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Learn the Lingo: Canadian Slang

It’s only the second day of your trip to Canada and you’ve already been asked if you packed your toque (pronounced toohk) or if you have any loonies in your pocket. These means you’ve encountered some iconic Canadian slang words. It’s enough to make a visitor’s head spin — perhaps you need to sit down and relax on the nearest chesterfield (whatever that might be). 

Canadian flag flying in the sky

Don’t worry. The local travel experts at CanadianTrainVacations.com are here to help. We help visitors to Canada with their travel plans, taking care of all the details. Being based in Canada, we have lots of insider information to share with you, including how to understand Canadian slang terms. 

While Canada has two official languages – English and French – there’s an argument for making Canadian slang the third. It’s a curious mix of idioms you need to be a resident to fully understand. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you navigate Canadian expressions.

Top 10 Canadian Slang Terms

1. Loonie

A stack of loonies with a Canadian flag behind them

There’s a good reason Canadians call the country’s golden-hued $1 coin a loonie and it has nothing to do with being loony about money. This particular coin often has a handsome feathered critter depicted on one sidea loon, one of Canada’s most iconic birds, which gives the coin its quirky nickname.

2. Toque

Woman with a toque and scarf standing on a snowy night

What is a tuke? Tuque? Tougue? (There is some debate over the spelling.) The unusual sounding word traces its linguistic roots to old French. And if you’re visiting Canada in Winter, you may have packed one of these in your suitcases without even knowing it. The toque is a warm, typically knitted hat, sometimes known as a beanie in the US or a woolly hat in the UK.  

3. Bunny hug

If you thought toque was a weird term for a clothing item, we present another funny Canadian saying: the bunny hug. No one is certain how the hoodie came by this odd name in the province of Saskatchewan. One theory is a one-time overabundance of rabbits meant that pelts were used to make tops like sweatshirts. It could also be related to a risqué early 20th-century dance also known as the bunny hug. Either way, the term is proudly used by all the locals.

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4. Dep

Mom and pop corner stores were once a staple of communities of all sizes across Canada. And while there are still thousands of these stores — where else are you going to find batteries AND a gallon of milk in the middle of nowhere? they are arguably the most ubiquitous in the province of Quebec. Locals here do not call them corner stores. If you’re in Quebec and suddenly need some a bag of ketchup-flavoured chips, ask for the nearest dep, (a shortened version of depanneur, the French word for convenience store).

5. Timmies

Tim Hortons Timbits donuts and coffee

Timmies is the local affectionate term for the country’s very popular Tim Hortons coffee and doughnut chain. Founded by hockey player Tim Horton in the 1960s, it is also known as just “Tim’s.” Other super Canadian phrases associated with the place include double-double (a coffee order made with double cream and double sugar) and Timbits (the spherical doughnut holes sold alongside the main treats).

6. Two four

Among the many booze-related things Canadians say, this phrase – particularly popular in Ontario – refers to a case of 24 beer. If you’re thirsty for more intoxicating Canadian words and phrases, a mickey is a small (usually 375ml) flask-shaped bottle of liquor, while the lesser-used twenty-sixer is a larger (750ml) bottle. A Texas mickey is a giant three-litre bottle, best shared with more than a few friends. 

7. Canucks

Be aware that some locals find this non-formal (but generally affectionate term) for someone from Canada mildly offensive – although it’s likely they’re just not fans of the Vancouver Canucks, that city’s NHL hockey team. The term canucklehead is sometimes used to describe this team’s die-hard fans or as an insult to a Canadian who’s not particularly intelligent. Interestingly, the popular Atlantic Canada word chucklehead also refers to someone of limited brainpower. 

8. Hoser

Originally, "hoser" was associated with the image of someone who was a bit of a goof or a clumsy, inept individual. This usage harkens back to the era of Canadian television's "SCTV" comedy show in the 1980s, where the characters Bob and Doug McKenzie popularized the term. The characters were stereotypical, beer-drinking, flannel-wearing Canadians who used "hoser" in their humorous sketches. 

Today, "hoser" is more likely to be used playfully among friends or in a tongue-in-cheek way to describe a Canadian. It's a term that reflects the friendly and good-natured spirit often associated with Canadian interactions, emphasizing the strong sense of community and shared humor among Canadians.

Hoser allegedly finds its origins in hockey: it’s said that the beaten players in hard-fought games were made to hose down the ice after the game. This origin story may not be entirely true, however, as an older use of the term has also been traced to logging industry slang.

9. Keener

Another word for a brownnoser or an overly solicitous individual, this is someone who is far too keen in the enthusiasm stakes. Perhaps it’s a canucklehead who continues to sing the praises of the Vancouver Canucks, even after they’ve lost 17 games in a row (again). Or maybe it’s a toque-wearing Timmies-lover who tries to convince you that their maple cream doughnuts are the finest culinary creation since banoffee pie. Either way, they’ve probably had access to far too many mickeys recently.

10. Sourdough

Back in the Yukon’s Gold Rush days, thousands of men flocked in to find their fortune. Those who stuck around the longest and survived the winters up here were known as sourdoughs, after the prospectors who kept their sourdough bread starters close to their bodies during the cold season. These days, any resident who makes it through at least one Yukon winter is honourifically known as a sourdough. There’s even a term for newcomer’s yet to make it through a cold season: they’re called cheechakos. 

Definition of Canadian Slang

Canadian slang refers to a collection of unique words, phrases, and expressions used primarily by Canadians, which may not be immediately familiar to people from other English-speaking regions. These informal and often humorous expression reflect Canada's rich cultural diversity and history — as you can tell from the preceding sections, famous Canadian sayings are as diverse as the country’s stunning landscapes.

Origins of Canadian Slang 

Canadian slang has evolved over time due to a multitude of factors, giving it distinct expressions not found in British and American English. To understand the unique nature of Canadian slang, we need to delve into the country’s historical, cultural, and linguistic roots. Canada's colonial history plays a significant role in this evolution. Early settlers from Europe, particularly the British and the French, brought their languages to the land that would become Canada. As these languages intermingled with the Indigenous languages, fusion created unique words and expressions that are still in common use today. 

The bilingual nature of the country, with English and French recognized as official languages, has led to a wealth of words from French enriching the Canadian vocabulary.  

Another influence on Canadian slang is its American neighbours to the South. The Canadian vocabulary contains elements of both British and American English, often creating interesting linguistic elements. For instance, while Canadians may use British terms like "lorry" for a truck, they more frequently use the American term "truck" itself.  

In summary, the origins of Canadian slang are deeply rooted in the country's history, geography, and the languages of its early settlers. This unique evolution, guided by British and American English, along with indigenous and French contributions, has resulted in a colorful and distinctive lexicon that continues to evolve with Canada's ever-changing cultural influences.

Common Canadian Slang Terms 

When you visit Canada, you're in for an incredible adventure in a diverse and friendly land. As you explore this vast country, you’ll come across some uniquely Canadian slang terms. From hearing "eh" at the end of sentences to ordering a "double-double" at Tim Hortons or spotting a "loonie" in your change, these words and phrases will add a dash of local flavor to your Canadian experience. So, embrace the linguistic quirks, and you'll feel like a true Canadian in no time, eh! 

Here is another list of Canadian slang words or phrases. 

1. Eh 

Canadians don’t say eyy or aye, it’s “eh.” This iconic and distinctive element of Canadian slang is often used as a conversational filler or question tag at the end of a statement. It holds a unique place in Canadian culture, instantly recognizable and endearing to both Canadians and visitors who encounter it in conversations. 

The significance of "eh" in Canadian slang is multifaceted. First, it serves as a linguistic trademark, symbolizing politeness and friendliness in Canadian communication. When Canadians use "eh," it's typically to seek agreement, confirmation, or simply to engage the listener. For example, a Canadian might say, "It's a beautiful day, eh?" to gauge the listener's opinion. 

Overall, "eh" is a small yet powerful word that embodies the warmth and camaraderie often associated with Canadian culture. It's a linguistic quirk that adds a unique and endearing flavor to conversations in the Great White North. 

2. Twoonie

Given that Canadians call $1 coins “loonies, it’s not surprisingly that the bi-coloured $2 coin was dubbed the “toonie.” Toonies feature a distinctive design, with a polar bear adorning one side. The polar bear is an iconic symbol of Canada's northern wilderness and a nod to the country's vast, rugged landscapes. But these coins aren't just collectibles; they play a vital role in everyday transactions. Toonies are a convenient way to pay for various goods and services, especially parking and vending machines, making them a practical addition to the Canadian currency.  

3. Rink Rat 

The term "rink rat" is a versatile and colorful expression in Canadian slang. It generally refers to an individual who spends a significant amount of time at the hockey rink. A rink rat can be of any age or gender.  

First and foremost, "rink rat" often describes avid youth hockey players. These young enthusiasts are known to practically live at the rink, eagerly honing their skills and bonding with their teammates. However, the term isn't limited to the players alone. It extends to include dedicated hockey parents who invest countless hours supporting their children's hockey endeavors. These parents can be frequently found at the rink, cheering from the stands, and actively participating in the social life of the hockey community. 

In essence, a "rink rat" isn't confined to a single stereotype. It is a term that reflects a shared passion for the ice, a sense of community, and the diverse roles individuals play in the world of skating and hockey, regardless of their age or gender.

4. Kraft Dinner 

This food-related slang refers to a specific brand of macaroni and cheese, namely Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. It’s an understatement to say this is an incredibly popular food item in Canada. Many Canadians have fond memories of enjoying a warm bowl of cheesy Kraft Dinner — it is often linked to a sense of nostalgia and is considered a comfort food.  

In addition to "Kraft Dinner," Canadian slang boasts a range of other food-related terms. For instance, "poutine" is a beloved Canadian dish consisting of fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds, a delicious and indulgent treat. "Butter tart" refers to a classic Canadian pastry, while "Beaver Tail" signifies a flat, fried dough pastry often served with various toppings. These slang terms reflect the rich culinary landscape and regional specialties that make Canadian food culture both diverse and delectable.

Region-specific Canadian Slang Terms 

Just as accents can differ from province to province, so too do the slang terms used by locals. Canada's vast and varied landscape, from the snowy tundras of the North to the lush forests of the West, has given rise to region-specific slang. Terms like "parka" and "muskoka chair" reflect the distinctive cultural and environmental experiences of different provinces. 

Eastern Canada 

In Eastern Canada, particularly Ontario, you'll come across a unique set of slang terms. For example, "loonie" and "toonie" (previously mentioned) are widely used across Canada, but Ontarians have their own lingo. In Toronto, a "GTA" resident is someone from the Greater Toronto Area, and "the 6ix" refers to the city itself, popularized by rapper Drake. In Ottawa, you might hear "ByWard" for the ByWard Market district, while "chesterfield" is a local term for a sofa or couch. 

These regional slang terms reflect the diverse cultural influences and rich history of Eastern Canada, making it a linguistic treasure trove for those exploring the nuances of Canadian phrases. 

Did you come across some unexpected Canadian slang on your trip? Share your memories, photos and videos via Facebook, or Twitter or tag us on Instagram. 

About the author: Athena McKenzie is the Content Manager at Fresh Tracks Canada. An experienced lifestyle journalist, she has written about travel, design, arts and entertainment. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Zoomer Magazine, Elle Canada and... Read more

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