10 Canadian Expressions

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Bilingual Stop Sign in Ottawa

Bilingual Stop Sign in Ottawa

Welcome to my new series, the “Canadian List of Ten”! Ten weeks, ten posts, ten lists and one hundred new Canadian things for you, from food to language, from city to weather.

Contrary to popular belief, Canadians don’t speak Canadian. Most speak English, or French, or even both.

Overall, Canadian English is quite straightforward. There are local accents (for example in New Brunswick) but overall, the English Canadians speak is very close to American English. In writing, Canadian English does use some UK English spelling (which I can never seem to remember, like “color” vs. “colour”) and you may hear some UK English expressions that are not popular in the USA.

But Canadian English also has words or expressions not found, or not widely used, in other variants of English. Do you know these ten?

  1. Toonie/ loonie: The “toonie” is the Canadian two dollars coin (the one with a polar bear on it). The “loonie” is the gold-colored one dollars coin which bears images of a common loon, a well-known Canadian bird. And like in the USA, the ten cents coin is called “a dime”.
  2. Pop: in Canada, soft drinks are often referred to as “pop”.
  3. Double-double: when having your coffee fix at Tim Hortons, you may hear people asking for a “double-double”. It means they want their coffee served with two cream and two sugars (maybe to make it drinkable… let’s face it, Tim Hortons coffee is only extremely hot brown-colored water after all!).
  4. Dépanneur: this one puzzled me for a long time. A “dépanneur” in France is a repairman or a mecanic. “Dépanner” someone means to “help someone”. So when I heard “we need to go to the dépanneur”, I automatically assume it was some kind of breakdown mechanic. But in Québec, a “dépanneur” is actually a convenience store! Anglophones in Québec and in some parts of Ontario use the word “dépanneur” as well.
  5. Hydro: in Canada, an “hydro bill” doesn’t refer to water but to electricity. This is probably because most of the power is supplied through hydroelectricity.
  6. Newfie jokes: French make fun of Belgians, Canadians make fun of Newfoundlanders. “What do you call a Newfie sitting in a tree wearing a suit? A branch manager“.
  7. The states, down south, our southern neighbors: obviously, the U.S.A. Hate them, love them, we can’t ignore Uncle Sam. The U.S.A are Canada’s largest trading partner and a lot of American culture is exported in Canada. Plus, we like to visit them, especially when the Canadian dollar is high.
  8. Interac: this is usually a synonym to “debit card”. Interac is the network through which are done financial transactions. For example, if you buy something in a store, you may pay with cash, a credit card or “interac” (your debit card, with fund directly withdrawn from your checking account).
  9. Anglophone/ francophone: A person with English as the first language is called an Anglophone. The corresponding term for a French speaker is Francophone. These expressions are mostly used in Québec and some parts of Ontario where people could be either French or English speakers.
  10. Eh: imitating Canadians is easy — just start saying “eh” after each word! In fact, Canadian don’t use it that much. “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.
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French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

17 Comments

  1. You forgot ‘guichet’ :p I’m going to the guichet…well, I don’t say that but some do. Now I really miss Montreal English…we mix French and English together…so much fun.

    A great description for Tim Hortons’ so-called coffee…why does everybody loves it when it actually taste like brown water?! It’s so gross!

    I had Americans asking me if Canada has Halloween and Thanksgiving, what kind of currency we use and where do I go to shop? I was in total shock ’cause I know many American holidays and stuff, but the neighbors never seen to bother to learn more about us. That totally sadden me. 🙁

    Have you seen Harper at your job yet? :p

  2. Awww, those poor Newfies, always getting picked on. Great joke though, I like it!

    I had no clue there was a 2 dollar coin in Canada called a Toonie. And you say it features a polar bear??!!! Awesome. Just awesome.
    .-= Seb´s last blog ..Circus Magic Drawing =-.

  3. I have a friend who lives in Toronto. When he was at university in Sudbury, he used “eh” a lot more than he does now. I’m assuming it’s more common in less populated areas.

    I especially like the term “gas bar” for gas station. It makes it sound so elegant!
    .-= Kirsten´s last blog ..On The Internet #5 =-.

  4. @Nigel Babu – You do, eh?

    @Bluefish – I have never heard “guichet” being used in Ontario to be honest. Maybe it’s just a Québec thing?

    @Agnes – 😉

    @shionge – Do you, as well, in Singapore?

    @Tanya – I found there is quite a lot of slang we have in common, between Canada and Northern US states. Must be the cold 😉

    @Seb – You’ve never seen a toonie before? You’d love them! Maybe you can apply to design the bear on them? You’d make them more fun, I’m sure.

    @DianeCA – I know, even in France signs say “stop” and not “arrêt”.

    @Rich B – This expression is so funny for me, because in French it is synonym with “having an affair” (most people finish work at 7 pm, so if you leave at 5 pm without the wife/ husband knowing and don’t go straight home, well…). I have never heard English people using it though, only Québecers.

    Hope you are doign well!

    @Kirsten – It is definitely more common in less urban areas. I once had a couple of customers from the country and they “eh-ed” every two words – hilarious!

    @Khengsiong – Yes, there are. The accent in the Maritimes is stronger and more “Scottish” like I have heard. Otherwise, nothing as drastic as UK/ Scottish/ Irish accent. At least, not that I have noticed.

    @Seraphine – It seems a bit more formal to me. I almost never hear Canadians saying stuff like “he don’t got any” or “I ain’t done that” — this is more American to me.

  5. Salut Zhu,

    Fascinating !! I love it 😉
    I always suspected something of a “love / hate” realtionship with your US neighbors. For once it’s nice to say that despite my citizenship, I don’t live next door since a long time. I’m of the transplanted variety of American 😉

    Bises !

  6. @barbara – It is a love/ hate relationship, yet it is overall a good one. It’s more a mix of fascination and envy I guess…

  7. Oh good series!! Some more words:

    Washroom (Americans just don’t understand it, eh!)
    Tuque: Close fitting knitted head covering (its not a hat, its not a cap!)
    Canuck: A Canadian
    Timmies: Tim Hortons (I think you covered this before)
    I’m sure there are more words, I just can’t remember them rightnow!
    .-= Priyank´s last blog ..Linguistic delights of Toronto =-.

  8. Hi

    I really got a kick out of the above-mentioned expressins.

    I got a favor to ask, could you please put some more common expressions on line,or if possible introduce me a website where I could find more?

    best resgards,

    Zamani

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