Frontmatter of the 1967 paper edition


When man has an experience that he has turned into an idea that stays with him, he invariably gives a name to it. By the instrument of the word he is thus more readily enabled to re-use the experience himself, and to tell other people about it. The study of people's language is thus a study of their experience over the course of time, an intimate study of their history.

By its history a people is set apart, differentiated from the rest of humanity. If, therefore, there is anything distinctive about Canadians, it must be the result of a history of experience different from the histories of the French, the English, the Americans, and all those who have come together to form the Canadian people.

That separateness of experience, in the bludgeoning of the Atlantic waves, the forest over-burden of the St. Lawrence valley, the long waterways to the West, the silence of the Arctic wastes, the lonesome horizons of the prairie, the vast imprisonment of the Cordilleras, the trade and commerce with the original Canadians—all this is recorded in our language.

The publishers hope that, as a contribution to Centennial thinking, the Dictionary of Canadianisms will assist in the identification, not only of Canadianisms but of whatever it is that we may call "Canadianism."

W. R. Wees,
Vice-President, Publishing
W. J. Gage Limited

Toronto, Ontario
August, 1967


A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles is the product of the vision, hard work, support, and encouragement of a great many people, and its beginning goes back many years.

At the founding meeting of the Canadian Linguistic Association, held at the University of Manitoba in 1954, some discussion was given to the possibility of preparing dictionaries of Canadian English; but it was not until 1957 that the Association established a Lexicographical Committee to begin promoting and co-ordinating lexicographical work in Canada. The membership of the original committee was as follows: M. H. Scargill (Chairman); H. Alexander; W. S. Avis; W. H. Brodie; P. Daviault; R. J. Gregg; C. J. Lovell; J. E. Robbins; G. M. Story; J. P. Vinay; H. R. Wilson. Since 1957, separate committees have been established to deal with French-Canadian and Ukrainian lexicography and with dialect studies.

In 1957 and following years plans were made to prepare three types of dictionaries: a series of dictionaries for use in schools and universities (now completed); a historical dictionary of the English language in Canada; a dictionary of Canadianisms, which was to serve as a pilot project for the larger historical dictionary of the English language in Canada. In 1958 Mr. C. J. Lovell was invited to prepare a Dictionary of Canadianisms for W. J. Gage Limited from materials already assembled by him and other scholars, especially Dr. Avis and Mr. Charles Crate. In order to expedite his work, the Canada Council awarded Mr. Lovell a Visiting Fellowship to Canada in 1960, and he made plans to spend a full year in Canada, editing his materials and consulting with colleagues. However, these plans were never completed, for Mr. Lovell died on March 17th, 1960, at his home in Illinois.

On Mr. Lovell's death, W. J. Gage Limited made arrangements to purchase from his estate his entire lexicographical collection; and at the request of W. J. Gage, Dr. Avis and Dr. Scargill agreed to continue the work that Mr. Lovell had undertaken.

At this time it became essential to have some central location where Mr. Lovell's materials and others being assembled could be housed ready for editing. It also became apparent that the moment had arrived for the acquisition of a budget to provide for secretarial help, for supplies, for filing cabinets, and all the things necessary for the establishment of an editorial office.

During the summer of 1960, Dr. M. G. Taylor, now President of the University of Victoria and then first Principal of the University of Alberta, Calgary (now the University of Calgary), agreed to provide the space and secretarial assistance for what was designated as the "Lexicographical Centre for Canadian English Located at the University of Alberta, Calgary." Dr. Scargill became the Centre's Director and Dr. Avis its Associate Director.

From the summer of 1960 on, materials began to arrive at the Centre in ever-increasing amounts. Particularly valuable was the gift to the Centre of a complete manuscript for a dictionary of terms of the Canadian Northwest collected by Dr. Douglas Leechman.

Until 1963 editorial work proceeded very slowly, and it was obvious that arrangements would have to be made to free one of our colleagues from his normal academic work so that he could devote at least a full year to dictionary editing. Thanks to the co-operation of Canada Council in providing a Senior Fellowship and to the Royal Military College of Canada in granting a sabbatical leave of absence, Dr. Avis was able to spend a full year, 1963-64, at the Lexicographical Centre in Calgary. By the summer of 1964, as a result of his hard work, it was thought possible to advance the publication date of the dictionary from 1970 to 1967, the year of Canada's Centenary. Accordingly, the Lexicographical Centre appointed the Editorial Board which has been responsible for the production of this present dictionary. At the same time, the Board agreed that because other materials in addition to those assembled by Mr. Lovell, notably the collections of Dr. Avis, Mr. Crate, Dr. Leechman, and that of the Centre itself, were being used in the dictionary, the nature and scope of the project as originally conceived had greatly changed and the book should now be acknowledged as compiled from the five collections named above.

In the fall of 1964, Dr. Scargill left the University of Alberta, Calgary, to join the staff of the new University of Victoria, and the Lexicographical Centre was moved to that city. In Victoria the resources of the Centre were increased by the appointment of Dr. Leechman as Research Associate and Miss Joan Hall as Editorial Assistant, positions which both still hold. At the same time the Centre signed a contract with W. J. Gage Limited to produce for them this present dictionary with the Editorial Board named above.

Again thanks to the generosity of Canada Council and to the Royal Military College of Canada, Dr. Avis was able to spend the summer of 1965 at the University of Victoria, where he was joined by Mr. Crate, who spent a further summer there in 1966.

Perhaps there are those who will consider this a rather long prefatory essay; but I do not think that they will be many. I believe that the story of all that has gone into the making of this dictionary is worth the telling, and I am proud to be its narrator on behalf of my colleagues. Several years have elapsed now since our collaboration began. Those years have been enlivened by good humor among a closely knit group of colleagues and marred only by the tragedy of Mr. Lovell's death. We have been aided on all sides and at all times by people in many walks of life. It is with pleasure and with pride that we now offer our thanks to them in the realization that their good wishes and encouragement will accompany this book that they have helped to make possible.

M. H. Scargill,
Lexicographical Centre for Canadian English

Victoria, B.C.
June, 1967


It is impossible to acknowledge at all adequately the debt that we owe to all those who have helped to make possible A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. The following list is by no means a complete record of the names of the people and the institutions providing assistance of varying degrees and kinds, and we apologize for any omissions.

For the financial assistance without which this book could never have been produced we wish to thank the Canada Council, the President and Board of Governors of the University of Victoria, the President and the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta. In this respect our special thanks are due to Dr. M. G. Taylor, President of the University of Victoria, not only for invaluable financial aid but also for encouragement and support of an academic kind.

We are grateful to the Royal Military College of Canada for co-operation in making available the services of Dr. W. S. Avis, not only for a full sabbatical year but at other times as well, and to the School Board of North Island (District #85) for granting occasional leave to Mr. Chas. Crate.

We have received invaluable assistance in checking bibliographical materials and in other ways from the staff of the McPherson Library, University of Victoria; and we thank the Librarian, Mr. Dean Halliwell, for making available to us the services of Mrs. Helen Rodney and Mr. Robin Kerr, Reference Librarians. Thanks for similar assistance are due also to Miss Inez Mitchell, Assistant Provincial Archivist, Provincial Archives, Victoria, B.C., and to the Librarians and their staffs in the following institutions: the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the University of British Columbia, the Royal Military College of Canada, the Toronto Public Library, and the Vancouver Public Library. Miss Grace Lewis, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, has helped us not only in her capacity as Librarian in that city but also as a reader and as a consultant on items of Nova Scotia interest.

It is with special pleasure that we acknowledge the contribution made to this dictionary by students, especially Mr. Terry Klokeid, University of Victoria, for help with Eskimo and Amerindian items, and Mrs. Cheryl Campbell, Alert Bay, B.C., for help with Chinook and Kwakiutl items. Dr. Avis' students in courses at the Summer School of Linguistics, University of Alberta, provided many examples of Canadianisms. Students of Mr. Chas. Crate have given considerable assistance to him with the typing of materials.

We wish to thank also the very many individuals who have helped us in various ways as readers and as occasional consultants. Their names include the following: Mr. H. G. Ambury; Mrs. E. W. J. Avery; Mrs. G. D. Bancroft; Mrs. Geri Pattisson Beddows; Mr. R. W. Bennett; Dr. C. Bida; Rev. L. Braceland; Mr. L. Bunyan; Miss M. I. Buxton; Major S. S. Carroll; Mr. C. Cole; Dr. C. B. Conway; Mr. H. C. Cutbill; Mr.W. Davidson; Mr. B. W. A. Deacon; Mr. H. De Groot; Dr. H. A. Dempsey; Mr. T. Dunbabin; Mr. R. Eaton; Mr. Harold B. Elworthy; Mr. S. J. Ewaniuk; Mr. J. B. Fraser; Mr. N. F. W. Gates; Mr. T. Gilchrist; Miss I. M. Graham; Mr. W. J. Greene; Dr. R. J. Gregg; Mr. A. Harshenin; Mr. E. B. Harvey; Rev. R. B. Horsefield; Mr. Willard Ireland; Lieutenant M. Jacquest; Miss B. A. Johnstone; Mr. R. J. Jones; Mrs. E. Joslin; Mr. R. Keith-Hicks; Mr. J. LeBourdais; Dr. A. R. M. Lower; Miss J. W. Lucas; Dr. N. M. McArthur; Miss D. MacDonald; Mr. C. McAllister; Mrs. J. C. McGibbon; Mrs. K. B. McCool; Mr. H. Michell; Mr. J. S. Moir; Mrs. M. Moore; Mrs. S. Mott; Mr. M. D. Nelles; Dr. G. N. O'Grady; Mr. T. M. Paikeday; Mr. J. S. Peach; Mr. E. W. Person; Mr. W. Preuss; Mr. E. Pye; Mr. Allen Walker Read; Dr. P. Read-Campbell; Dr. Carroll Reed; Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Roberts; Major N. Sadleir-Brown; Miss M. S. Simpson; Mr. Vernon Simpson; Dr. G. F. G. Stanley; Mr. J. Stein; Miss H. Stevenson; Dr. G. M. Story; Mr. B. Stuart-Stubbs; Dr. J.-P.Vinay; Dr. M. G. Wanamaker; Mr. B. G. Webber; Rev. Gavin White; Dr. H. R. Wilson; Mr. S. F. Wise; Dr. A. J. Wood.

The publishers of any book often play a greater part in its production than readers realize. We should be indeed remiss if we failed to record our appreciation to W. J. Gage Limited for their support and encouragement over many years and, in particular, to Dr. W. R. Wees, whose high ideals and determination helped to make possible the publication of this book and the whole series of which it is a part. In addition, we wish to thank all those members of the publisher's editorial staff who have worked on this book.

Finally, we wish to convey our appreciation to Mrs. C. J. Lovell and her family for their help and co-operation.


The Editors

Walter S. Avis, B.A., M.A. (Queen’s), Ph.D. (Michigan), is a Professor of English at the Royal Military College of Canada. Born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1919, he has long been interested in English language studies, especially with reference to North American English, both as student and teacher. Dr. Avis has been a teaching fellow at Queen's University and at the University of Michigan and a visiting professor at summer schools of linguistics at both the University of Montreal and the University of Alberta. A founding member of the Canadian Linguistic Association, he was Secretary-Treasurer from 1956 to 1959 and Secretary from 1959 to 1967; he is at present Vice-President of the Association. Since 1955 he has also been Canadian Secretary of the American Dialect Society. Dr. Avis is a co-editor of the Dictionary of Canadian English series and compiler of A Bibliography of Writings on Canadian English (1857-1965). He has published various articles in such journals as the Journal of the Canadian Linguistic Association (now the Canadian Journal of Linguistics), Language, American Speech, the Translator's Journal, and Culture. He is also a contributor to the Encyclopedia Canadiana, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Funk and Wagnall's Standard College Dictionary, the Random House Dictionary, and several other works of reference. He has given several talks about Canadian English on the CBC and has lectured on the subject many times in many places.

Charles Brandel ("Chuck") Crate is a teacher at the Quesnel Secondary School, Quesnel, B.C. Born in Weston, Ontario, in 1915, he was educated at York Memorial Collegiate and at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria. Mr. Crate has had a varied career and has spent much of his life in the Canadian North. For almost four years, 1952-1955, he published and edited the Yellowknife North Star and for nine years directed a program on Radio Station CFYK. Mr. Crate has served as Secretary and Research Director of the Yellowknife District Miners' Union, as a member of the Board of Governors of the Yellowknife Red Cross Hospital, and as Chairman, Friends of the Indians (Northwest Territories). He was twice elected Councillor of the Municipal District of Yellowknife, and in 1954 was a candidate for Northwest Territories Council. He has been a member of the Canadian Linguistic Association for many years, and has written articles and published papers in a variety of fields, including a vocabulary of hardrock mining.

Patrick Dockar Drysdale, M.A. (Oxon.), is a senior editor with W. J. Gage Limited. Born in Shropshire, England, in 1929, he worked for a time in the professional theatre, mainly as a stage manager, before turning to teaching. From 1956 to 1959 he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Memorial University, Newfoundland, and in 1958 taught at the Summer School of Linguistics, University of Alberta. In 1959 he joined W. J. Gage to participate in the preparation and publication of the Dictionary of Canadian English series. In addition, he has edited books on English grammar, the theatre, and education. He is a member of the Canadian Linguistic Association, and since 1960 has served on the editorial board of the Canadian Journal of Linguistics. He has written articles on lexicography, dialect geography, and general linguistics.

Douglas Leechman, B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D. (Ottawa), F.R.S.C., is Research Associate at the Lexicographical Centre for Canadian English. Born in 1890, he came to Canada in 1908. In 1924 he joined the staff of the Division of Anthropology in the National Museum of Canada and was engaged there till 1955. During this period he attended the University of Ottawa, and in 1941 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. On leaving the National Museum, he became the first Director of the Glenbow Foundation in Calgary, Alberta. On retiring to Victoria, B.C., in 1957, he devoted much of his time to writing and further work in lexicography, especially in the fields of Canadian slang and terms and expressions used in the fur trade. He joined the staff of the University of Victoria in 1964. He is the author of several books, including Native Tribes of Canada and Eskimo Summer, and of many technical papers.

Charles Julien Lovell, writer, researcher and lexicographer, was born in Portland, Maine. Orphaned as a small child, he was reared in foster homes in New Bedford, Massachusetts. His life-long interest in words was closely linked to his first love, the out-of-doors. The nomenclature of fauna and flora always fascinated him, and his devotion to Canada and Canadian English grew out of a series of hiking trips in the Canadian Rockies. In 1946 he was appointed research and editorial assistant of A Dictionary of Americanisms, to which, in the words of its editor, he made "an outstanding contribution." He worked for the University of Chicago Press until November, 1953, when he suffered a first heart attack. Thereafter he continued his writing and lexicographical work independently. He corresponded and compared notes with Canadian scholars and gradually assembled that impressive collection already referred to in the Preface. His death on March 17, 1960, was a tragic loss to lexicography and to the study of Canadian English.

Matthew Harry Scargill, B.A., Ph.D. (Leeds), is Chairman of the School of Graduate Studies and Head of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Victoria. Born in Yorkshire, England, in 1916, he came to Canada in 1948 and joined the staff of the University of Alberta. In 1959 he became Professor of English at the University of Calgary, and was appointed Dean of Arts and Science there in 1962. Dr. Scargill moved to the University of Victoria in 1964 to head the newly established Department of Linguistics. Dr. Scargill is a founding member of the Canadian Linguistic Association and has served as the Association's Secretary, Editor of the Journal, and from 1964 to 1966 as President. He is the author of several articles and books, including Three Icelandic Sagas, An English Handbook, The Development of the Principal Sounds of Indo-European. Together with Dr. W. S. Avis, Dr. R. J. Gregg, and Mr. P. D. Drysdale, he is an editor of the W. J. Gage Dictionary of Canadian English series.


That part of Canadian English which is neither British nor American is best illustrated by the vocabulary, for there are hundreds of words which are native to Canada or which have meanings peculiar to Canada. As might be expected, many of these words refer to topographical features, plants, trees, fish, animals, and birds; and many others to social, economic, and political institutions and activities. Few of these words, which may be called Canadianisms, find their way into British or American dictionaries, a fact which should occasion no surprise, for British and American dictionaries are based on British and American usage, being primarily intended for Britons and Americans, not for Canadians.
(Walter S. Avis. 1967. "Canadian English," The Senior Dictionary, Dictionary of Canadian English Series. Toronto: W. J. Gage, pp. vi-ix)

The purpose of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles is to provide a historical record of words and expressions characteristic of the various spheres of Canadian life during the almost four centuries that English has been used in Canada. The dictionary is intended to provide the meaning, or meanings, of such terms and, where relevant, their pronunciation, etymology, and scope — both in time and space; moreover, through dated quotations, an extensive cross-referencing system, illustrative drawings, and explanatory notes relating to usage, disputed origins, and other contentious matters, the editors have sought to create an informative, entertaining, and valuable reference work. Finally, the dictionary should demonstrate that a substantial vocabulary relating to both today and yesterday has been developed by Canadians in pursuing their many activities throughout their vast and varied homeland.

A Dictionary of Canadianisms has been compiled on historical principles in that every term entered is supported by dated evidence from printed sources. In this respect, we are in the well-established tradition of The Oxford English Dictionary, A Dictionary of American English, and A Dictionary of Americanisms, all three of which have been indispensable during the editing process. To follow this tradition, however, is to accept certain restrictions, for it precludes the entering of terms for which there is only oral evidence and of others for which the printed evidence is fragmentary or otherwise inadequate. As a consequence, many interesting items remain in the files, awaiting fuller substantiation in printed sources. Furthermore, since reading for the dictionary has continued during editing and printing, there is in the files a great deal of material that for practical reasons could not be published in the present edition — including additional evidence for entered items as well as evidence for completely new items. It should be added that less stringent limitations of space have made it possible to introduce innovations in format and style affording more ease of reference than was possible in earlier historical dictionaries.

The problem of establishing a definition for Canadianism as used in the title of this dictionary was not easy to solve. The term is used in a less inclusive sense than the definition given in the body of the dictionary itself, for we are concerned primarily with vocabulary; on the other hand, it is used in a more inclusive sense than Americanism has been used by scholars in the United States. Mitford M. Mathews, for example, defines the term in his Preface to A Dictionary of Americanisms as "a word or expression which originated in the United States." (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951, p. v). Yet in his dictionary he uses a wide variety of Canadian source materials as evidence for a substantial number of "Americanisms," a practice which, to say the least, weakens his definition. After all, Canada is not part of the United States — although she has shared English-speaking North America with the United States from the time of the American Revolution. Prior to that time, English speakers in North America held their mother country in common. Consequently, the problem of identifying many terms as specifically "American" or "Canadian" is virtually impossible of solution. Needless to say, the editors of A Dictionary of Canadianisms have struggled with this problem since the project began.

In view of the difficulty and, perhaps, pointlessness of trying to identify many words in common use on this continent as being "American" or "Canadian," lexicographers compiling dictionaries of the English used in North America might be well advised to adopt the label North Americanism. The arguments for such a solution to this problem are several. In the first place, many terms in this class were current in North America before the United States existed as a political entity. Indeed, the present-day boundary between the United States and Canada was not fixed — especially on the Pacific Coast — until well into the nineteenth century. Furthermore, Canadians and Americans from the late seventeenth century onward have moved back and forth across the border in such numbers and with such regularity that it is impossible to determine exactly where certain terms originated. So much is and has long been similar or identical in the social and economic spheres of Canadian and American life and so much, especially along the border, is shared with respect to natural resources, flora and fauna, topography, and so on, to say nothing of our common contacts with the American Indians, that hosts of terms cannot be claimed by one country or the other with any degree of confidence whatever. As a matter of fact, there is little point in making such claims since these terms reflect a common heritage in many fields of activity, the vocabulary of a people being in a very real sense a record of the history and experience of those who use it.

To meet this problem, we have done our best to confine ourselves to source materials written by persons native to or resident in Canada who were writing about Canadian life or by travellers and other visitors to Canada who were commenting on their experiences in this country. Furthermore, we have found it desirable, perhaps even necessary, to include certain entries in this dictionary which are not Canadian at all. Such entries are intended (1) to clarify terms having numerous extensions of meaning or lending themselves freely to the formation of new compounds, such extensions or compounds being themselves Canadianisms, as beaver (defs. 1 and 2); (2) to serve as reference points for synonyms which are themselves Canadianisms, as wolverine; (3) to call attention to terms having special interest in various areas of Canadian activity, as discovery claim. All words or meanings so entered are marked with a dagger (†); they have, moreover, a special significance and history in Canada and, accordingly, are supported by dated quotations. In addition to easing certain editorial problems, the dagger device has made it possible to include a limited amount of interesting and informative matter that otherwise would not have qualified for inclusion.

Since our approach to our material is clearly quite different from that of lexicographers in the United States, we have chosen to define Canadianism less exclusively than they have defined Americanism. A Canadianism, then, is a word, expression, or meaning which is native to Canada or which is distinctively characteristic of Canadian usage though not necessarily exclusive to Canada; Winnipeg couch falls into the first category, chesterfield ("sofa") into the second.

Now that the term Canadianism has been defined for our purposes, it is possible to expand on the general nature of the entries in this dictionary. The vocabulary distinctive of Canada has developed along lines characteristic of linguistic groups which become separated from their motherland through emigration to distant and strange shores. The stock of words brought with these emigrants will change as they come into close contact with speakers of other languages, as they encounter novelties of animal life, vegetation, and topography, as they adopt or devise different ways of coping with their new environment, and as they work out new ways of organizing their political, economic, and social life. As a result of these experiences, new terms will be added to the vocabulary, while others will fall into disuse and obsolescence because they have specific reference to things having to do with life in the old country. The result, of course, is a speech community which differs in many respects from the motherland although continuing to share a very extensive common vocabulary. Moreover, the speech patterns in the emigrant community change in other ways: in pronunciation, intonation, syntax, and, often less markedly, in grammatical form. When the extent of such differentiation becomes extreme, the two dialects become mutually unintelligible and are consequently classed as different languages. Such a degree of change has not taken place in North America, and the English spoken in Canada and in the United States is, with relatively minor exceptions largely relating to vocabulary, quite understandable in Britain — and vice versa. Therefore, it is quite erroneous to refer, as some have done, to an American language or a Canadian language.

In colonial times, the English-speakers coming to Canada — first in the sixteenth century as resident fishermen in Newfoundland, then in the seventeenth as fur traders for the Hudson's Bay Company, and eventually in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as settlers — came into contact with the Indians, the Eskimos, and the Canadian French. Living among these non-English-speaking peoples, the traders and pioneers borrowed a wide variety of terms, usually referring to things new in their experience, as pemmican, igloo, and voyageur. Another source of new terms lay in the ready-to-hand resources of the parent language, elements of which could be combined in several ways as labels for new concepts, as fur brigade, snowbird, and sturgeon-head boat, compounds which have referents substantially different from the meanings of the parts. Once loanwords from other languages had been assimilated, these too were available for compounding, as pemmican post, portage strap, and saskatoon berry. Still another solution to the problem of labeling the novelties of the environment was to use already established English words in a new sense, that is, to extend the range of meaning of these words. Thus buffalo was extended to refer to the bison of the prairies; and throughout the North deer was extended to refer to the caribou. Moreover, assimilated loanwords often took on extended meanings not known in the source languages, as with several of the meanings of cache, shaganappi, and siwash (ultimately from French sauvage Indian). Many indeed are the processes of change by which the vocabulary has grown — by borrowing, by compounding, by shortening, by blending, by the generalization of proper names, and by new coinages; moreover, the range of meaning of terms has been altered and expanded by extension, transference, deterioration and amelioration, by generalization and specialization, and by folk etymology. Many of these processes have been applied not only to terms already existing in the parent language, but also to loanwords borrowed and assimilated. Thus A Dictionary of Canadianisms offers compelling evidence of the inventiveness of Canadians past and present in the realm of word creation.

Readers of this dictionary will soon become aware that certain areas of activity in the social, political, and economic life of the country have been particularly productive of Canadianisms. In the social and political sphere, the most significant of these include pioneer life, travel, recreation, religion, and education, as well as politics and administration — at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels. In the economic, or commercial, sphere must be included the fur trade, logging, fishing, farming, mining, oil and gas operations, and the maple-products industry. Then, too, there is the large area concerned with relationships between the English-speaking Canadians and the French-speaking Canadians, the Indians, the Eskimos, and, especially in certain regions, the many immigrant peoples who form an important part of the population of twentieth-century Canada. Finally, there is the extensive contribution of terms deriving from the experiences of Canadians in the North American environment, relating to topographical features, weather conditions, and flora and fauna. In fact, the plethora of evidence for local terms and folk-names within the last-mentioned category is both overwhelming and difficult to document. It has been necessary, therefore, to adopt a rather arbitrary policy of selection with regard to such items in the hope of providing a representative rather than definitive listing of the names for plants, shrubs, trees, animals, birds, and fish.

Since most of the areas of activity and experience mentioned above represent situations in which Canadian life differs most markedly from life in the mother country, it should not be surprising that they are well represented in this lexicon. That A Dictionary of Canadianisms, in spite of its many entries from many areas of activity, is incomplete goes without saying; it is the fate of all dictionaries, for reasons inherent in the complexity of the subject matter and in the lamentable lack of omniscience among its editors and consultants, to be flawed in this respect. On the other hand, a deliberate decision was taken to omit certain kinds of entries whose relevance to dictionaries is often considered peripheral, namely, biographical and gazeteer entries; also excluded, after much deliberation, were the names of Indian and Eskimo tribes and bands in spite of the wealth of interesting evidence in the files at the Lexicographical Centre. It was decided, however, to include numerous compound terms incorporating proper nouns, terms relating to certain general regions, nicknames of cities, provinces, and regions and their inhabitants (with the exception of common present-day terms such as Torontonian, Montrealer, and Vancouverite), and informal or slang names for people, places, and institutions. In these several categories, special attention has been given to those terms having historical significance justifying definition and illustration.

In the preparation of A Dictionary of Canadianisms, constant recourse has been had not only to The Oxford English Dictionary, A Dictionary of Americanisms, and The English Dialect Dictionary, all especially helpful because of their historical evidence, but also to the invaluable Webster's Third New International Dictionary and to many other dictionaries and word lists of a more specialized or limited scope. Despite all precautions, however, it is inevitable that certain errors not now known to the editors of this dictionary will be discovered by knowledgeable readers, for any pioneering work is bound to be accompanied by such shortcomings. We shall work to overcome these shortcomings by continuing to add to our files. In this endeavor, we should appreciate the help of interested persons in detecting and rectifying all inaccuracies and omissions; we also need further information concerning terms already entered, including evidence of earlier use, and concerning other terms that we may appear to have overlooked. Any evidence supplied should, of course, be in the form of dated quotations from printed sources, accompanied by full bibliographical details. In this way, through our combined efforts, an improved second edition will be assured.

This first edition of A Dictionary of Canadianisms must be regarded as a pioneering work. Nevertheless, in spite of imperfections, it makes available a unique and fascinating record of Canadian history and accomplishment through the medium of the hundreds of terms defined and the thousands of contexts provided to illuminate its terms and definitions. It is in the confidence that this record is sufficiently extensive to constitute a scholarly and valuable contribution that we take pride in offering it to the Canadian people.

Walter S. Avis

Kingston, Ontario
June, 1967

Principles of Style

The method and the principles of style followed in compiling A Dictionary of Canadianisms have been adopted with two principal considerations in mind: the interests of the reader and the demand for clear and economical presentation. It has been the editors' constant concern to satisfy the latter without detriment to the former. Inasmuch as a uniform pattern of style was followed in putting together each entry, the readers' understanding of these principles will be advanced by a point-by-point description of the parts of an entry.

Entry word

The spelling given for an entry word in current use is the generally accepted form; in the case of many obsolete loanwords having various spellings in the evidence, the principle of frequency and simplicity is followed. Occasionally, where two spellings are clearly in use for current words, both are given, as for ooloo or ulu, with no implication that one is preferable to the other. To conserve space, certain other measures have been adopted, for example: terms in which the simplex has a meaning identical with that of a compound are occasionally combined, as bachelor (seal); so with a number of terms having minor variations in form, as Barren Ground(s) grizzly; in the alphabetizing of such entries, the parenthetical material is ignored. Where this practice might cause the reader difficulty in locating the entry, a cross-entry has been set up.

When two or more entries have the same spelling but different etymologies, superior numbers are used to observe the distinction, as boom1 and boom2; superior numbers are also used to distinguish similar forms having the same ultimate origin but arriving in Canadian English by historically different routes, as voyage1 and voyage2.

When two sequential entries differ only in that one normally has an upper-case, or capitalized, initial letter, the upper-case form is entered second, unless it is clearly the antecedent of the lower-case, or generalized, form. Finally, certain terms occur in the evidence in both upper- and lower-case forms; such are treated according to the general practice among modern writers represented in the evidence. Names of flora and fauna are regularly entered as lower-case forms, as prairie lily, unless the first element is a word normally requiring a capital letter, as Canada jay, Macintosh apple, Canadian horse. Furthermore, the names of groups of people are usually entered as proper names, as Bluenose, Doukhobor, Metis; although the "either-or" formula is sometimes used where usage is markedly divided, as Mountie or mountie. In cases of divided usage in the use of upper- or lower-case forms, no attempt has been made to list as variant spellings the alternative not used in the entry words.

Compound words

Entry words formed by compounding make up such a large part of this dictionary that our treatment of them demands special attention. All compounds appear in proper alphabetical order whether printed as one word (moosebird), two words joined by a hyphen (moose-fly), or two independent words (moose maple). As a rule, such entries represent true compounds in that they have a referent quite distinct from the sum of their parts; thus pemmican post is entered because it is not self-explanatory and requires definition, whereas pemmican shipment, if it occurred at all in the evidence, would have been used only as an illustration of the word pemmican. Decisions as to whether a given compound was to be printed as one word, as a hyphenated word, or as two words were not always easy to make, for the style of treating such compounds has never been consistent in English. Such decisions were based on the evidence (which was not always helpful), on accepted practice (which is unsettled), or on value judgments relating to the appearance of the word as a unit. Moreover, the stress pattern was often taken into account along with other criteria — a sequence of a primary followed by a secondary stress dictating the use of either a block or a hyphenated form and the sequence of primary followed by another primary dictating a two-word entry. The final decision was often somewhat arbitrary although our overall handling of the problem is certainly more rational than was the case in the evidence we worked from. In any event, the forms set up as entry words in such cases are not intended as a reflection of accepted current usage with regard to the treatment of compounds since there is no such thing. Within the confines of our own book, however, the choice of one form or another does have an effect on the degree of detail included in a given entry, as will be seen from the discussion below.


[omitted in DCHP-1 Online, SD]

The pronunciation respelling comes immediately after the entry word and is given in the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet within square brackets; a pronunciation key is to be found on page xxiii [of the paper copy, SD]. Such respellings are offered, as a rule, only for words not commonly entered in standard dictionaries, being considered redundant for commonplace words easily looked up elsewhere and for most compounds made up of such words; respellings are not offered for compounds containing words for which the pronunciation is given elsewhere in this dictionary. Moreover, no respellings are offered for terms labelled as obsolete, the pronunciation of many such being a matter of guesswork. Variant pronunciations of current terms are sometimes given; however, in keeping with the position that A Dictionary of Canadianisms is not intended as a guide to accepted spelling and pronunciation, most terms are respelled in one form only, that being, to the best of the editors' knowledge, a currently acceptable variant.

Parts of speech

All entry words consisting of one word or of more than one word joined by hyphens are identified as parts of speech; such is not the case for unhyphenated two-word terms or phrases. Thus face-off is labelled n. for noun, whereas face off, a phrasal verb, is not labelled at all. Where a form has a different set of meanings as a noun, verb, adjective, or other part of speech, a distinct entry has been set up and labelled accordingly. In cases of entry words which have irregular plural forms or which are usually or always construed in the plural form, the appropriate information is given.


Wherever relevant, the etymology of a term follows the part-of-speech label, enclosed in square brackets. In the typical entry the symbol < ("derived from") comes first, followed by the word in the source language, if different in form from the entry word, then the English gloss, if different in meaning from the following definition. Few words are traced back farther than the immediate source although for specific words detailed information may be offered. Needless to say, some etymologies are incomplete and others are shown to be uncertain because the facts are not known to the editors. If the origin of a word is a subject of controversy, or of wide speculation, as in the case of Canada or Eskimo, reference is made to a note occurring later in the entry, where the matter is discussed and, often, illustrated by a number of dated quotations. Indian and Eskimo words are transliterated in a non-technical way in the traditional English alphabet, augmented by macrons to signify long vowels. The evidence for many of these etymologies is based on older sources, most of them by linguistically naive writers; unfortunately, the present state of Amerindian studies in Canada is quite inadequate to afford a practicable alternative. In any event, such approximations are probably quite adequate for the needs of the general reader and may, indeed, be easier to comprehend than a system of strange symbols representing the many unfamiliar sounds and sequences to be met with in the diverse languages in question.

Restrictive labels

Since many terms are largely confined to certain areas of use, a number of restrictive labels have been regularly employed. These may be grouped into the following categories, each of which is illustrated by examples: sphere (Fur Trade, Lumbering), locale (Maritimes, North), level (Informal, Slang), connotation (Derog., Humorous), and currency (Obs., Hist., Rare). The distinction between obsolete (Obs.) and historical (Hist.) terms is not always easy to establish, apart from the fact that all terms so labelled have reference to the past. In this dictionary, a term labelled Obs. has a referent solely in the past and is itself no longer in use; a term labelled Hist. has a referent in the past but is still used as a current term in historical contexts. Thus the terms angle (entrance to a beaver lodge) and fathom fish (oolichan) are obsolete, whereas late-Loyalist and York boat are historical. The absence of a recent quotation from the files does not necessarily mean that a given term has fallen into disuse, for the excerpters may have either looked in the wrong places or simply missed it. Such items known to the editors to be still current have not been labelled. On the other hand, an apparently obsolete term is no less obsolete by virtue of a recent writer's use of it in referring to or in glossing an earlier source. It must be observed that all labels reflect the editors' judgment, based on the evidence in the files and on their own knowledge and experience.

In some instances, special labels have been adopted, as for the few non-English terms entered for various reasons: Cdn French, Chinook Jargon, Eskimo. Such entries are not normally given pronunciation respellings or etymologies; the entry word, however, is given an English gloss if the meaning of the components is not directly clear from the definition, as canot allège "unburdened canoe." Restrictive labels precede the first definition if applicable to the entire entry; otherwise, they are placed before the definition to which they apply. It might be added that phrases are sometimes used in place of locale labels: "in Upper and Lower Canada," for instance, being preferable to a label for certain historical items current in a restricted area in colonial times. Further, the abbreviation Esp. ("especially") may be placed before any label to modify the degree of restrictiveness intended. Certain sets of quotations illustrating the figurative uses of a term are entered as a separate definition and identified either by the label Figurative use or by a phrase having the same significance.


The quotations selected to illustrate each definition were chosen with the following ends in view: to supply the earliest and, usually, the latest evidence on file; to supply fuller descriptive detail than is possible or desirable in a definition; to supply definitions where acceptable and to which the reader may be referred; and to supply interesting, entertaining, and otherwise appropriate contexts in which the term occurs.

These quotations are, with rare exceptions, presented as grammatical sentences, irrelevant matter in the original usually being displaced by ellipsis dots or editorial interpolations set in square brackets: each is preceded by a brief bibliographical direction which gives year, source, and page number, the quotations for each definition being entered in chronological order. Square brackets are also used within quotations to enclose editorial interpolations intended to clarify ambiguities and obscurities; in addition, they are used to enclose certain quotations—usually early evidence—included as useful information but so set apart for one of the following reasons: (1) the source material is not Canadian or is not clearly Canadian; (2) the quotations explain, describe, or define the term in question without actually using it; (3) the term occurs in some other context not to be classed as evidence for the use of the term in English. The last category includes quotations from early French-Canadian sources and glosses appearing in the writings of early traders and explorers in contact with the Indians and Eskimos.

Although the illustrative quotations have been carefully chosen, a reader may sometimes feel that a given illustration could apply to other definitions as readily as to that to which it has been assigned. It must be remembered, however, that the quotation represents only part of a larger context in the source and that the citation slip usually provides the editor with considerably more information as to the meaning of the term in the larger context than the quotation itself might indicate. In situations where citation slips were ambiguous the deficient quotations have been set aside.

Bibliographical Directions

Special mention should be made of the bibliographical directions which precede each quotation. References to books are made by year, author, short title, and page number; where the author is anonymous, only the short title is given. Periodicals are referred to by year, title, month (or volume number), page, and where relevant, column. The books and periodicals consulted are listed in the bibliography. Newspapers, which are not listed in the bibliography, are referred to by year, title, place of publication (except where identified in the title), province (except for capital and certain other well-known cities), day, month, page, and column (except for advertisements, headlines, and captions, which are identified as such). If the name of the place of publication is obsolete, the current name is inserted in square brackets, as Rat Portage [Kenora], Ont. Finally, where dates are supplied in parentheses, they indicate the date of the edition used, the accompanying volume and page number referring to that edition. Thus a diary written in 1804 but published, say, in 1945 is entered as 1804(1945). Where a book was first published in 1804 and presumably written at that time, the simple date 1804 is given; if this book was republished in 1900, the date 1804(1900) is given, indicating that the page reference is to the 1900 edition. In the case of material reprinted in an anthology, a journal, a newspaper, or any other source, the date of the original material is given first and the date of the source in which it was reprinted is given in parentheses.


Idioms and phrases are entered in boldface type as numbered definitions under the key word; thus by acclamation is entered under acclamation. Where there is apt to be doubt as to the key word, a cross-reference is given; thus bury the hatchet is entered under hatchet and a simple cross-entry set up at bury the hatchet. Certain short verbal phrases are, however, listed as main entries in the manner of phrasal verbs — for example, make fish, make fur, and make logs.


The full bibliography of books and periodicals appended to this dictionary follows universally accepted principles of style and should therefore cause little difficulty. Such problems as might arise concerning the entries themselves are discussed in the introductory note to the bibliography [below, SD].

[Note: the following text, from p. 881 in the paper edition, is of interest concerning the genesis of the bibliography, SD]

The following bibliography is organized in two parts [in DCHP-1 Online the parts have been merged, see Show reference, SD]. The first embraces sources of quotations identified by author (or, rarely, editor) and/or title (if written anonymously), whether a book, an extract from a book, or an article in a newspaper, magazine, or other source. Book titles are often identified in the text by an abbreviated form, or short title, which, taken with the author's name and the date of publication, should be readily traced in the bibliography. The second part embraces periodicals cited in the dictionary by the year, title, and month of issue (or volume number) or day and month of the source, the usual practice of readers being to provide only this information for quotations drawn from periodicals, newspapers, and similar sources. In the case of periodicals now defunct, the inclusive dates of publication, in so far as the editors have been able to discover them, are given in parentheses at the end of the entry [this information is suppressed in DCHP-1 Online, SD]. Newspapers are not listed in the bibliography, their places of publication being given within parentheses in the text, immediately following the title.

Both parts of the bibliography are intended to direct the reader to the source cited, giving him such information as may be reasonably expected to achieve this end. Whenever more than one edition of a book has been read, all relevant publication dates have been given. Details as to how such have been presented in the text of the dictionary are set forth [in the section Bibliographical Directions] under Principles of Style. Various notes and cross-references have been entered in the bibliography as aids to the reader.

The form outlined above has been dictated by the nature of the collected materials, which presented many difficult problems for those collating the bibliographical data. The main obstacle was that in the early stages of independent collecting by various persons no consistent pattern of providing bibliographical information was followed. As a result, the record is incomplete with respect to a few details relating to edition and place and date of publication, especially for very early writings. It must be added, however, that the search for such missing details goes on. For the present, the editors have offered the fullest information available from the resources at their disposal. They have, moreover, striven to achieve a sensible compromise between the opposed demands of completeness in detail and economy of space.

General Aids to the Reader

Several additional devices are used throughout the dictionary to give the reader an opportunity to derive a maximum of information from the contents.

Within many entries are short notes (identified by this symbol and called "fist-notes") which offer various kinds of information relating to complex shifts in the meaning of words, especially complicated or disputed etymologies, expansions of general definitions, and other questions requiring more space for elucidation than is provided in the normal entry.

To conserve space, a system of "focal entries" has been established whereby one term, usually that most commonly used, functions as the focus for a group of synonyms; the entry word for this term carries the definition, all others being cross-referred to it. All entry words are, however, supported by quotations — with the exception of simple cross-reference entries identifying spelling or other variants. At these focal entries, a list of synonyms is provided.

The directive "See also" is used throughout for referring the reader both to synonyms and to certain other related entries having enlightening definitions or quotations.

The abbreviation Cp., used in place of "See also," refers the reader to a term (or terms) having a contrary meaning or a meaning in some way germane to a full understanding of the term being defined.

Other cross-references are made by means of the abbreviation q.v. placed within a definition, where it follows a term itself defined and illustrated in the dictionary. This device has permitted the editors to dispense with circumlocutions for Canadian terms having no commonplace synonym.

Economy is often achieved by making quotations do double duty. Thus the instruction "See 1801 quote" (or whatever the relevant year may be) is sometimes used in place of a definition where an adequate definition appears in the designated quotation following. Again, a quotation substitute such as "1801 [see quote at lumberjack]" is sometimes given instead of repeating a quotation which has been entered elsewhere.

Several of the above-mentioned devices are used in the etymologies to direct the reader to entries having related etymologies or other pertinent information.

Finally, there are a substantial number of line drawings included in the dictionary to aid the reader in visualizing the entry concerned. Such drawings are normally placed adjacent to the entry; wherever such is not the case, as when the drawing is located near a synonym elsewhere in the dictionary, the reader is directed to it by a cross-reference.

In these many ways, the editors have striven to produce a reference book in which the information is easy of access as well as interesting and informative. It is our hope that those who make use of the results of our work will find the experience both rewarding and entertaining.