Spelling (and other) differences: Canada-US-UK

It’s all English, but Canada-US-UK spelling differences certainly do exist, and they are one of the first issues authors and their editors should clear up in any manuscript, large or small. Whichever version you use, the important thing is to be consistent throughout.

Canadians generally follow the British tradition but, alas, not always. A specific Canadian mix of American and British spellings constitutes the "Canadian" spellings.

Karen Bond and her website, Karen’s Linguistics Issues, covers Canada-US-UK spellings. Karen marks the most commonly used versions with an asterisk (*).

However, it can be a lot of work and will take a lot of your valuable writing time to check each word that might have different Canada-US-UK spellings. The best course of action is simply to hire a good editor, one who will have memorized a lot of the most common words that can have different spellings.

Marketing is also a consideration here. If you want to tap the huge U.S. market, go with American spellings. If retaining the flavour of your own English might enhance your book, be it Canadian, British or American, then, of course, do so. Again, just be aware of the Canada-US-UK spelling differences and try to be consistent throughout.


Uniquely Canadian words, spellings and expressions

  • “Eh?” – basically meaning “Don’t you think?” It’s a conversational device that allows a non-confrontational Canadian (most of us) to turn a statement into a poll of opinion. 
  • “Canuck” – nickname for a Canadian 
  • “clicks” – slang for kilometres per hour 
  • “hoser” – unsophisticated person
  • “keener” – boot-licker, brown-noser, suck-up 
  • “kerfuffle” – commotion or flurry of agitation 
  • “Molson muscle” – potbelly or beer belly (Molson is a Canadian brand of beer.) 
  • “lineup” – line of people, queue 
  • “for sure!” – definitely 
  • “to be on pogey” – to be on welfare or social assistance, most often refers to federal government Employment Insurance benefits. 
  • “mickey” – 375 ml. (13 oz.) bottle of liquor “two-four” – case of beer containing 24 bottles or cans 
  • “arse” – bum or fool, or one’s hind quarters. 
  • “give’em a shout” – to call someone on the phone 
  • “to phone someone” – to call someone on the phone “going on holiday” – going on vacation

Unique Canadian food

  • poutine – French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy and any of a plethora of other toppings
  • smoked meat – similar to corned beef and served hot on a bun
  • ketchup on fries, believe it or not
  • vinegar on fries, especially fish and chips
  • butter tart – a small, pecan-pie-like tart, often with raisins, not pecans
  • Nanaimo bar – a multi-layer brownie with icing
  • tourtiere – a French Canadian meat pie
  • milk in a bag – comes in a group of three bags (not common everywhere in the country)

Canadians call it; Americans call it...

  • Back bacon – Canadian bacon 
  • icing sugar – powdered sugar 
  • whitener – powdered non-dairy creamer put in coffee or tea 
  • processed cheese – American cheese 
  • chocolate bar – candy bar 
  • brown bread – whole wheat bread 
  • homo milk – whole milk 
  • Rye and ginger – Canadian whiskey and Ginger Ale 
  • write (a test) – take a test 
  • invigilate an exam – proctor an exam 
  • tutorial – recitation 
  • mark a test – grade a test 
  • public school – elementary school 
  • supply teacher – substitute teacher 
  • college – community college 
  • zed (Z) – zee (Z) 
  • chesterfield – couch the 
  • bill – what Canadians ask for in a restaurant (Americans ask for the check) 
  • eavestrough – rain gutter on the eaves (edge of the roof) of a house
  • elastic – rubber band 
  • girl guides – girl scouts 
  • highway – freeway 
  • housecoat – robe or bathrobe 
  • hydro – electricity 
  • serviette – napkin 
  • tap – faucet or spigot 
  • washroom – bathroom 
  • track pants – sweat pants 
  • runners – tennis shoes 
  • muskoka chair – large, usually wooden deck chair 
  • postal code – zip code

Other Canadianisms

Many Canadianisms are of British origin and can be found there as well. 

  • Five-pin bowling – a smaller ball and only five pins – great for kids and drunks!
  • Mountie – member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (like the FBI)
  • Toonie (or twonie) – Canadian two-dollar coin (since 1996)
  • toque (or tuque) – woollen, usually pointed cap worn in the winter
  • civic holiday – a government sanctioned (provincial or federal) day off work for no good reason
  • Canada uses the metric system, although they quote their height and weight in feet/inches and pounds. Industry, for the most part, still uses imperial units.
  • For measuring temperature, Canada uses the Celsius scale rather than the Fahrenheit.
  • Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in October; the U.S. in November. The Canadian holiday does not revolve around football as it does in the U.S.
  • Soda in the U.S. Is “pop” in Canada. It is made with corn syrup in the U.S. and sugar in Canada, which changes the taste significantly.

It has been said that Canadians are simply disarmed Americans with health care.

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