Throughout my travels I’ve met people from all over the world. Many of whom proudly wore, or defiantly protested a nickname their countrys people have been given by another. While some of them can surely be seen as insults, many even approaching racism, when used tongue-in-cheek, you can’t help but smile. Calling a Canadian a Canuck is about 98% safe. I’m leaving 2% though in the off chance that someone absolutely hates Vancouvers NHL team. Chances are though, you’re in the clear. But before you go around calling every hoser you see a Canuck, I highly suggest you spend a few minutes learning a little more about the history/meaning behind Canadas National nickname.
How old is Canuck?
The word “Canuck” is thought to have been coined in the early 19th century, but historians and linguists are still at odds as to who started it. So just to cover my own derriere, know that these are all just educated guess’s by a bunch of Smartie Pants’. While most Canadians will tell you “It just means a Canadian”, the meaning behind the word appears to have evolved a bit over the years.
Before Canadians started being called, and calling one another “Canucks”, it is thought that the word typically was meant for plaid wearing, tree cutting, lumberjacks. The history behind who started it all though is still up the air. There are 4 working theories behind the origin of the word “Canuck“.
The Language Mish-Mash theory
Some linguists and scholars say there’s a good chance Canuck derived from the Iroquian word “Kanata”, the word for “Village” used by the Iroquois, with some linguists saying the Algonquian suffix “uc” was added to the word later on. Clearly plausible, as settlers continued out west, they likely brought along many new words from other First Nations tribes and shared them.
The Frozen Lips theory
Its a well known fact that in the frigid winters of Canada, moving your lips becomes rather difficult after being exposed to the elements for hours on end. Some historians say that the French-Canadians were known to utter the words “Quelle canule!” off to Americans & commanders during the American Revolution. Apparently that translates off to “How Boring”. The theory is that the French-Canadians were shivering so much & had lost a lot of mobility in their lips that the “L” in Canule may have been misheard as a “K”. Also plausible.
The Scots Did It theory
Another theory is that the term “Quell Canule!” became so widely used that many immigrants from Scotland began saying the phrase. If you’ve ever had a drink or two with a Scot you’ll know it can sometimes be hard to catch every word. Some say that their rolling “L” may have been misheard as a “K”.
The Hawaiian Theory
One of the newer theories of the bunch. Some say that the term started during the Klondike Gold Rush or the Fraser Valley Gold Rush. Hawaiian prospectors were known to be in the region, and racist slurs & nicknames were known to be handed out like cavities in those days. The theory has it that rather than calling the Hawaiians the proper “Kanaka” (which translates to ‘people’ or ‘person’, used by various Polynesian people), people began abbreviating their name to “Kanuks”. As caucasian prospectors wandered back home (typically empty handed), they brought with them a new slang word and shared it across Canada.
The origins behind the word Canuck may never be fully known. Regardless, its safe to assume that the word has evolved to encompass all Canadians. There are no prerequisites to calling someone a Canuck, so long as they call Canada home; however, the more “Canadian” someone behaves does help. Listen for a strong use of the word “eh”, or watch for a profound love of plaid, beards, hockey, beer, tuques, and nature. Chances are calling that guy or girl a “True Canuck” will earn you a smile, a thanks, and maybe even a beer.
Want more Canuck?
Johnny Canuck is a persona that the Vancouver Canucks have adopted, he was originally a political cartoon slash comic, but has since found skin. If you follow the NHL at all, you’ll probably have a laugh. Curious what they’ll do with him now; as we all know, the Bruins won the Cup.
I also found this semi-okay recording of a CBS piece on the origin of the word Canuck. They don’t exactly go over all the working theories, but they do cover a bit of the history behind the Vancouver Canucks. Worth a watch if you have a couple minutes & can deal with the fact that it was cam-corded from some guys TV.