Camille
Team Lead
Content Strategists

Level Up Your Marketing Campaign

Level Up Your Marketing Campaign

While we share the world’s longest undefended border, and we share many similar cultural norms, when you start to really take a closer look, Canada and the United States are quite different. 

And many of these differences come down to the language we use. Most of the time we’re speaking the same language but sometimes it feels otherwise!

Canada is an adaptable nation, adjusting to weather extremes, while balancing colloquial language from the UK and the US, and even creating some of our own. 

We have a unique way of speaking and it can vary from east to west, and province to province. Heck, Newfoundland even has its own dictionary!

So, if you’ve ever needed to write like an authentic Canadian, reach a Canadian audience, or have tried to figure out what exactly we’re on about, this guide is for you!

A Quick Grammar Guide

First, it is worth mentioning that Canadian writing has a few little grammar quirks that may not be obvious to people that have not lived or worked in the Great White North. 

“ou” vs “o”

For words like color, neighbor, and humor, Canadians use British spelling so it would be colour, neighbour, and humour. 

“ize” vs “ise” 

When it comes to the derivational suffix ize/ise, Canadians use the American spelling with the letter Z (which we pronounce as “zed,” for the record) instead of the letter S.  

Clear as mud right? Sometimes we’re with the British, sometimes we’re not!

A List of Common Canadianisms

Here are a handful of words and phrases that you can use to sound like a true Canuck!  

Loonie and Twoonie

These are slang words for two denominations of Canadian money.

The loonie is our $1 coin. It might seem like an odd name, it’s actually quite fitting. While one side of our money includes a bust of Queen Elizabeth II, the other side is graced by Canadian historical figures, objects, or wildlife. 

The loonie is perfectly named because it includes the image of a loon!

Twoonie has a polar bear on the Queen’s flip side. But, it is a $2 coin so the name makes sense. We found the perfect naming formula, why would we mess with it?

Toque

Toque is a hat. It is what Americans would call a beanie. It’s derived from the French word, tuque

Two-Four and Mickey

If you’re grabbing a two-four or a mickey and are headed out for the night, you’re likely going out for a rip or having a time (see below). 

A two-four is a 24 pack case of beer. 

And while our American readers may be concerned that we’ve linked the term mickey to having a little fun, we can assure you, it means something different up here. 

In the US, being ‘slipped a mickey’ means being drugged. But here, a mickey is a 26-ounce bottle of liquor. 

Two-four should not be confused with the May two-four weekend. May two-four is a statutory holiday that observes the birthday of Queen Victoria, the monarch during Canada’s founding. She was born on May 24, 1819. The real kicker here, however, is that the two-four weekend is not fixed to that date. Instead, Canadians celebrate this unofficial start of warmer weather and summer fun on the second to last Monday in May. In fact, Canada is the only country in the British Commonwealth that still has a holiday celebrating Victoria. 

Caesar

Another liquor term! Don’t judge us, winters are long. 

A Caesar is much like a Bloody Mary with one unique difference: instead of mixing the vodka with tomato juice, it is mixed with Clamato. Clamato contains clam juice and tomato juice with a variety of spices. 

Trust us, it’s tastier than it sounds. 

Pencil Crayons

Pencil crayons are colored pencils. It’s that simple. 

We know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s not like we don’t also have Crayons. 

Knapsack

Knapsacks are backpacks. While both terms are in usage in Canada, the majority of our school children will tell you that they carry their books to school in a knapsack. 

Kitty-Corner

Kitty-corner is derived from the term catercorner, meaning diagonally opposite. If you had two objects in a box in diagonally opposite corners, you’d say that object “A” is kitty-corner to object “B.” 

You will find this term in usage in the United States as well, primarily in the northern and western regions. 

Yeah, no

This phrase is part of a related cluster of similarly confusing statements. 

In Canada, “yeah, no” means no.

“No, yeah” means yes. And, just because these two aren’t enough on their own, when we mean definitely, we say “no, for sure.”  

Housecoat

A housecoat is a bathrobe. Why limit cozy clothing to bath time?

Canadian Tuxedo

This may be a term Americans have heard and used before. A Canadian tuxedo is an outfit comprised entirely of denim. That means jeans and a denim shirt or jacket. 

While not a unique Canadian fashion, the term Canadian tuxedo was believed to have originated in 1951 after Bing Crosby was denied entry into a Vancouver, British Columbia hotel because he was wearing a denim shirt with denim pants. Levi Strauss & Co heard the news and designed an entire denim tuxedo for Crosby as a publicity stunt. 

But, of course, as a team full of Xennials and Millenials, we can’t help but think Britney and Justin wore it best. 

Runners and Joggers

Runners is the Canadian slang for sneakers or tennis shoes. Running shoes = Runners. Makes sense to us!

Similarly, joggers refers to sweat pants or jogging pants. And jogging pants, because nothing can be easy, we also sometimes call track pants. 

Homo Milk

This one, for reasons we likely don’t need to point out, is confusing for many non-Canadians.

Homo milk is homogenized milk. We’re going to spare you the scientific details but homogenized milk has been run through a homogenization process to evenly distribute milk fat throughout the liquid so that it does not separate. 

Essentially all milk purchased at a store is homogenized or else there would be layers of cream and milk inside the container and you’d have to shake it up before use. 

In the US, homo milk is sold as whole milk.

Toboggan

A toboggan is a type of sled. The word is a variation of the Canadian French word, tabaganne, which itself is a variation of the word topaĝan from the Algonquin languages. 

Toboggans were a traditional form of transportation for the subarctic Indigenous groups of what is now known as Northern Canada.

Toboggans are flat bottomed sleds, without runners, that curve up in the front, making them perfect for hauling items in the snow. They are also perfect for speeding down snow-covered hills!

Muskoka Chair

A Muskoka chair is what Canadians call a cottage chair or what many Americans might call the Adirondack chair, after the New York mountain range where it is likely to have originated.  

Double Double

When a Canadian says “double double,” they are not likely to be referring to basketball statistics (insert humble brag about basketball being invented by a Canadian, here). 

A double double is a coffee with two cream and two sugar. It started at national coffee chain Tim Hortons and is now used widely across the country. 

Darts

Darts are cigarettes. 

The throwing game exists here too but if someone says they are going out for a dart, you can be sure they mean cigarette. 

Mountie

This Canadian word is both a real person and a symbol of Canadian identity throughout North America.

Mountie is a slang term for a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). This historic Canadian police service was created during the expansion into Western Canada and continues to operate today. They are a national law enforcement agency that can be compared to the FBI. 

The famous image of the mountie includes a red uniform, a wide-brimmed hat, and a horse. Although, it is worth noting that horses are no longer used for police operations. 

Hoser

A hoser is a foolish or uncultivated person. You can often hear this word shouted at referees during hockey games.

This slang was made popular in a regular SCTV sketch with brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. If you’re a fan of 80s comedy cult classics, you may be familiar with the McKenzie brothers from the film Strange Brew.

Deke

Pronounced “deek,” this is a slang word that means to go around or dodge a person or object. Most commonly, it is used to reference an evasive maneuver in hockey. The player on offense will use a deke to draw the defense out of position and then go around them. A deke can also be called a dangle. 

Chesterfield

If a Canadian invites you to sit on the chesterfield, they mean the couch or sofa. 

You’re welcome, we’ve just saved you lots of confusion. 

Out for a rip

If you’re out for a rip, you are having a relaxed, carefree, easy, good time. This is a regional expression, most likely to be found in South Eastern Ontario. But, thanks to the uber Canadian viral music video from rapper B Rich, “out for a rip,” is used coast to coast. 

Similar to out for a rip, is “having a time.” Used primarily in Newfoundland and the maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick), having a time means having an epic good time. 

Eavestrough 

Eavestroughs are the rain gutters on the roof of your house. Eaves are the part of the roof that overhangs the wall. So, attach a trough to carry away rainwater and you have, you guessed it, an eavestrough. 

Whipper snipper

In the British Isles, a whipper snipper is a cheeky young person.

Inexplicably, in Canada (and Australia, apparently), it is a motorized garden tool used to cut grass and weeds along edges, walls, or fences. 

Basically, a whipper snipper is a weed whacker/weed eater/string trimmer. Why does this thing have so many names?

Washroom

If a Canadian asks you for directions to the washroom, they mean the restroom. 

Back Bacon

Back bacon is a cured cut of meat from the back of a pig, served in flat, round slices. Outside of Canada, back bacon is known as Canadian bacon. 

Eh

Is there anything that identifies a Canadian speaker more than the use of ‘eh?’

And, interestingly enough, eh doesn’t have a singular definition. Although judging by the frequency it appears in Canadian speech patterns, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Eh is a Canadian thing that functions like a language-based all-in-one utility tool. 

Here’s a quick look at some of the ways eh can be used: 

  • To state an opinion: “This guide to Canadianisms is great, eh?”
  • To express surprise or as an exclamation: “What a concert, eh?”
  • To make a request: “Put that here when you’re done, eh?”
  • In storytelling to imply that there is more to follow: “So I was at this party, eh?” 

Master Canadian English with okwrite

The English language is a beautiful and fluid thing. The same words can mean something totally different somewhere else. 

And while understanding these terms is an important part of understanding one another, knowing proper usage is what will resonate the most. 

So, if you’re a brand hoping to reach a Canadian audience or a writer with a Canadian client, okwrite can help. 

While we have a team of writers from all over the world, we are a Canadian-based company and the majority of our writers live and work in Canada. 
Authenticity should be one of the primary goals of your content and reaching a Canadian audience requires proper use of Canadian words and phrases. This guide will get you started, but when it’s time to call in the reinforcements, reach out to okwrite.

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