Miscellaneous

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?

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

      1. That’s true! It is unsweetened. That doesn’t prevent people from adding sugar though :)..I love hearing about all the differences and similarities in different places.

  1. When I read the title, I’m embarrassed to say I almost instantly said yes. Every so often, I’ll make up words on the go when I can’t figure out the word I was trying to use. That or talk gibberish like sjbch saimrwba so d. Like literally, that would be an accurate representation of what I say.

    As for the lingo, none come to mind, but I’m sure they pop up randomly whilst I talk or write.

      1. I do gibberish. I say things wtih made-up, weird-sounding words that make no sense (not even to me) and sometimes even enjoy saying them to other people (not just myself.) The things we do when bored, alas.

          1. Yeah but because I often do these things WHILST bored, I have actually had a good friend tell me he will block my emails if they continue to contain gibberish.

          2. Hey Alex,

            Best to be-end I go rurashka rashka, once bien de-faux gashka rashka rubio. One to be-end we got to go gashka rubio, bien bien porta magashka mensko.

            I sloop at the op of pre-endepaux. Most remrocks are pre-margified in the midsock.

            I’ll see what I canpubie once kenterrio beats the monjo. In the mean-faux don’t lima costiop. It won’t pre-omp in the bong one.

            Andy

            1. Hahaha – I just talked to that guy last night, my friend since New Years Eve of 1978. He’s the head of a broadband company now & might float me a MacBook to help me with the sound design. Happy New Year!!

            2. Yeah it is. Yesterday was a crazy day and I forgot to call him. I’ll do that today. He was talking $550 which is cool; I’ve got $750 in the budget.

      1. I find myself using “whilst” at times when I really want to emphasize the conjunction. As in: “No, I didn’t do it AFTER I slept, I did it WHILST I slept.” I may be the only person who does that, but it’s what I find myself doing.

          1. I think the first time I ever heard “whilst” was back in the 70’s when the British rock group CREAM had some more-or-less sexist lyrics: “I’m gonna buy me a bulldog / Watch my woman whilst I sleep” — I’ve since then come to associate “whilst” with UK as well. But I notice a lot of us here in the States have picked up on it.

  2. I love this post. “Chesterfield” is a word I adore that brings blank stares south of the border. They do odd thing with pronunciations: the one that drives me nuts is the addition of the “r” between “a” and “s” as in “I live in Warshington State.”

    They also don’t have Smarties, eh?

    And one mustn’t forget the truly Canadian “yes-no” and subsequent variations.

    Coo loo coo, coo coo coo coo (Bob and Doug, The Great White North) 😉

  3. Ridings are a very old administrative unit in England, going back to the Vikings, I think (over a thousand years). I thought they were only in Yorkshire these days, but Wikipedia says Linsey in Lincolnshire has ridings too.

  4. My main boss at work constantly makes Canadian jokes at me. All in good fun though. Just the other day I was shopping (I work at a main grocery/retail outlet. So he was still at work lolll) and he jokingly said TACOS ARE NOT CANADIAN….and proceeded to ask if I was going to put maple syrup on them. xD He always laughs when I say pasta..which I am unsure if Canadians pronounce it wrong or it is just left over from my speech problems which I naturally have had since a child. Either way I laugh and say nothing.

    Funny thing is….Most accents are not necessarily always Canadian or American, rather the area you grew up in. I find west coast BCers sound similar to Californians. xD Not every Canadian says eh, that is more of an eastern thing where I grew up on a remote island in BC where everyone ended their sentences with heyyyy. Michiganers where I now reside, sound similar to some Canadians especially given the fact they are right below Canada. I always found the accent thing and how we label it by origin to be funny because it is not always the case.

      1. Aha Same. I was born in the east and spent time there, but also spent my teen years and some of my twenties in BC. Never said eh. xD I think I use to say hey though when I lived out west. lolll

  5. This was a fun post. Regional accents are fun too. I come from a part of the USA not particularly famous for having a regional accent, although I’ve been told by some Americans from other parts of the country that I have a noticeable state-specific accent. The funny thing is that I find that I have tendency to pick up accents in one-on-one conversation. I’ve noticed when I traveled to another part of the country with a strong regional accent, I’d have conversations with taxi drivers and find myself developing a bit of their accent. It wasn’t intentional and certainly wasn’t in jest! Just an odd habit.

    As a former French student, mispronunciation of French words by fellow Americans bothers me. We were going to a French restaurant and Husband kept pronouncing the name wrong. I’d correct him with how it’s supposed to be pronounced in French, and he’d say that this is how Americans pronounce it, and it drove me crazy! Just because Americans do not learn other languages does not make mispronunciation correct! (I also think he was doing this on purpose to annoy me).

    “Pop” is used instead of “soda” in parts of the US.

    When I worked for a multinational corporation, there were strict conventions around writing dates in 29-Dec-2021 format. Too much potential for confusion otherwise!

  6. I don’t know much about Canada and it’s language dialects. Are you guys more of American or British English or perhaps a little bit of both? The first time I travelled to Canada— i had no idea that it’s a French speaking country ; it was an interesting know moment.
    I’m experienced with both American and British english- the pronunciations,spellings and dialects can be quite annoying sometimes— for example, color(American) and colour (British) when the teacher/lecturer only thinks the color is right yet both are right lol. Same for neighbour, labour, humour, etc
    Another example, In British English, when ‘r’ comes after a vowel in the same syllable (as in car, hard, or market), the ‘r’ is not pronounced. In American English the r is pronounced.
    French fries are referred to as chips in British, a cookie as a biscuit… There are so many interesting differences.

    1. I think Canadian English is probably closer to American than British overall, and our pronunciation is much closer to American. It seems like we say our vowels a bit differently from Americans, but we don’t drop consonants like the way Brits drop the r.

      Canada seems to have less regional variation compared to both the US and the UK. Aside from a couple of areas that have quite distinct accents, if I heard a Canadian speaking, I probably wouldn’t be able to identify what part of Canada they’re from.

  7. Just love these kinds of words that mean different things in Canada, the UK and the US. There is always “ring” or “ring up” for calling on the telephone. I do not know if the euphemism still holds with cell phones? Most fun to me is when the confusion leads to laughter.

      1. Going off on a bit of a tangent, I haven’t had a landline in years, but one thing I kind of miss about them was that you could slam the phone down and hang up on someone with emphasis. Pressing the end call button just doesn’t give the same satisfaction.

        1. Haha that’s true! I haven’t had one at home in a long time, but do use them at work. Have yet to slam one in frustration though thank goodness 🤣 I have finally met a handful of 5-year-olds this year who didn’t recognise the object.

  8. I laughed and laughed ….But I will first disabuse you of the idea that sweet tea is not common in the US – it is ALL TOO common but particular to the South and Southwest. I live in Virginia, the Old South (as opposed to the Deep South) and if you want UNsweetened iced tea you have to ask for it specifically. My local Popeye’s has the beverage dispensers as self-serve and there is one for Iced Tea and one for Sweet Tea… all those damn yankees have to be accommodated. Sweet tea is the norm in the American South. Pop versus soda – oh Americans argue over that one. I’m from New York City, my husband is from Boston, MA – we DO NOT speak the same language.

    I did a post (you may remember) about the different accents just within New York City, there are also different language usages along with the different accents. Despite the population of the USA being very mobile regionalisms are still very much with us and one still needs a translator traveling across the country – We only think we are speaking the same English in this country – we are not LOL

    As for Americans not pronouncing words directly imported from another language correctly – that just embarrasses me, quite frankly. When I moved from NYC to Northern Vermont, where French names are very much in evidence, I pronounced French words, well, the French way. There is a town in Vermont named Calais. I pronounced it Ka-lay and was informed, very snippily, that it was pronounced ‘Callous’. What went unsaid was “Stupid Flatlander”

    1. Callous? Wow, that sounds all kinds of backwoods.

      That was an awesome post you did about NYC lingo and accents! We have a lot less regional variation here in than in the US, with the exception of Newfoundland, where they might as well be speaking a different language. One Ontario variation that other Canadians like to make fun of is saying Toronto as if it rhymes with piranha (the anglicized version, not the Portuguese version where nh is pronounced ñ).

      1. Wait, how in hell do you get Toronto to rhyme with piranha? We used to watch the tv show “Republic of Doyle” so I kinda know a little Newfie. But Canadian pronunciation of ‘filet’ (fill-it) and ‘pasta’ always make me twitch.

  9. This was fun to read! I didn’t know most of these words.

    Australians and NZ tease each other about words and accents all the time – “six/sex”, “fish/feesh”. “Thongs” to an Australian are “jandals” to Kiwis – 🩴

    One time it was starting to rain lightly outside and I said “oh it’s spitting,” and my Aussie friend said, “Speeting?! That’s deesgusteeng! We say spreenkling!” (Sprinkling)

  10. It Is interesting reading about the differences in language between Canadian’s, American’s and Brits. It is funny, because a few of these words are used in British vocabulary, yet some I literally hadn’t heard of before.

  11. In some parts of the US South, we think sweet tea is the default for iced tea; elsewhere it’s often available as an option. But to us it makes sense to sweeten your own and let us non-sweeteners drink, too

    Our state borders Canada so that we have some similarities in pronunciation. We recognize similar accents in northern Minnesota , North Dakota and Manitoba and western Ontario.

    We say pop here. Hockey is part of our dominant culture. And we grew up loving Bob & Doug. We said hoser a lot. In fact our high school touch football team had everyone’s jersey name as Hoser.

    1. Hoser is such a great word!

      I’d be down with sweeten-your-own if there’s liquid sugar to sweeten with, but trying to pour sugar packets into a cold drink produces rather yucky results.

  12. This was great! The measurement section, tho…
    How does your brain not explode 🤯
    I’m American, but I’ve heard a lot of these while traveling or reading. The Canadian garbage disposal is a new one. I love it! Totally using that from now on.

    1. The switch to metric was pushed by the government in the ’70s, but my parents’ generation grew up purely using the Imperial system. It seems like the switch to metric was most successful with the kinds of things taught in schools or regulated by governments.

  13. I enjoyed this post. I think the differences in English among the three countries is very interesting. I’m in the US. My fiance was born in the next state over, only one hour from me, and we jokingly argue over pronunciations. I insist that for carrot, it’s CARE-it, not CEH-rit! I’m terrible with slang from all global and local places. One thing I never get is that I feel like non-Americans look down on Americans who don’t know other languages. But not everyone travels or comes into contact with visitors or immigrants. For the ordinary person who just wakes up, has their coffee, and goes to work, there’s no real practical reason or time to learn languages you have no one to speak with. But for English, lots of reading (or television for those who prefer lol) exposes you to the many differences.

    1. I wonder if part of the issue with Americans not knowing other languages come down to the perception that Americans expect to be able to get by on English alone when they travel internationally. It’s a stereotype that’s obviously not broadly true, but I’ve certainly come across people who fit that stereotype when I’ve travelled.

  14. It can be funny at work. There are people in London from all over the world, and although they have learnt English – what comes out is sometimes a little funny. But we try not to discourage anyone. It is a big challenge to learn a language fluently.

    My flatmate came out with a few corkers though. She stood up one day and told a group of us that she was going to go and brush her teets. She found it hard to say the word “chaos” and she would often tell people that her work or the traffic was “cows”.

  15. I thought Canadian language was more similar to British. This was very interesting. I will say that where I live in the US, we say pop and not soda. I think it is more the states that aren’t close to the Canadian border that say soda. If you ever visit Minnesota you will see the word “pop” as the word to advertise it

  16. I’m visiting from Melanie’s blog. Interesting post. 🙂 I grew up in a bilingual Canadian household (my mother was from the UK and I spent a lot of time there) and had a strong ear for pronunciation differences in both languages. I use metric for all measurements, not just some. I just got a new stove and changed it over to Celsius first thing. I get somewhat annoyed by the loss of some Canadianisms; the use of “vacation” instead of “holiday” or “rest room” instead of toilet or bathroom. I’ve noticed now a tendency for Canadian students to say 8th grade, for instance, instead of grade 8. I won’t get into Québécoise. 😉

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