Canada, Eh: A Language Quiz

Pop quiz! Which of the following sentences is correct?

The zombies are almost upon us! It’s time to…

a) ...organise the neighbourhood defences!

b) ...organize the neighborhood defences!

c) ...organize the neighbourhood defenses!

If you chose a), you’re correct!

If you chose b), you’re also correct.

And if you chose c), good news: you’re correct too.

Alternate spellings

If you don’t see a difference, take a look at the last three letters of organize/organise, the U or lack thereof in neighbourhood, and the S versus C in defence. None of these spellings are wrong, but they’re all a chance to pull your reader out of the story if not used appropriately.

So how do you use them appropriately, you ask? Simple: you decide if you’re writing for a British, Canadian, or American audience.

But that decision will affect more than just spelling. It will also guide you in selecting the most effective idioms (that is, phrases peculiar to a specific region or community).

If they’re all correct, why does it matter which one I use?

It matters because your audience will likely be used to a particular style. Your British readers may read favorite without the U as a mistake. Similarly, Americans are likely to be baffled every time your character takes the piss or complains of being trolleyed.

While you may not be spelling a word wrong, per se, if your selected spelling or turn of phrase feels unnatural to the reader, it can jolt them out of the story. Minimizing technical, language-level distractions will help keep your reader focused on the narrative.

Canadian or Complete Nonsense?

In honour of Canada Day, we’ve devised a little quiz for you. Half of the following phrases are used in Canadian English, and the rest are complete nonsense we made up just to confuse you. Can you tell which are which?

  1. Don’t go outside without your bunny hug!

  2. Go into every interview with a full flagon of geese.

  3. I have a different toque for every day of the week.

  4. Never twirl with a millionaire.

  5. Did you really have to give him your last bazoon?

  6. What night is your stag?

  7. Can I borrow a loonie?

  8. My glove compartment is full of serviettes.

  9. Don’t let the bunk birds into the yard.

  10. Is your milk homo?

  11. It’ll take me a few squirrels before I feel ready to present.

  12. I hate it when books end on a Jasper knot.

  13. The rent may sound cheap, but it excludes hydro.

  14. How many creeks of parmesan go into the alfredo?

Think you got them all? Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the answers.

How can anyone know all these?!

For anyone who grew up in the regions where these words are used, they’ll seem perfectly natural. For everyone else, the answer is practice, practice, practice—and a good, region-specific dictionary.

If that seems like way too much work, no worries—a good editor will be able to spot these for you and make sure your writing is suited to the audience that will be reading it.


Real Canadianisms, Eh: 1 (bunny hug = hoodie), 3 (toque = a type of warm hat), 6 (stag = bachelor party) , 7 (loonie = $1 coin), 8 (serviette = napkin), 10 (homo milk = whole milk), 13 (hydro = electricity utility)

Utter nonsense: 2, 4, 5, 9, 11, 12, 14

Katie King