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Do We Talk Funny? How We Speak in Canada vs. the US and UK

Canadian flag superimposed on map of Canada

To round out the week of fluff posts, I have a non-list post for you. I read a lot of blogs written by Americans, Brits, and assorted other folks from around the world. We don’t all write (or talk) the same way. These kinds of things interest me, do I thought I’d do a post about how we speak in Canada compared to how people speak in the US and US.

Much of the info in this post comes from Wikipedia.

Accent

Canadians do the cot-caught merger, i.e. we pronounce both words the same way. We also pronounce horse and hoarse the same way. The “Canadian shift” is a lowering of the position of the tongue in how we say certain vowel sounds, as in the words trap, dress, and kit.

We also do “Canadian raising,” which Wikipedia says “changes the pronunciation of diphthongs with open-vowel starting points.” I don’t actually know what that means, but this audio includes “about” (with Canadian raising), “a boot” (how Americans think Canadians say about) and “a boat” (which is presumably closer to how Americans say about).

Pronunciation

Perhaps because we have French-speaking areas, it seems like we’re more likely than Americans to pronounce French-derived words similar to their original French pronunciation. For example, I think most people here would say niche as neesh rather than nitch. However, we say the word lieutenant with the weird British pronunciation leff-tenant.

I learned recently from my friend Bill at Higher Times Mental Health that Americans tend to pronounce the surname Gagner phonetically (how ugly!), whereas we would say it the French way, gahn-YAY (I don’t actually know how to properly write words phonetically, so I’m really pulling that spelling out of my ass).

That brings me to another name that Americans pronounce strangely. Brett Favre used to be the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers (an American football team). Everyone pronounced his name Farve (reversing the v and the r). The French pronunciation would be FAHV-ruh, with my”ruh” meant to represent the French rolled r sound. I suppose at least farve is closer to that than FAH-vuhr, FAY-vuhr, or some other such form of mangling.

Spelling

We use a hybrid of British and American spellings. Since the internet came along, a lot of the writing I’m exposed to is American, so sometimes I don’t feel confident as to the preferred Canadian spelling for a given word.

For French-derived word endings, we use the British -our and -re instead of the American. We also go with the Brits by usually doubling consonants when adding a suffix, as in journalled or counsellor rather than journaled or counselor (funny, my browser spell-checker thinks I should write journaled but counsellor). On the other hand, we use American -ize endings instead of British -ise (e.g. realize rather than realise).

Measurement

We use metric, except when we don’t. We talk about temperate outside in Celsius, but oven temperature in Fahrenheit. Distance is kilometres (although people older than my parents probably still think in terms of miles), but a person’s height and weight are feet/inches and pounds. I buy a 4 litre jug of milk, but in my printer, I use 8.5″x11″ paper.

I’m not sure if other Canadians are as confused as I am, but it seems like it’s hard to know for sure what a numerically written date means. The Government of Canada recommends YYYY-MM-DD, but DD/MM/YY and MM/DD/YY also get used. If I saw the date 01/07/08, I would have no idea what it was referring to.

Canadianisms

There are some words that we’ve either made up or that we use more often than in other countries. Some of these I didn’t even realize were Canadianisms.

Some examples:

  • bachelor apartment: also known as a studio apartment in the US (and I don’t know what it’s called in the UK), this is an apartment that doesn’t have a bedroom separate from the main living area
  • chesterfield: this is originally British, but apparently it’s mostly used in Canada now, although the only person I’ve ever heard talk about chesterfields is my grandma
  • eavestrough: rain gutter
  • fire hall: the place where the firefighters work from
  • garburator: also known as a garbage disposal in the US, and I don’t think they exist in the UK, these are attached under the sink and grind up food scraps
  • ginch/gonch/gitch/gotch (all pronounced with a hard g): male underwear; the preferred term of choice varies regionally
  • housecoat: also known as a bathrobe; to me, housecoat sounds more old-fashioned, and I wouldn’t think of a terry-cloth robe as a housecoat
  • parkade: a structure in which people can park cars
  • pop: soda in the US, fizzy drink in the UK
  • pencil crayon: coloured pencil
  • riding: an electoral district
  • stagette: a bachelorette party (US) or hen (UK); the male equivalent would be a stag
  • toque: a winter hat, usually with a pop-pom; Americans would probably call this a beanie, but I don’t think it’s the same shape
  • washroom: I think we use washroom the way Americans use restroom. this may also go by public toilet or public lavatory. I might use the term washroom if I was visiting someone’s house and needed to ask where the toilet was, but I would use bathroom to refer to the toilet room in my own home.

Hockey-speak

Then there’s hockey-speak, like drop the gloves (get ready to fight), deke (fake an opponent out and then dodge around them), and stickhandle (skillfully manoeuvre).

Food

  • Cheezies: cheese puff snack things, so, so different from Cheetos
  • Double-double: a coffee order at Tim Hortons meaning 2 cream, 2 sugar; my hometown didn’t have a Timmies, so I didn’t learn what this meant until I was an adult
  • Freezie: a stick of frozen water, sugar, usually fruity flavour, and food colouring – when I was a kid, the nearby corner store always had scissors on hand to cut upon kids’ Freezies for them (blue freezie for me, please and thank you)
  • Kraft Dinner (KD): mac and cheese that comes in a box with dried macaroni and orange fake cheese powder, also known as Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in the US

Whether you are or aren’t Canadian, were you familiar with any of these? Any fun quicks of your local lingo you’d like to add?

91 thoughts on “Do We Talk Funny? How We Speak in Canada vs. the US and UK”

  1. I had no idea we said trap, dress and kit differently. It can’t be! I stubbornly add u to colour, neighbour, etc. and spellcheck underlines everything! thanks for posting this!

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