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Jane Choi holds cans of Coca-Cola and Diet Coke in Anne's Deli, in Portland, Ore. (File photo | AP Photo/File photo | AP Photo)
Jane Choi holds cans of Coca-Cola and Diet Coke in Anne's Deli, in Portland, Ore. (File photo | AP Photo/File photo | AP Photo)

Why do some places say 'pop' and others say 'soda'? Your questions answered Add to ...

If you live in southern Ontario, you may be leaving your bungalow in the city behind as you head to the cottage on a summer weekend.

But if you live in Cape Breton, the bungalow is your summer retreat.

Confused? Globe and Mail feature writer John Allemang traced the usage of the words we use for summer getaways – such as cottage, cabin or camp – in a long-weekend feature.

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There a multitude of words that vary between regions – and we’re not even getting started on the queues and lifts in Britain – so we got an expert to take your burning language questions. Charles Boberg, a linguistics professor at McGill University, specializes in regional variation in Canadian language. His answers are below.

What about how apartments are described in ads and conversation? In Toronto, by the number of bedrooms (e.g. two-bedroom etc.), in Montreal by the number of rooms, always with a 1/2 room (e.g. 3 1/, which means a one-bedroom apartment)? In France, however, a “trois pièces” is a two-bedroom apartment. (from reader S.C.).

It involves both a true Canadianism and another special Quebec word, showing influence from French. The Canadian word is “bachelor apartment”, which designates what Americans call as “studio”: a small apartment without a separate bedroom. In England, an even smaller version of this, sometimes without even a private bath, was called a “bed-sit,” short for “bed-sitting room.” The Canadian “bachelor” is rather humorous, in a way, suggesting that it might be occupied exclusively by young, unmarried men waiting to find a suitable woman to buy a house with. Another term for this is “loft”, which has an equally interesting connotation, suggesting artistic activity to some, or a recycled former factory or warehouse space to others. Of course, many Canadians say “studio” too, especially in Ontario.

In Quebec, however, since renting apartments happens in the public domain, it is dominated by the local French terminology, translated into English, which counts the number of rooms, with the bathroom counting for half. Thus, what people in Vancouver or Toronto would call a “one-bedroom apartment” would be a “three-and-a-half” in Montreal, meaning three rooms (normally living room, kitchen and bedroom) plus a bathroom. A two-bedroom apartment is a “four-and-a-half”, etc.

Pop or soda? (from Michael Cowtan)

This is one of the best known regional vocabulary variables in North American English, which often comes up in Americans' discussions of regional differences across the U.S. The basic geography of these terms is: “soda” occurs in the northeast (New York City, Philadelphia, etc.) and in the southwest (Los Angeles, San Francisco), as well as in a few islands of the Midwest (Milwaukee, St. Louis, etc.).

“Pop” occurs in most of the Inland North, from Buffalo to Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago; the American South uses a third term, “coke,” in a generic sense (as opposed to its tradename sense). Boston had an old local term, “tonic”, that is now fading from use, and being replaced by “soda.” Most of Canada is dominated by the midwestern American term “pop” – this is very solid across Ontario and the West. In Montreal, however, “pop” is virtually unknown, and people say “soft drink” instead. This is a term known across North America but only in Quebec, and a few other places (like Manitoba) it is the normal generic term for carbonated beverages.

When ordering pizza – do you order deluxe or all-dressed? (from Andrew H.)

This is one of my favourite variables in Canadian English, as it demonstrates the durable vitality of dialect variation. While some dialect words refer to traditional occupations and aspects of rural culture that are now increasingly obsolete, others, like this one, refer to aspects of modern, urban culture that are familiar and relevant to the large majority of Canadians today.

I discovered this set of words when I moved to Montreal and found that the standard set of toppings on pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs was referred to locally as “all-dressed,” a term I had never heard anywhere else I had lived in North America. It has a direct French equivalent, “toute-garnie,” but I'm not sure whether that influenced the English term, or the influence went the other way.

In any case, “all-dressed” is absolutely solid in Quebec, but virtually unknown elsewhere. In the West, where I grew up, it was “deluxe,” whereas across most of the U.S. and in Ontario the more prosaic “everything-on-it” seems to predominate. In Atlantic Canada, however, we find yet another term, “the works.” Still other forms occur as minor variants in other regions, such as “supreme” and “loaded.”



Do you go to a restaurant with a patio or a ‘terrasse’? (from J.M.)

This is another great example of a “gallicism” (borrowing from French) in Montreal English. While standard English has “terrace” as an old borrowing from French, with a somewhat different meaning, Montreal English has re-borrowed “terrasse” to mean an outdoor restaurant patio, or sidewalk café. These are ubiquitous in Montreal, and Montrealers' sense of their own vaunted urbane sophistication involves making maximal use of terrasses as early and late as possible in the season: one sees people sitting in their coats and hats just to enjoy their coffee and croissant or beer and nachos on a “terrasse.”

One problem with the terrasse is that, with new legislation banning smoking in restaurants, smokers resort to the terrasses, which have now become unofficial smoking sections: if you're a non-smoker, it's hard to enjoy these spaces, as the breeze usually manages to blow your neighbor's smoke up your nose just as you are trying to savour your soup.

Sofa? Couch? Chesterfield? (from Chris B.)

“Chesterfield” is perhaps the most famous Canadianism of them all: this is a great old Canadian word that is quickly disappearing. It was the majority term among Canadians in the middle of the 20th century, but has all but vanished from the speech of young people today, largely replaced by the American term “couch.” “Sofa” is also a historic contender, but has always been less widespread than “couch” in North America.

Follow on Twitter: @channay

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