Situation: You’re on the street and you pass a group of English speakers. You hear the first saying, ‘How y’all doing?’ You’re sure he’s from the southern United States. The next one you encounter says, ‘I went to uni in Sydney, mate.’ You think that’s an Australian for sure. Then the next one belts out, ‘Cheers lad!’ and you know that’s unquestionably a native of England.
Your judgements are likely all correct based on the words you hear. This is all fine until you run into the next speaker that says, ‘Lord thunderin’ jeez bey, watcha doin’ there, eh?’ You’re totally flummoxed and wonder where they could be from. You find out later that this is a Canadian.
This is baffling to many students. While Canadians are known to speak with a certain accent neutrality and not rich in slang, these stereotypes are often proven to be incorrect. Born out of its early French and English colonial roots, plus language of indigenous and later immigrating parties, Canadians have their own dictionary of slang. Many of the terms are fun to use and can help you to develop your speaking skills, especially if you happen to study English in Canada.
Here’s a short list:
A fight or disagreement—i.e. ‘Jeff got into a kerfuffle with his boss over pay.’
Kilometres—i.e. ‘It’s about one hundred ten clicks from Toronto to Barrie.’
Someone that is overtly interested to learn and obey—i.e. ‘I think Seth is a keener in Ms. Katz’s class just so he can get a good mark from her.’
A case of beer—in Canada, beer often comes in a box of twenty-four bottles—i.e. ‘Grab a two-four for the barbecue on your way over.’
A line of people, the same as ‘queue’ for British or Australian slang users—i.e. ‘The lineup at the concert ticket booth went around the block!’
A substitute teacher. It can be used with or without ‘teacher’—i.e. ‘Who’s the supply [teacher] for physics class?’
Electricity, water, and sewage services—i.e. ‘Hey Valerie, did you pay last month’s hydro? There’s no hot water in the shower.’
A one dollar Canadian coin introduced by the Royal Canadian Mint in 1987, named after the loon pictured on its front, a bird common in Canada—i.e. ‘Hey man, got a loonie for a coffee?’
A two dollar Canadian coin introduced by the Royal Canadian Mint in 1996—i.e. ‘Could you please change a ten dollar bill for five toonies?’
A sofa—i.e. ‘Just leave your bags on the chesterfield.’
The fee you owe in a restaurant, like when Americans ask for ‘the check’—i.e. ‘Could we please get the bill for our lunch?’
Running shoes, like ‘trainers’ in the UK or ‘sneakers’ in the USA—i.e. ‘Make sure you bring your runners for the track meet.’
Rye and Ginger
A popular bar drink, made by mixing Canadian rye whiskey and ginger ale—i.e. ‘Hey Jenn, could you please order me a rye and ginger while I make a call?’
Whole wheat bread—i.e. ‘I always buy brown bread for the sandwiches I make. It tastes better and is healthier.’
A woolen hat, usually worn in winter, similar to the British slang word ‘beanie’—i.e. ‘It’s minus thirty degrees out there. Bring a tuque—you'll need it!’
There are more terms and in time there will likely be even more. If studies in slang and Canadian society interest you, come to Toronto and take The Language Gallery’s elective in Canadian Culture. You’ll cover all of these terms and more, plus learn many key points of Canadian history that will help infuse your knowledge of Canada as a whole nation.