Fork Tongued: I love me some Canadianisms

A highly amusing item appeared this week:

This is How Canada Talks

Spread across a vast landmass, Canada’s roughly 30 million anglophones speak something called Canadian English. The stereotype often goes that Canadian English is a lot like American English in terms of both vocabulary and pronunciation, with significant influence from the British Isles, resulting in words like zed and spellings like colour and centre. A subtle Canadian accent that affects the vowels in words like about and write, and a collection of characteristic Canadian vocabulary like chesterfield, toque, poutine and bunnyhug, add to its uniqueness.

Wait, bunnyhug?

It is a survey of “Canadianisms” and regional differences. Being a lifelong British Columbian (until 2001), these are mostly true for me (exception: supper, the British influence in my home which called lunch “dinner”). Pop, toque, chesterfield and pencil crayons were as ingrained to me as saying “zed”, and it shocked me that neither the English speaking world nor the US (O_-) says them. (My home and others’ homes never had garbage disposals, so I never heard “garburator”.)

But if one word surprises me as being only Canadian, it’s runners, as opposed to “sneakers” or “trainers” as others call them. We run in the shoes, we don’t sneak, although people in sports might train in them.  I never understood why it was only in Canada.

One very noticeable thing about the maps are the two small pockets of resistance: the southwest British Columbia (Vancouver and Victoria) and “Upper/Lower Canada” of Ontario and Quebec. Ontario and Quebec are the oldest legal regions of Canada, so it doesn’t surprise they retain a separate identity. But to those outside of Canada, the Lower Mainland has an odd history akin to that of Boston and New England, but even more pronounced (pun definitely intended).

UVic prof studies Victoria’s British accent

The University of Victoria linguistics professor is on a mission to uncover just how much Victoria lives up to its reputation for being “More British than the British,” at least when it comes to the way we speak.


From 1850 through 1920, 30 per cent of Victorians immigrated from the British Isles.

D’Arcy is currently combing through audio records at the Royal B.C. and the UVic archives in search of key words and phrases that distinguish British and North American speech in Victoria. Subtleties include the word “news.” Brits pronounce it as “nyooz,” whereas North Americans say “nooz.”

And a 2015 interview with Professor Alexandra D’Arcy, author of the study:

The West Coast’s “Victoria Dainty”

This week’s interview involves a discussion of the English of the West Coast—and in particular that of Victoria, British Colombia. We often have a hard time distinguishing people from most parts of Canada (Quebec and the East Coast aside), and from Ontario to BC, the accents may appear on the surface to be roughly the same.

However, Professor Alexandra D’Arcy studies Victoria English, and she has found that the similarities we see today weren’t so similar in the past. She studies the language diachronically, which means over a period of time—in her case a long period of time.

While discussing the item with a friend, I pointed her to a classic Canadian TV ad (re: the pronunciation of caramel).


  1. says

    Maybe it’s just the people I talk to, but it seems to me that “chesterfield” is rapidly becoming archaic. I remember people using it when I was a kid, but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard anything other than “couch” or “sofa”.

    • says

      Nope, I still use it and pop, which means weird looks from people and having to check myself. I grew up saying “I haven’t any” and not “I don’t have any” and other Britishisms which also get looks.

  2. says

    Subtleties include the word “news.” Brits pronounce it as “nyooz,” whereas North Americans say “nooz.”

    In much of south-west England, it’s “nooz,” for the most part. Statements like “Brits pronounce it as…” should generally be mistrusted. There’s simply too much variation—from one town to the next, in some areas.

    • says

      My parents were both Scouses but a lot of TV and records I grew up with had London accents. Listening to BBC newsreaders is also telling. Nik Gowing has pronunciations similar to mine but others drop Rs and add Rs on words that make me do double takes (e.g. those who say “Indi-arr is faaaah away”).

  3. says

    Yeah, chesterfield strikes me as increasingly archaic as well.

    Reading the article I have to disagree about pylon versus traffic cone. I’m in Saskatchewan, and I call those things a traffic cone.

    Kickball? That’s one I’ve never heard of, but perhaps that’s because I was of the age to play it in the ’70s.

    I probably use cutlery more than utensil, but use both. And I probably use the proper names for whatever it is I’m eating with as much or more.

  4. Ice Swimmer says

    As a non-native English speaker, chesterfield was something I would have had to look up if it weren’t for Tabby Lavalamp, the first association I had was the cigarette brand.

  5. jazzlet says

    Whereas I think most Brits would be referring to a specific type of sofa if they said “Chesterfield”, as in “one of my SIL’s sofas is a Chesterfield” (true).

  6. Siobhan says

    But if one word surprises me as being only Canadian, it’s runners, as opposed to “sneakers” or “trainers” as others call them. We run in the shoes, we don’t sneak, although people in sports might train in them. I never understood why it was only in Canada.

    Yes, well, we also drive in parkways and park in driveways, so I don’t expect much consistency these days. I feel kinda bad for the English second language learners though >_>

      • jimhabegger says

        My wife and I, born and raised in the US, are currently living in China, where she is teaching English to university students. China has a kind of informal standard of English of its own, which is neither consistently British nor consistently American and which often used expressions that are outdated in the US at least. When my wife’s American English doesn’t conform to their Chinese version of English, they correct her!

        • says

          I know the feeling. Mandarin speakers in Taiwan tend to drop sounds from words, likely because they know the word in the context of the sentence (my knowledge of Mandarin is minimal). Trying to get kids and adults to anunciate every sound is a frustration. People say “I i a apple” instead of “It is an apple.” They almost never say “m” at the end of words (“I a student” when they mean “I’m a student”) or they switch it to an “n” sound, and every ending “l” sounds like an “o”. I spend copious amounts of time correcting what public school English taught them.

  7. nebalia says

    Runners is commonly used in Australian English. Sneakers is probably a little more common, but we haven’t really adopted the British trainers.