Special Report

Canadian Slang and Phrases Americans Just Don't Understand

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Politics aside, Americans and Canadians are the best of neighbors. We share, peacefully, the longest international border between two nations, at 8,891 kilometres — or is it 5,525 miles long? We’re so close it’s almost surprising to find we don’t always speak the same language, eh?

Sure, we mostly all speak English, but there are many language nuances that often stem from cultural variations.

For one, our units differ. While Americans use their own customary system, Canadians mostly use the metric system. And while Americans fought the British for independence, Canada remains in the commonwealth and retains a major French heritage. In fact, both French and English are official languages in Canada and both have had an impact on Canadian English.

Here are some Canuck words that often have Americans scratching their heads as to their meaning. And, to be fair, here are 35 words Americans get wrong all the time.

To find Canadian words Americans might not understand, 24/7 Tempo reviewed different sources that listed Canadianisms.

Click here to read about Canadian slang and phrases Americans just don’t get

1. Humidex

Humidex is used by Canadian meteorologists to describe how hot the weather feels. It takes into account the humidity in the air and is short for humidity index. High humidity would make warm weather feel warmer. While similar to the U.S. heat index, it’s not the same.

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2. Toque – sometimes spelled tuque

Try to survive the Canadian winter without a toque, or a knitted hat or cap. Canadians won’t leave the house without one starting in October through April.

3. Fire hall

What Americans call a firehouse or fire station — the place where firefighters work — Canadians call a fire hall.

4. ‘Eh’

Pronounced like the letter A, Canadians use “eh” so often it has become an international joke. (How do you spell Canada? C eh N eh D eh…) “Eh” can be used to indicate misunderstanding, disbelief, or prod for a response in the same manner Americans would use “huh” or “right?”

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5. Homo milk

This is not an inappropriate slur. Homo is simply short for homogenized and refers to whole milk. Funny thing, all milk in Canada (1%, 2%) is homogenized, but homo milk only refers to the 3.25% fat.

6. Zed

Simply the last letter of the alphabet, what Americans call Zee.

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7. Caesar

If you’re a fan of spicy mixed drinks, try a Caesar next time you’re north of the border. Similar to a Bloody Mary — and many would argue far superior — it’s made with vodka, clamato juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, and garnished with a celery stick. Here’s a recipe.

8. Eavestroughs

Eaves are the parts of the roof that hang over a building. Trough is a long container to water animals. Eavestroughs are the channels that collect water from the roof — Americans know them as gutters.

9. Mickey

Alas, to many Americans “mickey” refers to a date rаpe drug. But to Canadians, a mickey — of whiskey, vodka, or any liquor — is a bottle usually shaped like a flask that’s half the size of a fifth (375 ml) and can easily fit in your (large) pocket or purse.

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10. Pencil crayons

Remember that in Canada French is an official language? So what Americans call “colored pencils” would be “crayon de couleur” in French. The result? Canadians call them pencil crayons (or pencil pencils?).

11. Brown bread

If a Canadian server asks you if you want brown or white toast with your eggs, he means whole wheat or white.

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12. Washroom

No, he doesn’t want to take a shower. When a Canadian asks you where the washroom is, he’s simply looking for the restroom.

13. Smarties and Rockets

Want to get totally confused? Smarties in Canada are M&M-like candies made by Nestle (M&Ms are made by Mars). And the tablet candies Americans call Smarties? Well, they’re called Rockets to avoid confusion with Smarties. But both Rockets and Smarties are made by Smarties Candy Company.

14. Snowbird

Retired Canadians, but really people of any age, who spend the winter in warmer climates are called snowbirds.

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15. Garburator

It sounds like a garbage-eating machine, and that’s exactly what it is — the garbage disposal device at the bottom of the kitchen sink. It’s likely a combination of the words garbage and macerator.

16. Klick

Klick is colloquial term for kilometre — or the American spelling kilometer — as in, “The store is just 7 klicks away.”

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17. Processed cheese

What Americans refer to as American cheese, Canadians call processed cheese. Enough said.

18. Deke

With origins in hockey (Canadians don’t specify ice hockey as that’s usually what they mean), deke means to take an opponent out of position by faking a move.

19. Stag and stagette parties

Americans have bachelors parties, but Canadians kept the British term — stag party. And the bachelorettes? They have a stagette.

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20. Two-four

Another uniquely Canadian boozy reference, this one simply means a case of 24 beers. “Case” usually refers to a case of 12 beers, and half-sack to a six pack (of beer).

21. Loonies and toonies

True, both countries call their currency “dollar,” but they’re not the same dollars. For one, Canada issues $1 coins — the loonies (or loonie), and $2 coins — the toonies (or toonie).

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22. Hydro

Because much of Canadian electricity comes from hydropower (water power), they simply refer to electricity as hydro. As in, “What a huge hydro bill I got this month!”

 

23. All-dressed

When a Canadian orders her burger or hot dog all dressed, she wants all the fixins. All-dressed is also a type of potato chips that combines the barbecue, salt and vinegar, and ketchup flavors. All-dressed pizza comes with pepperoni, mushrooms, and green peppers.

24. Toboggan

Fun activities are a must in the long, cold winter, and Canadians use a toboggan to go tobogganing when the snow is piling. That is, they use a narrow sled to slide downhill. The origin of the word is probably from an Algonquian language.

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25. KD

The world might think of KD as Kevin Durant, but in Canada, long before the multiple All-Star player joined the NBA, KD stood for Kraft Dinner, known in the U.S. as Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner or Kraft Mac & Cheese.

26. Double-double

While Tim Hortons is making a strong push into the U.S. — though not always with great success — the doughnut and coffee chain couldn’t be more popular in Canada. And when Canadians order a double-double coffee at Tim’s, it comes with two creams and two sugars.

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27. Nanaimo bar

This iconic no-bake coconutty, custardy, chocolatey dessert has its origins in Nanaimo, British Columbia. The Vancouver Island city website has a recipe for the ultimate Nanaimo bar.

Other uniquely Canadian foods include donair (spiced meat in pita invented in Halifax), poutine (fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy), and tourtiere (French-Canadian meat pie).

28. Runners

You might think of runners as a type of narrow tablecloth running down the middle of a table, but in Canada runners usually refers to any athletic footwear, such a sneakers or tennis shoes.

29. College

“College” in Canada generally refers to a two-year school with a specific focus, such as vocational, technical, or pre-collegiate education, that rarely offers a bachelor’s degree. University in Canada refers to schools that award bachelor’s degrees or higher.

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30. Molson muscle

What today has become a multinational brewing company (by merging with U.S.-based Coors) began as Molson Brewery in 1786 in Montreal. And a Molson muscle is simply a beer belly or potbelly.

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31. Pop and soda

When a Canadian asks what kind of pop you have, she’s asking about carbonated beverages like Coke and Pepsi. If she asks for a soda, she wants club soda.

32. Icing sugar, whitener, chocolate bar

Icing sugar in Canada is powdered or confectioner’s sugar in the U.S. Whitener refers to a non-dairy coffee creamer (powder or liquid). Chocolate bar refers to a candy bar.

33. Sorry

While Americans might fully understand the meaning of this word, it’s hard to explain how deeply ingrained it is in the Canadian culture and how it’s used. They may say “sorry” if you step on their foot, but also when they didn’t hear you well, as in “Sorry? I didn’t catch that.”

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34. The 6ix

Popularized by Drake, the 6ix, or the Six, refers to the city of Toronto — usually in the top seven most populous cities in North America, depending on the count.

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