Here are six Canadian sayings and explanations of their meaning in relatively easy English.
1. If a Canadian person is too thin, we might use this expression: “Thin? I’ve seen more meat on a hockey stick!” The long, narrow wooden stick used to move the puck in a hockey game does not, of course, have any meat on it.
2. If a Canadian person is overweight, this saying may be used: “He’s fat as mud.” This can also mean that he’s ‘healthy, not too scrawny.’ The mud simile is quite old for a Canadian saying. It appears in an 1864 book entitled George Stanley or A Year in the Woods, all about life in early Canada and the English speech of our pioneer settlers.
3. Here’s a cowboy saying from ranch country in the Canadian province of Alberta, said when someone is in a bad mood or very grumpy early in the day: “He rode in on an ugly horse.”An American way of saying the same thing is: “He got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.” Now, neither an ugly horse nor the wrong side of the bed should make a person grumpy. There is no wrong side of most beds. Most horses are good-looking animals. These are just vivid comments on someone’s foul temper.
4. Here is a saying about Canada.
Question: Is it hot and humid?
Answer: It’s closer than Canucks to the border.
This common expression about summer weather refers to a Canadian population fact. Most Canadians live very near the American border, because it is in general the warmest part of Canada. Canuck is a slangy and playful synonym for Canadian. Canuck can be an adjective (“Get your Canuck butt off that chair!”) or a noun (“There are two Americans and two Canucks here.”)
5. Here’s a question-and-answer expression.
Question: What’s the difference between a Canuck and a canoe?
Answer: Sometimes a canoe tips.
This joke depends on two meanings of the verb “to tip.” When a canoe tips, the boat turns over on its side in the water. When you exit a restaurant, you may leave a tip (money) on the table, to show that there was good service. The joke suggests that Canadians are stingy and don’t leave tips. As a Canadian, I assure you that is just a joke.
6. Here are some French-Canadian lyrics with a wintry turn of phrase.
“Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver.”
Translation: My country, it’s not a country, it’s the winter.
If there is one line of French every new Canadian should learn, it is this first line of Quebec ’s best-loved modern song. In 1965 chansonnier Gilles Vigneault penned what has become an unofficial anthem of Quebec, Mon Pays, a song whose opening lyric speaks to all Canadians who are not Florida-nesting snowbirds. Although a sentimental favourite, the lyrics of the song are actually a bleak howl of despair. Everywhere the singer looks to find identity and warmth, he instead encounters an obliterating and cold nature. A garden is not a garden, but a bare plain. A road is not a road, it’s a ghastly blank of snow. Indifferent, monstrous nature, waiting dressed in winter white to devour the puny human pioneer, is a constant through much Canadian literature, as Margaret Atwood pointed out in Survival, her 1972 critical appraisal of this theme.
© 2012 William Gordon Casselman
Hundreds of links to more of my word entries are available below.
Any comments, additional word lore or book orders?
Please email me at email@example.com