English: Do You Have Double-Double Trouble?
By Marty Green
When you’re in a new country and still learning the language, even buying a coffee can be a challenge.
Listen to what happened to Daniel, who recently immigrated to Canada from China.
“In my native country, tea is very popular,” he says. “But when I came to Canada, I saw many people drinking coffee. I wanted to do what Canadians do. So I went to a coffee shop and stood in line. I studied the menu carefully because I didn’t want to be awkward when ordering.
“I heard the people in front of me order a ‘doubledouble’. I thought it was the name of the coffee. However, I couldn’t find ‘double-double’ on the menu. But I ordered it. The coffee was sweeter than any I’d had before.
“Later, I went to the coffee shop’s website and studied the products. I still couldn’t find any doubledouble. I was confused.
“When I told my ESL class my problem, our teacher Frances laughed. She explained that ‘doubledouble’ wasn’t a brand or product. It meant coffee with two creams and two sugars!
“She told me not to feel bad because her teenage daughter had a similar experience. Her daughter wanted coffee with one cream and one sugar, so she ordered a single-single. But there’s no single-single – coffee with one cream and one sugar is just called ‘regular’!”
As a newcomer, you might have your own kind of double-double trouble. You hear a word or expression that isn’t in the dictionary you brought from your native country. Maybe it isn’t even in the dictionaries you find in your new country. You think: Did I hear the word correctly? Am I spelling it right? Is the word even English? Are my English skills worse than I thought?
Canadian slang can be confusing even if your English skills are very good. Daniel, for example, is in the highest level at his LINC school, Level 6/7. Even native-English speakers from the United States can be puzzled by Canadian slang. In fact, I was born in Canada, I learned English in Canada, I teach English in Canada ... and even I have trouble understanding some Canadian words and expressions! But others I do understand. And I want to share a few of them with you, in the hope it will make your new life here a little easier.
You may already know some ways that spelling in Canada is different from spelling in America. Canadians often end a word with ‘our’ that Americans end with ‘or’ (honour/honor, neighbour/neighbor). We often write centre; Americans write center. However, Canadians and Americans spell most words the same way. (Sometimes Canadians use American spelling, too.) We also use mostly the same words and phrases. One of those words is “buck”, an informal word for dollar. But “loonie”, another informal word for dollar, is used mainly by Canadians. We call our gold dollar coin a loonie because on it is a picture of a bird called a loon.
Speaking of birds, you might hear Canadians talk about a “snowbird”. This word can mean different things. But often “snowbird” refers to someone who travels south in winter to escape the cold weather. When you know our dollar coin is called a “loonie”, you may not be surprised to hear our twodollar coin is called a “toonie”. There is no picture on the coin of any animal called a toon – in fact, the animal on it is a polar bear. The coin is called a toonie because it’s worth two dollars.
Now, imagine you take our loonie and toonie to Daniel’s coffee shop. As you stand in line ready to order a double-double, you hear people in front of you talk about buying a “pop”.
Pop? What’s pop? Doesn’t anyone here speak normal English?
You buy a pop to see what it is. The cashier asks if you want Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, or ginger ale. Now you understand – pop is a word Canadians use for soda. You pay for your pop and leave. By chance you meet one of your Canadian friends outside the shop. He invites you to his home for lunch, and you go together. Unfortunately, it’s a very rainy day. As you’re walking to his house, by mistake he steps into a pool of water on the street. “Oh no!” he cries. “I got a soaker!” He later explains that if you get a soaker, it means water comes into your shoe and makes your foot wet.
At his home, your Canadian friend takes off his wet “running shoes” (tennis shoes or sneakers) and sits down on his “chesterfield” (an older Canadian word for sofa) to rest for a few minutes. He turns on the TV. You hear a news reporter say, “Grits and Tories faced off today on the Hill ....”
Seeing your puzzled look, your friend explains what the reporter said. “Two of the political parties in our national government are the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. ‘Grits’ is an informal word for the Liberals. ‘Tories’ is an informal word for the Conservatives. ‘Face off’ is a hockey expression. If two people or teams or parties face off, it means they go against each other in some kind of fight or contest. So the reporter means the Liberals and Conservatives debated, or argued about, something.”
And the Hill?
“The Hill is Parliament Hill, where Canada’s government is located. Parliament Hill is in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.”
Your friend adds that another name for Ottawa is “Bytown”. “In fact,” he says, “several Canadian places have informal names. Toronto is sometimes called T.O. or Hogtown. We also have Cowtown (Calgary), Oiltown (Edmonton), and Steeltown (Hamilton). And the island of Newfoundland is sometimes called the Rock. Interesting, eh?”
A? Why did he say A? And why is A interesting? Your friend smiles and says, “No, ‘eh’ is one of the most common and most famous Canadian expressions. We use ‘eh’ at the end of a question to mean ‘right?’ or ‘don’t you agree?’ So if I say, ‘Canadian English is confusing, eh?’ I mean ‘Canadian English is confusing, right?’”
“Don’t worry,” he laughs. “The more you live in Canada, the more you’ll understand Canadian slang. Talk with me, I’ll help you learn. Soon you’ll be talking just like a Canuck!”
“Canuck is a slang word that means Canadian. Anyway, that’s enough new words for now – let’s have lunch!”
Your “Canuck” friend is right when he tells you not to worry. In time, many strange new Canadian words and expressions will become clear to you. So don’t be afraid of them, or upset when you don’t understand. Try to enjoy discovering this new vocabulary. After all, Canadian slang is often cute and clever, funny and fun. Think of “toonie” and “doubledouble”. Daniel laughed when he told me his double-double story. If you can laugh at the challenges of language and life, you may find they give you less troubletrouble.