Words I would never have used 5 years ago – or how to speak Canadian


As a lot of you know, we moved from the UK to Canada 5 years ago (where did 5 years go???), and back then we were of the impression that being English-speaking, we would have no issues regarding the language. Oh how naive we were!

The Canadian language has words that frankly baffle the rest of the English-speaking countries and up until recently I did not realize how “Canadianized” we have become since our arrival. Let me give you some examples.

The first word I came across in our first week was “tuque” (it’s pronounced “tūk”), and it had me stumped when I was asked if I had not brought one with me. What on earth could people be referring to, I thought to myself. I eventually had to Google it (when in doubt, Google is your best friend) and it turned out it’s what us Brits would call a woolly hat. However, this is no ordinary winter garment, oh no, this is as Canadian as maple syrup and is part of the Canadian psyche. No real Canadian would ever be seen without his or her tuque during the winter months, and despite my inherent dislike for any kind of head ware I have been known to wear a tuque on very rare occasions (usually when shovelling snow in a blizzard – two further words that would not normally be part of my vocabulary until 5 years ago).

“Loonie” is another word that we came across very early on and no, this does not refer to some lunatic person running around the streets (or anywhere else for that matter) It is the now affectionate name for the Canadian one dollar coin. I say now, as history tells us that the term originated from the Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who was the man in charge when the government decided in 1987 to do away with the one dollar bill, which was not a popular move. The new coin was called “the Mulroney’s Loonie”, which happens to be a very apt name, as one side of the coin showcases Canada’s national bird, no, not the goose, the Loon. This bronze plated coin now weighs down pockets and purses of Canadians everywhere.

A “mickey” or “micky” is not the Disney mouse or indeed taking the mickey out of someone, this mickey is referring to a 384ml bottle of liquor, usually whiskey. However, our neighbours to the south use the word mickey as a slang word for date rape drugs – so be very careful not to use this term in the US!

“Eavestroughs” is another one where I just think why not call it a gutter, as that is what it is, right?

What do you think is a “wicket”? Cricket fans amongst you will be shouting their heads off by now, but I have to disappoint you, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that sport. It is in fact the window or counter used at post offices, in banks, at ticket offices in train stations. Lord knows how they ever came up with this one.

“Pencil Crayon” finds its way on many a school supply list every summer, but is not actually a weird morphed waxy pencil, as us Brits may think when hearing the word crayon. This is the humble, but ever useful colouring pencil.

Speaking of school supply lists, our first such list contained the word “duo-tang”. It informed me that my child needed 5 each in the colours green, red, yellow, and blue. So there I was, standing in the stationery shop, with no clue as to which aisle this mysterious duo-tang item could be found. Turns out, it’s a cardstock folder with embedded brass fasteners to put your loose paper in – who knew (certainly not me at that time). Kids only use these until they reach Junior High School, at which point they migrate to binders (folders to us UK folk).

A “bachelor apartment” is not a housing establishment for unmarried men, apparently it is the term used for a flat that does not contain a separate bedroom. Why would you name it after a bachelor, of all people???

“Freezies” are a favourite of young and old in the summer months. In the UK we would call these popsicles or ice pops, you know, the kind that comes in long plastic tubes, bought unfrozen and then get stuck in the freezer. They are also responsible for countless stains on kids t-shirts!

“No-see-ums” is one of these terms you learn in the summer over here. This refers to small, tiny biting insects, but not an actual species. You can feel them biting you, but you just can no-see-ums.

“Tranie” was a word my husband faced one day at work. A colleague of his was telling him a story about him lying on the tranie covered in oil. Now, where we come from that gives you quite a mental picture, doesn’t it? What this chap actually meant was, that he was lying on his creeper board (you know, the kind mechanics use to get under the vehicle), not a transvestite, covered in oil. Gives you a different perspective, right?

Some of the other words we use almost daily are a little easier to identify. A cart is a trolley, a trunk is the boot of a car, the sidewalk is the pavement, a grocery store is the supermarket, gas is petrol, a van is a 7-seater car, a trailer is a caravan, and a cell is your mobile phone.

There are lots of others, of that I am sure, but these are the ones that have become so common in our daily use of the English language here in Canada, that I no longer notice using them and in turn I confuse my British family and friends no end. So please, bear with me when you speak to me and you get the impression that I might be talking a load of rubbish, it’s just that I am slowly learning to speak Canadian!

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Categories: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Words I would never have used 5 years ago – or how to speak Canadian

  1. I have some great Canadian friends who got equally confused when they moved to the UK with some of the words we use. The word queue was totally alien to them. The greatest hilarity came from one of them when she was using ‘Canadian speak’ talking about carrying stuff in what we would call a bum bag. I’ll let you work it out.

    Even moving within the UK can be confusing. Bread rolls can be called buns, baps or, up here in the North East, stotties. Originally a stottie was a Geordie’s thick wedge of bread stuffed with fillings, but now is usually a huge, filled bread roll. At one time a ‘stottie’ had a completely different colloquial (biological) meaning, again that I won’t go into. That meaning has thankfully disappeared as it caused me great embarrassment when I said that we didn’t have them in the part of the UK where I was from.

    My greatest confusion was when I first moved to the eastern side of Scotland. We were holding a huge event and one of my staff said to be ‘If it’s stowed it’ll be braw.’ which translated as ‘if it’s busy it will be great.’ When I moved to the west coast of Scotland, some people had the habit of starting phrases with ‘See that…’, like ‘See that road that runs on the other side of the mountain.’ and I would wonder if they had x-ray vision or expected me to.

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    • Ivor, wow, I never even thought about the good old bum bag, which gives the giggles to people on both sides of the pond – thanks for reminding me of that one!
      Also thank you for sharing your own experience on the different regional words in the UK, some fab examples that made me chuckle!

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  2. Language is fascinating. We did not know what a bubbler was when we first moved from Minnesota to Wisconsin many years ago.

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  3. jsandrin

    A bubbler is a water fountain for those of you not in the know.

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  4. jsandrin

    More correctly, a drinking water fountain of the continuous running type where the water used to just bubble from the top of the fixture. This version disappeared as wasteful years ago but the word lives on.

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  5. Pingback: More Canadian Stuff | In Da Campo

  6. Tammy

    We even run into that problems between the states…we call sodas a pop and most states call sodas sodas lol It is fun hearing all the interpretations!

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    • Yes, it’s amazing all the different colloquial version – makes for some entertaining conversations though

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  7. Amazing to consider that even English words need translation for English-speakers.

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    • Yep, almost on a daily basis do I have to explain what I mean with my British expressions to my Canadian colleagues. lol

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  8. Amy Juicebox

    LOL. as a Canadian, this post tickled me. 😉

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  9. I’m a native New Englander, but I can say that we use no-see-ums here. As a kid, my mother used the work tuque, but I haven’t heard it for years (my family history does trace back through Quebec).

    A common term here that amuses others is Grinder. Any guesses?

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  10. It is referred to in other parts as a sub, a submarine sandwich, a hero or hoagie. The use of the term grinder seems pretty limited to the Northeast.

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