Words from home

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The glossary here at Go Stay Work Play Live now boasts more than a hundred definitions for uniquely Brit-speak words and phrases, and my list of words to add (when the mood strikes) is at least that long again.  However, I'm home in Canada for the holidays now so my sister suggested I turn the tables and give my UK readers (all four of you) a few Canadian words to ponder. And you Canadian readers might be surprised to realise that some of the words, phrases and concepts we take for granted are completely foreign to, err... foreigners.

Saskatchewan =  Obviously this isn't an unknown word, but it's one that most non-Canadians find almost impossible to deal with. It's properly pronounced, by native speakers, as Sus-KA-chu-wn. When they find out I'm Canadian, well-meaning people in the UK will often ask me what part of Canada I'm from and I quickly discovered that replying, "Saskatchewan" tends to send people into a bit of a tailspin.  Now I usually say "the flat bit in the middle" and, if pressed, elaborate with "it's the part that most people fly over between Toronto and Vancouver".

Map of Saskatchewan, exceedingly easy to draw in elementary school.  I once even made a cake in the shape of Saskatchewan for a baking contest.  It had the main rivers on it and it had the names of the large cities spelled out in Alpha-Bits.

elementary school = The first eight years of formal education.  After pre-school and kindergarten, kids go to elementary school.  Called primary school in other places, elementary school in Saskatchewan goes from Grade One to Grade Eight.

Grade One, Grade Two, Grade Three, etc... =  The terms for the different levels of elementary school.  In the UK this tends to be referred to as Year One, Year Two or, for our American cousins, First Grade, Second Grade and so on.

bunnyhug = hoodie. A hooded sweatshirt, sometimes with a zip up the front, but more properly a pullover with one big double-ended pocket on the front.  Only ever heard in Saskatchewan, bunnyhug and is perhaps the best shibboleth for discovering is someone really is from that province.  (Also: shibboleth! Love that word!). I have no idea of the derivation of this term, but I know that when I went away to school in Montreal I was roundly mocked by my classmates for the term.

Roughrider hoodie
A Saskatchewan Roughriders bunnyhug.

toque = pronounced TOOK to rhyme with duke or kook or suq.  A warm knitted hat worn in winter.  Coming from the coldest English-speaking country in the world, I think we Canadians have a right to decide the word for this particular article of clothing so listen up people: it's not a wooly cap, or a stocking cap, or a bobble hat or a watch cap or a knitted hat or any of those other lame attempts to put a name to what is clearly, obviously, simply, a toque.

Wall O' Toques
Wall O' Toques in the Mountain Equipment Co-Op, Calgary

Vi-Co = pronounced VIE-co, it's a brand name for chocolate milk that was produced in Saskatchewan from the mid fifties until the company was bought out in 1995.  The term vi-co was once used generically to mean any kind of chocolate milk.  The term is still occasionally found on truck stop menus in small towns.

23 hundred, 45 hundred etc... = It baffles me that I can say "seventeen hundred" to a Brit and they won't batt an eye.  But try "twenty-three hundred" or "forty-five hundred" and it's like you're speaking Greek.  Can anyone explain that to me?  In Canada, all the hundreds are, quite sensibly, up for grabs.

"Givin' er" = a phrase used to indicate great effort expended, or great speed achieved.  As in, "Me and Doug helped push this lady's car out of the parkade this morning and jeez we were just givin' er!" OR: "He was just givin' er comin' around that turn."

parkade = multi-storey carpark.  Distinct from a parking lot, which of course is only on one level.

butter tart = An individually sized sweet tart made with short crust pastry and filled with a cooked mixture of butter, sugar, vanilla, and egg.  The filling is similar to an American pecan pie, but without the pecans.  The addition of raisins is a common and commendable practice. Butter tarts are sweet and syrupy and uniquely Canadian and a good accompaniment to a double double. And don't forget your serviette.

Butter Tarts
Home made butter tarts

double double = a cup of coffee with two spoons of sugar and two dollops of cream.  Most associated with Tim Hortons doughnut shops, but now passed into common usage.  Note the cream here will likely be half-and-half or creamilk, a 10-15% fat, mixture of milk and cream which, despite the country's general excellence in all things cream-related, is unaccountably unavailable in the UK.

serviette = a paper napkin

Krazy Karpet = a four to six foot long by two foot wide roll of heavy flexible plastic sheet with handholds cut into one end used for sliding down a snow-covered hill at high speed.  The Krazy Karpet was a staple item in the winter toy repetoire of my childhood that sadly seems to be gone. Note that the practice of sliding down a snowy hill is called tobogganing - not sledding - regardless of whether you do it on a toboggan or a sled or a Krazy Karpet or a chunk of cardboard.

How fun is that?

Goalie Target
goalie = goalkeeper. Usually a hockey goalkeeper.  And don't even start with me about how "hockey" is that thing you play on a field with those weird, too-short, curved sticks.  That is FIELD hockey. (Shut up Jeremy.)

deke = verb. A hockey term that started as an abbreviation of "decoy".  As in "And here comes Lafleur on the breakaway!  He dekes left and puts one through the five hole!".  Can also be used in non-hockey related conversation in phrases like, "That guy totally deked me out to get to the shorter check-out line."

five hole = the area between the goalie's legs.  Based on the numbering of the holes in a typical practice target.  The corners are numbered one through four, leaving five for the tricky shot between the legs.

Old Dutch Chips = Old Dutch Foods Ltd is an American snack food company that opened a potato chip plant in Winnipeg in 1954.  Old Dutch chips are a prairie favourite, and come in a few standard flavours that would be alien to the UK crisp-eater: sour cream and onion, dill pickle and ketchup!  They've also got a unique treat called Popcorn Twists that taste like lightly salted styrofoam packing peanuts but melt on your tongue.

Old Dutch Chips
Ketchup Chips! Popcorn Twists! Dill Pickle Chips!

Eavestrough = those long, narrow troughs that hang on the edge of the eaves of a house to catch rainwater from the roof and direct it through downspouts and away from the foundation of the house.  Known elsewhere as gutters, but don't I think anyone could dispute that eavestrough is clearly the most appropriate term.

Slough = pronounced "sloo".  A prairie term for a small pond or body of water formed in a depression in the land.

A prairie slough, complete with duckings!

Thongs = flip flops.  Where I grew up we called those cheapie slip-on summer shoes thongs, which has nothing to do with underwear, thank you very much.

Warning: do NOT google "thongs" and expect to get 
anything related to footwear...

Pop = sweet carbonated beverage.  Called soda in America and fizzy drink in the UK.  Pop is a good thing to have with the iconic Canadian convenience food: Kraft Dinner.

KraftDinnerKraft Dinner, or KD for short = marketed as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in the US and Easy Mac in Australia, and referred to generically as "macaroni cheese" (note the absent "and") in the UK.  Kraft Dinner is as deeply ingrained in the Canadian psyche as hockey and jumper cables. Though the taste is in no way similar, I'd say it occupies the same part in the hearts and minds of Canadians that Heinz baked beans do in Brits. Consisting of a box of dry macaroni and an envelope of powdered cheese-like substance, KD is apparently the most popular grocery item in Canada.  In fact, the term "kraft dinner" is used to refer to any boxed mac 'n' cheese product.  It's a hands-down favourite with kids, a guilty pleasure for adults, and is often the first thing that young people learn to cook/assemble after leaving home.

Powdery cheeselike substance, pre-mixing.
All that's required is a pot of salted boiling water.  Once the macaroni is cooked, the KD chef is instructed to add butter or margarine and milk, along with the nuclear-coloured cheese powder.  The directions on the box specify exact amounts of butter and milk, but most people use their inborn Canadian KD-sense to create their own perfect version, which will be somewhere on a continuum between soupy and stodgy, according to taste and upbringing.

Kraft Dinner is cheap and filling and comforting and infinitely adaptable. I like to add frozen peas in the last few minutes of cooking and then stir in canned tuna and extra cheese.  Many people add ketchup (yuck), or sliced wieners.  It's also quite nice with a dollop of condensed tomato soup for a creamy tomatoey bowl of yumminess.

You know, if there's room in my suitcase, I just might have to take a few boxes of Kraft Dinner back to London with me.  It never hurts to have a taste of home to fall back on when needed.

The lovely and talented CB, playing the part of typical Canadian Kid With Bowl of KD

Ok that was kind of fun.  I might have to make this reverse-glossary-blog-post-thing a yearly tradition.  There's so much material to cover.  Like rice krispie cake, and Canadian Tire money, and chinooks and teen burgers and bumper-dragging and... well you'll have to tune in next year to find out.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!


Jill said...

I totally forgot about Vi-co! loved it as a kid. Maybe add "beep" next year.(orange drink sold in elementary schools, usually along with Vi-co).

Pam said...

Beep is already on the list!

eme said...


That is where we had our Beep delivered from (here in Manitoba).

Cori said...

'Biffie' is one that was a mystery to my American friends, and I imagine to Brits as well.

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