North American* Code-Switching

People from Canada and the United States have a lot in common.  Some subtle differences, however, make it difficult to lead a life with one foot in each country.  The most noticeable differences may be spelling and terminology.  Setting aside the obvious, I will focus today on some special words that stand out in conversations in these two neighbo(u)ring places.  Why?  Because it’s a blog, and blogs are for typing.  Also, because I just had a really funny chat with someone where I found myself translating (or code-switching) mid-sentence.  Furthermore, this will help you blend in if you are planning any border-crossing in your near future (perhaps for holiday shopping?).

– College, university: interchangeable in the US, not so in Canada.  In Canada, college means “community college” or “trade school.”  It’s funny because I used to refer to McGill as “my college,” much to the chagrin of my Canadian friends, but now I refer to most schools as “universities,” which makes me sound pretentious when I am in the US.

– Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior (US): In Canada, for high school, you have Grade 9, 10, 11, and 12.  In university, you say “First Year,” “Second Year,” and so forth.  Canadians should know the US terminology from all of our TV, but it is pretty cute when they don’t.

– Partner, spouse, husband, wife: In Canada, since 2005, people have been able to marry other people of the same gender / sex due to legislation at the federal level.  Within academia, it seems fairly common to stick with the term “partner,” but using that term in a broader context often gets you in trouble with US border guards.  It is also handy for confusing folks.

– Defence: According to my partner, this means “to remove a fence.”

– Poutine: This is a Canadian delicacy that involves French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.

– Tacos: This is a food that cannot be replicated by Canadian restaurants promising Mexican food.  Trust me, I have looked.

– Shwarma: This Lebanese food category is over-priced, badly done, or both in the US, but widely and inexpensively available in Canada-land.  Thanks, Canada-land, for many a cheap shish taouk.

Chesterfield: Canadian for “couch” or “sofa” (depending on your region in the US).

Toque: Canadian for “hat” (preferably with ear flaps and fur).

– Premier: Canadian for “governor.”

– Governor: US English for “premier.”

– Hockey: Not the national sport of Canada.  (That would be lacrosse.)

– Beaver: Official Canadian symbol.

– Eagle: Official US symbol.

– Eagle clutching a beaver in its talons: My next tattoo.

– “Z:” Pronounced as it’s spelled in the US.  Pronounced “zed” in Canada.  They’re crazy, and sometimes a little British / French.

– Pasta and drama: Pronounced “past – uh” and “dram – uh” in Canada.  Pronounced properly in the land of the free, home of the baseball, etc.

– Celsius: This is what Canadians use to measure temperature, height, and volume.

– Fahrenheit: This is what people in the US use because we like to be different from the rest of the metric world.  Also, a base-ten scale makes things too easy.

– Litres: Canadian measurement of gas.  There are about 40 US thimbles to a litre.  Or something.

– Tim Hortons / Dunkin Donuts: Same thing, different name.  (Oh, yes, I went there.)

– Webcomics: Canadians are really good at these, in my humble opinion.  May I suggest Hark a Vagrant, Dinosaur Comics, and A Softer World?  But only if you like to procrastinate.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure in vocabulary.  Feel free to add your own contributions in the comments.

– AM

* Excluding Mexico


7 thoughts on “North American* Code-Switching

  1. Moving within Canada can alert you to differences between provinces and regions. As a former resident of British Columbia, moving to Ontario, I learned of such curiosities as Separate Schools. The college / university distinction, so important in Ontario, was also a shock. Although in BC a college is a college, and a university a university, one often takes university courses at a college. When I arrived in Ontario, a grade 12 graduate with a year of university, the locals considered me a high school dropout with some trade school courses.

    When travelling down south (i.e. Ohio) I have encountered confusion when asking for a pop and a chocolate bar. Apparently what I seek is a soda and a candy bar. And iced tea, a delicious sweet drink here, is just cold tea stateside.

  2. Excellent post! Thanks for the shout out to my favourite webcomic, Kate Beaton, and for shedding light on why my professors use the word “partner”! (That “u” in favourite marks me out as a Canadian, doesn’t it?)

    Two caveats, though:

    ““Z:” Pronounced as it’s spelled in the US. Pronounced “zed” in Canada.” Correction: pronounced “zee” in the United States, “zed” everywhere else. 😉 It’s only pronounced “zee” in the States – all other English speaking countries pronounce it “zed,” as do French speakers. I’m not sure what you mean when you say it’s pronounced as it’s spelled? It’s a single letter! “Zee” is no more correct or incorrect than “zed” to pronounce this letter as when “Z” appears in a word you no more automatically include the “ee” than you do the “ed.” It’s like saying that “Y” is pronounced as spelled!

    I would also challenge your description of toques – they rarely have fur, and are more likely to be knitted caps. But I forgive you. 😉

  3. Pingback: Koozie versus cozy | This dissertation is going to be fun, like dessert

Comments are closed.