23 Canadianisms Way More Interesting Than "Eh?"
By Arika Okrent
The first historical dictionary of Canadian English, A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, was published in 1967 (with a new edition published in 2017). The original dictionary was put online and makes a wonderful place to search or browse through the wordy history of "our neighbors to the North" (either an Americanism or a cliché, depending on how you feel about it). Here are some Canadianisms that are much more interesting than the usual eh?
1. Back Junk
"Junk" was a word for a chunk of log or piece of firewood. "Back junk" is defined as "a large log placed at the back of a wood fire to make it last."
2. Calgary Redeye
Skip the Bloody Mary and have one of these, "a mixture of tomato juice and beer, a drink associated with Calgary, Alberta, and the surrounding area."
3. Calumet fever
A term used among Ottawa valley lumberjacks, it referred to the "fear of riding a crib of logs down the slide at Calumet, Quebec."
A term describing the structure of the Newfoundland fishing industry. A 1940 source explains, "the fishocracy comprised in descending order: (1) the principal merchants, high officials, and some lawyers and medical men; (2) small merchants, important shopkeepers, lawyers, doctors, and secondary officials; (3) grocers, master mechanics, and schooner holders; and (4) fishermen."
A nickname for Toronto which some say harkens back to its role in the meat-packing industry, but which the dictionary says is "so called because outsiders accuse Torontonians of taking everything unto themselves."
Hydro-electric power. Canadians still talk about dealing with their "hydro bill."
7. Idiot Stick
A small, cheap version of a Native totem pole sold to tourists in British Columbia.
8. Improved Britisher
Good-natured teasing term for "an immigrant from the British Isles, especially an Englishman, who has been in Canada long enough to have lost some of his native shortcomings." See also, "improved Scotsman."
An old Western slang term for credit, "presumably because the jawbone had to be exercised in speaking to win over the creditor." A 1966 citation reads, "the mower parts would have been charged or, in the language of the country, put on his jawbone."
10. Mal de Raquette
From the French for "snowshoe sickness." It refers to "a painful state of inflamed joints and muscles affecting snowshoers, caused by undue strain on the tendons of the leg."
11. Moose Milk
Northern slang for moonshine, it has also come to refer to mixed drinks based on rum and milk.
A term from Eastern Quebec for snow with the texture of muscovado (raw sugar).
A term for "a young Englishman sent out to Western Canada to learn farming." A 1955 source claims that "when the war [WWI] started the Mud Pups joined up to the last man and the bachelor population of Duncan vanished overnight."
A 1965 history explains, "at the beginning of the winter season each young man chose 'a muffin'—a 'steady date' for the season—an arrangement terminated by mutual consent in the following spring." An 1865 book also gave the term muffinage for the state of being hooked up with a muffin. But an 1873 source claimed "no lady owned to ever having been a muffin, at least not until she knew her young man well enough to tell him so."
A sea monster said to live in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. A 1936 source describes what it looks like: "Ogopogo's head is slightly reminiscent of Henry VIII, he has a torso like an accordeon, and a tail like a shillelagh."
A stew of pemmican, flour, and various other things on hand. Now used figuratively for a mishmash of varied stuff. An arts festival in Alberta calls itself Rubaboo after "a Michif (Métis) word meaning a stew that’s full of life and food that feeds the spirit."
"The process of boiling maple sap to make syrup and sugar through evaporation and crystallization." Also, "a party held in the sugar bush at the time of sugaring-off."
18. Winnipeg Couch
A simple couch that opened into a bed. According to a 1958 source, "the Winnipeg couch was a fine oldtimer, built of solid iron and coil springs in those days when Canadians fell into bed with their boots on."
The new edition of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles included the Eastern Canadian term all-dressed, which means "All optional garnishes on fast food items."
20. Bunny Hug
Also added to the new edition, this term for "A hooded sweatshirt" hails from Saskatchewan.
A word for a "one dollar coin" that appears in the new edition.
"A level of amateur sports for players usually aged 16-17"; or "a player in such a league."
"Two dollar coin."
This piece originally ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2021.