Aussie English for the Beginner

Australian English for the Beginner

And now for the post on Australian English!

Thanks to Australian friends and the internet, I had learned some Australian English words before arriving so I wasn’t lost when reading about diggers in the news or picturing the wrong thing when hearing the word thongs. Being a linguistics nerd, I am endlessly fascinated by the mixture of British and American terms used here, plus the words borrowed from the languages of the Aborigines. This cute website from the National Museum of Australia gives a nice overview of Aussie English and Australia Network has several video podcasts mostly designed for ESL students but still useful for native speakers of English who want to learn about Australia and the variety of English spoken here.

Some words are the same as in British English (zed for Z, holiday for vacation, fringe for bangs, boot for trunk, porridge for oatmeal, car park for parking lot, mobile phone for cell phone, torch for flashlight, trolley for cart, hire for rent, etc.) as well as the spellings (tyre, colour, socialise, etc.) Oddly enough though, the Australian Labor Party does not use the u in their official name because they kept the spelling that was preferred in Australia in the early 1900’s. In other cases, there are similarities with American English, such as eggplant and creek, though I am still a little confused as to the series/season distinction when referring to television shows. (Any help here, Aussies? Brits say series where Americans say seasons to refer to the year, as in Everyone loved season one of Heroes, but man, season two sucked.)

Most Americans are familiar with outback, bush, g’day, no worries mate, crikey, and that’s not a knife; that’s a knife, but the phrase that still catches me off guard is How are you going? I’m expecting to hear How are you doing? or How is it going? and so I always hesitate for a second before replying to make sure I don’t say something weird like I’m going good.

Other Australian words that I have actually heard in the past few weeks include:

tucker (food)
take a burl (take a whirl)
bung (broken)
sanger (sandwich)
salads (vegetables)
ute (truck)
capsicum (bell pepper)
light globe (light bulb)
anti-clockwise (counter-clockwise)
serviettes (napkins)
bathers / swimmers / togs (swimsuit in most areas / New South Wales / Queensland)
paddock (field)
oval (field for Australian Rules Football WHICH I DO NOT UNDERSTAND AT ALL)
bogan (lower-class person)
flat white (espresso with steamed milk; I don’t think you can find this drink often outside of Australia/New Zealand)
short black (espresso)
long black (espresso with water; similar to regular American coffee)
bottle shop (liquor store)
fair dinkum / dinky-di (true, genuine)
dunny (toilet, though usually outdoors)
Macca’s (McDonald’s)
pom (Englishman/woman)
snag (sausage)
ta (thanks)
good on ya (well done)

Bastard is a term of endearment, while root/rooting has a very vulgar meaning so Americans should never say they’re rooting for someone… Numbers and letters are often said as double or triple instead of saying each one individually. My name is J, E, double N, I, E. On most forms, you have to fill in the name of your suburb, and not your city.

Abbreviations and shortening of words is very common, especially with the addition of -y / -ie or -o:

bikkie (biscuit / cookie)
brekky (breakfast)
barbie (barbecue)
mozzie (mosquito)
sunnies (sunglasses)
pressie (present)
arvo (afternoon)
garbo (garbage)

Here in South Australia, stobie pole is used for electricity pole while heaps is a common intensifier (instead of very). And back to the beginning, a digger is a soldier and thongs are flip-flops (though I’m sure older Americans still remember when they were called thongs in the US too, but to us young’ins, it now refers to G-string underwear.) Even though Paul Hogan did say “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you” in a tourism video aimed at Americans, Australians actually use the word prawn. Oh, and Foster’s is NOT Australian for beer because no Australian would ever drink that stuff.

I have now been in Australia for one whole month! More cultural observations and comparisons (for America and France) to come!

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.