A Canadian's Guide to American Lingo


Canadian living in the U.S.? You're in good company. Some 800,000 Canadians have made the move across the border.

Americans and Canadians share a lot: the NHL, over 5,000 miles of border, Niagara Falls.

And the language too, right?

Well, if you’ve made the move across the border, you’ll likely know that there are some words and phrases that simply don’t translate.

So, to help you out, Wise has rounded up some of the most confusing words and phrases commonly used only in the U.S.



“Flapjacks” are one of the most beloved breakfast foods in America.

Served hot off the frying pan, usually 2-3 at a time and generally covered them with maple syrup, butter, jam or whip cream. In Canada, they're pancakes and they’re equally great, of course.

John Hancock

In Canada, it’s pretty standard to ask someone for “their autograph.” In America, the term “John Hancock” is widely used as an alternative.

The expression comes from a prominent Patriot from the American Revolution, John Hancock, whose stylish signature was one of the most memorable on the Declaration of Independence.

Andrew, a Canadian expat living in Boston, has this to say:

“When the HR manager at my firm asked me to ‘sign my John Hancock’ at the bottom of my contract, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. It was only later when I asked my colleague, that I figured out who and what a ‘John Hancock’ is.”

A Fifth

In Canada, you may call a standard bottle of hard liquor (750 ml) a “26-er” because it contains 26 ounces of alcohol.

But in the U.S. the same size bottle of booze (1/5 of a gallon) is “a fifth.”

Plead the Fifth

Not to be confused with a fifth of alcohol, when an American says that they’d like to “plead the fifth,” they’re referring to the fifth amendment that’s been written into the U.S. Constitution.

The expression is used if someone wants not to answer a question about themselves, particularly when the answers are self-incriminating.

Jimmy, an expat from Canada explains:

“I had just learnt what a fifth of liquor was, when my colleague told me that they wanted to plead the fifth on whether he was hungover that morning at work or not. The slight variations in expressions had me pretty confused!”


The word “janky” describes something that’s unreliable or of extremely poor quality.


A hot topic in America in the past few months, “gerrymandering” is when the district lines of an electoral constituency are manipulated in order to favor a particular political party.

Kate from Canada told us,

“With all the discussion about the election in the past few months, ‘gerrymandering’ kept coming up. But since we don’t have the expression in Canada, I couldn’t understand why everyone was frustrated with a guy named Gerry.”


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