglophone Canada. Perhaps due to the substantially longer time they have been inhabited by English speakers, or perhaps due to the many centuries of newcomers arriving on their shores and influencing their cultures, Maritimers and Newfoundlanders have developed a way of speaking that is entirely their own.

Hockey, Cowboys and Chinook Jargon

Other expressions may reflect a region’s history and cultural influences. In Central Canada, for example, people are often heard using language similar to their Southern neighbours such as “clicks” instead of kilometres, or “kitty-corner” to describe two things located diagonally from each other on opposite corners. For example, “the bank is kitty-corner to the post office”. Other common sayings include things like “give’er” which is a shortened version of “give her your all”, and “takitish”, slang for “take it easy”.

“A lot of our slang comes from hockey”, comments Vanessa from Toronto. “Like ‘rinkrat’ for someone who is at a hockey rink a lot. Or ‘deke’ which means to ‘fake out’: when you pretend to do one thing, but actually do another. You will see this in hockey a lot, where a player dekes out his opponent”.

In the Western Provinces you may encounter words relating to the cowboy heritage, such as “gitch”, which describes men’s underwear and “gotch” for women’s. “Kicks” refers to shoes, and “shitkickers” is slang for cowboy boots, due to the fact they are often covered in manure.

The West is also home to some of Canada’s largest aboriginal communities, and is therefore home to Chinook Jargon. This dialect is a mix of various aboriginal languages and English and can be heard in parts of both Canada and the United States. The use of Chinook Jargon in areas of Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba has lead to the incorporation of various Inuit words into English. Some common examples include “skookum”, a traditional word that means strong, hearty, or brave. “Anorak” is a warm coat; “inuksuk” is a stone landmark built by humans; and “chinook” is a warm, dry wind that causes an extreme rise in temperature.

In British Columbia you may also hear references to the “chuck” or “saltchuck”, meaning the straits and other inland waters between Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Two additional words that are used commonly throughout the English-speaking world that originated as Inuit words are “husky” and “kayak”.

Sydney, a Nova Scotian, recalls her first visit to Ontario: “I definitely noticed accent differences. In the Atlantic Provinces people inhale when they say ‘yup’. I would also call a loser a ‘duster’, and someone who is untrustworthy is a ‘scivey’, whereas in Ontario people may say ‘skid’ or ‘hoser’. In Ontario people also say ‘true’ a lot”.

Ellen from Prince Edward Island states that “there are tones of words and phrases particular to PEI. Some of the more common ones include ‘kitbag’ instead of ‘backpack’, ‘jigamirandee’ or ‘doohickey’ for something you don’t know the name of, and ‘stog’, meaning to fill something by stuffing it full. There are also a few that are less common, like the expressions ‘close the door over’ which actually means leave the door ajar, and ‘I’ve got a belly on me like a poisoned pup’ which just means ‘I’m too full’”.

Due to Canada’s extreme climate, it is unsurprising that Newfoundland is not the only province to have developed weather-related expressions. In British Columbia, people talk about “soakers”, big puddles that get your feet wet. Or the above-mentioned “Chinook” winds that warm up the prairies during the winter, also known as “snow-eaters” or “rancher’s friend”. The “Yoho Blow” is the cold counterpart of the Chinook and may also be called the “woolly whipper” or “the barber”. In Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, damaging local winds are known as “Les Suetes” which comes from the French word for southwest, sudouest.

Common Canadian expressions and phrases reflect various elements of Canadian culture: the diverse multi-national and linguistic history, particularly French, and Gaelic communities; the aboriginal heritage and languages; the dramatic weather and climate; and modern life, including hockey!

If you are lucky enough to visit Canada, make sure you chat to some Canucks, eat some poutine, befriend some rinkrats at a hockey game, and just takitish. Eh?

The French influence in Canadian English info box
“Toque” is an example of a traditionally French word that has been incorporated into Canadian English through the influence of francophone communities. “Toque” is simply a beanie, or woolly winter hat.

Another common example of the Francophone influence on Canadian English includes “poutine”, a delicious meal of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds, which you should definitely try while visiting Canada.



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Do You Speak Canadian?

Anyone who travels to Canada should learn a few special words and phrases that are unique to this part of the world. Canada is a culturally rich and diverse country that welcomes people from all over the world with their different languages and expressions. These have influenced the language to create a unique Canadian slang.

Some of the most famous Canadianisms are “Eh?”, which is pronounced like the letter “A” and means “don’t you agree?”; “Mountie”, which is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and “Double-double”, which is a coffee order that means “two creams and two sugars.”

Canada is of course famous for its hockey and so there are many expressions related to hockey itself. “Rinkrat” is used to refer to a person who is at a hockey rink a lot. “Deke” means to pretend to do one thing, but actually do another, just like hockey players do on the rink.

There are also words that refer to certain places, such as “T-dot” for Toronto or “The Peg” for Winnipeg. There are some expressions that are unique to certain regions such as “By” in Newfoundland that is used to mean pal or buddy. And there are many more expressions that reflect the country\’s history and cultural influences as well as the native languages.



 

Comprehension

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Can You Speak Canadian

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Do You Speak Canadian

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