Am I wearing a tuque or a knit cap? That depends on what part of the English-speaking world you’re from. Here in Canada, it’s called a tuque which rhymes with duke. Though used by 100% of Canadians, I was surprised to learn that the word is almost unheard of beyond our borders.
A recent article in the Edmonton Journal listed several other words that are used almost exclusively in Canada or that have different meanings here than elsewhere. While English speakers in most of the world, use parking garage or parking deck to describe a multi-level concrete parking structure, here in Canada, we park our vehicles in a parkade. At the beginning of each school year, we buy our children a new package of pencil crayons but in the US, they’re called colored pencils and the British call them colouring pencils. On hot summer days, we give our children freezies, popsicle like treats that come in plastic sleeves. Elsewhere, these are known by a variety of other names including ice pop and freezer pop. Adults might prefer a treat from a mickey, the term Canadians use to describe a 375 mL bottle of liquor. Using that word could get us into trouble in the US, however, where it’s slang for a date rape drug!
If you’re as old as I am, you probably recognize the famous photo from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover. In Canada, we’d say that George, Paul, Ringo and John are in a crosswalk. It wasn’t until I taught English in Japan that I discovered that English speakers in some parts of the world refer to it as a zebra crossing!
Even within our borders or within families, we sometimes have difficulty agreeing on which words to use. Instead of using pencil crayons, children often colour with felt-tipped pens. In our family, we always referred to them as markers but my daughter-in-law insists that they should be called felts. According to my father, we use serviettes at the table but the rest of us call them napkins. In my parents’ livingroom, we sat on the chesterfield but in our house, we call it the couch. Others call the same piece of furniture a sofa. What an interesting and confusing language English is!
The dinner/supper conundrum is the one that has confused me the most. I think it’s a regional thing. Growing up on the BC coast, we ate lunch at noon. Supper and dinner were interchangeable words used to describe the main meal which was usually eaten around 6:00 pm. When I settled on the prairie, however, I found that people here often refer to the noon meal as dinner. If we’re invited to someone’s home for dinner, I’ve learned to ask what time they’d like us to come. Their answer tells me which meal they’re referring to! If I’m issuing the invitation, I’m careful not to use the word dinner at all. Everyone understands lunch and supper but dinner is just too confusing!
As Canadians, we’re probably best known for our use of the little word eh? which we tack onto the end of statements to turn them into questions as in “It’s sure been a cold winter, eh?” We do it without even thinking about it and it’s this unique Canadianism that often identifies us as being from north of the border when we travel in the US.
Following Augustine has readers from all over the English-speaking world. I’d love to know where you’re from and what words and phrases are unique to your part of the world. Please leave a comment!