The famous word 'Canuck' you say? Well, you've asked the right Canuck on this one, Michael! From The Apihna Bible (AKA Oxford's Guide of Canadian English Usage by Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine, p. 93):
"Although the forms Canack, Cannacker, Canuck, Canuk, Conuck, Kanuck, Kanuk and K'nuck have all been known from time to time, only Canuck is now in use.
"MEANINGS AND USAGE (1) = 'any Canadian.' Used by Canadians to Canadians about Canadians, Canuck is informal but is not felt to be derogatory. It often has overtones, not un-welcome, of strength and roughness, and it has received the accolade of being adopted into the name of the Vancouver Canuck hockey team. However, several American dictionaries caution their readers that the word may be offensive, and they may be right to do so, since Canadians might well find the word uncomplimentary if used by non-Canadians.
(2) = 'a French Canadian.' In this sense the word would probably be interpreted as a derogatory usage.
(3) = 'Canadian French.' In this sense the word would almost certainly be felt to be derogatory.
(4) = 'a Canadian horse or pony.' This sense of the word is now obsolete.
(5) = 'anything made in Canada.' The word is neutral in this sense, but this use is rare.
(6) = Jack Canuck, Johnny Canuck = 'a Canadian soldier.' The usage level of this expression is approximately that of GI Joe or Tommy Atkins.
(7) = 'an imaginary figure personifying Canada or Canadians, or both.' In this sense the word applies to all Canadians and seems to have overtones of a possibly defiant pride.
RECOMMENDATION. Canadians need little advice on he various ways to use this term. Non-Canadians should avoid it altogether in the presence of Canadians, unless they are very sure of their company.
ORIGIN. Apart from those content to characterize Canuck as being of uncertain origin, lexicographers have propounded at least six theories on the etymology of this word; each will be considered briefly.
(1) The word is from Hawaiian kanaka = 'man.' Though not
impossible, it does seem improbably that Canadians should have sought
in far-distanced Hawaii for a word with which to describe themselves.
(2) The word is from Connaught, an early French Canadian nickname
for immigrants from Ireland. Although this theory is supported
(cautiously) by the "Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical
Principles", it does not explain the final /k/ sound of Canuck;
moreover, it does not fit very well with the fact that Canuck seems
originally to have applied especially to a French Canadian.
(3) The word is from the first syllable of Canada, or is an
'alteration' or 'corruption' or 'mispronunciation (by Indians) of
English Canadian or French canadien.' Unfortunately, these
theories are not really adequate, since they too fail to explain the
final /k/ sound.
(4) The word is a blend of the first syllable of Canada and the
Algonquian noun ending -uc (-uq). This theory has at least the merit
of fully explaining the sound of Canuck.
(5) The word is a blend of Can(ada) and (Chin)ook or is formed
from Canada by analogy with Chinook. Like the preceding, this
theory fully explains the sound of Canuck but is open to objections
based on time and geographical factors.
(6) The word is the English version of kanuchsa, the Iroquois word
for a resident of a kanata, or community. Of all the explanations,
this one, referred to by M. H. Scargill in "A Short History of
Canadian English", seems the most probable.
Although the "Dictionary of Candianisms" gives 1849 as the date of
the first appearance of the word in the form Canuck and applied to
a Canadian, the "Dictionary of American English" (Chicago, 1938)
records the form Kanuck applied to a French Canadian as early as
1835. This may indeed have been the earliest sense of the word, for
event he general term Canadian was at first most commonly used to
mean a French Canadian: as late as 1832 an English-speaking
inhabitant of British North America was referred to as an
American. It may well have had the meaning 'French Canadian' in
Canada, and have developed its general meaning 'any Canadian' in the
Johnny Canuck probably 'made his first appearance as a cartoon
character in ... 1869 ... The cartoonist had already translated
Johnny into a Western hat and vaguely British field uniform and used
him as a symbol for young Canadians, regardless of language' (K.
Lefolii, The Canadian Look—A Century of Sights and Styles.)."
Probably more information than anyone needed to know about the etymology of the word, but I thought perhaps it would be interesting to some of you linguists
out there. I'm actually glad someone asked because now I've learned a few
things myself. The day isn't TOTALLY wasted! :-)
As for whether or not calling us Canadians 'Canucks' is considered offensive,
well I guess it really all depends on the individual being termed a Canuck and
the tone and manner with which it has been said. As with every 'nickname' some
people will be offended and some won't. I think we are generally an easy-going
bunch who are able to laugh a bit at ourselves and not take things *too*
seriously. And so we might refer to ourselves as 'Canucks' in a joking
manner. Basically, if any term, such as 'Brit', 'Yank' or whatever is said in
a derogatory fashion, it will likely be deemed derogatory. [Oh, and by the
way, Mr. Rumjuggler, from a much earlier post, I don't think we Canadians like
being called 'Canoodleheads' or something like that, ok? THAT might be
considered a tad offensive... :-)] I guess a good rule of thumb is to use the
terminology that is comfortable for both sides of the conversation—if the
Canadians with whom you speak are happy being called Canucks, then it's
probably safe to refer to them as such. And to err on the side of caution,
just call us Canadians.
I hadn't realized that the British folk weren't keen on being called 'Brits.'
Perhaps we here in Leftpondia are trying to differentiate between the English,
the Welsh, The Scottish and the Irish folk in the United Kingdom? I suppose
there are just as many Americans who would object to being called 'Yanks' -
which conjures up ideas of the American Civil War (which is the topic of the
book I'm currently reading—all 1016 pages in hardcover and quite possibly the
only book I've ever own that weighs more than my cat!).