The Expat Guide to Canadian Speak // From A to Zed

“Let’s grab a double-double at Timmy’s!”


Canadian to American Translation: “Let’s go to Tim Horton’s for a cup of coffee with two creams and two sugars.”

***FYI – Tim Horton’s was founded in Canada by Canadian hockey player Tim Horton.  The chain is known for its coffee and doughnuts.  There is one on every street corner….like Starbucks in the States.


The Basics:

Pronunciation of the word “out” or “about” is pronounced like ‘oot’ as in ‘boot’.  American pronunciation is more like ‘ow’ as in ‘cow’.  I know you just said it out loud to see how it sounds!!!

Canadian spellings may also cause confusion to the untrained eye: colour vs color, cheque vs check, centre vs center, etc.  And don’t trust Spell Cheque Check!

Of course, the trademark ‘eh’ at the end of a statement is a dead giveaway.  This is pronounced “ey”, as in “hey” or “hay.”  The word is often added to the ends of sentences, to ask for a response of agreement or disagreement, similar in meaning to “don’t you think” or “right?” I liken this to the word “Huh?” used in the states.

Canada has territories and provinces (13), like the US has states (50).  I’m not sure either side knows how many the other has!

Dates are refered to in the following format: DD/MM/YYYY.  Very frustrating if you want to set-up a meeting for February 3rd (US is 02/03/2014) and Canadians think you mean March 2nd….

Canadians have a Prime Minister and a system similar to the British government structure (they are still part of the British Commonwealth); Americans have a President because their founding fathers wanted to create a system different from the British after the Revolutionary War of 1776.  So the Canadians like the Queen, and Americans like Queen – got it.

Canadians have, and love, their national health care system.  In fact, they use it regularly and freely.

It’s all about Hockey.

From A to Zed:

Booze Words
Two-four, mickey, twenty-sixer. If you’re a Canadian who drinks, all these words will be familiar. You’ll get a blank stare if you use them anywhere else in the world. Two-four is a term for a case of twenty-four beers.  Mickey is a 375-mL bottle of liquor.

Chinook (Pronounced “shinook”) is a warm, dry wind that blows east over the Canadian Rockies, causing the temperature to rise by 20°F to 40°F within 15 minutes.

Cowtown is a nickname for Calgary.

Homo Milk is slang for homogenized whole milk (3% milk).

Loonie is a common word for the Canadian one-dollar coin.  It is named after the image of the aquatic bird that graces the $1 coin.  Toonie (pronounced toon-ie) is the Canadian two-dollar coin.  Canadians have an inordinate love of Bugs Bunny as well.  No one is really sure why…


Pencil Crayon.  We don’t have any kids yet…but multiple people have mentioned that “colored pencils” are refered to as Pencil Crayons here in Canada!

Poutine (pronounced “poo-teen”) are french fries served with cheese curds, and covered in gravy.  This dish originated in Quebec but is now prevalent across Canada.

Runners.  Canadian version of what we Americans call Running Shoes or Tennis Shoes.

Serviette is a paper napkin (it simply means ‘napkin’ in French.)

Toque (pronounced “tuke,” like Luke) is a knit cap usually worn in winter.  This is known as any of the following in the US: Ski Cap, Winter Hat, beanie, or Toboggan.

NOT to be confused with the Canadian version of Toboggan, which is a long, typically wooden, sled, used in winter recreation, to carry one or more people down a snow-covered hill.

***On our first trip to Canada, we walked into a clothing store, looking for a winter coat.  We also asked for Gloves and Toboggans.  We got a weird look, and were told that gloves are there to our right….but they don’t have toboggans in the store.  The hubby said, “No toboggans, really?”  Then he mimics putting a hat on his head and says “What in the world do you wear to keep your head warm?”  Clerk – laughing hysterically. “Oh, you mean a toque?!”  Hubby – “A what?”  Clerk – “A toque!  I thought you were wanting to carry a toboggan on your head!  You know, what you sled down a hill in.  I thought that was pretty weird.”

TSN is the acronym for The Sports Network, Canada’s leading English-language sports channel, the equivalent to ESPN.

Washroom refers to a place where one would find the toilet, sink, and bath tub.  If you say bathroom, they know what you mean….but you will usually get corrected with, “The washroom is that way.”

Zed.  As for the last letter in the alphabet, Canadians say ZED, Americans say ZEE.

***Please don’t keep correcting the government official if he spells your name K-U-N-Zed-E.  Me: No, it’s K-U-N-Z-E.  Official: Yes, K-U-N-Zed-E.  Me: No, Zee.  Z-E.  Official.  Yes.  Zed-E.  *Sigh*

Other interesting differences:

  • DO NOT ask a professional where they went to “college.”  The Canadian version of American college is “university” – otherwise, it means a community college.
  • Canada uses the metric system, although Canadians quote their height and weight in feet/inches and pounds.  VERY confusing if you look at a half marathon map and you see 21 markers.  Yep – total distance is 21.1 KM, not 13.1 Miles.
  • For measuring temperature, Canada uses celsius (rather than fahrenheit).  30* in Canada is a hot summer day….while 30* in the US is a cold winter day.
  • Saying “Sorry” is good for you.
  • Canadians take off their shoes when entering someone’s house so as not to get snow/mud on the floor.  Apparently Canada doesn’t have pavement, only slush.  
  • The drinking age in Canada is 19 in most provinces, and 18 in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec.
  • Soda/pop is made with corn syrup in the US, and sugar in Canada – this changes the taste significantly.
  • Football rules: size of US footballs and football fields, but with one less down.  So on second and 10, you can bet that ball will be in the air!

My new Canadian friends…did I miss anything?!



3 thoughts on “The Expat Guide to Canadian Speak // From A to Zed

  1. Love this! Aside from working with our rep agency that is in Canada (Calgary and Kelowna, BC) our trade show booth designers are with a company in Ottawa and I frequently hear these words and get corrected about the bathroom :). I’ve done the same thing with Zee/Zed too.
    Sounds like you’re having a great time!

  2. I love all these Canadian posts. I’ve learned some of these in my travels to Toronto and dealing with our Canadian rep. I actually still have some loonies and toonies in my purse.

    Fun fact, we have a friend who plays in the CFL, he’s on the Toronto Argonauts team. It’s very similar, but its neat to see how its different than the NFL.

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