55 Canadianisms You May Not Know.

This post at GeekMom was a real eye-opener for me. I can’t say I’ve made any particular effort to study Canadian English, but I wouldn’t have thought there would be so many words and usages that were utterly unfamiliar to me. Runners? Parkade? Eavestroughs? Garburator?? At least I knew what a tuque was. I thought perhaps others would find it interesting and educational as well, so here it is. (Via this MetaFilter post, which contains other relevant links.)


  1. I’m surprised that only one non-Canadian Commonwealth person used “runners”. Everyone I knew growing up in Melbourne used exactly that word; “sneakers” and “trainers” were strongly marked as US and UK terms respectively.

  2. I think “runners” is still the commonest word in Ireland, though I suspect it’s most prevalent among those who never wear them.

  3. Parkade is the normal term in South African english for a multi-storey car park.

  4. I was surprised to see that “evestrough” is considered a Canadianism. In some parts of the States it is (or at least used to be) the normal term as well, though in most places, including where I live now, it’s “gutter.” I’ve always preferred “evestrough.”

  5. “Parkade” sounds like a brand of margarine, so that is probably blocking the adoption of what looks like a very useful word.

    “38. Skookum: Mainly heard in British Columbia, it means: strong, awesome, great, good, best, etc. Regional, with all of the 10 percent who use this term living in British Columbia.”

    This isn’t a Canadianism; it is about as widespread in Washington and for the same reason.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    I notice the author in passing mentions “bugger” as relatively inoffensive to Americans; I’ve noticed previously that Americans often seem to think it’s considerably milder for UK-ites than is in fact the case.

    (I read “Ender’s Game” in French, having picked up a copy when I was on holiday, and was somewhat taken aback when I found out what the hostile aliens are called in the original. It would be jarring to most UK readers, I would imagine. Or maybe I’m just old. In the French they are chastely called “doryphores.”)

  7. marie-lucie says

    Never having heard of Ender’s Game, I googled it: in the novel the aliens are called “Buggers”, but in the film they are “Formics”, a “chaste” name I suppose. The latter name must have inspired the French adaptation as “Doryphores” (the word for potato bugs). In any case, I doubt that there is a French word which would carry the same relative ambiguity as the English “bugger” for naming a nasty, insect-like life form.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    “Icing sugar” and “whitener” are exactly what I would use myself. “Turfed out” is normal UK too.

    “Serviette” is probably the usual UK word. The matter is complicated by the fact that it’s one of the supposed shibboleth “non-U” words, with “napkin” the “U” (i.e. posh) variant.

    “Bugger the dog” is not an expression you would ever find on a UK site with mom/mum in the name. I would strongly advise Canadians visiting the UK to eschew its use for the duration of their visit. Unless, I suppose, they intend to convey the literal meaning …

  9. ‘the regular term is a bit ruder, but it can’t be used on GeekMom.’

    I have heard of “screw the pooch”, but not in the sense “bugger the dog”.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    “Shag” (while I’m on the subject) is a lot ruder in UK English than many Americans suppose. It’s certainly by no means on a level with quaint evasive terms like “bonk” and the like. I’m not sure if Mike Myers just didn’t know that, or if he knew very well and was doing it on purpose. I suspect the latter …

  11. Both terms are used in the original novel sequence: Formic is formal (the war is called the Formic War in history books), whereas Bugger probably starts out as one of those words soldiers use to depersonalize the enemy, but later becomes common slang. In a later book, a Formic and a member of a third species that humans call Piggies are speculating about why there is no derogatory term for human beings; their conclusion is that human is a derogatory term already.

  12. J. W. Brewer says

    If the Canadian fellow can’t figure out why a 750ml bottle of booze is called a “fifth” in AmEng, he needs to work on his cultural literacy (or perhaps cross-cultural literacy).

  13. J. W. Brewer says

    Although come to think of it, I am now curious as to whether bottles containing 750 ml or something close to it were ever colloquially known as “sixths” in countries which historically used the imperial gallon to measure liquids.

  14. Fascinating. In New England and upstate NY, we always said “eavestroughs” never “gutters” — but even though I’ve lived in Canada for almost ten years now, a lot of these words were unfamiliar to me, probably because I don’t mingle with the English Canadians as much as with the Quebecois and other immigrants (like ourselves!) However, we did have the “rubber” discussion recently, when my choir director was handing out pencils.

  15. JWB: It’s one thing to know that Imperial gallons aren’t the same size as U.S. ones; it’s another thing to have the conversion factors in your head, especially against metric units. Imperial pints are 20 fluid ounces, and U.S. pints are 16 fluid ounces, but the fluid ounces in question are different by about 4%, roughly the difference between the densities of water (Imperial) and wine (U.S.)

  16. JWB: Any Canadian who is younger than 45 really doesn’t have much of a connection with non-metric units of measurement. I got caught in the conversion to metric so that I use inches and feet for close measurement because that was what was important to me as a child but I have no idea how far a mile is because I use kilometers for large measurements because that is what I dealt with as a teenager and as an adult. Similarly, I use cups for small measurements but, because I never measured out gallons as a child, I use litres for large measurements.

    So I wondered what the fifth was about. It makes sense now, but it didn’t occur to me right away.

  17. My father had a comedy record by Cicely Courtneidge called “Double Damask” (you can get it on YouTube) where she goes into a very posh department store to buy “a double dozen double damask dinner napkins”. Both she and the store staff have magnificent difficulty with this tongue-twister. Finally the punch line is that she drops into a working-class accent and says “Blast! Give me twenty-four serviettes.” So obviously “serviette” was considered very non-U in Britain at that time (1932).

    Another Canadianism that got left off the list is the use of “bun” to mean what in other countries would be called a dinner roll or bread roll. “Bun” in the US has a much more specialized meaning.

  18. My father had a comedy record by Cicely Courtneidge called “Double Damask” (you can get it on YouTube)

    Here‘s a link; it gets quite funny.

  19. I’ve switched the link in the post to an archived one even though the original one still works, because it redirects to GeekDad, and that annoys me (though you can still get to GeekMom via that site).


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