What is a Canuck? The History behind the Canadian Nickname

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.

What-is-a-canuck

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.

Winter-in-Canada

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”.

Canadian-Mountains-Rockies

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.

 

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19 Responses to “What is a Canuck? The History behind the Canadian Nickname”

  1. Vi @ Travel Tips
    August 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    I didn’t know there are so many theories about “canuck” origin :)

  2. Crazy sexy fun traveler
    August 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Good info :) Finally know what it means :D

  3. Crazy sexy fun traveler
    August 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Good info :) Finally know what it means :D

  4. Crazy sexy fun traveler
    August 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Good info :) Finally know what it means :D

  5. Crazy sexy fun traveler
    August 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Good info :) Finally know what it means :D

  6. Kirk
    August 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    I never had any clue behind the meaning of the word but knew it was used frequently.  You always have to leave some room for those few people who will use anything the wrong way.  Thanks for the information!

  7. Marc Passion
    August 22, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    Crazy Canuks….especially in the streets… ;-)

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 22, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      bah! we’re sane in comparison to you aussies! haha, thanks for stoppin’ by marc!

  8. Jim McIntosh
    August 22, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    Thanks for the info. We Kiwis thought it was just sland Cnadians. Guess I better go write about why Kiwis are called Kiwis.

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 22, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

      Thanks for poppin’ by Jim! Always was a fan of the New Zealanders nickname, look forward to reading the history behind it!

      Cheers!

  9. Corbin Fraser
    August 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    thanks maria!

  10. Ladyexpat
    August 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    Being a pour Canuck of  from Nova Scotia I’ll go with the Scottish theory:)

  11. Anonymous
    August 23, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    Interesting theories on the derivation of the word “canuck.”

  12. Jade
    August 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Pretty interesting! I’d love to know more about different countries names too.

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 24, 2011 at 12:38 am #

      Thanks jade! Appreciate you stoppin’ by for a comment! :)

  13. Boomergirl50
    August 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    I’m going with the Mish Mash theory for Canuck. Like you, I think it’s plausible.

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 30, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

      Yea I still think that’s gotta be a leading theory. Makes sense to me.

  14. Corbin Fraser
    August 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    Thanks Nancy!

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