Where Does the Word 'Hoser' Come From?

CBC.ca / CBC.ca

Fans of the legendary sketch comedy show SCTV are probably familiar with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’ 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.

When the two comedians called someone a hoser, they were telling him that he was a foolish or unsophisticated Canadian 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 Stephan Dollinger of the University of British Columbia—one of the institutions working on the second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles—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.” Beyond this, the etymology of the word is hard to trace, with informal origins coming from different folk traditions and Canadian history.

The most prominent unofficial derivation comes from every Canadian’s favorite pastime—pond hockey. 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 contracted to make “hoser,” giving it a colloquially negative connotation tied to the Canadian national game.

According to others, though, the word "hoser" originated with poor, Depression-era Canadian farmers who would use a hose to siphon gas out of other people’s farming equipment because they couldn't pay for it themselves. But this definition is most likely a verbal colloquialism passed from generation to generation; it has no concrete formal source.

Because of Moranis and Thomas’ lampooning of Canadian culture, "hoser" lives on in popular vocabulary—though you’ll probably be hard-pressed to hear any actual Canadians use the term. But I know what I’d say to them: “Take off, you hoser!”

Primary image courtesy of CBC.

This article originally ran in 2013.