"Our troops serving together in Afghanistan, our guys, the Americans, couldn't figure out why your guys were always talking about cheese. All day long, morning, noon and night, "why are the Aussies always talking about cheese?" And then, finally they realised it was their Australian friends just saying hello - just saying "cheers"."
A country that was first populated by people with vastly different religions, languages and cultures, who were then shoved aside by convicts and settlers, with a large British presence until great politicians and leading minds decided independence was a better tack. Is this America or Australia?
It would be easy to assume that such places would develop similar slang. They didn't, partly due to linguistics not working that way, partly due to Australia being more isolated than the US (resulting in fewer immigrants), partly due to Australia having bizarre — and in many cases deadly — flora and fauna which required equal parts linguistic creativity and borrowing from native languages to describe, and partly from the pronounced Cockney/Irish lower-class majority in pre-gold-rush Australia (you know, the whole convict thing). Only around half of these are still in regular use, mate, g-day, budgie smugglers, thongs, bogan etc. Grouse, not cricket, skip etc are less common (but still used).
Let's start with a short list of localisms that every Aussie should know:
- Across the ditch - How Australians refer to our neighbour across the Tasman sea (New Zealand).
- Aunty - The ABC, Australia's state broadcaster.
- The Deep North - Refers to percieved redneck sensibilities of Australia's northernmost state Queensland, in imitation of the US term The Deep South.
- Sex & Bloody Soccer - Not a kinky activity, but Australia's other public broadcaster, SBS.
- Back o'Bourke - If you travel beyond (either west or north of) the town of Bourke in northern New South Wales, you are officially in the outback, in the "middle of nowhere" sense. Going even further into the middle of nowhere takes you to the Back of Beyond, and then to the Other Side of the Black Stump.
Here's an exhaustive list of Australia-specific slang terms:
- G'day - Informal greeting, a shortened form of 'good day', but note that it is never used to end a conversation as 'good day' can be.
- Shit-stirrer, - Troublemaker; the best analogy might be "troll" (in the internet sense). Also used in the UK with the same meaning.
- Arse-over-tits, - To fall over dramatically, e.g. "He tripped over the cord and fell arse-over-tits." One of the few to actually make more sense than regular English, since your head is pretty much always over your heels.
- Bugger!, - A popular variation on Oh Crap whenever something goes seriously wrong. Identical to the British usage.
- Bungers - Mental, crazy, insane. "Go Bungers" can also be used to mean "help yourself" in the same way as "go nuts" or "knock yourself out". As in "There's plenty of grog in the fridge, so go bungers".
- "Bungers" is also a term for small firecrackers.
- Bunyip - A mythical beast, the Australian equivalent of Bigfoot or the Yeti (though Australia has stranger things than either). Former (left wing) Prime Minister Paul Keating said an opponent from the (right-wing) Liberal party was "from the Bunyip Aristocracy" (a quote from Daniel Deniehy, who made up the phrase), meaning he had fanciful notions of belonging to an aristocracy that does not exist. The term 'Bunyip' (from an Aboriginal language, although good luck finding out which one) is usually translated to mean 'spirit', although a more accurate translation might be "monster" — some tribes once identified the bones of the now-extinct 'giant wombat' Diprotodon as being those of the "bunyip".
- Claytons, - A fake, or substitute; this term derives from the ad for Claytons non-alcoholic wine (the tagline: "The drink you have when you're not having a drink.")
- Daggy - Naff, out of fashion. Someone who frequently exhibits daggy behaviour can be referred to as a dag. A reference to the clumps of dung that get stuck to the arses of sheep.
- Drongo, - An idiot. This term is distinctly out of fashion.
- Galah, - Also means idiot, fool. Comes from the bird Galah, which has a rather hysterical-sounding squawk.
- It's also pronounced "ga-laah".
- Stubby, - A short bottle of beer, usually with 375mL capacity; this is a bottle type also used in Europe and Canada, but which is rare in the United States. The rubber coverings that allow the drinker to hold onto the bottle without getting cold hands is referred to as a stubbie holder.
- Speaking of which, a can of beer is sometimes referred to as a tinnie. This is also slang for a small aluminium boat. Drink enough tinnies while you're in a tinnie, and you may not feel it when the croc takes your arm. Hurrah!
- She'll be right, or No worries - Everything will be going well, don't worry. She'll be apples is an outdated form. Not a drama is another variation.
- Bogan, - The Aussie term for the urban/suburban redneck/white trash; he may wear ripped jeans, have a mullet, hold a stubbie or bong, work as an unskilled labourer, drive a big, powerful, old, clapped-out car (Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore only), and use pretty much all the words on this list, the more unfashionable the better. See here. Also quite prone to dropping Cluster F Bombs wherever possible.
- An interesting variation is the 'Cashed Up Bogan', best decribed by the website Things Bogans Like. Kath and Kim of, well, Kath and Kim are explicitly described as such on their page, which makes sense, seeing as they are.
- "F.O.B"- commonly used in Queensland among the young people, stands for fresh-of-boat. Often used to describe Torres-strait islanders. Some people consider it insulting some don't so use wisely
- It's used further south to distinguish Asians who grew up in Australia (they tend to use the term more than anyone) as opposed to Asian international students. Generally it's not an insult, but it could be made to be such.
- Trackie Dacks, - Short for tracksuit pants ('Dacks' being broad slang for trousers, shorts or underwear. Or culottes, presumably, but that doesn't seem to come up.)
- Dacking, - Pulling down another person's pants. Popular in the schoolyard, despite being a grave contravention of schoolyard anti-cootie measures. "Cooties" are not usually part of the Australian child's lexicon, however — "boy germs" and "girl germs" are the primary threat facing the Australian child.
- Budgie-smugglers, - AKA Speedos. Refers to the fact that it looks as if a budgerigar is being smuggled within them.
- Dicktogs, - Like "budgie-smugglers"... but less polite.
- Banana hammock, - Like "budgie-smugglers"... but more hilarious.
- Root, - also means its traditional meaning of a part of a plant or beginning point of another thing, but in Australia is the unusual euphemism for sexual intercourse. "Wanna root?" is a coarse and unfortunately common proposition in Australian pubs. It's interchangeable with our favourite four letter F word as a verb, past tense verb, adjective, noun, and beyond.
- For this reason Australians tend to find it either offensive or hilarious when Americans ask "What team do you root for?"
- 'Route' is pronounced "root" as well, in both British and Aussie English. 'Rout' (as in the military term or carpentry cut) is still pronounced as in America, though.
- The multiple meanings are nicely summed up in Bryce Courtenay's book Brother Fish on pages 204-205.
Jacko (Aussie): Mate, we're stuffed. Rooted.
Jimmy (African American): Rooted?
Jacko: It means we're fucked, up shit creek... it's Australian.
Jimmy: Rooted! Hey, dat's good, man! I'm rooted.
Jacko: No, that's not the same thing. When you say "I'm rooted" it means you're tired. "We're rooted" means we're stuffed, finished, washed up. "Get rooted" means piss off, beat it, scram. "I've been rooted" means I've been cheated or badly done by. "I rooted her" means I had sex with a woman.
Jimmy: Whoa, man, dat Aus-tray-lee-an a mighty strange language for sure!
- Strewth, - An expression of surprise, much like 'Oh god!' or 'Jeez!'. Contraction of "God's truth". This was an apparently-common English curse from the colonial period (compare "zounds!", which derived from "God's wounds"), and the contraction "strewth" now stands on its own. Note: no self-respecting Aussie would actually say "God's truth"; whether any self-respecting Aussie would say strewth is a whole other can of worms.)
- Grouse, - Rhyming with "house", meaning 'Excellent'. Has fallen out of favour and sounds sort of Totally Radical now.
- Munted, - Broken; also, hungover — the verb "to munt" can, in some regions (Victoria, southeast Queensland), mean to vomit, usually with drunken or hungover implications. This is an Inherently Funny Word; just let it roll off your tongue. So to speak.
- Also used to mean something like "messed up", like, "Gah, my hair's all munted" or about someone who's got bunions, "Their feet are all munted". It's kind of rude though, and not used all that much. Normally it is used with the former context (one about hair) more often, as in, easily fixed flaws rather than an actual disfigurement like the latter.
- In Sydney, it is generally used to represent being intoxicated by certain... recreational substances. For example, "Mate, I'm feeling so munted, got any gum?"
- Pom, - a British (but most often English) person. Allegedly derived from POHM, a backronym for "Prisoner Of His/Her Majesty'," the word is used instead of "Brit" because "Brit" doesn't lend itself well to the phrase most often used to describe a British person, "Pommy Bastard". Try it - rolls off the tongue way easier that "Brit Bastard."
- Carn, - A corruption of "Come on", as in, "Aw, come on, lets go to the pub." Pronounced with a very long 'a' sound. If you hear a drunk making a cawing noise, they are trying to say this (unless they are a galah; see above). Often used at football games. Mostly heard at sporting events/broadcasts, as "Carn the [mono/duosyllabic abbreviation of team]." Carn the Kangas! Its phonetic similarity to a certain naughty word can make for an interesting-sounding exhortation — cf. the Frenzal Rhomb song, "Kaan Kaant".
- Speaking of such word-naughtiness, the c-word is essentially little more than punctuation in the vernacular of young Australian gentlemen — similar to their UK brethren. The American/Canadian squeamishness around the word is potent comedy to Commonwealth residents, to the point that Australian comedian Kevin 'Bloody' Wilson wrote the song You Can't Say Cunt In Canada when told he should avoid the word where possible. (Note: He first performed it in Canada)
- Fuck a duck! - A expression of simultaneous disbelief and dismay. Lengthened to "Like fuck said the duck", among the verbose, although this is probably more an expression of defiance ("Like fuck I will!"). ''Fuck a duck, there's a gigantic flying saucer hovering over the Harbour!''
- More common is the similar phrase Shit-a-Brick!. When you see it...
- Furphy - A misleading statement that is not strictly a lie. Comes from the old Furphy water carts which workers would stand around during "smoko" (smoke break) and tell stories.
- Cheers - Thank you. Also used in the UK.
- Cheers, big ears! An alternately insulting and affectionate way of saying thank you. 'Insulting and affectionate' is a fair summation of the Aussie mindset... on a good day.
- Same goes, big nose! is the common response to it, instead of saying you're welcome.
- Sheila - A woman.
- Shacked up with the sheilas - In a bedroom with sheilas, generally meaning promiscuous women.
- Fun fact: the word derives from an Irish word for "homosexual". Long story.
- Ute - What an American calls a pickup truck, an Aussie calls a Ute. An abbreviation of "utility vehicle", and pronounced "yoot".
- Just don't use 'SUV'. Car advertisements don't seem to get the message.
- Pickup trucks and utes are two different things, however. While a pickup truck is half truck, half trailer, a ute is half car, half trailer. It's smaller and more ideal as just a normal car to drive around.
- Cuppa - A shorthand way to say "cup of", but can also be used in reference to tea, example "I'll just have a cuppa".
- Shonky - ersatz, poorly made, faulty, dubious, unreliable.
- Thongs - No, not the underwear, folks. They're shoes. Flip-flops to be precise. The 'essential' Aussie footwear. (This term has made its way to the U.S....and the ambiguity of the term is often played for comedy. For example, in Zits when Jeremy's mom uses the term with the "shoe" meaning, the teens visualize the "underwear" meaning. Squick.)
- Although, they stem from the same linguistic root; a thong was a thin strip of material (usually leather) used for various purposes. The footwear derives its name from the strip of material, usually rubber, that acts as a harness for the foot. The other... Well.
- Shithouse - Sometimes used to describe a toilet. More often used in the saying, 'built like a brick shithouse'. Most often used these days as an adjective - 'That was a shithouse performance by [Football Team] last night'.
- Spewing' - in a state of frustration, e.g. "I was spewing last night cause I couldn't find my car keys" - sometimes used as an interjection. It should be noted that the word still also maintains its meaning of "vomiting", but it's not frequently used like that.
Alice: I couldn't find my car keys last night, so I missed the movie.
- Spitting chips is similar. "You'd be spitting chips if you'd bought that before the price went down!"
- Ranga - a term for people with red hair. Usually meant to be insulting, but has been used so much that it can just be a way to refer to them. Ranga is short for Orangutan, the idea behind it being that Orangutans are covered in red hair. (This being a fine example of the Australian reputation for stating the obvious.)
- It replaces, more or less, the older term for a redhead, which in typical early Australian contrarian style, was blue. In fact, until 2011 the Australian arm of Virgin Airlines was called Virgin Blue for the specific reason that their planes were red. It is still the name of their Twitter account amongst other things.
- Bludger - A slacker, layabout, or someone who's just being lazy. 'Dole bludger' refers to ones on welfare. (no relation to Harry Potter)
- Buckley's chance (or simply "Buckley's") - No chance, or almost no chance. Comes from either the escaped convict William Buckley, or the now-defunct department store chain Buckley & Nunn.
- Also Buckley's and none - a supposed two chances (probabilities), being Buckley's chance (meaning a very small chance) or no chance at all.
- Too easy - meaning sure, okay, no problem. It does not mean we want to be asked to do something more challenging. (which we never do)
- Ta - thank you. Interchangeable with 'cheers'. Also used in British English.
- Not to be confused with "the Tahs", aka the Waratahs, a New South Wales sporting team.
- Also never means 'good bye', though "ta ta" does
- No worries - don't worry about it, no problem, etc. Sometimes shortened to "No'oreez" or "N'worriz". Also "No wukkahs", which comes from an obvious rude spoonerism.
- Skip or Skippy - An Australian of Anglo-Saxon descent. Coined by Greek and Italian immigrants who were subjected to racial taunts and wanted to return the favor. Comes from the TV show Skippy The Bush Kangaroo.
- Can also be used as a teasing term for someone with one leg. See also Blinky for blind people.
- The genre of music created by Australian rappers is derisively referred to as Skip Hop.
- Bastard - a very complicated word in Australian English, which can be used as a generic term of abuse and low regard, without the connotations of illegitimate parenthood, or as an affectionate term of address to one's friends. An Australian can get away with calling his friends bastards, but if you're not Australian, do not try it. You have to work out from context whether it's being used to mean "slightly more vulgar version of 'bloke'" or "unpleasant person". It should be noted that tone of voice trumps modifying adjectives in the case of bastard - whether you're a lucky bastard, a miserable bastard, a fucking bastard, or any other variety of bastard, you'll still be relying on the speaker's tone of voice to know whether that's a good thing or not.
- The best example is from the Bodyline cricket tour, when the English Captain Douglas Jardine informed Australian captain Bill Woodfull that one of his team members had called him a bastard. Woodfull turned to the dressing room and roared out, at the top of his voice, "Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?"
- These days, another word has in Australian slang come to adopt pretty much the same meaning, if at a slightly higher level of intensity: a certain C-word.
- Septic - American. Rhyming slang: an American is a Yankee, which is shortened to a Yank, which rhymes with septic tank, which is shortened to septic. As an added note: Americans do not consider all Americans to be Yankees, but Australians do. Shortened to "Seppo." Not necessarily used in a derogatory manner.
- Gleefully adopted by British Army personnel working alongside their American allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, where it generally is used in a derogatory manner. Often shortened to Sepp, as in fucking Sepps - all the gear, but no idea.
- Alternatively it may have been derived from the idea that Americans are all full of shit, and then been given a more polite explanation of cockney slang, or vice versa.
- Wog - Any person coming from any country adjoining or abutting to the Mediterranean - primarily Greece, Italy or any former Yugoslavian state, although usually not France or other Balkan states. As with most Australian words, it's highly offensive but is often used in a totally non-offensive manner.
- Hectic - A word used to replace any adjective from slightly busy to Holy-Mother-Of-God Armageddon, and with a strange side-meaning of also meaning "very crazy, but in a good way." Similar to "nuts."
- A good example would be in describing a party: "That party last night was HECTIC! I woke up naked five blocks away!"
- Squiz - To look at something, if made into a noun; "Here, take the binoculars and take a squiz at the skyline."
- Shang - Meaning "pass", as in "Could you shang us the Vegemite?" as opposed to "Could you pass me the butter?"
- Not Cricket - Something out of line, unfair or ridiculous, as in; "That's just not cricket." Naturally comes from Cricket terminology and thus may also be found in Britain. Other common cricket terms used in non-cricketing life:
- Hit for Six - To be surprised and heavily defeated or wrong-footed.
- Let through to the Keeper - To actively decide not to deal with a difficult subject.
- Stumped - Same as in American usage, but with the added imprimatur of being a very vivid image to an Australian, since it is a cricketing term.
- Wrong'un - In cricket, a ball that is bowled to spin the opposite direction to which it would otherwise spin; in real life, similar to the US "Curve Ball."
- Sticky Wicket - A difficult situation.
- Play a straight bat - a simple defensive batting move; in real life, to be simple and direct and honest.
- Sledge - To trash-talk in an unbecoming manner; in proper circles, trash-talk must be witty and urbane, such as "Learn to bowl straight and I might even play the ball," or any funny comeback to an offensive sledge. It becomes sledging when it is simply abuse with no element of class, ie, "You're fat. Why are you so fat?" It is rather subjective.
- Some would argue that sledging is a fine art, take this exchange between Pakistani batsman Javed Miandad and Australian bowler Merv Hughes:
Javed: You should be driving buses, you're too fat to be playing cricket.
Merv: *Bowls Javed out* Tickets please Javed.
- Also note that terms such as "Back pad," "Silly Mid On," "Deep Fine Leg," and other cricketing terms lend themselves well to an Australian's filthy mind.
- Crikey - Expression of surprise. Best known to the internet generation from the renowned independent news website crikey.com.au, or maybe the series Crocodile Hunter.
- Wowser - A killjoy or spoilsport, especially of the Moral Guardians type — also a derogatory term for a teetotaller. Comes from the slogan of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, "We Only Want Social Evils Remedied". Nothing to do with Inspector Gadget's Catch Phrase.
- Barrack - Support, or as Americans say, "root for". Apparently, in the UK, the word "barrack" means "to insult or abuse"... something which someone who barracks for a team is likely to do to the opposition. Nothing to do with Barack Obama.
- Pull a sickie - Pretend to be sick to skip school/work. "Chuck" or "Throw" is also used interchangeably with "Pull".
- Wag also means to skip school or work, but without the "pretending to be sick" part; i.e. just not turning up without bothering to disguise the indiscretion.
- Peg - To throw an object very hard at someone, usually with the intention of hitting them with it and mocking them for not catching it.
- Cark it - To die.
- Durries - Cigarettes.
Foreigners are notorious for assuming New Zealanders and Australians are the same people. In fact, using most of this slang in New Zealand will earn you a derisive snort. Particularly thong, which New Zealanders call a jandal.
Note that saying some of these to anyone under the age of 35 may net you withering looks, as the expressions are aging somewhat; genuine slang changes quite rapidly across time and places, and phenomena such as globalisation and American cultural imperialism means that even if many younger people do know what these words mean, they sure as hell won't use them. On the other hand, many young men seem to take a semi-ironic delight in reviving the most obnoxious slang available — this may even act as a feedback loop, not only sustaining distinctively Australian slang, but intensifying its crudity... We can only hope.
Further note: saying any of these to any Aussie, if you aren't Australian, will not endear you to them. Unless they taught you themselves. And its pronounced "Ozzy" like the guy from Black Sabbath, not "Ah-zzy", which is Aussie for "American fuckwit" (see below)
Additionally, Australians are often too lazy to bother saying a full word - Aussie (Australian), Barbie (Barbecue), Trackies (from the aforementioned 'trackie dacks') and "A-over-T" (arse-over-tits) are all briefer variations on already-brief terminology. This passion for abbreviation crosses all classes, with things such as Elsty (the suburb of Elsternwick), Akker (footballer Jason Akemanis), "The G" (MCG, the Melbourne Cricket Ground) or Brissie (Brisbane — to add a touch of withering scorn or regional semi-ironic pride, we also recommend "Bris Vegas" or "Brisneyland"). If your name is longer than two syllables, expect it to be shortened to one, with an optional '-o' or '-zza' for a suffix. Even if your name has merely two syllables and is already shortened, it will probably be modified just the same. Gary = Gaz or Gazza; Stephen = Steve-o; Larry = Lazza. Those named Leonard should not expect their name to be shortened to "Lezza", or "Lezzo", for the obvious reason. Unless it turns out to be funny. (Lezzo is Australian slang for "lesbian". It's usually derogatory unless you're referring to an actual lesbian who is a friend. Not to be confused with 'Lebbo', that's refering to Lebanon or someone who is Lebanese.)
Speaking of hell, another particularity of Australian English is that we swear a bloo- a shitload (Last-second corrections notwithstanding, 'bloody' is often thought of as the Great Australian Adjective). Not Wil Anderson "a lot", but then, no-one's that mannered. Essentially, 'bloody' is a modifier used to denote emphasis, as in "Get a bloody move on!"
Australians are fond of emphasis, and will insert it anybloodywhere...
Perhaps an indication of how attached Aussies once were to the great Aussie adjective, the following are three verses from Austral-aise by CJ Dennis
(one of Australia's foremost early 20th century poets), which (sung to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldier", of all things) was once a finalist for the national anthem (without the German-slurring later verses, we assume, but you never know, with Australians). Just think how awesome it would be if this (especially the second verse) were played every time an Aussie won gold at the Olympics...
Fellers of Australier,
Blokes an' coves an' coots,
Shift yer bloody carcases,
Move yer bloody boots.
Gird yer bloody loins up,
Get yer bloody gun,
Set the bloody ener-my
An' watch the blighters run.
Get a bloody move on,
Have some bloody sense.
Learn the bloody art of
Joy is bloody fleetin',
Life is bloody short.
Wot's the use uv wastin' it
All on bloody sport?
Hitch yer bloody tip-dray
To a bloody star.
Let yer bloody watchword be
When the bloody bugle
Don't be like a flock o' sheep
In a bloody trance
Biff the bloody Kaiser
Where it don't agree
Australia also recommends the use of the term "fuckwit" in place of the neologism "fucktard" — "fuckwit" has a longer heritage and is more conceptually coherent, retains the phonetic vigour of "fucktard" and avoids the Unfortunate Implications
of "fucktard"". Try it — you'll like it!
There are also several words which shouldn't be used in Australia due to alternate meanings. Some are rather innocent, such as the word "bum" meaning "buttocks". However, the words "fanny" (female genitalia) and "root" (to have sexual intercourse) should never be used in polite company. If you were to say you were "rooting for your football team", you may be met with some laughter, although at this point, we've all watched enough American TV to be desensitised to it. The same goes for the nickname "Randy". (Although most Australians who live anywhere else in Australia still think that the Sydney suburb "Rooty Hill" has a hilarious name. Especially when, as in the last Federal election, politicians attempt to be dignified there.)
The very nature
of Australian slang means that a new slang term is probably being made daily. American comedian Arj Barker, as an experiment, went into five different Australian furniture stores and pottered about until someone came up to him to ask him, "Can I help you, sir?" to which he would respond, "I'm just having a squidgy didge." Five out of five people did not question this.
This is because it's quite similar to the commonly used slang word "Squiz," which means, "a look at," as well as "Ridgy-didge," which means, "authentic or genuine." Australians often correlate two similar sounding slang words in meaning, especially if one is a "longform" or "shortform" of the other.
For some more examples of slangs, see this Irregular Webcomic! Podcast
(link to transcript).
also maintains a massive database Aussie slang broken down by region
. Important for things like correctly using your golden drinking ticket (depending on the state/pub/bartender, a glass of beer can be a schooner, a middy, a pony, a -ah, bugger it, just look it up
) and finding out what on earth a deadly treadly is before it kills you.