Loonie tunes: Dollar slang explained
By Ethan Caleb » There are many expressions that are uniquely
Canadian (see So you'd like to speak Canadian, eh?),
but one that you will likely run into very soon and very often is
"loonie". As anyone who has been in Canada for even the briefest time
will tell you, loonie is slang for the Canadian dollar.
Arguably more people use "loonie" rather than dollar in everyday conversation, as in "It only cost me a loonie".
Unlike the United States, Canada has a dollar coin rather than a paper bill. It is an 11-sided, almost circular, gold coloured coin plated with bronze.
The reason for the nickname loonie is explained when you look at the coin, which has an image of a common loon, a well-known Canadian bird, on one side. (The other side bears the replica of Queen Elizabeth II).
There is an interesting bit of history behind the creation of the current version of the dollar, launched in 1987. Previously, Canada had a dollar banknote and a silver dollar coin, both with a voyageur theme.
When a new design was planned, continuing with the same theme, the dies were shipped out to the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg. Alas, the dies somehow got lost in transit.
With fears of the die falling into the hands of counterfeiters, the Mint had to make a decision. It decided to retire the existing dollar note, phasing it out rather quickly, while introducing the new coin on June 30, 1987.
The switch occurred when Brian Mulroney (which rhymes with "Loonie") was prime minister; hence the coin was in its early years sometimes called "Mulroney's Loonie" or the "Mul-loonie".
Both those terms died out, but the "loonie" part of it not only hung on, it became a commonly accepted part of Canadian vocabulary.
Interestingly, not all Canadian dollar coins feature the loon. There have been a few special edition coins featuring other images, for instance the National War Memorial to commemorate VE day, and in 2005, a portrait of Terry Fox. These coins are also referred to as loonies. The Terry Fox coin is however sometimes called "The Terry", though the term has not gained much traction.
When Canada switched from a $2 banknote to a coin, it unsurprisingly quickly gained the nickname "Toonie" - a combination of "two" and "loonie". That slang term is also widely used today. Fast food chain KFC has had a long running "Toonie Tuesday" meal deal, even though the meal has since risen in price.