Take off that tuque and grab a donair: 'Canadianisms' that confound non-Canadians

If you've visited friends or relatives south of the border for the holidays, or vice-versa, you may have dealt with a quizzical expression or two after taking off your toque inside and setting aside the two-four case of beer.

That was the inspiration for Jules Sherred, a blogger for GeekMom.com. Citing several instances when Americans were "baffled" over what she calls her "Canadian English," Sherred began a survey of the most Canadian words ever -- the ones that non-Canadians had either never heard of or do not use regularly.

She surveyed 175 people from Canada, the United States and other countries and compared how familiar they were with 55 words and terms that she calls "Canadianisms." The ones that more Canadians were familiar with, and less familiar for all others, could be considered the "most Canadian" entries.

Sherred noted that, unlike the U.S. where dozens of dialects and region-specific terms can ensure moments of confusion between someone from Boston and someone from Memphis, most Canadianisms were at least familiar to people across the country. 

A Canadian version of the New York Times dialect quiz, which maps out your use of certain words and phrases according to its frequency in the U.S., then, would probably have far less variation.

She did note, however, that Toronto and some parts of Alberta had below-average usage of some of these terms, perhaps giving credence to the Toronto-versus-the-rest perception many Canadians have of the city.

Among some of the best-known Canadianisms:
1) Tuque: the woolly dome that keeps your head warm and your hair ruined is best known in the U.S. as a knitted cap, beanie or ski cap. Sherred gave a shout-out to a story by CBC News Edmonton from earlier this month that explored the origins and multiple spellings of the tuque...or toque...or is it took? It was also the only term that she rated as 100 per cent Canadian, meaning every Canadian she surveyed were familiar or used the word.

2) Homo milk: 92 per cent of Canadians surveyed knew this term for milk with 3.25 per cent fat, while some Americans surveyed were offended by it. Sherred notes that the word "homo" is often used as a slur for a homosexual person. It's worth noting that calling homo milk "homogenized milk" isn't strictly accurate, since most of the milk you'll find in supermarkets are homogenized, regardless of its fat content.

3) Mickeys and two-fours: 88 per cent of Canadians were familiar with the mickey, otherwise known as a 375 ml bottle of alcohol. Sherred notes that "mickey" is more widely known as a slang term for a date rape drug in the U.S., similar to "roofie." 
The two-four, or case of 24 beers, enjoys 90-per-cent Canadian familiarity, while non-Canadians refer to it more generally as a case.

4) Donair: A late-night favourite from the Maritimes, this pita wrap shares its lineage with the gyro or doner kebab. Unlike those two items, which use lamb meat, the donair is known for sliced beef and a distinctive sweet white sauce. Sherred noted that the only Canadians unfamiliar with the donair were from Ontario, and then most of them from Toronto. The Halifax staple has only recently begun to appear in a handful of locations in the GTA.

5) Runners: 85 per cent of Canadians referred to their running shoes as runners, while Americans know them as sneakers, tennis shoes or as "Nikies" regardless of whether the pair in question are made by Nike. One American surveyed told Sherred that the word "runners" was most commonly used to refer to a thin table cloth that runs under a centrepiece and across the sides of the table.


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