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Quick Guide to Canadian Slang and Idioms

Image representing students learning about Canadian slang and idioms

Every English-speaking country has its own slang, informal language and other popular phrases that aren’t used anywhere else. In the past, we’ve talked about UK slang, American slang and Australian slang. Today we’re going to look at words used in casual, everyday speech in another important English-speaking country: Canada.

Many English learners think that, because Canada is next to the US, the two countries are very similar. It’s true that there are many similarities in Canadian and American culture, but when it comes to the way people speak, there are many differences, too.

One important reason for this is that English is not the only official language spoken in Canada. 22% of Canadians speak French as their first language and, although most of these people live in one part of the country (Quebec), this has an influence on other parts of Canadian language and culture, too.

Another cultural difference is that, although the US and Canada were both British colonies in the past, the US broke away hundreds of years ago. On the other hand, Canada only became officially independent in 1931 and is still part of the Commonwealth, a group of countries that were British colonies in the past but now work together in many different ways out of choice.

What’s more, the Queen of Canada is still the British Queen, Elizabeth II. She doesn’t have any real political power, but it means that the country is still closely connected to the UK. In fact the two countries share many cultural traits and values, for example the famous British/Canadian politeness that many other English-speaking countries joke about!

In fact, Canada shares many slang words and idioms with the UK that aren’t used in other English-speaking countries such as the US.

For example, British and Canadian people use holiday to mean time they take off from work or to travel abroad (e.g. “I’m going on holiday to Barbados”), whereas Americans usually call this a vacation.

Also, when Americans say school or college, they mean university. Canadians and Brits don’t use these words to mean anywhere that you would study for a degree. Colleges are generally places you go before university, or to get a different type of qualification.

in the UK or Canada, a stag party is the when a man who is about to get married (the stag) goes out to celebrate with this friends, usually to get very drunk and often wearing fancy dress. In America, this is called a bachelor party. However, in Canada the bride’s version is called a stagette party, whereas in the UK this is called a hen party or hen do.

Canadians and Brits also use the slang word kerfuffle to mean that a situation has become messy or complicated. For example, “I was on the phone to my bank for an hour trying to sort out the problem with my card. What a kerfuffle!”

Another thing that English learners often find confusing in Canada is that Canadians, like Australians and New Zealanders, often add the word eh (ay) to the end of sentences. It doesn’t really mean anything – it just turns the statement into a question or shows that you want the other person to respond in some way. For example: “This coffee’s good, eh”.

However, there are many slang words and phrases that are only used in Canada. Here are some of the most common.

Keener

Someone who seems to be trying to hard to impress their boss, teacher etc. For example: “Ben got to work at 7am to work on that presentation this morning. What a keener!”

Loonie / Toonie

A Canadian $1 coin is called a loonie because it has a picture of a Canadian bird called a loon on one side. Canadians also mix the words “two” and “loonie” to call a $2 coin a toonie.

Mickey

This is a bottle of liquor (alcoholic drink) that’s small enough to fit in your pocket.

Double-Double

A coffee order. It means two portions of cream (milk) and two of sugar.

Toque

A cosy winter hat.

Give’r

To put all your effort into something, or to force yourself to finish something difficult. For example: “I don’t think I can finish the last mile of this marathon!” “Yes you can! Just give’r!”

 

What’s your favourite Canadian slang word or phrase? Let us know in the comments section below!