Do you speak Canadian?

Apparently I don’t. This morning I was reading Uncle John’s Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader (though not where you’d expect) and I came across an entry about Canadian English. The reader is asked to translate a paragraph of supposedly Canadian gobbledygook and then we are presented with a series of definitions, as follows:

  1. Beer-slinger: bartender
  2. Hoser: a lout
  3. Rubby: “a derelict alcoholic known to mix rubbing alcohol with what he is imbibing”
  4. Molson muscles: beer belly
  5. Booze can: an illegal bar
  6. Sh*t-disturber: one who likes to create trouble
  7. Gravol: “the Canadian proprietary name of an anti-nausea medication”
  8. All-dressed: Food served with all the optional garnishes
  9. Cuffy: Cigarette butt
  10. Browned off: Fed up or disheartened
  11. Two-four: A case of beer
  12. First Peoples: The politically correct term for Canadian Indians
  13. Bazoo: Old rusted car
  14. Fuddle duddle: A euphemism for “go to hell”
  15. Keener: Eager beaver
  16. Steamie: A steamed hot dog
  17. Gitch: Underwear
  18. The Can: Canada
  19. Schmuck: Verb meaning “to flatten”, as in, “He got schmucked on the road”
  20. Bite moose: Go away
  21. Garburator: A garbage disposal unit
  22. Wobbly pop: Alcohol
  23. Keep yer stick on the ice: Pay attention
  24. Skookum: Big and powerful (a west coast term derived from Chinook jargon)” (p. 97-98, numbering mine)

Bob & Doug have done more harm than good. Apparently Canadians spend most of their time speaking about alcohol-related subjects. I quite enjoy uniquely Canadian terminology, but I don’t care for stereotypes and, worse, inaccuracies.

Part of the problem is that most of the words in their list (words 3, 5, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 24) are local terms —that is, they may be used in parts of Canada but they are not Canadian as such; I have never heard any of them in normal conversation (just like someone from Eastern Canada probably wouldn’t know what a “bunnyhug” is). Many of the other words are pop-cultural phrases: hoser and keep your stick on the ice are used by Bob & Dough MacKenzie and Red Green, respectively, but not often used in regular conversation. All-dressed, Gravol and Garburator are not, I am sure, uniquely Canadian words at all.

In fact, the only words on this list that I hear in at least semi-regular conversation are two-four, keener, gitch and schmuck (the definition of which, by the way, I take issue with).

That the list includes such ridiculous phrases as bite moose and The Can suggests to me that the writers of the article took a trip to Toronto, asked a bunch of jokers for some Canadian terminology, who then made a bunch of stuff up. Bazoo? Browned off? Maybe in rural parts of the Maritimes.

The truth is, I think there are relatively few Canadianisms in the sense of words and phrases used across the country. Off the top of my head (other than the ones I recognized in the above list): toque, double-double, tobaggan, loonie, twoonie, and eh? And people from other parts of the country may not recognize or use toque.

The sad fact is that Uncle John’s writers are perpetuating a stereotype of Canada, a myth. There are relatively few truly pan-Canadian words and phrases, I think. Or I just don’t know very many and am not as Canadian as I’d like to think I am.

If you can think of any other pan-Canadian words or phrases, add them in the comments. People posting local and phrases words will be belittled. (Just kidding.)

6 thoughts on “Do you speak Canadian?

  1. Maryanne

    Toque seems to pretty universal in Canada. And, interestingly, in North Carolina they call a “toque” a “toboggan”, and it seems that the origins came from somebody who had vaguely heard those two terms in Canada and got them confused.

    And “Fuddle duddle” is a Trudeau reference, and is not a euphemism for “Go to hell.”

    Bazoo? Cuffy? Bite moose? Rubby? Someone was messing with the writers.

  2. peg

    Gravol would only be used by Canadians because it is a brand name unique to Canada. It is not sold in the states, they have some liquid supposed strawberry flavoured stuff (at least in New Mexico) that doesn’t calm my stomach but rather the taste of it is so horrid it tends to make me want to vomit even more.

    Number 6 I didn’t realize would be a Canadian term. it seems fairly universal to me.

    Terms I have never heard of before:
    I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of these are native terms to Newfoundland. And I am not being stereotypical. Alot of my friends in YK are originally from NFLD and they have shared there terminology at several drinking parties.

    In my experience Bunnyhug seems to be a unique Saskatchewan term much like Vico. In BC it is commonly known as a Kangaroo jacket.

    I wonder if they have authored a book about American terms, there are some great colloquialisms that come out of Texas, Oklahoma as well as I am sure Alabama and Georgia to name a few.

  3. Marcus the Bushwhacker


    I’ve heard most of those in conversation… about the only ones I haven’t are #9 and #24. It may be a regional thing, but here The Can is not “Canada”, but something less profound and more functional.

    I’ve only heard “Bite Moose” in northern Ontario, and “Bazoo” is more a francophone thing, I think.

    We have other differences, as well… like calling that think in the living room that you lay on while watching TV a “chesterfield”.

    Culturally we have things that make us a little different too… check out this wiki entry on social faux pax:

    PS I’m not happy! That entry used to list global faux pax… for different countries oall on the same page. Now some do-gooder decided to tidy up the entry and split it up into several threads! I liked the old sprawling entry where everything was on one page! Grrr!

  4. Collette

    I bought my friend from Nova Scotia a bunnyhug with the definition of bunnyhug on it. we went to a couple of parties together last night and almost every single person who saw it LOVED it.

    if it didn’t say U of S on the sleeve, I’d want one too. but this U of R grad just can’t sink that low, haha.

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