Oh Canada, did I have some fun trying to work out some of the local slang when I first moved here in 2011.
Here’s a little cheat sheet for you to learn 15 truly Canadian words and phrases, originally published to honour Canada’s 150th birthday.
After reading this post, you may also enjoy reading about the 50 things I learned after 5 years in Canada.
Published 1st July 2017, last updated 2023
A Caesar is, at its heart, a Bloody Mary. Vodka, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and tomato juice. The twist is added clam broth.
Yep, you read that right! This tomato and clam concoction is branded as Clamato. Let’s just say that I’m not a fan…
Loonies and toonies
If someone says they have a handful of loonies and toonies, it’s a good thing! Loonies are $1 coins and toonies $2 coins.
A ‘loonie’ is a nickname for the bird that has graced one side of $1 coins for decades. The loon is synonymous with Canada’s wilderness. A toonie….well, that rhymes with loonie and $2 is two!
Usually associated with Tim Horton’s (the classic Canadian coffee shop), a ‘double-double’ refers to a coffee with two creams and two sugars.
I wonder how many people will read this and think ‘yuck,’ just like I do!
Another phrase popularised at Tim Horton’s, a ‘timbit’ is a doughnut hole. Round little bites of sugary goodness, you can buy Timbits in packs of 10, 20 and 40.
Canadians are the biggest consumers of box macaroni and cheese in the world. Seriously! So it only makes sense that there is a nickname for the dish.
Kraft isn’t the only company making this powdered cheese pasta meal but ‘Kraft Dinner’ still is used in reference to every kind.
Two-fours are cases of beer with…..you’ve guessed it, twenty four containers of beer. Picking up a two-four before a holiday is a true Canadian tradition.
Toque or tuque
Pronounced to rhyme with ‘fluke,’ a toque is basically a beanie hat. Being that Canada is a cold country, there is a lot of tuque wearing going on. There are a few different spellings of toque, but the one I see most often has ‘to’ rather than ‘tu.’
If a Canadian is trying to encourage someone, they may say “keep trying” or “give’r.” Real Canadians try as hard as they can!
Apparently, there is some usage of this phrase outside Canada but it is most definitely a Canadianism. If an event or situation is described as a gong show it means it was a disaster or mess e.g. “the airport was so busy and unorganised, it was a total gong show.”
The origin of this very Canadian phrase comes from a television talent show where a gong would sound when the contestants were judged as being bad.
Why settle for just one potato chip flavour when you can have them all…well, at least that is the idea with all-dressed chips.
The ingredients are a mixture of barbeque, ketchup, salt and vinegar and sour cream and onion. They actually taste pretty good!
Not a reference to Minnie Mouse’s husband, a mickey is a 375ml bottle of liquor.
Someone may ask you to pick up a mickey on the way to their house, which would get a bit confusing really quickly if unaware! Mickeys are usually shaped like a flask.
Another term for kilometres, you may hear someone give directions in terms of klicks e.g. “the campsite is only four klicks (four kilometres) after the gas station up ahead.”
A keener is someone who is a bit of suck-up. It’s a bit like calling someone a nerd. Depending on the person calling you a keener, it may be a bit of harmless banter or a patronising insult!
Sometimes found at ski resorts, carnivals and ice-cream shops, a BeaverTail is a fried pastry dough in the shape of (you’ve guessed it) a beaver’s tail.
Sugar is usually powdered on top but you can also get them topped with all sorts of chocolate spreads, sprinkles and candies.
A Canuck is an affectionate term for a Canadian! Lots of sports teams have borrowed the term over the years, with the Vancouver NHL hockey team being the most famous.
Are there any Canadianisms that I have missed that you think should be on this list?
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Monday 27th of February 2023
With regard to your article on unique Canadian words you left the most interest and unique Canadian words. " hoser" This word ofter refers to a person from small town Canadian with a very heavy Canadian accent It is an interesting work and Is can be used in jest, sometimes in an insulting manner or, even a term of endearment depending on the context. I tough word to analyze and explain but I am sure you can do it as you have with the 15 Canadian words listed in your article. The writer is 100% a Toronto man and could not be described as a"hoser" However, some of my good friends and even some relatives very genuine Canadian hosers. Hosers are very friendly and very easy to like and to share a few good Canadian beers. Hosers like the outdoors, beer, "fishin"and "huntin". Most hosers are men but women can certainly attain that distinguished status.
Saturday 1st of July 2017
I've been following your blog for over a year now, and found it really helpful and inspiring getting ready for our 6-weeks Canada road trip last year - thanks! (In fact, we cottoned on to the idea of driving the Dempster thanks to your post on it; we didn't make it past Tombstone in the end but still...)
This list would have been so helpful before our trip but it brings back some fond memories of being confused now. We took a lesson in 'money' (loonies, toonies and so forth) from a guy in a shopping centre who sold us a SIM card in Vancouver. Very helpful to learn that early on in our trip!
Sunday 2nd of July 2017
Great to hear from you Kati, I've just been checking out your posts about your road trip! So sad that things on Van Isle didn't work out quite right for you, I do love that Island. I'm glad you liked this Canadianism guide!