Visitors to Canada might expect some communication barriers in this bilingual country if they aren’t up on Quebecois French. However, some of the Canadian English lingo might throw you for a loop as well. With a rich cultural heritage and linguistic diversity, there are a number of words, terms and products that are uniquely Canuck. Even Canadians don’t necessarily know these words aren’t universally understood. Of course, there are generational and regional variations whether you’re in PoCo, Cowtown, Toontown, The Jaw, The Peg, The Soo, The Big Smoke or on the Rock. Here are 22 Canadianisms as an essential glossary of Canadian terms – and there isn’t a hockey word among them.
1. Homo Milk
This one often draws giggles from visiting Americans. It just stands for whole homogenized milk, and its printed (in both French and English, of course) on most milk cartons and bags in the dairy aisle. Yes, bags. Milk is often packaged in plastic pouches that fit into pitchers. It’s a lightweight, efficient packaging option found in Canada and parts of Europe, but not in the US.
2. Double Double
Tim Hortons is an institution in the Canadian coffee/donut realm. Just like there’s a cultish insider vocabulary to use when ordering a cup of joe at Starbucks (grande, venti, skinny etc…), Timmy’s has its own vernacular. For example, a “double double” is Canadian code for two creams, two sugars. Try ordering that south of the border and you will be met with furrowed brows of confusion.
While this word has a different meaning in Britain (anonymous gay sex hook-ups in public bathrooms), Canadians have simply turned their love of spending lazy days at the cottage into a verb. Making the most of the short summer season, many people invest in lake-side retreats to enjoy their weekends and holidays with friends and family. In other parts of Canada, these rustic to regal second homes may be referred to as cabins, chalets, bungalows or camps. But in Ontario, with its abundance of lakes and thousands of islands, cottaging is the weekly wilderness exodus of the masses.
Canadians are such a polite and humble bunch with a penchant to over-apologize for minor infringements. You can accidentally step on someone’s foot and they’ll say “sorry” to you. Yes, this word exists in other languages too, but you’ll never hear it frittered about as much as you do in Canada. It’s a cultural reflex.
5. Loonies and Toonies
The Canadian one dollar coin has a lovely loon embossed on it, hence the nickname “loonie” came into the glossary of Canadian terms. When the two dollar coin was minted a few years later, the name “toonie” just followed suit. By the way, don’t refer to Canada’s colorful paper bills as “Monopoly money” – they’ve heard it before. Actually, don’t refer to it as “paper” money either, as they’ve recently switched to a more durable polymer for these denominations.
6. Mickey and Twenty-Sixer
Americans may have their mouse and Britons might take it out of someone, but in Canada, “mickey” refers to a small flask-sized 375 ml bottle of hard liquor. This is a uniquely Canadian booze measurement, and quite handy when out and about (pronounced oot and aboot, of course). Another Canadian bottle capacity is the twenty-sixer, which refers to a 750 ml bottle of liquor. Back in the days before the metric system, it meant a 26 oz bottle of booze, but the term stuck.
Not surprisingly, Canadians have some lingo surrounding their beloved beer, too. A standard case of beer which contains 24 cans or bottles is commonly and affectionately known as a two-four (often slurred together as toofer).
Still on the booze kick, the Bloody Caesar is a proud Canadian concoction that is starting to seep its way into other countries too. It’s like a vodka based Bloody Mary, only rather than tomato juice it substitutes in Clamato juice, a proprietary blend of tomato and clams that elevates this cocktail to a whole new level. It is doctored up with dashes of spices, dollops of Worcestershire sauce and served in a salt-rimed glass with a stalk of celery in it. It was invented in Calgary in 1969 and is now a Canadian classic that tastes much better than it sounds.
As for non-alcoholic soft drinks, Canadians call their fizzy fountain beverages “pop” as opposed to “soda” or “soda pop” like you hear in the States.
10. Ketchup, Dill Pickle and All Dressed Chips
Chips isn’t so much a Canadian term. They use the same word for crunchy potato snacks in the US, although they are called “crisps” in the UK. However, they do have some unique flavors worth bragging about. Dill Pickle and Ketchup are self explanatory (and delicious), and All Dressed is a mind-blowing mish-mash of multiple other flavorings mixed together.
11. Chocolate Bars
Still on the junk food topic, what Americans call “candy bars” most Canadians would call “chocolate bars”, and they’ve got lots of unique products up there to tempt your sweet tooth. Coffee Crisp, Crispy Crunch, Aero, Big Turk, Eat-More, MacIntosh Toffee and Smarties spring to mind. Some of these treats may be found in Britain and elsewhere, but they taste slightly different – must be something about that bilingual packaging. Many returning Canadian travelers make a bee-line to the convenience store to indulge in these favorites when they’ve been away for a while. Another common treat found in Canada and Europe but not in the States is the Kinder Surprise. The little chocolate egg with the toy inside is actually illegal in America.
Commonplace in Quebec but spreading in popularity across the country is poutine. It’s essentially a plate of french fries (aka “chips” in the UK), smothered in gravy and topped with cheese curds. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. There are some trendy gourmet poutine variations out there that mix in bacon, lobster and foie gras, but nothing goes down with a two-four of beer like classic poutine.
13. Beaver Tails
Before you recoil in horror that Canadians are chopping off bucktoothed rodent appendages as a delicacy, this is actually a popular pastry sold throughout the country since 1978. It’s deep-fried flattened dough sprinkled with an array of toppings like lemon, chocolate banana, maple butter or Nutella. Along with Timbits (donut holes), the Beaver Tail (Queues de Castor in French) is a Canadian classic.
Sorry, Americans. The last letter of the alphabet is pronounced “zed”, not “zee”. Just ask the English people who invented the language.
A multi-level parking garage or car park is commonly called a parkade in Canada (not everywhere, but in many regions). Most Canadians don’t know this is not a widely used term elsewhere.
16. Gonch, Ginch, Gitch, Gotch
Depending on your generation (pre-1970s) and region (mostly prevalent out west), these words are Canadian slang for underwear – or knickers, if you will.
Americans call them sneakers. Brits call them trainers. Others may call them tennis shoes (whether they play tennis or not). In Canada, these types of athletic sports shoes are most commonly called runners.
A keener is a slightly derogatory term for someone who is overly eager, zealous, or enthusiastic about something. You’d think those would be considered positive traits, but in humble Canada trying too hard is not really something to boast about. Calling someone a keener has overtones of being a brown-noser, suck-up or smartypants.
No glossary of Canadian terms could miss out on toque, the ubiquitous knit ski cap that tops off winter wear. With or without a pom-pom, these wooly hats are a Canadian fashion statement necessary for cold weather survival.
This Quebecois curse is much more rude than its “tabernacle” origins would indicate. It is arguably the worst profanity you can utter in the Belle Province. With its Roman Catholic roots, French Canada considers it sacrilegious to say this word in vain. That being said, you hear it will great frequency as an expression of anger, astonishment or disgust amongst French Canadians.
21. Chinook Winds
Southern Alberta experiences some strong, warm winds that blow east over the Rockies and have been known to make temperatures rise from -19 to 22°C (-2 to 72°F) in one hour. A band of stationary stratus clouds known as the Chinook arch is the telltale sign that this wondrous weather system is in the area. The Calgary region has 30 to 35 Chinook winds per year, which helps Southern Albertans get through the dark winter months.
This is perhaps the most quintessential Candianism of all, although not all Canadians pepper their speech with it as much as the stereotype might suggest. Many Canadians add this question tag the ends of sentences to ask for agreement or disagreement, similar to “don’t you think”, “right?” or “huh?” It is a way of being polite, to ensure other people in the conversation are actively listening and included, although a response isn’t really required.