Ottawa Slang

Ottawa Slang


Ottawa slang doesn't differ that much from the general Canadian variety. Like our counterparts from coast to coast, we call a case of two dozen beers "a two-four," we measure driving distances in "clicks" (kilometres), and we have pockets full of "loonies" and "toonies" (one- and two-dollar coins). But there are a few bits of local lingo you may find handy to know when you visit the nation's capital.

1. "The Sens"
Hockey fans, like small children and Aussies, despise using words of more than one syllable. Hence, the Montreal Canadiens-official nickname, the Habitants-are the Habs, and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, heaven help them, are the Ducks. Here in Ottawa, the NHL's Ottawa Senators are universally known as the Sens, possibly so they won't be confused with the codgers on Parliament Hill, who are similarly prone to pointless fights and occasionally criticized for their ability to achieve goals.

2. "The Queensway"
This is the main multi-lane freeway that crosses Ottawa from west to east. Officially known as Highway 417, no one except traffic reporters ever refers to it that way. Another term that seems mainly confined to traffic reporters is "the Split," the east-end cloverleaf where Highway 417 and Highway 174 intersect.

3. "Green Hornets"
This is nothing to do with superheroes, sadly. It's the slang term for parking enforcement officers, who used to drive around in little green cars. The cars are now usually white, but the moniker lingers.

4. "The Market"
Even though Ottawa has several thriving farmers' markets, this term almost always refers to the Byward Market downtown. It includes the whole shopping and dining district, not just the farm stalls.

5. "Franglais"
Hardly anyone uses the term "franglais" here but everyone is familiar with the concept: French words that come up regularly in English conversations. "Poutine"-a greasy combination of French fries, gravy and cheese curds-is probably the most common, but there are many others. If someone tells you they took the "autoroute" (freeway) to get to the "depanneur" (convenience store), he's probably an ex-Montrealer.

6. "The Chateau"
It's pretty self-explanatory when it's written out-it refers to the landmark Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel, next to Parliament Hill. The confusion arises because everyone except francophones pronounces it "the Shadow."

7. "The Hill"
Only tourists call it Parliament Hill. For the rest of us, it's simply "the Hill." Confusingly, it's actually rather flat.

8. "QP"
Question Period, the daily free-for-all in the House of Commons when Opposition members of Parliament fire questions at government ministers, and the few MPs actually in the chamber that day cluster behind the questioner and the minister so that it all looks more dramatic on television. It's the subject of much angst among Hill staffers and benign indifference to the rest of the city.

9."Sitting," "rising" and "dying on the table"
Three more parliamentary terms that sometimes confuse outsiders. Basically, when Parliament is in session, it is "sitting." When all the MPs go home for the summer or another break, Parliament "rises." And if an election is called before a bill under discussion is passed, the bill "dies on the table."

10. Know your ABCs
As a government town, Ottawa loves, loves, loves its acronyms. You may, while innocently walking down the street, hear one bureaucrat remark to another, "She's an EX-01 at HRSDC and she's applied for an EX-02 position at CIC, but she only has her BBB." Translation: "She's an entry-level executive at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and she's applied for a more senior job at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, but she doesn't have strong enough skills in her second official language (English or French) to get the job." Still baffled? Don't worry. So are most Ottawans who don't work for the feds.

11. "U of O"
Notable mainly because the locals tend to mumble it so that it sounds like "UFO." When someone tells you, "My daughter's going to UFO this year," don't start imagining scenes of alien abduction. She's just a student at the University of Ottawa.

12. "Beaver tail"
A deep-fried pastry invented here in town that's particularly popular as a snack for skaters on the Rideau Canal. And, yes, Ottawans have heard just about every tasteless joke imaginable about it.
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