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Michelle Butterfield

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Words You Need To Know To Get By On The Prairies

Posted: 10/27/2013 11:51 am

I've lost most of my Nova Scotia accent since I moved to Alberta 9 years ago, but sometimes people still look at me kind of funny out here.

I continue to say words like "car," "bar," and "far" with a long, drawn-out r -- a bit like a pirate, I suppose.

But it's the pesky regional variations in language that continue to trip me up.

In Nova Scotia I'd stay at a cottage and maybe tie up my sneakers to go for a run. I'd maybe get a quart to celebrate the Victoria Day long weekend. I called my underwear, well, underwear.

In Alberta, rather, I stay at a cabin and tie up my runners when I want to run. I get a 2-4 to celebrate May Long. And my underwear are now gitch.

Now, I had a bit of an advantage moving out west -- my mother and I moved from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia when I was quite young, so I grew up with terms like "kitty-corner" and "bunnyhug" in my vocabulary, still, though, use any of those words out east and people will look at you like you've got two heads.

What I've learned is that you can't win with Canadian English. You'll think you've got it down, but at the next town or truck stop the locals will be using a whole new set of colloquialisms.

Here are some of the vernacular of the Canadian prairies I've come to know and love in my time out west. I may not remember to use it all the time, but I am trying!

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  • The Hat

    When you come to Alberta eventually you'll hear about a place called 'The Hat.' It's an abbreviated name for Medicine Hat. (Technically, us Canadians call the hat pictured a 'toque.' <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/26/slang-words-what-words-do_n_3491739.html" target="_blank">But that's a whole other lesson</a>.)

  • Chinooks

    Chinook winds, more commonly called 'Chinooks' in Calgary, are wet, warm coastal winds that travel over the Canadian Rockies in winter and can significantly warm up the city - sometimes by 20 degrees or more. No matter how cold Calgary gets you can bet almost everyone is coping because sooner or later a chinook will blow in and make the winter much more bearable.

  • Kitty-Corner

    Kitty-corner, some sometimes catty-corner or cater-corner, is a directional reference meaning diagonally, usually across an intersection. "The Safeway is kitty-corner to the school."

  • Borscht

    A soup of Ukranian origin that is popular among many Eastern and Central European countries. It's rich, red colour comes from beets. There are lots of different ways to make borscht and everyone in the west whose family is of Eastern or Central European descent seems to have a favourite family recipe. See also: Perogies, KieĊ‚basa, Cabbage Rolls, etc...

  • Gitch, Gotch, Gonch, Gotchies, etc...

    Where you live will determine your go-to slang word for underwear. 'Gonch' is typical in Alberta, where Manitoba and Saskatchewan tend to go for 'gitch' or 'gotch.' No matter how you pronounce it it's now a legitimate word - it's now in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

  • "Hey"

    Canadians have a reputation for "eh," but in Alberta you can often hear people saying "hey," instead. "That was a good movie, hey?"

  • Cabin

    While Easterners often refer to their vacation property as a "cottage," out west it's pretty much exclusively a cabin. Small difference, yes, but people will look at you strange if you use "cottage."

  • Bunnyhug or Kangaroo Sweater

    That hoodie or hooded sweatshirt on your back immediately becomes a bunnyhug the moment you step foot in Saskatchewan. Elsewhere on the prairies you may hear it referred to as a kangaroo sweater.


    The movie FUBAR, which was shot in Calgary, made this military slang popular with the masses. Generally accepted to mean "f**ked up beyond all recognition/repair/reason."

  • Old Dutch

    By now Old Dutch potato chips have reached almost all parts of Canada but for a while you could only find them on the prairies. The chips were manufactured in Minneapolis until Manitoba opened a plant in 1954. We're glad the whole country now gets to savour Sour Cream and Cheddar Chips.

  • Vi-Co

    Vi-Co was a brand of chocolate milk available only in Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba until the company was bought out by Dairyland in 1995. To this day, however, many Saskatchwanites still call chocolate milk Vi-Co.

  • Pil

    Pil, or Old Style Pilsner, is THE beer you drink when in Saskatchewan. No questions asked.

  • May 2-4 or May Long

    Traditionally known as Victoria Day long weekend, people on the prairies like to celebrate the holiday by calling it May 2-4 (a nod to all the beer that's drank, perhaps?) or May Long.

  • Family Day

    All three prairie provinces celebrate Family Day on the third Monday of February. B.C. just got in on this non-stat holiday last year and P.E.I. and Ontario also take a day off to celebrate. Sorry, other Quebec and other Atlantic provinces. No holiday for you.

  • Runners

    People on the prairies will know what you mean when you say "sneakers," but "runners" is by far the more common term.

  • Garburator

    Out east you don't see a lot of these fancy contraptions, likely because a lot of the homes are quite old. However, in Alberta garburators seem to be in almost every home. (Editor's note: When I first moved to Calgary from Halifax 10 years ago I had NO idea what a garburator was. Had never seen one, nor heard the term in my life.)

  • Beater

    Old cars that are rusted and falling apart and barely look driveable are given the endearing name of "beaters." Amazingly these cars never seem to stop running. It's likely the lack of humidity and precipitation.

  • No-see-ums

    These little bugs are often called sand flies in more coastal areas of Canada, but on the prairies we call them "no-see-ums." Annoying little buggers, they'll leave your legs with little red bumps.

  • Booting

    Buying booze or cigarettes for underage kids is called "booting" or "bootin." From the word bootlegging.

  • Head'r

    When you leave a place, particularly a bar or party, you'll ask your friends if they want to "head'r." "This party is lame. Wanna head'r?"

  • Stuffies

    Stuffed animals everywhere else in the country are, for some reason, known as "stuffies" out west.

  • Appys or Appies

    You can't go to a pub in Alberta without seeing "appys" featured on the menu. Short for appetizers. (Possibly the most annoying word on this list...or of all time.)

  • Felts

    We have met people who don't know the word "markers." Which is kind of mind-boggling. But, anyway, a lot of people call them "felts" out here...probably because of their felt tips.

  • Lunch Kit

    A lunch bag is a "lunch kit."

  • Gym Strip

    You don't bring your gym clothes in Alberta. You bring your "gym strip." Which just sounds weird.

Did I miss any words? Let me know in the comments below!

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