hydro

Aside from some spelling variations like licence, favour, and centre, Canadian English is not all that different from that spoken south of the forty-ninth parallel. But one word that threw me when I moved up here and started looking for an apartment was hydro. Being a good etymologist, I knew that the English hydro comes from the Greek ύδωρ and its combining form ύδρο-, meaning “water.” I, of course, assumed that statements in apartment ads like, “utilities, except hydro, included,” meant that one would have to pay for water and sewer separately. But that’s not what it meant.

In Canada, hydro is electricity. It is a clipping of hydroelectricity and comes from the fact that most of Canada’s electrical power is generated by dams. And some provinces, like Quebec, generate over 90% of their power hydroelectrically.1

The earliest citation of this Canadian usage in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Augustus Bridle’s 1916 Sons of Canada:

The product of Niagara [...] is Hydro-Electric—familiarly abbreviated to Hydro.2


1Hydro-Québec. “Hydro-Québec’s Electricity Facts: Energy Supplies and Air Emissions.” 2009. http://www.hydroquebec.com/sustainable-development/documentation/pdf/etiquette_achats_en.pdf. Accessed 22 September 2010.

2Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2nd Edition, s.v. Hydro2. Oxford University Press. http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50109869. Accessed 22 September 2010.

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