55 Canadianisms You May Not Know or Are Using Differently

Canadianisms 1
Image by Jules Sherred.

I surveyed 175 people, quizzing them on their knowledge of 82 “Canadianisms.” The results are in, including 42 words with which you are probably unfamiliar, unless you are Canadian.

All of the words included on this survey were the result of at least one American being baffled over my Canadian English. Many times, I have felt as if we were two people separated by a common language. These words have been used during my many trips to the United States. (I have traveled to Washington, California, Idaho, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Maryland, DC, and Virginia.) They’ve also been the source of confusion when speaking with my American partner or talking with my American pals, who are spread throughout the country.

Because of how many words and pages it takes for a complete breakdown of the results, I’ve decided to only include words where at least 50 percent of Americans said they were unfamiliar with the word, plus a couple of other bonuses. At the end of the post is a link to all of the results, which include the 42 unfamiliar words, 10 questionable results, and three honourable mentions, plus 16 “familiar but not used,” and 11 “familiar and used” words.

The geographical breakdown includes: 104 Americans, 52 Canadians, and 19 people from the following Commonwealth countries: New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, England, and Wales.

The method of this completely non-scientific, yet still extremely fascinating survey was pretty simply: I presented respondents with a word, a short definition, and four answers from which to choose.

When giving a definition, intentionally, I gave minimal information. My thinking was, either the people responding to the survey knew the words without giving a context and definition, or they didn’t. In retrospect, I should have been more concise with a couple of the words, as many of the American respondents seemed confused by their meaning or my intention. This was even more prevalent when I gave an example of how the word is seldom used in Canada, which caused the respondent to give conflicting responses in the “other” field. These words are included in this post, even if over 50 percent of Americans said they were familiar with the word, but didn’t use it.

After reading the word and the short definition, respondents were presented with the following choices:

  • I am unfamiliar with this term;
  • I am familiar with this term, but I never used it or have I heard it used in my area;
  • I am familiar with this word and I use it regularly, or it is used in my area;
  • Plus, “other” to elaborate and enter the word most commonly used by that person.

I’ve also included three honourable mentions: words that could have very easily fallen within the “unfamiliar” category.

Contained within these results are a number of terms that are sociolects: words we tend to use only when among certain social groups, and our geographic location does not determine the extent to which Canadians have knowledge of the word, or use it. With the exception of a couple of regional words, most Canadians were familiar with all of the words, even if they didn’t use them. Regional dialects are very rare in Canada, but we do have many sociolects. Because of Canada’s emphasis on being multi-cultural, we tend to be very familiar with each other’s word choices, which sometimes can give the appearance that we are a “melting pot,” when we are not.

It is also interesting to note that in cases where the word was not clearly “Canadian,” it was the result of people in and around the greater Toronto area not making use of the word. It almost adds to the joke that there is Canada, and then there is Toronto, Ontario. Canada versus Toronto is the source of many jokes and stereotypes; some of which are not always nice, even if they may have a lot of truth in them. And, in a couple of cases, Albertans were the exception to the rule, which also plays into some Canadian-grown stereotypes.

Without further ado, the results!

Unfamiliar

1 Tuque
Image by Molly Leonard via Wikimedia Commons.

1.       Tuque: A knitted cap/hat, referred to as a beanie in the United States. A beanie is a completely different type of hat in Canada. 100 percent Canadian.

In the United States, the most common alternatives were: beanie, knitted cap, ski hat, and stocking cap. In the Commonwealth countries, the most common alternative was “beanie.”

It may be interesting to note that very recently, the CBC did an article about the spelling of “tuque,” while calling all of us “hosers.” Tuque is the proper spelling, though many Anglophones spell it either “toque” or “touque.” Growing up in French immersion, it was always “tuque,” with “toque” meaning something else. You can read what the CBC has to say about this very topic, including a reference to their style guide.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 53% 84% 0%
Familiar but not used 35% 0% 0%
Familiar and used 12% 16% 100%
1 Runners
Some rights reserved by Luke,Ma via Flickr.

2.       Runners: Referred to as sneakers or tennis shoes in the United States. 85 percent Canadian.

In the United States, the most common alternatives were: sneakers, tennis shoes, Nikies, running shoes, walking shoes, and walkers. Across the Commonwealth countries, the most common alternative was “trainers.”

One American noted the following, “Runners are a piece of table linen, which runs the length of the table under the centerpiece and dangles over the edge.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 60% 37% 4%
Familiar but not used 32% 58% 11%
Familiar and used 7% 5% (1 person) 85%
3 Parkade
Some rights reserved by Jan Tik via Flickr.

3.       Parkade: A multi-level parking structure. 71 percent Canadian.

In the United States, the most common alternatives were: parking garage and parking deck. Across the Commonwealth countries they were: car park and parking garage.

Out of the Americans who knew and used the term “parkade,” one left the following comment: “City-owned parking in Eugene is usually named ‘Location Parkade.'”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 85% 100% 4%
Familiar but not used 11% 0% 25%
Familiar and used 4% 0% 71%
4 ABM
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

4.       ABM: Automatic Banking Machine. 38 percent Canadian or maybe it’s becoming a sociolect.

The thing I found most interesting about these responses comes from the Canadians. Despite automatic banking machines being labelled “ABM” and the terms “automatic banking machine” and “ABM” being used in most bank service agreements, Canadians are starting to move towards the American “ATM.” Personally, I still use ABM, or just “bank machine.”

Perhaps the term “ABM” is starting to turn into a sociolect, as the 38 percent of Canadians who still primarily use “ABM” are from across all regions of Canada.

In the Commonwealth countries, the most common alternatives were: hole-in-the-wall, cash machine, cashpoint, and ATM. In the United States, the alternative is “ATM.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 95% 100% 8%
Familiar but not used 5% 0% 54%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 38%
5 Eavestroughs
Image via Wikimedia Commons.

5.       Eavestroughs: A trough that runs along the eaves and catches rain/leaves. 90 percent Canadian.

The most common alternative given by both Americans and people living in Commonwealth countries was “gutters.” I found the percentage to which Commonwealth respondents were unfamiliar with the word to be very surprising.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 80% 89% 2% (1 person)
Familiar but not used 7% 0% 8%
Familiar and used 13% 11% 90%
6 Garburator
Image via Wikimedia Commons.

6.       Garburator: A mechanical device that “eats” garbage in your kitchen sink’s drain. 62 percent Canadian.

Disposal is a propriety name for a garbage disposal in the United States. Garburator is the propriety name in Canada. I’m not sure what the difference is, but they must be different enough to have different propriety names. And that is about all the insight I can give you on “Garburator.”

The most common alternative given by everyone, regardless of location, was “garbage disposal.” Many Americans commented that “Disposal” is a brand name.

Most of the Canadians who were unfamiliar with the word, or don’t use it despite being familiar with it, were from Ontario.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 91% 100% 12%
Familiar but not used 7% 0% 30%
Familiar and used 2% 0% 62%
7 Wicket
Pubic domain via Wikimedia Commons.

7.       Wicket: You stand at a wicket when speaking to agents in government offices, bank tellers, etc. Sociolect, with most who don’t use it despite being familiar with it, living in Ontario.

The most common American alternative was “window” or “counter.” There were a couple of people who said they were totally lost. A couple of Americans noted that a “wicket” was for cricket, with most Commonwealth respondents making the same comment.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 91% 84% 15%
Familiar but not used 9% 11% 62%
Familiar and used 0% 5% 23%
8 Homo Milk
Island Farms is one of the leading dairy producers in British Columbia. Some rights reserved by scazon via Flickr.

8.       Homo Milk: Milk with 3.25% milk fat. This is not to be confused with Canadian “whole milk,” which is milk that separates when left sitting. 92 percent Canadian.

A couple of Americans commented that they were offended by this term because in the U.S., it is a derogatory reference to a homosexual person. In Canada, it is difficult for that word to be a slur when it is plastered all over stores and on milk containers in reference to a specific type of milk. Canada has different derogatory terms. Calling someone a “homo” is laughable to most of us because that would be calling someone “milk.”

Swears and derogatory words differ a lot between cultures. It is one reason why I can include words like “bugger,” “bloody,” or “merde” when writing for a U.S.-based website. Most readers wouldn’t know why it would be, at the very least, quite rude and offensive for other readers.

The common American alternative given was “homogenized milk,” which is a little odd, as all of Canada’s milk is homogenized. Other forms of homogenized milk include: skim milk, 1%, 2%, buttermilk, plus various types of cream. One person in N.E. Ohio commented that they have never seen 3.25% milk.

Out of the four Canadians who said that they don’t use the term, I’m very curious to know what they use, instead. They didn’t give an alternative.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 81% 79% 0%
Familiar but not used 16% 16% 8%
Familiar and used 3% 5% 92%
9 Pencil Crayons
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

9.       Pencil Crayon: Pencils used for colouring. 96 percent Canadian.

I’m really not sure why we call them “pencil crayons.” Maybe it is a result of us mashing the English “coloured pencils” with the French “crayon de couleur,” and the middle of packaging reading “pencil crayon” as a result. Even our school supply lists read “pencil crayons.”

The American alternative is “colored pencil.” The Commonwealth alternative is “colouring pencil.”

The two Canadians who said they were familiar with the term, but don’t use it, were from Nova Scotia. The rest of the respondents from Nova Scotia all use the term.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 85% 47% 0%
Familiar but not used 9% 16% 4%
Familiar and used 6% 37% 96%
10 Bachelor Apartment
Image by AlexiusHoratius. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported via Wikimedia Commons.

10.   Bachelor Apartment: A flat that has no bedroom. 92 percent Canadian.

The most common American equivalents given were “studio apartment” and “efficiency.”

The most common Commonwealth equivalents were: bedsit, studio flat, and bachelor pad.

Until this survey, I had never heard the word “efficiency,” and I was unsure as to the meaning of “studio apartment” whenever I would hear it.

Among the Canadians who do not use the words, three are from Alberta, with one from Saskatchewan.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 71% 63% 0%
Familiar but not used 20% 26% 8%
Familiar and used 9% 11% 92%
11 Gasbar
Image by Trekphiler licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported via Wikimedia Commons.

 

11.   Gasbar: A filing station. Sociolect with 44 percent of Canadians using it regularly.

The most common American word is “gas station.”

The most common words used in the Commonwealth countries are “petrol station” and “garage.”

The difference between the Canadians who know the word but don’t use it regularly and those who do use it regularly was two people. The alternative word given was “gas station.” Seventy-five percent of the respondents who were not familiar with “gasbar” were from Toronto.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 98% 100% 8%
Familiar but not used 2% 0% 48%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 44%
12 Donair
Some rights reserved by FreeRishad via Flickr.

12.   Donair: A pita containing spiced meat and a sauce made from sugar, vinegar, milk, and garlic. 71 percent Canadian.

Part of me thinks I should correct the above to, “100 percent Canadian,” as a donair is a Canadian-invented food item. It’s also as Canadian as poutine, Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, and split-pea soup. All of the Canadians who said they were unfamiliar with this term were from Ontario, with six out of nine being from Toronto. If you live in Toronto and have no idea what a donair is, I’m not sure there is an excuse, as Toronto is a food haven!

The closest thing America has to a donair is the gyro. In the Commonwealth countries, it is similar to what they call a kebab, but different from what Canadians refer to as a kabob. Unlike a “doner,” it doesn’t contain lamb and the sauce is quite different.

For the four Americans who say they use the word or find it common in their area, especially the one from Seattle, I’d like to know where? I’ve travelled to Seattle many times and have yet to find a donair. Poutine is finally making its way into the U.S. Hopefully, the donair will be soon to follow.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 86% 84% 17%
Familiar but not used 10% 16% 12%
Familiar and used 4% 0% 71%
13 Icing Sugar
Image by Evelyn Clark Weddings.

13.   Icing Sugar: A type of finely granulated sugar used in making icings and glazes. 96 percent Canadian.

The first time I was made aware that Americans do not have “icing sugar” per se, I was very surprised. It was awhile before I would learn the alternative, which is either “powdered sugar” or “confectioner’s sugar.”

There is one Canadian who is unfamiliar with this term. I can only surmise that they don’t do any baking.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 56% 0% 2%
Familiar but not used 32% 0% 2%
Familiar and used 12% 100% 96%
14 Whitener
© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.

14.   Whitener: A powder or liquid used to whiten tea or coffee, not made from dairy. 81 percent Canadian.

The most common American alternatives are “creamer” and “non-dairy creamer.” In the Commonwealth countries, the most common alternative is “non-dairy whitener.”

Two Canadians were unfamiliar with the term: one from Nova Scotia and one from Ontario. Out of the eight people who are familiar with the term but don’t use it, 50 percent were from Ontario, while 25 percent were from Alberta, and 25 percent from British Columbia.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 69% 26% 4%
Familiar but not used 23% 16% 15%
Familiar and used 8% 58% 81%
15 Fire Hall
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

15.   Fire Hall: Where firefighters work. 92 percent Canadian.

“Firehouse” and “fire station” were the alternatives used by Americans, with “fire station” used among those who responded from the Commonwealth countries.

The one Canadian who said they were unfamiliar with the term is from Toronto. Among the three people who responded “familiar but not used,” two were from Toronto, with one from Hamilton, Ontario.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 72% 89% 2%
Familiar but not used 19% 0% 6%
Familiar and used 9% 11% 92%
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
By Luigi Zanasi licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Canada via Wikimedia Common.

16.   Robertson Screws/Screwdriver: A type of screw with a square hole. 92 percent Canadian.

This is another word that, despite results, is 100 percent Canadian. The Robertson screw/screwdriver is named after its Canadian inventor. The reason why it isn’t popular in the United States is because of a dispute involving Henry Ford.

In the U.S., those who are familiar with this type of screwdriver call it a “square head.”

The following comment was left by one of the Commonwealth respondents, “Note – only familiar through professional use, very uncommon fixing in UK, generally in applications that require tamper-resistant fixing as tools are uncommon.”

Among the Canadians who are unfamiliar or don’t use the word, I can only assume they aren’t familiar with tools, in general.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 86% 79% 2%
Familiar but not used 9% 5% 6%
Familiar and used 5% 16% 92%
17 Keener
Image by Jules Sherred.

17.   Keener: A brown-noser. 77 percent Canadian.

Brown-noser, suck-up, and kiss-ass were the most common alternatives given.

Out of the 11.5 percent of Canadians unfamiliar with the term, 66 percent were from Ontario. Out of the 11.5 percent of Canadians who were familiar but didn’t use the term, 50 percent were from Ontario.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 95% 90% 11.5%
Familiar but not used 5% 5% 11.5%
Familiar and used 0% 5% 77%
18 Jiffy Marker
Image by Jiffco.

18.   Jiffy Marker: A generic term for permanent markers, similar to how people use “Q-tip” for all cotton swabs or “Kleenex” for all paper tissue. Regional with 31 percent of Canadians who regularly use the term.

This was one of the few responses that were answered in the way I had expected. I expected many more words to be regional dialects and not be the result of sociolects, as was demonstrated. A Jiffy marker is a brand name for an amazing type of marker created by a Vancouver-based company. When I was in school, all permanent markers in the classroom were Jiffy markers.

When it comes to breakdown, it worked out as British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan versus Manitoba through the Maritimes.

The most common alternatives in the United States are “Sharpie” and “magic marker.” In the Commonwealth countries, “felt-tip pen.” Among the Canadians who are not familiar with the awesome that is the Jiffy marker, “Sharpie” was the most common alternative.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 96% 89% 50%
Familiar but not used 3% 11% 19%
Familiar and used 1% 0% 31%
19 Hooped
Image by Jules Sherred.

19.   Hooped: Similar to FUBAR, if something is hooped, it is screwed up so badly that it probably can’t be fixed. 54 percent Canadian.

Hooped is one of my favourite words. I’ll also never forget the “what the what?!” face that greeted me the first time I used it when saying something to my partner.

The most common American alternatives given were: hopeless, royally screwed, and FUBAR.

FUBAR was the most common alternative given by those who live in the Commonwealth countries.

Canadians gave “borked” as their favourite alternative.

Among the 36 percent of Canadians who were unfamiliar with this term, 74 percent of them were from Ontario. Among the 10 percent who said they were familiar but didn’t use the word, 80 percent were from Ontario.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 90% 95% 36%
Familiar but not used 10% 5% 10%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 54%
20 Mickey
Product shot via BC Liquor Stores.

20.   Mickey: A measurement of alcohol, usually 13 ounces (375 millilitres). 88 percent Canadian.

After reading some of the American responses, a couple of American movies and television shows finally made sense. I once wondered to myself, “Why is slipping someone a mickey a bad thing? People would slip me mickeys all the time when I was in high school.” Then, I learned that “mickey’ is used how Canadians use “roofie.” Light bulb = DING! And a bunch of conversations with Americans also finally made sense.

While many Americans weren’t sure if there is an alternative, some suggested: jigger, pony, and mouse. Both “pony” and “mouse” have me confused. However, after reading the responses, I’m sure “mickey” confuses some Americans.

Canadians travelling to the United States: Do not ask someone to give you or buy you a mickey, or ask where you can get one.

Commonwealth respondents were stumped to come up with an equivalent.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 69% 89% 2%
Familiar but not used 27% 11% 10%
Familiar and used 4% 0% 88%
21 Two-Four or Flat
Image via BC Liquor Stores.

21.   Two-Four or Flat: A case of 24 cans of beer. 90 percent Canadian.

Some Americans said that the alternative word is “case.” In Canada, a “case” is commonly reserved for 12 beers, while a half-sack is what we call it when you purchase a case of six beers. I nearly included our definition of “case” and “half-sack” in the list, but I already had a lot of alcohol-related terms.

In the UK, beer is purchased in different quantities.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 86% 95% 4%
Familiar but not used 10% 5% 6%
Familiar and used 4% 0% 90%
22 Twenty-Sixer or Twixer
Image via BC Liquor Stores.

22.   Twenty-Sixer or Twixer: A bottle of alcohol containing 750 millilitres (just over 25 ounces). 64 percent Canadian.

The most common American alternatives given were “bottle” and “fifth.” I have two questions. The first question: A fifth of what? The second question: When sending someone to the liquor store, how do they know what size to get if you don’t have different names?

“Bottle” was also the alternative given by the Commonwealth respondents. My second question, I also ask of them.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 98% 100% 17%
Familiar but not used 2% 0% 19%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 64%
23 Forty-Pounder
Image via BC Liquor Stores.

23.   Forty-Pounder: A bottle of alcohol containing 40 ounces (1.14 litres). 60 percent Canadian.

The American alternatives given were “40” and “40-ouncer.” Again, no Commonwealth alternative.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 93% 100% 27%
Familiar but not used 6% 0% 13%
Familiar and used 1% 0% 60%
24 Sixty-Pounder
Image via BC Liquor Stores.

24.   Sixty-Pounder: A bottle of alcohol containing 66 ounces (1.75 litres). Sociolect, with 39 percent of Canadians using this term.

Many Americans commented, “not sure this quantity even exists.” One American said, “You guys are clearly way more serious about your drinking.” To which I have to say, “Yes, we are <insert joke about our first prime minister being an alcoholic here>.”

Once again, no alternative in the Commonwealth countries.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 97% 100% 42%
Familiar but not used 3% 0% 19%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 39%
25 Texas Mickey
Image via Liquor Connect.

25.   Texas Mickey: A bottle of alcohol containing 3 litres (101 ounces). Sociolect, with 46 percent of Canadians using this term.

One American commented, “They make those?! Jesus Christ, Seriously?!” Yes, seriously.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 99% 100% 33%
Familiar but not used 0% 0% 21%
Familiar and used 1% 0% 46%
26 Pablum
Pablum cereal carton (center), circa 1935. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

26.   Pablum: A type of infant food. 71 percent Canadian.

Despite the results, this word is 100 percent Canadian. Invented by a Canadian pediatrician, Pablum was the recommended first food for infants, no sooner than six months of age, followed by the introduction of sweet potatoes and squash. In 2012, the Canadian guidelines changed to meat at six months, in addition to Pablum, followed by root vegetables. Fruit is always the last recommended food to introduce to your baby.

The other less-used word for Pablum is “infant cereal.”

The words really stumped everyone who was not Canadian, with suggestions ranging from “Gerber” (which would cause me to assume you mean jarred meat, vegetables, and fruit) and “baby food” (which would lead me to assume the same about jarred food) from Americans, and “rusk” from those in the Commonwealth countries.

It also made me wonder to what extent we feed our babies differently.

As for the Canadians who are unfamiliar with the term, I can only wonder about their family status.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 62% 100% 10%
Familiar but not used 27% 0% 19%
Familiar and used 11% 0% 71%
27 Chip Truck
Some rights reserved by Geoff Peters 604 via Flickr.

27.   Chip Truck: A type of food truck that typically serves chips (French fries, hot dogs, hamburgers, fish and chips, etc.) Sociolect, with 50 percent of Canadians using this term.

The number one alternative Americans gave was “food truck”, with “burger truck” being the number one alternative among Commonwealth respondents.

One American commented, “Chip truck is a semi hauling wood chips.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 83% 79% 29%
Familiar but not used 17% 21% 21%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 50%
28 Give'r
Image by Jules Sherred.

28.   Give’r: To put in an enormous amount of effort. 71 percent Canadian.

In other words, “to give it all you’ve got.” Some Americans added, “the good old college try” or “elbow grease,” though I’m not sure the latter is synonymous. When you tell someone to “give’r,” you’re telling them to give so much effort that they bleed, and perhaps, even die. A few people said, “Give it 110 percent,” while adding, “We’re bad at math.” “Give it 110 percent” would probably be the most accurate equivalent.

Out of the three Canadians who were unfamiliar with this term, 66 percent were from Ontario. Of the 23 percent of Canadians who were familiar but don’t use the term, 58 percent were from Ontario.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 87% 100% 6%
Familiar but not used 10% 0% 23%
Familiar and used 3% 0% 71%
29 All-Dressed
Some rights reserved by Chinkerfly via Flickr.

29.   All-Dressed: A type of potato chip. Or, if you are having an “all-dressed” hot dog or hamburger, you are having it with all the fixins. Also, pizza with pepperoni, green peppers, and mushroom. 94 percent Canadian.

This term I fully expected no one outside of Canada to know. The United States has waffle and chicken chips. Canada has all-dressed and ketchup chips. I suppose you can say all-dressed chips are as Canadian as poutine and maple syrup.

As for the definition in regards to hot dogs and hamburgers, “the works” and “everything” is the U.S. equivalents, while people in the Commonwealth countries noted that they ask for dressing individually.

The two Canadians who were unfamiliar with the term were both from Ontario.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 89% 100% 4%
Familiar but not used 9% 0% 2%
Familiar and used 2% 0% 94%
30 Take off!
Image by Jules Sherred.

30.   “Take off!”: “Are you serious?” “Are you kidding?” No way!” Sociolect, 35 percent of Canadians using this term.

Of the Americans who said they were familiar with this term, even if they don’t use it, they attributed their knowledge to the movie Strange Brew. Some Canadians remarked that, even though they are familiar with the word, they haven’t used it since the days of “hoser,” and said it is outdated. I’m not sure if it is outdated, as the difference between people who know the word but don’t use it, and those who do use it was four people. Maybe those of us who do use it are just getting old.

Out of the 23 percent of Canadians who were unfamiliar with this word, 46 percent were from Ontario, and just over 50 percent of those who know the term but don’t use it were also from Ontario.

The most common alternatives given were: “Get out!” “Seriously?!” For real?” “Shut up!” “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 61% 90% 23%
Familiar but not used 32% 5% 42%
Familiar and used 7% 5% 35%
31 BFI Bin
Image copyright BFI Canada.

31.   BFI Bin: A dumpster. This word appears to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Pronounced “biffy” in the olden times, when I was a wee lad, we would call the bin or dumpster “biffy,” after the company.

Among Americans, the common alternative is “dumpster.” For those who reside within the Commonwealth countries, the alternatives are “bin” and “skip.” Canadians have moved to an equal mix of American and UK English, with an equal number of Canadians saying they usually use “bin” or “dumpster.”

The following comments were left by Americans:

–          I learned it from Canadians.

–          “Biffy.”

–          We just say dumpster, though we have BFI down here, too, in some areas. (From a person living in Arizona.)

–          When we had BFI in our community, I’d hear that term, but I haven’t seen that since I was a kid. (From a person living in Colorado.)

One Canadian from Alberta said, “Yes, BFI is the company, but not heard anyone refer to the bins as BFIs.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 95% 100% 78%
Familiar but not used 5% 0% 10%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 12%
32 Kangaroo Jacket
Image by Jules Sherred.

32.   Kangaroo Jacket: This term is now only amongst us “old” people. Among the younger people, they refer to it as a “hoodie.” Regional Western Canadian word.

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. I should note that “kangaroo jacket” tends to be reserved for the type of hooded sweatshirt that doesn’t have a zipper and has pockets in the front. People in the Prairie Provinces also refer to it as a “bunny hug.”

One American remarked, “Only used jokingly and rarely by the people now 70+.”

One person from the UK remarked, “I see where the older term is going with the pocket on the front), hoodie also used disparagingly to refer to youth hanging about, possibly from dissatisfaction/disenfranchisement, perceived potential for juvenile crimes in commission/conspiracy.”

Out of the 17 percent of Canadians who are familiar with this term but don’t use it, 60 percent are from the western provinces. Among the 31 percent who do use the term, 81 percent are from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 94% 100% 52%
Familiar but not used 6% 0% 17%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 31%
33 Freezies
Image copyright Kisko Freezies.

33.   Freezies: Frozen flavoured sugar water that comes in a tube. 98 percent Canadian.

I had to look up one of the American equivalents: Otter Pops. Yes, that is exactly what these are, but in Canada, they are Mr. Freeze Freezies. The other alternatives given, such as “popsicle” and “frosties,” are not at all the same thing. At least, they would mean something entirely different in Canada.

One American noted that the only reason they were familiar with “freezies” was because of @mrwordsworth.

As for the Commonwealth equivalent of “ice pole,” I’m going to have to guess and say that they are the same thing.

The one Canadian who doesn’t use this word is from Ontario.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 73% 89% 0%
Familiar but not used 15% 11% 2%
Familiar and used 12% 0% 98%
34 Stagette
Some rights reserved by ginsnob via Flickr.

34.   Stagette: A female-only bachelor party. 75 percent Canadian

The most common alternative among American respondents was “bachelorette” and “hen party.” “Among Commonwealth individuals, the equivalent is “hen party.”

I’m not sure how well “hen party” would go over for some people in Canada. Calling a female a “hen” or a “cow” isn’t acceptable to many. For some, it is worse than calling them the b-word.

Out of the 10 percent of Canadians unfamiliar with the term, 80 percent were from Ontario. Is that the result of a micro-sociolect?

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 77% 95% 10%
Familiar but not used 19% 5% 15%
Familiar and used 4% 0% 75%
35 Turfed out
Image by Jules Sherred.

35.   Turfed Out: When someone is evicted from their home, thrown out of a bar, or when you throw something away. Sociolect, with 37 percent of Canadians using this term.

This was one of the closest scoring sociolects, with 17 unfamiliar, 16 familiar but not using it, and 19 familiar and using it.

The most common alternatives among Americans were “thrown out” and “evicted.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 87% 5% 32%
Familiar but not used 10% 11% 31%
Familiar and used 3% 84% 37%
36 Gotch
Walmart product image.

36.   Gotch: Men’s underpants, usually of the brief variety. Sociolect, with 27 percent of Canadians using this term, or the equally acceptable “ginch” and “gonch.”

Americans call them “briefs” or “tighty-whities.” In the Commonwealth countries, they are “pants.” Admittedly, for some Canadians (myself included), they are also called “pants.” One Canadian remarked, “Underpants is a much more hilarious word now.” If Canadians are not calling them “pants,” then they are calling them by the more common “underwear.” The one American who said they use this word also remarked that their husband is Canadian.

Out of the 44 percent of Canadians who were unfamiliar with this sociolect, 52 percent of them were from Ontario. The difference between “familiar and not used” and “familiar and used” was one person.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 97% 100% 44%
Familiar but not used 2% 0% 29%
Familiar and used 1% 0% 27%
37 Hydro
BC Hydro’s Ruskin Generating Station in Ruskin, British Columbia. Licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic via Wikimedia Commons.

37.   Hydro: Electrical power and heating. 69 percent Canadian.

In British Columbia and many provinces across Canada, our main source of electricity and heat is from hydro power. In fact, Canada is one of the top producers of hydroelectricity in the world, accounting for 58 percent of all electric generation in 2007. Many of our provincial hydro providers use the word “hydro” in their names: BC Hydro, Manitoba Hydro, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Hydro One, etc. Prince Edward Island is the only province that does not have a hydroelectric power station.

The one respondent from Scotland noted that they do the same as the result of “Scottish Hydro Electric,” who supplies power to Perth and the surrounding area.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 60% 37% 0%
Familiar but not used 30% 47% 31%
Familiar and used 10% 16% 69%
38 Skookum
Image by Jules Sherred.

38.   Skookum: Mainly heard in British Columbia, it means: strong, awesome, great, good, best, etc. Regional, with all of the 10 percent who use this term living in British Columbia.

For the complete definition of this term, based on Chinook Jargon, head on over to Wikipedia.

I was actually surprised by the number of non-British Columbians who are familiar with this term. Then, I remembered that “Skookum” has been used on SCTV and other Canadian television shows.

Of the three Americans who used this word, two of them live in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington), with one person from Minnesota.

The one person living in England who is familiar with this term, even though they don’t use it, noted that it was the result of seeing me use it.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 90% 95% 61%
Familiar but not used 7% 5% 29%
Familiar and used 3% 0% 10%
39 Fill Your Boots!
Image by Jules Sherred.

39.   “Fill Your Boots!”: “Whatever floats your boat!” “Whatever creams your coffee!” “Do it if it makes you happy!” Sociolect, with 33 percent of Canadians using this term.

In the United States, “Whatever floats your boat” and “Whatever trips your trigger” were the most common alternatives, with “Whatever floats your boat” being the most common throughout the Commonwealth countries.

Out of the 55 percent of Canadians who said they were unfamiliar with this phrase, 55 percent were from the Toronto area, and 24 percent were from Alberta.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 93% 11% 55%
Familiar but not used 7% 26% 12%
Familiar and used 0% 63% 33%
40 Bugger the dog
Image by Jules Sherred.

40.   “Bugger The Dog”: If someone is “buggering the dog,” they are being lazy or doing a job very slowly, taking their time. Sociolect, with 21 percent of Canadians using this term.

Yes, the regular term is a bit ruder, but it can’t be used on GeekMom, hence the use of the word “bugger.” “Bugger” is equally rude, but would get by U.S. censors because of the lack of profane meaning in the United States. It’s like the time Captain Picard got away with swearing because he said “merde.”

I wonder how much the Canadian results would have changed if I used the slightly less-polite wording?

“Bugger the dog” is not to be confused with “screw the pooch.” They have two completely different meanings.

“Lollygag” is kind of similar, but not really.

One of the Commonwealth respondents said they were familiar with the term thanks to its mention in the September 18, 2013 episode of QI, when a Canadian guest made mention of it.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 89% 100% 61%
Familiar but not used 11% 0% 17%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 21%
41 Pogey
Image by Jules Sherred.

41.   Pogey: Employment Insurance (Unemployment Insurance in the United States). Sociolect, with 44 percent of Canadians using this term.

A couple of Americans noted that they only refer to it as “unemployment.” In Canada, the full term is “Employment Insurance,” but most people simply refer to it as “EI.”

Once upon a time, it was called “Unemployment Insurance” or “UI,” but that changed because the “unemployment” part of it is deceptive. In Canada, not only do you receive EI if you are laid off from your job, but you also receive it for extended medical leaves, the birth or adoption of a child, if your child dies, if you have to take care of a family member with a terminal illness such as cancer, and more. When you are on EI, your employer must hold your job, filling it as a temporary position, while you are on leave.

The most common alternative noted by both Americans and those living in the Commonwealth countries was “dole.” In Canada, “dole” would mean welfare/income assistance.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 95% 95% 21%
Familiar but not used 5% 5% 35%
Familiar and used 0% 0% 44%
42 Serviette
Walmart product shot.

42.   Serviette: Commonly called a “napkin” in the United States. 58 percent Canadian.

Some Canadians commented that they only use “serviette” for the paper type and that “napkin” is reserved for the cloth type. Others said they use “serviette” for both the paper and the cloth types. Others said they use both terms interchangeably with equal frequency.

  United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 50% 0% 0%
Familiar but not used 42% 5% 42%
Familiar and used 8% 95% 58%

 

Questionable Results

43 Chocolate Bar
Snickers chocolate bar, cut in half. Made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons.

1.       Chocolate Bar: Commonly called a candy bar in the United States. 100 percent Canadian.

The reason why this word is on the “questionable” results list is because many Americans responded with, “But only if 100 percent chocolate,” or something similar in nature. In Canada, the term “chocolate bar” is used for all bars that contain any amount of chocolate, even if it is a bar of candy covered in chocolate. A Skor is one example. This term isn’t reserved for bars that are solely made of chocolate.

The most common American alternative was “Hershey bar.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 2% 0% 0%
Familiar but not used 35.5% 0% 0%
Familiar and used 62.5% 100% 100%
44 Track Pants
Hard Candy Piped Skinny Track Pants. Walmart product shot.

2.       Track Pants: Jogging pants or sweatpants in other places. 81 percent Canadian.

The reason why this word is on the “questionable” list is because a large number of Americans responded with, “I am familiar with this term, but I never used it or have I heard it used in my area” and “I am familiar with this word and I use it regularly, or it is used in my area.” However, then they went on to say, “Not the same as sweatpants” or they added a description for “track pants” as something other than fleece pants, when I mean them to be synonymous with sweatpants.

The most common Commonwealth alternative was “jogging pants.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 20% 21% 0%
Familiar but not used 50% 63% 19%
Familiar and used 30% 16% 81%
45 Rubber
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

3.       Rubber: Found at the end of a pencil or sold individually, to erase pencil marks. Sometimes used as slang for a condom. In Canada, the use of the word “rubber” to mean “eraser” is a sociolect.

The conflicting results for this word could be the result of me adding, “Sometimes used as a slang for a condom.” Most American respondents focused on the “condom” use and not the “eraser” use, as intended. The majority of the 68 percent in the “familiar but not used” category stated, “But only used as slang for condom.”

By comparison, Canadians specifically left comments stating that “rubber” is a very old slang word for condom, noting that “rubber” is most commonly known to be an “eraser,” even if they don’t use the term themselves. The difference between “familiar but not used” and “familiar and used” was six people.

In the Commonwealth, people left notes that “rubber Johnie” is the sometimes used as slang for “condom.”

The takeaway for Canadians: Yes, Americans may know the word “rubber,” but not in terms of “eraser.” If you want to avoid confusion, you may want to remember to not use this word, like I have, quite often, while in the United States. No wonder people were confused and sometimes, shocked.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 21% 0% 8%
Familiar but not used 68% 0% 52%
Familiar and used 12% 100% 40%
46 Thongs
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

4.       Thongs: A type of shoe. Though sometimes, also used to refer to g-string underpants. 75 percent Canadian.

This is another word that I question for the same reasons as “rubber.” I cannot help but to wonder how different the results would have been if I had taken out the “sometimes” part. Again, for the same reasons as above, with many Americans stating they use it often, but then added, “But only for the g-string” in the “other” box, adding that they no longer hear it in reference to the shoe.

Given how Americans responded, I’m not sure I feel confident re-starting use of the term “thongs” for the shoe when I’m down there.

The most common alternative given was “flip flops.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 13% 26.3% 4%
Familiar but not used 25% 47.3% 21%
Familiar and used 62% 26.3% 75%
47 College
Camosun College image by the Province of British Columbia.

5.       College: A post-secondary institution where one goes to learn a trade, get a 1-year certificate, study health care fields (LPN, RCA, medical support staff, dental hygienist, etc.), train office support staff, or get a 2-year diploma, or take university prep courses/upgrading. 92 percent Canadian.

The reason why this word is on the “questionable” list is because most Americans said it can be used interchangeably with “university,” when in Canada they cannot. They are two entirely different types of schools. You cannot get a 4-year (or more) degree at a college. Some Canadian universities have colleges inside of them, but they offer different programmes, with very different “pieces of paper” and qualifications when you are finished. Also, there was one person who called a 2-year diploma a “degree.” Here, a “degree” requires a minimum of four years or equivalent credit hours.

The most common alternative words in the United States are: trade or vocational school, junior college, community college (which again is a whole other kettle of fish in Canada), and technical institute.

One person from New Zealand remarked that “college” means “secondary school” in their location.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 25% 5% 0%
Familiar but not used 21% 5% 8%
Familiar and used 53% 90% 92%
48 Lineup or queue
Customers waiting in line to check out at the Whole Foods on Houston Street in New York City’s East Village. Image by David Shankbone licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported via Wikimedia Commons.

6.       Lineup or Queue: You stand in a lineup or queue when going to see a movie or waiting to pay for your groceries, etc. 98 percent Canadian.

The reason why this word is in the “questionable” category is because even though 58 percent of Americans said they were familiar with this term even if they don’t use it, most of them also commented that they are only familiar with “queue” and not the more common “lineup,” further stating that they use “in line.”

I also question the Commonwealth results, as some people also commented that they are not familiar with “lineup.”

The one Torontonian who responded with “unfamiliar” used the American “in line.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 6% 5% 2%
Familiar but not used 58% 16% 0%
Familiar and used 37% 79% 98%
49 Brown bread
Thrifty Foods product shot.

7.       Brown Bread: Bread that is brown in colour, made with various percentages of whole wheat. When ordering toast in a restaurant, they will ask, “Do you want your toast white or brown?” 98 percent Canadian.

This is included in this category because too many Americans responded with “familiar and used,” but then stated that it referred to a specific type of bread.

The American alternatives were “whole wheat” and “wheat bread.”

Some comments of note include:

–          Usually used for a high molasses content bread, possibly not containing any whole wheat.

–          Only Boston Brown Bread, which is baked in a can.

–          What do you guys call pumpernickel or dark rye, then? That’s what I mean when I say brown bread.

To answer the question, we call it by the type of bread: “pumpernickel” or “dark rye” or “sourdough” (though sourdough is a white bread), etc.

The one Canadian who responded with “familiar but not used,” was from Toronto.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 44% 0% 2%
Familiar but not used 40% 0% 0%
Familiar and used 16% 100% 98%
50 Pissed
Licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license via Wikimedia Commons.

8.       Pissed: When used alone, it means “drunk.” Denotes anger when used as “pissed off.” 94 percent Canadian.

The reason why this word is on the “questionable” list is because over half the people who said they used “pissed” also said, “It doesn’t mean drunk.” My intent was specifically to ask about the singular “pissed.” The qualifier was so that people wouldn’t confuse it with “pissed off.” I’m probably at fault here for being vague.

A couple of Canadians mentioned that, in a few instances, “pissed” can be used to denote anger, depending on context. If you were to say to me, “He was so pissed,” I would assume you are talking about his extreme level of intoxication, as that sentence on its own is without context. Though, I only use “pissed off” to denote anger and never the singular “pissed,” within context, yes, I would know you meant a level of anger.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 10% 0% 0%
Familiar but not used 28% 0% 6%
Familiar and used 62% 100% 94%
51 Dish cloth
Excello Windowpane Combo Dish Cloth White and Black.

9.       Dish Cloth: A type of cloth used to wash the dishes. Sometimes, the more general term “washcloth” is used, though rarely. 96 percent Canadian.

For similar reasons stated above, the reason this word is on this list is because of the large number (over 50 percent) of Americans who selected “familiar and used” for this term in the context described above, but then stated in the “other” box, “Used to dry dishes” or comments very similar. Others commented that the alternative is “dish towel,” which, again, is an item used to dry dishes and not wash them.

The other American alternatives were: washcloth, sponge, and dish rag.

The other alternative given by both Canadians and other Commonwealth respondents was “dish rag.”

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 9% 0% 0%
Familiar but not used 11% 11% 4%
Familiar and used 80% 89% 96%
52 Housecoat
Some rights reserved by minor9th via Flickr.

10.   Housecoat: A type of robe generally worn by men. 88 percent Canadian.

Again, for similar reasons. A majority of Americans said they are familiar with the term, but then added, “Only used in reference to women.” A small sampling of these comments include:

–          A housecoat is typically a woman’s garb where I come from.

–          Housecoat would be considered effeminate. A man’s robe would just be a robe or bathrobe.

–          I don’t use it, but my grandmother did. (There were a few of these comments.)

–          Who wears coats in the house?

–          Women can use housecoats just as much as men.

Bathrobe was the number one alternative given by Americans. A bathrobe is a different type of garment. Bathrobes are made of terry cloth. Housecoats are not. Others said “robe.”

“Dressing gown” was the alternative given by those in the Commonwealth countries and by a couple of Canadians.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 33% 21% 0%
Familiar but not used 54% 53% 12%
Familiar and used 13% 26% 88%
Dressing gown
Dressing gown. Walmart product shot.

 

Honourable Mention

 1.       Two-Way Ticket: Referred to as “round-trip” or “return trip” in other places. Sociolect, with 37 percent of Canadians using this term.

If three people had answered “unfamiliar” instead of “familiar but not used,” this word would have made its way on the list of words for Canadians to avoid whilst in America.

In the United States, the most common alternative was “round-trip.”

In the Commonwealth countries, the most common alternative was “return ticket.”

Among Canadians, the alternatives were “return ticket” and “round-trip.” The difference between “familiar but not used” and “familiar and used” was six people.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 48% 37% 15%
Familiar but not used 37% 42% 48%
Familiar and used 15% 21% 37%

 

2.       No-See-Ums: A small biting insect. Sociolect, with 50 percent of Canadians using this term.

A no-see-um isn’t the name for an actual insect. It’s just what some call any of those annoying, small, biting insects that bite you, yet are unseen. You hear them. You feel them. But those bloody things… you just no-see-um. I suppose some of these no-see-ums would be gnats or chiggers or midges, if we could actually lay our eyes upon them.

One American added the following to their “familiar and used” response, “Almost exclusively preceded by an expletive.” To which I say, “Yes!”

Out of the 33 percent of Canadians who were unfamiliar with the term, 53 percent were from Ontario. Out of the 17 percent who were familiar with the word but don’t use it, 33.3 percent were from Ontario and 66.6 percent were from Alberta.

Just like with “two-way ticket,” this could have easily gone into the “unfamiliar” category.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 46% 95% 33%
Familiar but not used 17% 5% 17%
Familiar and used 37% 0% 50%

 

3.       Chesterfield: A couch or a sofa. Sociolect, with 54 percent of Canadians using this term.

Despite the Barenaked Ladies gaining popularity in the United States, there are still nearly 50 percent of Americans who are unfamiliar with this term. As with the other two honourable mentions, this could have easily gone into the “unfamiliar” category, if a couple of people gave different answers.

A couple of respondents from the Commonwealth countries said that “chesterfield” is reserved only for leather couches.

Of the 46 percent of Canadians who are familiar with the term but don’t use it, 58 percent of them were from Ontario.

United States Commonwealth Canada
Unfamiliar 47% 32% 0%
Familiar but not used 50% 36% 46%
Familiar and used 3% 32% 54%

 

If you want to read the full breakdown of all 82 words, then download this PDF.

Update: A follow-up to this post, including a mention from the Department of English at the University of British Columbia, can be found here.

Jules Sherred is a parent, author, radio personality, blogger and freelance writer, gamer, tech enthusiast, website designer, science nerd, sci-fi freak, hard core Trekker, and has an unnatural obsession with Optimus Prime. He/him/his.