If you’re a certain age, you’ll remember Molson Canadian’s famous Joe Canada rant (which went viral before going viral was a thing), in which the actor unleashes a torrent of patriotic vocabulary: “A tuque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch, and it is pronounced zed…”
Although Canadians and Americans share a common language, we have a few words here north of the border that haven’t quite trickled down south. (If you’ve ever asked where the washroom was in Washington and gotten a blank stare, you’ve experienced the phenomenon first-hand.) Here are a few terms that you’ll only hear north of the 49th.
Although primarily associated with Tim Hortons, double-double is now used across Canada as a generic expression meaning coffee with two creams and two sugars. Ask for double cream, double sugar if you don’t want to get a puzzled stare from the gal at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Duluth. (And if you need a snack, the standard term is “donut hole,” not Timbit.)
Two-four, beer store, and pint
We have nationalistic drinking tendencies here in Canada—you won’t hear any of these phrases in the States. Oh, sure, they have containers with 24 beers in them, but they’re called flats or cases. Stores that sell exclusively alcohol exist all over the US, but an institution called The Beer Store—well, that’s pretty much a Canadian thing. And there are pints in the States, but they’re 16 ounces, rather than the British/Canadian Imperial 20 ounces.
Peameal or back bacon in Canada refers to brined slices of pork loin coated in cornmeal—which resembles a thin pork chop more than traditional bacon. Back bacon shouldn’t be confused with “Canadian bacon” in the States, though—this term usually refers to a thin slice of smoked ham, rather than anything we’d call bacon up here.
However you spell it, it’s most often called a knit cap, beanie, or stocking cap south of the border. This style of hat was a symbol of French-Canadian nationalism following the 1837 rebellion in Lower Canada—but now it’s simply the best way to keep ears toasty warm during a January cold snap. Thanks to Canadian cultural icons Bob and Doug Mackenzie, the use of the word “tuque” is slightly more familiar to our American neighbours than it used to be.
So much more evocative than “sled,” toboggan is (most likely) from the Micmac word “tobakun,” which means … sled.
When you pay your hydro bill, what type of power are you paying for? In many parts of Canada, “hydro” refers to electricity—probably because much of our electricity comes from hydroelectric power. In the US, though, “hydro” means your water bill—although people are more likely to say “water” anyway.
Smarties, Coffee Crisp, Bloody Caesars, Kinder Surprise eggs, and ketchup and all-dressed chips
None of these are available in the US—and Kinder Surprise eggs are actually illegal.
For some real Canadian fun, try saying this to your next American visitor:
“I’m going to collect the loonies and toonies out of my knapsack and head to the Beer Store for a two-four. On my way back, I’ll pick us up a double-double and some Timbits, then we can have that back bacon for breakfast. If you spill your Tim’s because I’m driving 20 clicks over the speed limit, I’ll give you a serviette to use in the washroom. And don’t worry—I’ve got a mickey of vodka to put in our Caesars. Save me a seat on the chesterfield, eh?”