If you’ve ever attempted to write Canadian characters into some prose and you’re not a native Canadian speaker, you may need to study up some. Otherwise, your character is going to end up sounding like a parody of Bob and Doug McKenzie (fictional Canadian brothers who hosted “Great White North”, a sketch introduced on a local show called SCTV during its third season in 1980 and that gained a giant cult following; see the Wikipedia article).
Having grown up in this country before the age of American cable television shows where we could only watch what we could get on the aerial (mostly consisting of CBC productions), I’m probably not as Americanised as a lot of you. Nor do I care to be, but anyhoo…
With the age of the Internet and readily available American literature, talk radio, and the like, even up here in Canada we sometimes forget that we do, in fact, have a lot of our own special words and phrases for the world around us. Funny thing is, we don’t think twice about it, because it would be dead wrong to describe those things any other way, despite being bombarded with American culture every day. We often speak two forms of English, one for the ’net and one between ourselves.
This is in no way a complete list and good to keep in mind, there are particular words and phrases that are only used regionally. When you write your character, be sure to pick which part of Canada they’re from for their back-story or they won’t be believable. For what it’s worth, Nova Scotia has some fantastic colourful local speak and if I had to pick a place to have a character originate from myself, I’d choose Nova Scotia in a heartbeat.
Here’s 20 words and phrases that permeate our lives up here in the Great White North with some explanations to help you non-Canadians get a grip. This does not excuse you from studying!
Inject Some “Canadian” into your Canadian Characters, eh?
two-four – A case of 24 beer bottles.
double-double – Nope, sorry, that’s not about women’s lingerie. This is the short form for ordering a coffee with 2 sugars and 2 shots of cream (the most popular way to enjoy your Tim Horton’s coffee).
regular – Short form for ordering a coffee with 1 sugar and 1 shot of cream.
Timmy’s (or Tim’s or Timmy Ho’s or Up the Horton’s or about a million more) – This is how we refer to Tim Horton’s, the chain of doughnut and coffee shops that started out in Hamilton, ON and is named after the Canadian hockey player, Tim Horton. We take our coffee, like our hockey, seriously here, y’know.
toque – A knitted cap, the “official” hat of Canada and essential Canadian wear for about six months of the year. See my article To Toque or Not to Toque for Bacon Magazine from several years ago for a more in-depth understanding.
pop – Most carbonated, sweet drinks are called pop by Canadians; Americans would know that as “soda”.
Kraft Dinner – Kraft Macaroni and Cheese which is a small rectangular box that contains raw pasta noodles and a packet of dehydrated cheese sauce–the sauce you mix into the pasta with some milk and butter once the noodles are cooked and the whole thing has a shelf life of roughly the half life of a nuclear molecule, so will see you through the end of days. When I was in radio, we also used to refer to this as the “yellow death”. Working in the Toronto fringe market, we never made much money and it was one of the cheapest grocery items you could buy that would keep you alive. Still true today, hence why we refer to it as “dinner” and not a side dish.
runners – Nope, not guys in a marathon, but what’s on their feet. Runners are running shoes and is often the catch-all phrase referring to all types of sneakers, not just the kind for long distance running.
Molson muscle – A beer belly, generally built by drinking two-fours of Canadian beer while watching Hockey Night in Canada.
The Island – So, this is where it’s super important to know where your character hails from, because this has different meanings depending on where you are. In the Maritimes, “The Island” refers to Prince Edward Island or Cape Breton Island depending on your location. But if you’re in B.C., you’d be referring to Vancouver Island and if you’re in Ontario, roughly the middle to Northern Ontario, you’d be referring to Manitoulin Island.
pencil crayon – Ask any grade school kid and they’ll show you theirs – Americans call these “coloring pencils”.
chesterfield – That’s a sofa, not a brand of cigarettes.
kerfuffle – A loud, chaotic, or heated situation usually with a negative bent, similar to a “brouhaha” or an “uproar”. Often involves some fists in the face like when Habs (Montreal Canadiens) fans disrespect Carlton the Bear (the Toronto Maple Leafs mascot) or mix it up on the street after a particularly disappointing Stanley Cup playoff game.
hammered – Pissed drunk; when in a group, can often be the logic-altering state that tips off a kerfuffle (see above).
loonie and toonie – Slang for the Canadian one dollar and two dollar coins.
hoser = “loser” – Though this was made more popular by the fictional Bob and Doug McKenzie, this is still a derogatory term. It came from hockey (of course). Back in the days before the zamboni, the losing team would have to stay after the game and hose down the ice to resurface it.
klick, click (or kay) – We use the metric system here and these are slang terms for the length of measure known as a kilometre. In use, this would go something along the lines of “Fuck me, but I had to drive 10 clicks to get to the only Beer Store that was still open” or “I ran 10 kay today in my new runners”.
Puck Bunny – A girl who follows hockey only because she’s attracted to hockey players. OR A girl who has a hockey player fetish and stalks the local rink during practice with her parka unzippered.
Rink Rat – Someone who spends a shit tonne of time at the ice rink. When we were in high school, anyone who had a winter part-time job at the local ice rink we also referred to as Rink Rats. It was their job to skate around and make sure the ice was clean, break up fights, and help out novice skaters who slammed into the boards or fell on their arse.
Canuck – Slang for a Canadian when used by Canadians, but potentially offensive when used by people from other countries when referring to Canadians.
freezies – A term used by nearly every Canadian, this doesn’t have anything to do with hockey (shocking, I know). Freezies are like popsicles with no stick and the icy, sugary goodness is encased in a long plastic tube that you cut the end off to force the frozen treat up into your mouth. You can get them just about everywhere from the corner variety store to Canadian Tire.
Bonus word: eh?
This is the Canadian rough equivalent of the American “Hunh?” Up here, it’s an important word in that it can mean anything from “do you agree?” or “okay?” to “right?” or “see?”. This is our polite way of engaging the other person in our conversation by encouraging them to participate with their own input.