Time for another edition of “Allison’s Word.” Since the first entry of this feature one year ago was about America, I thought I’d turn to another country. And that country is…
Okay, you’re venturing into stereotypes and slang terms a little bit there, Disembodied Voice, though given most Canadians’ sense of humor (er, humour), I imagine they will have a good laugh about it. The reason I wanted to talk about Canada is because the weekend when I’m writing this post is Canada Day weekend (July 1 was the actual holiday). It’s popularly referred to as Canada’s birthday, but it’s technically the day four British North American colonies were united as one country.
“Yes! The Canadian Revolution! The day they gained independence from England!”
Well, not really. In 1867, three British North American colonies were jointly united through a process termed as confederation.
“Federation? Like on Star Trek?”
No, no, no. What happened was the colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Canada (which would be separated into Ontario and Quebec) united under one dominion called “Canada.” It was still a part of the British Empire and loyal to Britain’s monarchy and parliament, yet it was able to have some of its own joint self-governance.
Canada, while still part of what was once known as the British Commonwealth, has had complete self-governance from Britain since 1982 (i.e. they can amend their own constitution without requesting the British parliament to do so). And the British monarchy is still technically Canada’s head of state, though The Queen is more of a traditional, symbolic leader of Canada than anything else (her visage is still on Canadian currency). But since the Queen of England is busy being… well, the Queen of England, she leaves all her Canadian duties to a governor general.
“You mean he’s a governor and a general? Sounds like he’s one busy person.”
No, that’s just his title (and you got the gender pronoun correct since this guy currently holds the position). But the governor general is just the head of state for Canada; the limo is his for as long as The Queen lets him ride it, although she does take back those keys on important Canadian occasions such as, say, this one.
The governor general’s not the head of Canada’s government, though. Just as in Great Britain, Canada’s government is headed by the prime minister.
“Justin Trudeau? He’s a dreamboat!”
Yeah, I agree! But he’s also happily married and a pretty good boxer, so I wouldn’t drool too much over the guy and just let him do his job. The cool thing one has to admire about Justin Trudeau is that, unlike the previous Canadian prime minister, he openly promotes positive feelings and respect to any and all peoples and cultures through his words and actions (“sunny ways” is the term he has used). That attitude is something everyone should emulate, though, sadly, not everyone seems to do so (like, say, a certain thin-orange-skinned American political candidate). It’s that welcoming feeling that impressed even the President of the United States, Barack Obama, just this week.
Speaking of Canada and the United States… our two countries certainly have a strong bond of collegiality and cooperation. America, of course, gives to or inspires in Canada a lot of fine things like freedom, liberty, justice, major brand names, television shows, popular music, and department store chains that embarrassingly go out of business within two years.
“Man, were they way off ‘tar-ZHAY.'”
Canada, for its part, has given America — and the rest of the world for that matter — a positive impression of dignity, progressiveness, and multiculturalism. Yeah, not everyone in the rest of the world readily takes to all of that (like, say, a certain thin-orange-skinned American political candidate), but it’s Canada’s embrace of those traits that can’t help but leave a good impression on the rest of the planet.
“But that can’t be all that Canada gives the world, right?”
No, and not by a long shot. In the physical, tangible sense, Canada gives the world timber, salmon, beer, oil, maple syrup (yum!), other natural resources, and beautiful scenery. Okay, the rest of the world actually has to go to Canada to take in the beautiful scenery, but it’s certainly worth the trip. Case in point: Agawa Canyon in Northern Ontario. I took a day-long round-trip trek by train to that area one autumn and, oh wow, was it ever so beautiful.
But there’s also Canada’s people and what they bring to the world. As the American president said in that above linked speech he delivered this week, “Our relationship is so remarkable precisely because it seems so unremarkable. Which is why Americans often are surprised when our favorite American actor or singer turns out to be Canadian.”
“There’s a space-alien-in-disguise joke in there somewhere.”
Well, don’t say it, because Canadians are just as human as we Americans. But I get your point and what President Obama was getting at in his speech: We could be in the same classroom as a college student or professor; we could be in the same theater with a performer; or we could be sharing the same running path as a jogger… and perhaps the least important thing about them could be that they’re Canadian. In other words, their talents and personality stand out more than their nationality.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, so you’re Canadian. Okay then.'”
That’s the attitude! But, yeah, we can’t help but admire the work that Canadians have done within their borders, within our borders, and beyond both of our borders. Canadians in the entertainment world easily stand out, obviously. The talent list includes:
- News anchors and journalists such as Peter Jennings. (Man, I miss watching him every night.)
- Game show hosts such as Alex Trebek.
- A bevy of hockey players. Hockey is Canada’s national sport, after all, and Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky are only two of those names on the list of Canadian NHL alumna.
- Athletes outside of hockey (that’s not the only sport up there, you know), including former baseball star Larry Walker and speed skater and cyclist Clara Hughes.
- A boatload of actors and actors too numerous to single out, suffice it to say you can find them on this list.
- And an equally overabundant list of singers and musicians like, say, anyone on this list.
“Don’t forget Robin Sparkles.”
Oh, yes, even fictitious singers played by real-life Canadian actresses on American sitcoms. We’re definitely not going to forget those. *LOL* Of course, there are 36 million other Canadians (give or take a few heads) that do great work in their own fields (academia, medicine, government, etc.), so hats off to them as well.
But while Canadians and Americans can be so alike in so many ways, there are also so many things that make us different. One of the more noticeable differences is in language. While my friend, the disembodied voice, tried to roll out that “space aliens in disguise” joke above, it does feel sometimes as if Canadians speak a totally different language, and I’m not talking French either.
Ah, thank you! I was just about to bring up that term. Perhaps it’s due to Canada’s connections with Great Britain, but Canadian spelling of words come almost right out of Britain’s Oxford English Dictionary. Some obvious spelling differences include “colour,” “defence,” and “jewellery.” However, there’s sometimes an American influence in the spelling of some other words. An obvious indication of that is the word “tire.” Canadians spell it just like we Americans do, unlike the funny spelling the Brits use for that same word (“tyre”).
Then there are differences in word pronunciations, and this is where it really gets fun. One of the most early noticeable differences I remember hearing was when I was a kid and would tune in Canadian AM radio stations, that is if and when their signals could come in. The newscasters would pronounce “again” not as “a-gen” but rather as “a-GAIN,” putting emphasis on that hard “A” in that second syllable (e.g. “The Maple Leafs lost a-GAIN last night…”).
Then there are words like “out.” Here in America, both vowels in “out” seem to equally have a passive pronunciation (listen to this link and you’ll see what I mean). But there is something called “Canadian raising,” where, depending on the regional dialect, the word is pronounced with a heavier emphasis on the vowels (“OWt“) or sounds almost as if it’s a totally different word (“Oat“).
“Regional variations? This sounds way to complicated for me.”
Well, when you think of it, almost every nation on Earth has some regional variations of word pronunciations. Don’t worry, though, for I won’t go into pronunciations any further here. However, I will, at this point, recommend a couple of outside articles from last year about the uniqueness of Canadian English and culture that partially inspired this post: One is this post from one of my WordPress peeps, The Finicky Cynic; another is this article from the BBC. Both are entertaining and worth the read.
I’m not done yet, however. Matter of fact, I’m just getting started. There’s a whole bevy of terms that are unique to Canada, terms that when I hear them, I can’t help but think, “Oh yeah, that’s pure Canadiana for sure.” Here are just a few of those terms:
Loonie and toonie — Canada doesn’t have $1 or $2 bills like we do in the States (those paper denominations were retired years ago). The $1 coin is called the “loonie” since it depicts the common loon on the reverse side. The $2 coin has a polar bear, but since it’s equal to 2 loonies… well, you get the idea.
Muskoka — it’s not the only Canadian lake setting where one can get away for a pleasant summer weekend, but since it’s a hop, skip, and jump away from Canada’s largest city, Toronto, it’s one of the most popular.
Chesterfield — how this became the term for “couch” used by some Canadians, I’ll never know. Maybe some younger Canadians don’t know either, for they use either “couch” or “sofa.”
Eh? — yes, it’s true, Canadians use this term a lot. And they get mocked for it. But they use it to see if the listener agrees with or comprehends what’s being said (e.g. “Get your grimy hands off my car, eh?”).
Poutine — French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy. I dunno, it sounds like it’s an acquired taste.
Back bacon — ah, yes, the answer to the famous question, “what do Canadians call Canadian bacon?” Now you know.
Kraft Dinner — what we Americans call Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Canadians call… well, dinner. Economical and delicious. I’d dare say “KD” is a more popular dinner dish than macaroni and cheese is down here.
Tim Hortons — a restaurant chain known for its coffee and donuts (the bite-sized Timbits especially), and for accommodating customers who just shoot the breeze while enjoying the coffee and donuts. But they also have soups and sandwiches on their menu (think Panera Bread without the sophisticated upscale atmosphere). Tim’s has a little bit of an American presence (mainly in such states as Michigan, New York, and Ohio), but it still isn’t too well known here; by contrast, it feels as if every town in Canada, large or small, has at least one Tim’s. Yeah, Tim’s is that ubiquitous. It’s a shame, though, that the NHL player who was the chain’s co-founder and namesake never lived to see how ubiquitous it would become.
Two-four – a case of beer for that long weekend at the lake with friends, so named because it contains 24 cans or bottles of beer.
“[*sound of long, loud belch*]“
I beg your pardon?!
“Oh, sorry. I sampled that two-four.”
You’re starting to sound like a Canadian with that apology there. So, now that you know all those terms, you will understand what I mean if I say, “I’m headed out with some friends to that lake cottage in Muskoka, where we’ll enjoy some poutine and back bacon, with some KD on the side, and Timbits for desert that we spent our loonies and toonies on, then wash it down with some two-fours while we sit on the chesterfield and watch the sun go down, eh?”
“Who’s imbibing on stereotypes and slang terms now?”
In this case, I see it not so much as stereotypes and slang but things that our friends from the North can call their own. And they can be proud to do so this weekend, from coast to coast to coast, while watching a parade, enjoying a concert, or having a cookout or a picnic… all the while taking pride in being from a sprawling, beautiful, proud cosmopolitan country of various cultures and peoples from coast to coast to coast. A country called…
Okay, a last-minute note for those who are wondering about the below song: It’s “Canada,” which was written by the musician Bobby Gimby (that’s him with the bejweled horn) and commissioned for Expo 67, an event that coincided with “the hundredth anniversary of Confederation.” Peppy little tune, isn’t it?