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Commonwealth English: Baffling Americans Near and Far

Posted by on June 30, 2014


It seems that wherever English is spoken, it takes on the flavour of the land. In India, I find myself marvelling at the twists and starts of a language so familiar and yet so foreign. Apparently, I’m not the only one to notice this. #IndianEnglish was trending recently on Twitter, and as I scrolled through, I was reminded of crispy pakoras, lazily spinning fans and doting Aunties.

Here are a few of my favourites:

exam Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 4.54.19 PM

I also love, “please do the needful” and “my head is paining”. I’ll admit: some of these have creeped into my vocabulary….

Varun and I have fun mocking noticing these differences whenever they crop up, and the word ‘chit‘ is no exception. Once, while doling out slips of paper for a raucous round of Mafia, Varun said, “Keep your chits and I’ll collect them later.” Many questions ensued. Like the mature adult that I am, every time he says that I giggle a bit.

Until my jog this morning.

Overheated and questioning my sanity for running in this heat, I stared confusedly at this sign:


‘Chits’?! Who knew? Either this is Canadian English that somehow I missed, or Indian English is beginning to take hold. I’m kind of hoping it’s the latter, because I would love it if we would all start saying, “I am leaving now only” and other awesome Indianisms.

Oh Canada

While every tourist equates Canada with “Eh”, some Canadianisms are a bit more elusive. I’ve lived here for 8 years and just this year I learned three new Canadianisms.

Duotang. Remember those folders that have the three hole punch clips? They were essentially a mix between a binder and a folder. Canadians, it turns out, know that they’re called duotangs. I spent 20-some years of my life avoiding referring to them for lack of an appropriate vocabulary.

In hospital. I’m not sure why, but somehow having a Queen means dropping the ‘the’. My friends in Canada and on the other side of the pond find this ‘the’ quite unnecessary: “She’s been in hospital for three weeks.” How, you may ask, did it take me nearly a decade to notice this? I’m not sure. Perhaps because whenever we’re talking about the hospital I’m more interested in who’s there and why than whether there’s a dropped ‘the’.

Writing exams. I feel so scholarly with this one. In Canada, we don’t take exams, we write them. My brother pointed out that I’m not the professor and am therefore not creating the exam, but I like to think my knowledge is so profound that when I do an exam, it is the writing of it.

Whether you’re in Canada, India or somewhere in between, I’m curious to hear what -isms are unique, baffling or beloved in your locale. Do share! And don’t forget, tomorrow and Friday are the ‘happy birthdays’ of two of my favourite countries!


15 Responses to Commonwealth English: Baffling Americans Near and Far

  1. Carla

    My head is paining is also common in Nigerian English.

    • Amelia

      Really? How interesting!

    • Amelia

      Wow, so interesting! What other phrases are common in Nigerian English?

      • Krishanu

        The list of “Nations with most English speaking population” is headed by US, followed by India, Nigeria and UK.

  2. Carla

    ‘How far?’ Means how’s it going. Parents tell their kids ‘I’m going to beat you’. Which means they are going to get a spanking.

  3. Carla

    Where’d the rest of my comment go? I had more listed…

    ‘Happy Christmas’ & ‘Compliments of the season’. ‘Happy Sunday’.

    There’s tons more but I can’t think of them right now.

    • Amelia

      Compliments of the season! I love it! Is that christmastime only?

      • Carla

        Yes, it is for Christmas time only. I like it too. It’s a very pleasant sounding saying.

  4. susan

    Interesting post! Chit is a word in the dictionary and it originated from Hindi.

  5. Vanessa

    “The needful” as in using the washroom? (Another Canadianism. I think? Or is it bathroom? Either way.) also in Uganda they/we said “doing the needful”.

  6. Martha

    I was also wondering what a chit is that you take to the market!!!

  7. susan

    Though that you might enjoy this article from BBC news as it seems to complement yours.

  8. Patrick J. Rafferty

    Where exactly DO we TAKE our exams?

  9. kirkandkatie

    Americans still look at me baffled every time I ask for the washroom… I quickly notice their confused look and ask again for the bathroom, in which I get the needed directions. I guess it’s just not said down here.

Thoughts? I love hearing from you!