The extraordinary new “Dictionary of Canadianisms”: An insider’s view


Jacques Plante’s goalie mask. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo: M. Pick (from Dollinger and Fee, 2017).

Just over a year ago, I started proofreading The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP‑2). The creation of this unique online dictionary was led by Dr. Stefan Dollinger (editor-in-chief) and Dr. Margery Fee (associate editor), with the assistance of many students working out of the Canadian English Lab at UBC.

Today (March 17, 2017) the DCHP-2 goes live online at It is available in open access, free of charge, for anyone to view and use (with appropriate citation, see Dollinger and Fee (2017) below). After eleven years of work, Dollinger and his team have been able to achieve their goal of releasing the dictionary in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial).

It isn’t a coincidence that the DCHP‑2 builds upon the foundation of the DCHP-1, a dictionary published in 1967 (Canada’s centennial) under the direction of editor Walter Avis. However, the huge advances in computer technology and linguistics research have made it possible to produce a much more ambitious and expansive dictionary.

Note: For a full account of the history, methodology, and linguistics research involved in the production of the DCHP-2, please refer to the Introduction and Project History sections of the online dictionary at

The DCHP‑2 is not like any other dictionary. First of all, as its title says, its words are “Canadianisms” (with the exception of a few words, now labelled “non-Canadian” that were previously thought to be Canadian). So, what is a “Canadianism”?

To quote from Avis, the editor of the DCHP-1, a Canadianism 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 (Avis 1967: xiii).

 The DCHP‑2 adds a mere 1002 words (or expressions) to the DCHP-1’s legacy data for 10,974 headwords, but each entry includes much more information than did the DCHP-1 or any traditional dictionary. Part of the work done to produce the DCHP-2 was the gathering of over 51,000 new quotations (double the number found for the DCHP-1); these quotations comprise the Bank of Canadian English (BCE), and almost 9,000 of them were incorporated into the new dictionary.

Each entry begins with the word’s etymology, a definition, and the “type” of Canadianism it is. In addition to these basics, there is a detailed Word Story that explains such things as the word’s origins, how its use has changed over time, regional differences in its use, and other details. Some words have more than one meaning.

Each meaning’s Word Story is followed by quotations found in written records or sometimes spoken records such as radio broadcasts. Some of these quotation lists span a period of a hundred years or more, and provide a comprehensive picture of how a word’s use has developed, as well as a more general impression of how everyday Canadian writing and speech have changed over the years.

Some of the dictionary’s entries contain thousands of words of text; that’s why proofreading all of it consumed a significant portion of my working hours in 2016! And thanks to the internet, which eliminates the need to limit the amount of text and audio/visual enhancements, the DCHP‑2 contains many other distinctive features. Most entries are accompanied by “Frequency Charts” that compare a word’s use in English-speaking countries worldwide; some words also have regional Frequency Charts to illustrate how a word is used (or not used) across Canada’s provinces and territories.

Entries are also enriched by photos, charts from linguistics research, and YouTube videos. This is a cutting-edge dictionary!

Why explore the DCHP-2?

Reading the DCHP-2 provides a learning experience unlike any other: it is a comprehensive and quirky immersion in Canada’s history, politics, language, customs, and culture. Canadians reading it will feel a glow of recognition and pride because it shows how specifically Canadian words or meanings of words reflect what is distinctive about Canada; in other words, the DCHP‑2 displays our “national personality”: our origins (Indigenous, English, French, and others), our politics (particularly the French-English conflicts), predominant industries that have shaped Canada, and our culture. Culture includes our foods, our celebrations, our arts, and our sports, the latter dominated, of course, by the huge influence of hockey on our national consciousness.

If you are a Canadian, you will not only learn from the DCHP-2, but you will have fun as you “test” yourself against its findings. How many Canadianisms have you never heard of? Do you actually use the words in the ways the dictionary describes, including the regional differences given for many of the words? Were you aware of the many differences between Canadian and American English (these involve much more than some spelling variations).

A quick peek into some of the DCHP-2’s entries


As a humble proofreader, I am the only person in addition to Stefan Dollinger (editor-in-chief) and Margery Fee (associate editor) who has read the entire text of the DHCP-2. This means I can give readers an overview of notable topics the entries cover, as well as examples of words from each topic.

To me, an enticing quality of the DCHP-2 is the way every Canadian can relate to many of its words in a personal way. We can recognize our own everyday expressions, our activities, our special events—the myriad of things that “make us” Canadian. I’ve included a few words at the end of this post that I particularly liked or that had personal significance for me.

Words relating to Canada’s roots: Indigenous words and politics, French words, Newfoundland words

Some Inuit words or words from other Indigenous languages are included in the DCHP-2. In addition, there are many extremely long entries related to the complicated relationship (past and present) between Canada’s mainstream population and its Indigenous peoples. Some examples are amautik, Qalunaat, skookum, Assembly of First Nations, missing and murdered women, and reconciliation.

As one of Canada’s founding languages, French remains pervasive in Canada, not only in Quebec French but in French words that have been adapted into English versions or used in their original French form in the everyday speech of anglophones. Some examples are cabane á sucre, bloquiste, and depanneur.

Newfie words

Newfie” itself is an entry in the DCHP-2! Newfoundland is a special case in Canadian linguistics. There are so many words that are used in Newfoundland and nowhere else in Canada that it must have been difficult for the dictionary’s editors to decide which words to include. The DCHP-2 contains 132 words from this distinctive Newfoundland dialect; these words comprise the majority of the DCHP-2’s entries that were completely unfamiliar to me. A smattering of the many colourful entries follows: angle-dog, away, chin music, gut-foundered, dry diet, upalong, bonnyclabber, squidding, and baywop. And of course, the expression “Newfie joke” is a well-known Canadianism, though not one that Newfies like.


Of the many Canadianisms from the topic of Canadian politics, a good percentage relate to the long-standing clashes between Canada’s English and French cultures. Some examples: language police, bear-pit session, Trudeaumania, Bill 101, have-not province, and Meech Lake Accord.

Industry and Inventions

Many of the dictionary’s terms are related to Canada’s historically important forestry industry: terms such as bush ape, cork boots, catskinner, honey bag, and beehive burner. Words related to Canadian inventions include bombardier, Robertson screw, and Canadarm.


Amongst the many entries in this category are Canadian Screen Awards, Genie Award, Giller effect, CanCon, and National Film Board.

Cultural—food and brands

A great many of the DCHP-2’s entries relate to specifically Canadian foods. Again, the influence of Quebec and Newfoundland is especially noticeable. Many of the brand names included in the dictionary also relate to favourite Canadian foods. Canadians’ love of beer is reflected in a few expressions that would be mysterious to non-Canadians. A taste of these entries: Molson muscle, two-four, smoked meat, dry diet, Jiggs’ dinner, poutine, bumbleberry, cretons, figgy duff, Timbits, Kraft Dinner, and Cheezies.

Cultural—hockey and other sports

I’m not an ardent hockey fan, but like virtually all Canadians, I have a connection to the game. Until I was nine years old, my family was unusual in that we didn’t have a TV—but every April my father would rent one so he could watch every game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For that month, I watched hockey games (or heard them in the background) almost every night.

And hockey cards! Like all the other kids at my elementary school, I collected and traded them.

Hockey is a cornerstone of the Canadian identity. The DCHP-2 captures this. The entry for the word “hockey” is one of the longest in the dictionary. Moreover, it includes a huge number of words related to hockey. Many of them are well known, and are part of our everyday speech: for example, hockey mom, back of the net, slapshot, shinny, and game seven. There are other words I was unfamiliar with that a more dedicated hockey fan would understand—like puck-ragging. Hockey terms are so influential that some have metaphorical meanings—take a look at the entry for “hang up one’s skates”!

If you are a real Canadian, you know who The Great One is.

Other Canadian sports are mentioned in the DCHP-2 as well. I was ignorant about barrel-jumping—but the dictionary soon remedied that.

My favourite entries

One of the most fun aspects of reading the DCHP-2 is “testing” yourself to see if your understanding of a word’s meaning is in agreement with the scholarly findings reported in the Frequency Charts, especially the regional ones. I’ve spent roughly half my life in Toronto and the other half in Vancouver, so I expected to have a good understanding of words that were used predominantly in Ontario and British Columbia.

In a few cases, having grown up in Ontario gave me an especially nuanced understanding of certain Ontario terms. The most notable example of this was the word “Scarberia,” which is a nickname for Scarborough, a municipality outside of downtown Toronto. As it happens, I grew up about 400m from the Scarborough boundary, and had used the word “Scarberia” many times. This was the one entry in the dictionary when I went beyond my simple proofreading duties and suggested nuances in the meaning of “Scarberia” to the editor-in-chief that he incorporated into the Word Story.

Another entry I could relate to personally was “browner.” This word was used extensively when I was a junior high and high school student in Ontario, and indeed I might have been called one. However, our use of the word was often not as derogatory as the DCHP-2’s definition implies.

Running shoe ((1))” made it into the DCHP-2! Naturally, being a runner for over 40 years, I was interested in this entry, and satisfied to discover that my use of the term “running shoes” rather than “runners” is consistent with my Ontario background.

Finally, here is my nomination for the dictionary’s cutest term: “bunny hug.” If you are from Saskatchewan, you will know what a bunny hug is. Otherwise, look it up in the DCHP-2! I’m sure you will have great fun browsing, learning, and feeling a warm glow of patriotism as you read this special dictionary.

Note: You can read an excellent article about the DCHP-2 written by Michael Valpy and published in The Globe and Mail on March 10, 2017. He has a lot to say about “eh” but the dictionary itself will give you the full story!

March 23, 2107

Just published: Jesse Sheidlower, writing in The New Yorker, has a lot of good things to say about the DCHP-2 in his article too!

References Cited

Avis, Walter S. 1967. Introduction. In: Avis et al. (eds.), xii-xv. Also in DCHP‑1 Online (5 Dec. 2016)

Dollinger, Stefan (chief editor) and Margery Fee (associate editor). 2017. DCHP-2: The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, Second Edition. With the assistance of Baillie Ford, Alexandra Gaylie and Gabrielle Lim. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia,


Dr. Stefan Dollinger raises provocative questions about the “radically changing English-language ecosystem”

On Wednesday October 15, 2014, I was among the editors at our monthly EAC-BC meeting who had the privilege of listening to a fascinating presentation by Dr. Stefan Dollinger. His title, “Forks in the Road: Dictionaries and the Radically-Changing English-language Ecosystem” immediately grabbed our editorial attention.

Dr. Dollinger is Assistant Professor of English at UBC and the editor-in-chief of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (now available online here). He has written over 40 scholarly papers on topics related to the evolving English language and how what he called the “English Language Complex”, or ELC (meaning all the varieties of English spoken worldwide) affects decisions about how to research and compile dictionaries.

Even though I’m an editor and consider myself highly competent in English, Dollinger made me stop and think about what “correct” English is and what it means to be an “expert” user of English.

Early in his presentation, Dollinger referred to the Circle Model of English (coined by Braj Kachru in 1985). In this model, the inner circle of English-language speakers consists of native speakers from Great Britain, Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The inner circle has roughly 400 million members. The outer circle is made up of English speakers from countries that have historically been colonized by the English: India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Singapore. This circle has a billion members! But the biggest growth area of English by a long shot (Dollinger’s emphasis) comes from the expanding circle: English speakers from countries that have no historical experience of English use. China, of course, is the most significant country in this group because of its enormous population and its growing economic clout. The expanding circle includes another billion English speakers. Therefore, we are now at a point where the ratio of non-native English speakers to native speakers is 5:1!

English is unique: never, in the history of the world, has there been another language that has more non-native speakers than native speakers.

Dollinger used the term “English as a lingua franca” (ELF) to refer to English as spoken by non-native speakers. One provocative idea is that according to numbers, we have to consider ELF the most “real” English. What are some of the implications of this?

Can we still assume that “our” English (the English spoken by educated, articulate native speakers—and guarded passionately by editors!) is the English, the “best” English?

When it comes to teaching and learning English, would it not be more practical to use lingua franca English—a globally accepted English?

How could a globally accepted English be learned, when there is so much variation in English usage around the world?

This is where the creation of a lingua franca English dictionary could be critical. Dollinger admitted that this would be a huge task. He spent some time talking about the most highly-respected dictionary of English—the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and how it was created. Its editors relied heavily on excerption from literary sources. But Dollinger believes another method of research is required in order to create a global English dictionary. That is, empirical research: going out into the field and finding out how English is actually being used currently, depending on speakers’ geographical location, education, and social class.

How do we distinguish between “errors” in English and innovative evolution of English?

Dollinger gave several amusing examples of creative “new” English words that we, as Canadian “expert” English users, had not heard of before: two I remember are “peelhead” (meaning a bald person), and “batchmate” (meaning cohort). Logical, eh?

How do I feel about my “Canadian” being considered just one quaint dialect of English, rather than the English?

It’s strange to think that as a Canadian English native speaker, I might not be understood by the majority of  English speakers.worldwide

Optimistically, though, I believe I can hold on to my “mother” English tongue (Canadian English) and still be competent at ELF. This requires tools like dictionaries as well as an open mind and a willingness to learn.

I celebrate the enormous flexibility English offers, and I don’t think we should feel threatened by the evolution of English. We have to remember that the purpose of language is communication, and there are many types of communication. A global English can be better than “traditional” English by simplifying the parts of English grammar, spelling, and usage that are illogical or unnecessarily difficult. All global English communicators will need to become familiar with Plain English principles. People will learn standard English terms and expressions used in their area of research or business.

Those of us who love the most difficult English, in all its idiomatic, metaphoric, multi-clausal imaginative glory, will still be able to read the great works of English literature. I am also confident that new writers will display creative and technical mastery of English in new works of literature, whether they be novels, stories, poems, or other formats that take advantage of the interactive possibilities of today’s digital world.

You can help Dr. Dollinger in his research about global English usage by completing his survey at It takes about 18 minutes. Do your bit!