Express Yourself. Common expressions for your everyday language

How to get familiar with the language that Canadians really use day-to-day? In this series "Canadian English: Quirky, eh?", we take listeners on a romp across Canada making small talk, recognizing signature foods, and navigating head-scratching grammar rules and colloquial expressions. We’ll have you sounding like a Canadian in no time!

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Read the script (glossary at the end)

Express Yourself

Hello! Bonjour! Oi! Welcome, and thanks for tuning in to a new episode of our series Canadian English: Quirky, eh?  Let´s poke some fun – and hopefully a lit bit of learning along the way – about some of the quirkier aspects of the English language. In particular, Canadian English.

Have you ever listened to a speaker and felt fully drawn into the topic? Completely engaged with the subject and immersed in its delivery? Present company included, I trust! I certainly hope that you have been enjoying the recent episodes of our podcast.

We have been deliberately using well-known idioms and expressions throughout our episodes to help lend some Canadian flavour to our speech. (Yes, in case you’re wondering, I spelled that f-l-a-v-o-u-r!) Today, we are going to explore a bunch more expressions that are commonly used by Canadians. I cannot guarantee that they originated in Canada, or even that they are unique to this country. But I can be certain that most Canadians will not only recognize and understand them, they will likely finish the saying for you!

Let’s begin with a brief description of seven literary tools that find themselves embedded in every language. You don’t need to learn these definitions, but it helps to understand how they work. Then you, too, can use them to inject life and a bit of the unexpected into your language, just like you already do in your mother tongue. 

First, a simile is a way to add extra depth to a description: Brave as a lion, Strong like a bull, smart like a streetcar!

You create a metaphor when you compare two items to suggest a connection: the Maple Leaf and the Beaver have become metaphors for Canada.

An idiom is an expression whose meaning is not obvious based on the usual meaning of the individual words within it: He gave me the cold shoulder means he ignored me – no body parts involved.

An axiom expresses the obvious and has staying power over the years because of its self-evident truth. The early bird catches the worm – first come, first served.

A meme is almost the opposite: today, it can be a video, photo or phrase that captures a moment and spreads it through social media. It can celebrate, embarrass, or shock. It can be a serious social or political injustice or a laughable gaffe. It can blow over in a few days or have a lasting impact. Think: “I cannot breathe!

Proverbs and adages are the most traditional observations and snippets of wisdom. They are usually passed down through the generations, and they stick because they are generally true!

The one thing all of these tools have in common is that need to be learned. You may be familiar with a variant in another language, but it is rarely identical or even logical. They often cannot be translated word-for-word, so nix on the online translation tricks. 

Here’s an example:

Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

The expression means: Do not overreact or retaliate without considering the consequences.

Now, if you were to do a direct translation into Portuguese, you would get this: 

Não corte seu nariz para despeito do seu rosto.


Or if you were to use an online translator to go for French, you might get:

Ne coupez pas votre nez pour malgré votre visage.

Also laughable.

Here we go with a Baker’s Dozen (that’s 13 – one extra donut strictly for testing purposes):

  1. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth = Accept a gift or kind gesture with grace and appreciation; hold your criticism and analytics 
  1. It takes two to tango = many deeds and misdeeds require at least 2 parties; chances are good that you did not act alone
  1. A stitch in time saves nine = Fix small problems (with one stitch) before they turn into big problems (and require more)
  1. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink = there’s only so much you can do to help someone if they don’t want help
  1. When the cat’s away, the mice will play = people, children and adults, will generally goof off if not supervised. Goof off = take it easy, horse around, slack off, act up, muck about… hmmm – why are there so many ways to express this?
  1. Every cloud has a silver lining = even a dark storm cloud will eventually pass and reveal the sunshine it was blocking
  1. Kill two birds with one stone = advice from a masochistic but efficient multi-tasker
  1. Measure twice, cut once = great quality control advice for construction workers, dressmakers 
  1. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch = make sure something is 100% certain before moving ahead
  1. A rolling stone gathers no moss = keeping active gives you momentum, keeps you healthy and alert
  1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket = cautionary advice to minimize risk by keeping your options open
  1. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush = one of something you know you have is better than two of something you don’t have
  1. Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise = no explanation needed on this one

Bottom line, you really need to learn common expressions in order to use them comfortably in your everyday language. You need to understand their meaning so you can work them correctly into your context for the benefit of your listener. 

There are hundreds of expressions to learn; we could do an entire new series on this topic alone! And maybe we will – you’ll just have to stay tuned.

We hope you enjoyed  today´s  episode. Please take a moment to give us your feedback and like us with the big fans up. Fill free to play it again and share it with friends and family. 

You have been listening to Canadian English, Quirky, eh? The podcast series produced by Brazilian Wave Canada. This project was made possible through the generous support of the Canadian Periodical Fund. If you want to subscribe to the series and have access to the exclusive episodes, please sign in at

Until then,

Catch you later!



Stay healthy!


Baker’s Dozen: A dozen (commonly abbreviated doz or dz) is a grouping of twelve. A baker’s dozen, also known as a big or long dozen, is a grouping of 13.(

Literary tools: Literary tools or literary devices are various techniques used in writing to help you express yourself and your ideas in a slightly more colorful way than just standard words on a page. Authors use literary devices, like imagery, to help convey their intended perception of the writing for the reader. (

Retaliate: To do something harmful to someone because they have done or said something harmful to you. (

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