Speak Canadian? You betcha!


English is not a single language. There’s British English, and American English, and Canadian English, and Australian English, and a few other varieties.

If you want to decode the Canadian version, or slip some Canadian patois into your writing, you might want to dip into A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles.

The Dictionary’s stated purpose is “to provide a historical record of words and expressions characteristic of the various spheres of Canadian life during the almost four centuries that English has been used in Canada.”

This being a scholarly work, the authors have noted seven types of Candianisms:

  • Type 1 – Origin: a form and its meaning was created in what is now Canada
  • Type 2 – Preservation: a form or meaning that was once widespread in many Englishes, but is now preserved in Canadian English in the North American context or beyond; sometimes called “retention”
  • Type 3 – Semantic Change: forms that have undergone semantic change in Canadian English
  • Type 4 – Culturally Significant: forms or meanings that have been enshrined in the Canadian psyche and are widely seen as part of Canadian identity
  • Type 5 – Frequency: forms or meanings that are Canadian by virtue of frequency
  • Type 6 – Memorial: forms or meanings now widely considered to be pejorative
  • Non-Canadian: forms or meanings once thought to be Canadian for which evidence is lacking

But maybe you aren’t feeling all that scholarly today and you just want to get to the nifty words. Very well.

We have words such as poutine (n. French fries covered in gravy and topped with cheese curds). Then there’s toque (n. A close-fitting knitted hat). If you find yourself eating a small, smoke-cured herring, you have a Digby chicken on your plate. If you find yourself in front of a sign saying PWYC, it means Pay What You Can.

If you check out the dictionary thoroughly, you may notice that “you betcha” is not listed. So why is that the title of this post? Because I regularly talk with some folks in Alberta, and they say “you betcha” a lot. If you want to argue that the phrase does not rise to the level of “distinctly Canadian,” I won’t be offended.


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