Canadian vs. U.S. Slang


I might be moving to Canada, but not for the reasons you may be thinking.

Quite a bit of my time is spent watching YouTube videos, and it recently occurred to me that a few of my favorite channels are from our upstairs neighbors: Canada! Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been watching several of the same channels; I may have picked up some lingo from Toronto, one of Canada’s most populous and influential cities in the province of Ontario.

This YouTube video about popular sayings in Toronto by Marlon Palmer, who goes by the moniker ThatDudeMcFly, was part of the onset of videos in 2012 titled: “S*** [insert group here] Say.”

Before that video was released, I was fascinated by the accents of people living in the metropolitan Toronto area because of its uncanny influence from Caribbean, East African, and West African words or phrases.

Here are some of the catchiest phrases I’ve heard over the years:

  1. Wallahi

U.S. equivalent: “I swear.”

“Wallahi” is actually an Arabic phrase that would most closely translate to “I swear to god/Allah.” The phrase has Islamic roots but is often used by various cultural and religious groups.

Jean: Oh, my God, I forgot to tell you that I found $100 yesterday!

Jordan: You’re lying, let me see!

Jean: Wallahi, I did! *takes out $100*

  1. Wasteman

U.S. equivalent: “Loser.”

“Wasteman” has its Jamaican roots, but the phrase itself is widely used in Toronto and London. It is an insult, but can also be used in a playful manner between friends. It is typically attributed to someone who is unambitious or someone who uses others.

Jean: *takes out a pack of gum*

Jordan: Can I have some gum?

Jean: Every time I pull out a pack, you ask for one. But you always have gum on you.

Jordan: *laughing* Just pass me one, man.

Jean: *passes Jordan some gum* What a wasteman!

  1. It can gwan

U.S. equivalent: “That works.”

“It can gwan” has definitely slipped into my vocab, but more so from my background rather than my exposure to YouTube videos. It is used to verify that something has validity, acceptance, or some level of importance. “Gwan” is widely used in Caribbean countries, and means “go on” or “go away” in most instances.

Jean: Do you like this shirt?

Jordan: The color is kind of bright, but I guess it can gwan.

Jean: So you don’t think it looks good with this outfit?

Jordan: It’s not that it doesn’t look good, I just don’t really like neon green.

Jean: Ugh… I’ll just wear it. I don’t feel like changing.

  1. Still

This one is tricky because the word “still” doesn’t seem to have any alternative connotations, except for its definition of being motionless, quiet, or a state of being unchanged. However, when I hear it used by people in Toronto, it’s typically to close a statement. “Still” is probably not something that would be used in a specific geographic region, but, by my observations, it seems to have a fairly recognizable pattern.

Jordan: Are you planning on getting the new iPhone?

Jean: I’m kind of low on money, but it looks good still. You?

Jordan: Probably, but I’m not sure yet.

  1. Touch road

U.S. equivalent: Go out (night out)

“Touch road” has gained recent attention from Canada’s own Drake, and his hit single, “Hotline Bling,” in the following lines:

Why you never alone

Why you always touching road

Used to always stay at home, be a good girl

You was in a zone, yeah

You should just be yourself

Right now, you’re someone else.

However, it is also widely used in the Caribbean.

Jean: I’m touching road tonight. What are you up to?

Jordan: Studying for midterms.

Jean: You gotta do what you gotta do. I’ll see you later still.

Jordan: *laughing* See you later, Jean.

This should go without saying, but not everyone in Toronto will use the words or phrases mentioned above, just like how not everyone living in Georgia will flaunt “finna” or “y’all.”

Forcing phrases from other cultures is probably not the best idea, but if spending time with others or listening to songs and videos ends up contributing to your speech – positively of course – embrace it!

Even if you think you would never use any of these phrases, gaining an insight into different cultures shouldn’t hurt. So on that note, likkle more. That’s “later” in Jamaican Patois.