Do You Speak Canadian…Eh?

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Maple Leaves Paint On The Pavement, Byward Market (Ottawa)

Maple Leaves Paint On The Pavement, Byward Market (Ottawa)

Do you speak Canadian?

Just like everything in Canada, it started with a long harsh winter. I was watching T.V when I suddenly realized that my weather vocabulary had expanded quite a lot.

I once heard that Inuits had a least 20 synonyms for the word “snow“. Well, let me tell you, Canadians winter vocabulary is quite rich too.

I used to know hot and cold, rain or shine, but here I was bombarded with so many ways of saying “winter sucks”. I was now familiar with freezing rain, one of the most hazardous traveling condition. I was wary of the windchill, the actual temperature felt on the skin due to the wind. I knew the different between drifting snow and vertical wet snow (and which one of the two would be harder to shovel). I cursed the slush, the slurry mixture of snow and water, which was dirtying the bottom of my pants on my way to work. I never forgot my tuque, the knitted winter hat. I plugged the block heater every morning to be able to start the car. I envied the snowbirds, these retired Canadians rich enough to spend the winter in some warmer place, often Southern US.

I was speaking Canadian.

I started paying attention to other canadianisms, and realized I was also speaking the local lingo at lunch. Yep.

Unless you guys religiously line-up at Timmies (the ubiquitous Tim Hortons coffee store) for some Timbits (left-over dough from a donut) and a double-double (which always means double cream double sugar in Canada). I assume you don’t enjoy beaver tails, butter tarts or sugar pie, but all of these are really nice patries. Your idea of dinner may not be Kraft Dinner (or Crap Dinner, as we also say), or a nice poutine that clogs your arteries. And when you need some booze, you don’t head to the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario), the SAQ (Société des Alcools du Québec) or the Beer Store. Oh, and you may laugh if I tell you I have some homo milk in the fridge.

English Canadians are not shy about borrowing from the French either. You’d think my French helps… it doesn’t. A dépanneur is a convenience store here, but in France, it’s a mechanic. I knew francophone (french-speaking) and anglophone (english-speaking), but allophone is a Canadian invention describing someone whose mother tongue is neither French nor English. A guichet is an ATM machine, not just any counter or ticket office like in France.

A different kind of French, I’m telling you.

You’d better speak Canadian as well if you want to understand politics and most of what happens on the Hill (Parliament Hill in Ottawa). Who would you vote for otherwise? The Tories (Conservative party)? The Grits (Liberal party)? The Péquistes (Parti Québécois)? The Bloquistes (Bloc Québécois)? Well, if you don’t understand politics, you can still take pictures of the mounties. Everybody love them.

Living in the national capital also teaches you the proper use of — bilingual — acronyms. CIC, CBSA/ ASFC, CRA/ ARC, CSPS/ EFPC, FAC/ AEC, HC/ SC, HRSDC… we can even locate all these ministries on the map. But hey, this is Ottawa, we are a bit weird.

Even when shopping, you must know what a toonie (a two dollars coin) and a loonie (a one dollar coin) are and how to calculate the GST and the PST.

And don’t let me forget about our favorite interjection…eh. Eh shows continued interested: “it’s cold eh, I drove this morning“. It can also be used to turn a sentence into a question: “fucking cold, eh?“. Or even to show agreement: “I know, eh.

But remember that any American mocking us say “eh” more often than we do.

And that, for the record, the last letter of the alphabet is “zed”, not “zee”.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I speak Canadian! There are actually books about how to become Canadian and how to learn Canadian lingos. I’ll miss speak my Montreal French/English when I move to Denmark. 🙁 It’s a really special way to speak but people might often understand what we mean.

    Years ago when I asked my American ex-bf if he brought a ‘tuque’, he went WTF. Hahaha. Glad you’re becoming more Canadian day by day.

  2. Very funny indeed and it doesn’t just apply to Canada though. We have plenty of North/South differences in the UK but I think slang and the variety of vocab makes life that little more interesting.

    Good call on ‘zed too!

  3. Hehehe when it comes to weather Canadians and people from Upstate New York share a common language. However, not bragging…Norwegians have WAY more words to describe weather, especially bad weather then i have ever heard in English. Wonder why……………

  4. That’s really a different type of French. I would never have been able to associate a ‘guichet ‘ with an ATM machine or ‘dépanneur’ with a convenience store. It’s so weird.

  5. Hola amiga…

    I always loved french… it was the language I always wanted to learn. Don’t ask why… I just love it. So when i still was in Argentina doing the paperwork I studied the lang for an year as we were settling in Gatineau, QC… Where I arrived and found that my french was not good at all in any sense! But neither was my English because no one wanted to hear it there! Now, after almost 4 years in Canada I’ve improved my English and forgot my French.

    By the way… I still cannot distinguish the accents between Canadian English and US English… Can you?

  6. The only real give away for a Canadian to me is when they say “out” as “oot” like “it’s aboot time”. But then I live in Oklahoma which is a long way from Canada. If there is British English, Canadian English, and American English, there is also Oklahoma English. Ending consonants are seldom pronounced, short e is the same as short i, as in git me a beer, and a generally lazy tongue which gives the impression that the speaker has half a mouth full of marbles.

  7. Zhu, I think you’re more Canadian than I am!

    I’m hardly ever at Timmie’s unless I’m on a road trip.

    I almost never say ‘eh’ (Kiwis say ‘eh’ ALL THE TIME, so do many Aussies).

    Three years in Toronto and I’m still getting used to the real Canadian winter, not the Pacific Northwest sort of rainy winter that Vancouver is famous for.

  8. I think the “eh” is more common in less cosmopolitan areas. I have a friend who lives in Toronto and he doesn’t say it much, but when he went to school in Sudbury he said it all the time, eh. Of course, as an American, everything we know about Canadian culture comes from the movie Strange Brew and the Terrence and Phillip parts of South Park.

  9. Heh! We have twisted English in India to suit us too. I once remember an Englishman saying to an American, “I don’t mind that you speak English the way you guys do, but do you have to call it English!?” 🙂

  10. This is interesting Zhu but I suppose there would be some difference as far as English is concerned.

    We have what you call the Singapore English – Singlish!! All the Lahs, Lor, Hor, Aiya….plus So Shiok of course 🙂

    Have a nice weekend 😀

  11. I enjoyed reading that post 🙂 I’ve been to Canada a lot of time and I can totally relate to those words like “windchill, freezing rain, timbits…”. Hahaha! It reminds me when I first experienced Canadian winter and how I got to know what “flurries” actually mean!

  12. I never realized that Canadian English is unique in those ways! Sometimes, I listen to the Canadian radio here and I laugh at it, they have vowels that are further back than American English, like in “the car smashed” where the /a/ vowel in “smashed” is not like in “fast” but in “father”. And yes, I am not supposed to find this funny, I am a linguist after all.

  13. And I always thought ‘double double’ was some sort of porn slang 🙂

    As for the snowbirds, I can guarantee you, they all come here to Phx. But right now everyone is escaping, as we are coming into the oven style weather part of the year.

  14. A belated “Bienvenue” to Canada!
    Perhaps I’ll bump into you some day and we’ll both say, “Sorry!”

    (thanks for the visit)

  15. @Bluefish – There are some French Canadian words that are *only* found in Quebec, and I think tuque is one of them 😆

    @Adem – I don’t know North/ South differences in the UK, although I do remember watching Trainspotting in English and going WTF. Scottish is a unique language!

    @DianeCA – Really? I guess you do have some crazy weather as well… I’d be curious to know more about the language, you should write a post about it sometimes.

    @aline – Oh, I know! Took me a while to get used to it as well… here another one for you: in Quebec, the “nanny” isn’t the “nounou” or “babysitter” like in France, but the “gardienne”… which is basically “warden” in France, and often associated with inmates and jail 😆

    @Guillermo – No, not really. I mean, it depends… Between Canadians who live in big cities and Northern Americans, no. But with some Canadians who live in the country, yes, because they really tend to say “eh” a lot!

    And I can always tell an Argentinian in South America… 😉

    @Tulsa Gentleman – I don’t really get the “oot” thing even though I heard about it. Now, Northern Americans and Canadians tend to speak about the same to me.

    @Gail at Large – I hate Timmies actually! Same as you, I only stop there if I’m driving to Montreal or Toronto, because their coffee is so sugary, it keeps me awake 😆

    @Final_Transit – Course I did, eh! 😆

    @Khengsiong – Yes, “zed” is an English thing. “Zee” is more common if you learned American English.

    @Kirsten – I totally agree! Each time I’m talking with Canadians who live in the country, I definitely hear more “eh”.

    @Sidney – Languages are funny!

    @Shantanu – That’s funny! Indian English is quite different too. The language is very proper English, with some vocabulary Americans wouldn’t use, but with some Indian slang and expressions. I love it!

    @shionge – I guess it’s like English in Hong Kong!

    @Baoru – Gotta come to Canada!

    @Angele – Oh yeah, flurries… same here, I only understood what it was in Canada!

    @beaverboosh – Almost, eh!

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – I don’t pay too much attention to pronunciation because I’m not a linguistic, but I love vocabulary differences. I heard that there were a lot of pronunciation differences though.

    @Seb – Could be actually! 😆 Oh my… all these times I asked for a double-double and the guy looked at me funny… 😆

    @Beth – Merci! I wish I could apologize but I’m not sure why I would. Sorry 😆

  16. ….now that you mastered spoken Canadian-English, you need to master written Canadian-English!!! i noticed the majority of your spelling are American-English, not sure why, perhaps the form of English you learned in school.

  17. @iain – Hi there and thanks for commenting!

    I never really learned English at school (because I took Chinese instead, but that’s another story), but I remember that the English spelling was definitely more used in Europe. American-English actually puzzled me at first! 😆

    Now, I noticed most people around me use American-spelling, hence why I use it too I guess. I would never write “amongst” because it seems that “among” is really more common here. Same for “authorize” etc.

    Now, for verbs, I hate writing “learned” instead of “learnt”, but I rarely see the latest.

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  19. I’ve always wondered why Mexicans use quite often “eh” when they talk compared to for example Chileans. It might have spread from Canada and the States…

    Greetings from France,

    • That’s funny! I can’t remember actually, it’s been a while since I was in Mexico. But yes, it could definitely be influenced by Canada and the U.S!

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