What is Canadian English?

Jon Hamm makes much of his Canadian roots on Skip the Dishes TV ads. Joking about his Canadian tuxedo (denim on denim) and pineapple on pizza (a distinctly Canadian option). 

Many expressions and words are uniquely Canadian. A loonie or a toque, for example, are familiar words to Canadians but might cause people in other countries to scratch their heads. And, of course, there are regional variations of vocabulary, too. The most well-known Canadian-ism—eh at the end of a sentence—is not likely to show up in your writing. It’s a verbal tic.  

Aside from specific words and idioms, there is Canadian spelling. If you look at the English language options on Microsoft Word, for instance, there is English(Canadian) English(British) English(American), and about 20 other country-specific English options!  

Canadian English spelling is a bit of a mash-up of British and American. This is true for other English-speaking countries such as Australia and New Zealand, too. In some instances, Canadian language leans to British spellings – that u in colour or favour, for instance – and other times American, especially when it comes to words such as organize (Cdn/Am) and organise (British). And, regional variations are at play here too; BC and Ontario more likely to favour British spellings while the prairies lean to American. 

If you are working with a publishing house, they will let you know which English they want you to use, and will edit your book that way. If you are seeking an American publisher, use American English in your book proposal and likewise for British publishing houses. If you are editing to Canadian English, don’t worry about international sales. Canadian English is not so unusual that someone in Australia, India, or South Africa will have problems with it. Just keep your Canadian idioms to a minimum. The same is true for Americans reading a Canadian English book. They’ll figure it out. 

In the case of Canadian spelling, there are rules, exceptions to the rules, and exceptions to the exceptions! A style guide is your best bet. And this is true whether you choose to edit to British, American, or Canadian. The key is consistency. Pick a style and stick with it.  

The most reliable style guides have been developed by either dictionary or newspaper publishers. In America for instance, respected style guides include The Chicago Style Guide and AP Style Guide, while in Britain, there is the Oxford Guide to Style, formerly known as Hart’s Rules, The Cambridge Handbook, plus guides produced by several venerable newspapers including The Guardian, The Times, and The Telegraph.  

Canadian English has several reliable style guides, such as the Canadian Gage Dictionary, Oxford Canadian Dictionary, Editors’ Association of Canada, the CP Style Guide, and the federal government’s own Translation Bureau has an excellent online resource.  

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