Where Does the Word ‘Hoser’ Come From?

As brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie on ‘SCTV,’ actors Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas made ‘hoser’ popular—and there are plenty of theories about the word’s origin.
Great White North
Great White North / SCTV
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Fans of the legendary sketch comedy show SCTV are probably familiar with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s dim-witted characters Bob and Doug McKenzie, the Molson beer-swilling Canadian brothers who ended each sentence with everyone’s favorite stereotypical Canadian interjection, eh. But it was the pair’s catchphrase—take off, hoser—that really gained traction in popular language.

What the Heck’s a Hoser?

When the two comedians called someone “hoser,” they were telling him that he was a foolish or unsophisticated slob who does nothing but watch hockey, wear tons of flannel, and propagate the lighthearted and absentminded view of the clichéd average Canadian male.

According to Stefan Dollinger of the University of British Columbia, who worked on the second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principle, the Oxford English Dictionary entry for hoser cites the first written example as a 1981 article in the Toronto Star about the McKenzie characters, in which Moranis said “a hoser is what you call your brother when your folks won’t let you swear.” It can also be used as a term of endearment. (It is not, however, a word without issues: As Jacobin notes, “The hoser’s popularity comes from an everyman image. But being white and male, the hoser is not actually representative of Canada’s diverse population.”)

The Many Theories Behind Hoser’s Etymology

So where did hoser come from? The etymology is hard to trace. The OED has suggested a potential connection to hose, a North American slang term for penis dating back to the late 1920s. The Canadian Encyclopedia says that “the closeness of ‘hoser’ to ‘loser’ may provide a clue to the word’s true origin,” also suggesting that it may be related to the sense of hose meaning “deceive, swindle.” Other suggested origins come from different folk traditions and Canadian history.

One theory involves one of Canada’s favorite pastimes: pond hockey. The story goes that whenever groups would get together to play some shinny (another Canadian slang term for an informal pick-up hockey game) on the local pond, the losing team would have to hose down the ice with water afterwards to make the playing surface smooth again. In this version of hoser’s etymology, hose and loser were combined to make hoser, giving it a colloquially negative connotation tied to the national sport.

According to others, though, the word hoser originated with Canada’s Depression-era farmers, who would use a hose to siphon gas out of other people’s farming equipment because they couldn’t afford to buy it themselves. This supposed origin, however, has no concrete formal source.

Ultimately, hoser might come back to Dave Thomas and SCTV after all—at least, that’s according to a 2017 BBC article, which states that Thomas “created the noun from the verb ‘to hose,’ which was popular slang in Canada when Thomas was growing up in the 1950s. ‘I gave that guy 10 bucks and he hosed me! I never got what I paid for,’ Thomas says to illustrate the proper use of the verb, slipping into Doug’s patois without skipping a beat.”

Discover the Answers to More Big Questions:

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A version of this story ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2023.