Lost in Translation

When we decided to move to Canada, we started looking forward to meeting what we understood to be the stereotypical Canadian – someone obsessed with hockey, eating everything with a side of maple syrup, saying ‘aboot‘ all the time, and ending every sentence with ‘eh‘.  We are yet to meet that type of Canadian, although optimistic it could still happen!

Anyway, the point is, sure, we expected to have to adjust to this semi-metric, semi-imperial country, which doesn’t appear to have any national standard for describing the date, but we never anticipated that moving from one English speaking country to another, would still include ‘lost in translation’ moments!

What follows are a few of our notable anecdotes.

Will that be two toonies and a loonie?

If you haven’t been to Canada, or haven’t had any cause to look up its currency, you probably don’t know that its one and two dollar coins share their names with popular cartoon series, Looney Tunes.

The one dollar coin is colloquially known as a ‘Loonie‘.  And no, it was not actually named after the cartoon series, but after the loon – a well-known bird in Canada which appears on the coin.

If you have now guessed that the ‘Toonie‘ was named after some other Canadian creature, you would be wrong.  The toonie, a bimetal coin bearing the image of a polar bear, was so-named simply because it carries the value of two loonies → two-nie → toonie.

In Australia we also have nicknames for our currency.  The more common ones which we are familiar with are ‘pineapple‘ for the $50 note (a reference to its yellow colour), ‘lobster‘ for the $20 note (another colour reference), ‘fiver‘ for the $5 note (speaks for itself), and ‘hungee‘ for the $100 note (a bastardised abbreviation of the word “hundred”).  However, by no means are these nicknames universally accepted or used. They are definitely not formally adopted by any government agency and you would confuse the heck out of a bank teller if you asked to withdraw a couple of lobsters!

In contrast, Canada is 100% on board with their quirky-named currency and, as a foreigner, the first time you hear it used in conversation, it is initially slightly bemusing, and then just darn funny.

A little while ago, we made our first road trip across the Canada/USA border to Cleveland, Ohio.  For reasons irrelevant to this story, we had to undergo additional processing at the border before formally entering the USA.  While waiting to be served, we spotted a couple of vending machines.  This one in particular caught our eyes:


Will accept Canaidan coins.  No toonies!

Yes, we chuckled.

More recently, we went to the bank to withdraw some cash.  The conversation went a little like this:

Tristan: Hi there, I’d like to withdraw $155.

Bank Teller: Okay.

Tristan: Could I please have the $5 in change?

Bank Teller: Sure.  Will that be two toonies and a loonie?

Yes, we chuckled.

And even though we have now gotten used to hearing people say ‘loonie‘ and ‘toonie‘, we are still prone to a slight chuckle and sometimes even hear the Looney Tunes theme song playing in the back of our minds.

You’re tight!

In Australia, when you describe someone as ‘tight‘, it is an abbreviation of the phrase ‘tight arse‘ and essentially an insult [unless, of course, you’re asian and complimenting someone on their superb level of thrift].

Here in Canada, while ‘tight‘ can take on that same meaning, using the phrase ‘you’re tight‘ actually transforms the word into a compliment and means that someone is cool or awesome or just plain winning at life!

It is perplexing that the same English word could take on opposite meanings in two English speaking countries.  With a view to trying to crack this conundrum, we hit up a Canadian friend [thanks Michele!] for some insight and here’s what we have worked out… the source of the confusion is actually very much an Australianism.  Unknowingly, Australians shorten just about anything they can.  There are a tonne of hilarious videos which evidence this point [in particular, see How to Speak Australian by hijosh].

In this case, we have shortened ‘you’re being tight‘ to ‘you’re tight‘ and this is apparently very confusing to everyone else in the world.

Okay Canada, you win this one!

Gives me the sh!ts

This common Australian idiom describes the act of someone or something being annoying or frustrating to a great degree.  It is, however, not a phrase used in common Canadian parlance [unless you have recently devoured a spicy curry to find it is not sitting well with you].

Fortunately we have been able to avoid embarrassment on this front so far, thanks to a couple of seasoned Aussie expats who we met a couple of months ago.  When Tristan was sharing stories over Friday drinks and said “you know what really gives me the sh!ts?“, our new friends quickly explained that ‘giving me the sh!ts‘ (and, frankly, any other phrase which references being ‘sh!tty‘) is taken quite literally here in Canada.

While we love the Australian lexicon, we have decided it’s probably best to retire this phrase altogether.



Although for the most part language has not been a barrier, we are definitely getting used to seeing a confused face in response to things we say and learning that means that we have either committed some serious faux pas or have said something too Australian and should try to Canadian it up, eh.

Here are a few new words we have learned:

Chintzy (adj.) (pronounced chint-see) is used to describe something which is poorly or cheaply made, or someone who is stingy or cheap (i.e. what Australians would describe as ‘tight‘).

Touque (n.) (pronounced t-ooh-k) is a knitted cap (i.e. what Australians call a beanie) also spelt toque, took or tuque.  Interesting fact: in 2013, the Canadian people actually voted on their preferred spelling of this unusual word and decided on ‘touque‘.

Fountain drink (n.) is soft drink dispensed from a soda fountain (i.e. what Australians call post-mix).  The perk here is that fountain drinks tend to come with unlimited refills!

Broil (v.) is the process of cooking something by exposure to direct, intense radiant heat (i.e. what Australians would describe as ‘grill‘).

Squash (the vegetable) in Canada is an Australian pumpkin.  Pumpkin in Canada is a generally non-palatable vegetable used for carving jack-o-lanterns during Halloween and other table decorations during Thanksgiving.  In case this isn’t confusing enough, an Australian squash is a Canadian summer squash, patty pan squash or courgette.  Fortunately, a courgette (i.e. zucchini) is still called a zucchini.

These are just a few of the more entertaining langauge challenges we have encountered.  We are starting have started an Australian/Canadian Phrasebook page to keep track of others as we come across them.  Check it out and do let us know if we are missing any (lest we inadvertently cause ourselves embarrassment in the future).

– T & C

P.S. In this post’s featured image, Tristan is dressed in Road to Rio gear in support of his cousin, Dori Yeats, who will be competing as part of the Canadian Women’s Wrestling team at the Rio Olympics on August 17, 2016. #TeamDori


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