The second edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which has just been released, lists a number of popular Canadian phrases, many of which are rarely heard outside our borders.
Perhaps the most startling and localised entry is peculiar to the city of Thunder Bay, where a completely respectable woman might invite you to a “shag” with a mixed company of 20 people or more. As it turns out, in that part of Northern Ontario, both sexes get together for a combined wedding shower and stag party, hence “shag.” It’s really quite efficient, but recent British immigrants must get terribly confused.
This particular usage has not yet found its way to Toronto, so if a strange woman issues such an invitation here, she is definitely not respectable, and you have wandered into the wrong part of town. Since many of you will be visiting Toronto next spring for the Annual USITT Conference and Stage Expo, it’s time to explain a few of the unique features of Canadian language and culture you will encounter here.
“Eh?” The classic ending to a Canadian paragraph. This eloquent monosyllable combines a confirmation of shared understanding with a solicitation of agreement, and a general expression of bonhomie.
Barley Sandwich A lunch consisting of beer.
A Two Four A case of beer – two dozen bottles of beer, to be precise.
May Two Four The ninteenth century monarch, Queen Victoria, was born on May 24, and at some point the Monday closest to this date was made an official holiday, which is still sometimes referred to as Victoria Day. It is on this long weekend that Canadians traditionally open their cottages, plant their gardens, break the ice in their bird baths, and generally try to pretend that summer is imminent. Many of these activities are fueled by cases of beer (see previous definition), hence the popular pronunciation.
The Queen Elizabeth, Victoria's heir, is appreciated as a constitutional and ceremonial convenience, but otherwise generally ignored. Her gracefully aging visage has adorned our stamps, our money, and our post offices for over 50 years. We have few rabid anti-monarchists since, unlike the British, we do not have to support Her Majesty's palaces, staff, or egregious family. On the occasion of her infrequent visits to Canada, she receives the traditional tribute of three beaver pelts, a moose hide, two pints of maple syrup, and a box of doughnuts. Her staff usually gets a "two four."
Robertson Screw The ubiquitous Canadian fastener, which can be held on the end of a square-headed driver, is used everywhere in Canadian theatre. It is found in quantity in any Canadian hardware store, but south of the border, it is rarely found outside the pages of Fine Woodworking.
When provoked, Canadian house crews have been known to send road shows back to the USA with all the road cases fastened with Robertson screws. In order to maintain our reputation for being very considerate, however, Robertson bits are usually taped inside the lids. It is truly the Canadian Screw.
Robertson Screwdriver Like our money, our screwdrivers are colour-coded: a number 6 screw takes a green-handled driver, a number 8 screw takes a red-handled driver, and a number 12 takes a black-handled driver – really.
Robertson Screwdriver – Russian style Two parts vodka to one part marmalade.
The Loonie Some years ago, we retired our one-dollar and two-dollar bills. A competition was held to select the design for the new coin. Once the winner was selected, the dies were struck in Ottawa and sent to the Mint in Winnipeg. Somewhere en route, the dies went missing. The approved choice was scrapped, and the second-place design – featuring the profile of that eerily sonorous waterfowl, the loon – was rushed into production. The new one-dollar coin was immediately dubbed “The Loonie.” No one can remember what the winning design looked like.
The Toonie A few years after the one-dollar coin was launched, the two-dollar coin appeared. The brass centre of this bi-metal coin features a polar bear. Did anyone call it The Polar? No. Did the nation adopt the elegantly double-edged Doubloon? No. Did a cheesy rhyme win the day? Yes.
Curling Our beloved game of frigid vectors and frozen geometry. Just think of it as billiards, without pockets or cues, played on ice with brooms and large rocks.
Hockey Game A gladiatorial event with religious overtones. This high-speed armoured ballet with its cathartic violence serves to maintain a relatively orderly and peaceful society outside of the rink. The true nature of hockey is not really understood outside our borders, which is why a puck is added for any games broadcast in the United States. This recent addition of a rubber disk has obviously confused Canadians in turn, which might explain why the Stanley Cup has not resided in Canada for some time.
July and August The months without hockey, when men wearing team sweaters wander aimlessly about the landscape on roller blades.
Golf A game played by the Toronto Maple Leafs from April to September.
The Doughnut Shop The true Canadian agora, where all occupations and classes meet. It is also the best place to find a policeman if you need one. Canada ’s largest chain of doughnut shops (which actually outsells MacDonalds) was started by a hockey player with the Toronto Maple Leafs who found that he had a lot of free time. Order a “double-double” here – or in any Canadian restaurant – and you will get a coffee with two spoonfuls of sugar and double cream.
“Youse” This pronoun is formally known as the Second Person Plural Inclusive [viz. “You all” and “Y’all”, southern U.S. ]. Typically heard when a waitress asks a couple “Would youse like some more coffee?” Unlike the American “you all,” its use is strictly plural; if you are alone and a waitress addresses you as “youse,” she is cross-eyed.
Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to navigate the streets of Toronto like a native during the 45th Annual Conference & Stage Expo. See youse next March, eh?
A Guide to Canadian Definitions
The Fairmont Royal York hotel flies flags of welcome to all visitors, even those unfamiliar
with some Canadian terminology. The Royal York will be the site of OISTAT’s World Congress,
the first World Stage Design exhibit, and numerous other activities of the 45th Annual
Conference & Stage Expo.
By Paul Court
Toronto Promotions Coordinator