The Writer’s Toolbox – Uniquely Canadian

Next week we’ll celebrate Canada’s 147th birthday?and revel in all things uniquely Canadian. But our uniqueness is not just about poutine, ketchup chips, and the vast superiority of Tim Horton’s. Canada also has its own distinct style for grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling. Let’s take this time to celebrate our differences!

Canadian Spelling
Americans often think that Canadians use British spelling; British, that we follow American conventions. But Canadian spelling is its own thing. While Canadian English follows some British spellings (for example, both British and Canadian English use labour rather than labor), it also uses some US spellings (for example, British English’s specialised versus specialized in US and Canadian English). And then there are compound words, expressions, and other phrases where Canadian spelling differs from both British and US spelling.

Getting Canadian spelling right is challenging for most Canadians, even those who work with words. There’s no substitute for a good dictionary; I recommend The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (affectionately known as Canox). Train yourself to pick out words and phrases that might receive a different treatment in Canada, like words that are spelled differently in British or US English, and double-check for accuracy. Hyphenated expressions are also sometimes punctuated differently (for example, “daylight saving time” in Canada is often written “daylight-saving time” in the US).

Words of Our Own
Obviously Canadians are known for their multipurpose eh, but there are other words that we use that might stump non-Canadian English speakers. For example, Americans might not know what serviettes are, and they use sled and hat instead of toboggan and toque.

When I moved to the US 12 years ago, I had some fun with this. I also discovered that few outside Canada know what Timbits are. Their loss.

Style Guides
Canadian organizations may still follow Chicago or AP style, but some follow CP (Canadian Press) style and others a hybrid. Generally speaking, consult the Bureau of Translation’s The Canadian Style and the Editors’ Association of Canada’s Editing Canadian English, both excellent resources on Canadian spelling, usage, and style conventions. You can also freely search the online version of The Canadian Style.

Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.