I’m still amazed by those excellent airfares available to Australia. If you’ve always wanted to visit, now’s the time: Airfares start at $265 (each way) from San Francisco or LA.
What’s the biggest surprise Down Under? Yes, Australians speak English, and no, you will not understand everything they say. You won’t need a translator, but you will want at least a basic understanding of Aussie terminology for you visit. Here are some “bits and pieces” about Aussie lingo you’ll want to know before you go. (I learned much of this the hard way, during the year I lived and worked in Melbourne.)
Shorties: Many Aussie words are shortened from the original English to end in -y, -ie, or -o. Australians are not lazy, nor do they tend to like cuteness for the sake of cuteness, so I can only imagine that this custom evolved just to make it difficult for us foreigners to keep up with the conversation.
For example, a grown man will take a tinnie (beer) to the footy (football game), save his mate (friend) a possie (position, as in space, spot, seat), and be aggro (aggravated) if someone tries to nick (steal) the seat.
Or you might be invited to a barby (barbeque) in the arvo (afternoon) after opening prezzies (presents) from the rellies or relos (relatives) on Chrissy (Christmas Day).
Rhyming Slang: It began with 18th-century cockney convicts transported Down Under, and over time morphed into a unique subsector of the language: descriptive rhymes substituting for words. For example, trouble and strife = wife, cheese and kisses = Mrs., and billy lids = kids.
If you’re asked to, “Pick up the Al Capone” it means, “Pick up the phone” and if someone suggests you wear a “bag of fruit,” she simply means you should put on a suit. If you’re “going it Pat Malone,” it means you’re alone.
There is no possible way to figure out Rhyming Slang; you must rely entirely on the kindness of your Aussie hosts to decipher it for you!
Aussie Battlers: Some Aussie expressions have grown out of the unique world view from Down Under. “Aussie Battler,” for example, is a term for the average working person who’s always trying to get ahead, but never quite making it, despite his or her courage or persistence.
A “tall poppy” is an achiever who becomes well-known in the process; it can be a derisive term implying arrogance or success at someone else’s expense. A “dag” is an untrendy or unsociable person; the term comes sheep dags (“dirt” caught in the fleece around sheep’s butts). And whilst an American might have “bats in the belfrey,” an Aussie could have “kangaroos in the top paddock.”
Danger Zone: Some Aussie words and phrases sound like American English, but mean something quite different. You’ll want to know the following to avoid embarassing miscommunications:
At the footy, you “barrack” for your favorite team rather than rooting, which has a sexual connotation. Likewise, if an Aussie tells someone to “get stuffed,” he is not talking about eating. And please use the term “bum bag” rather than “fanny pack,” which would be quite a rude phrase Down Under.
Here’s a glossary you might find helpful:
Al Capone (rhyming slang): phone
Aussie Rules: Australian Rules Football
Aussie battler, battler: hard-working underdog
Aussie salute: shooing away flies
back of beyond: way out in the middle of nowhere
bag of fruit (rhyming slang): suit
barrack: to cheer for a team
bug (Moreton Bay bug): lobster-like seafood
beaut!: great! (beautiful)
Bob’s your uncle!: Everything’s great!
bonnet (of a car): hood (car)
boot (of a car): trunk (car)
bot: borrow (or have)
capsicums: bell peppers
car park: parking lot
chewie: chewing gum
crook: sick, ill, under the weather
cuppa: a cup of (tea, coffee, etc.)
daggy: outdated, uncool
de facto: live-in boyfriend or girlfind
dead horse: rhyming slang for tomato sauce (ketchup)
dinky-di: true blue
fair dinkum: honest
fair go: fair chance
fairy floss: cotton candy
footy: Australian Rules Football
Good on ya!: Good job!
gridiron: American footall
littlies: little kids
loo: bathroom, toilet
lounge room: living room
mate: good friend
milk bar: small grocery store
muck things up: mess things up
the Never Never: the middle of nowhere
no worries: nothing to worry about
savories: hors d’oeuvres
septic tanks (rhyming slang): Yanks, Americans
She’s sweet!: Everything’s great!
She’s apples!: Everything’s great!
sheila: woman (used by a man; not particularly complimentary)
She’ll be right: It’ll be fine
shout: pay for someone’s drink, or for a round of drinks, as in: It’s my shout.
smoko: a break (at work; not necessarily for a cigarette)
spot on: exactly
squash: soda pop
squiz: quick look
sticky wicket: awkward situation
sticky beak: nosy person
‘Strine: Australian (as pronounced by an Australian)
take the mickey out: tease
takeaway: takeout food
tall poppy: high achiever (not a compliment)
tinny: can of beer
whinge: whine or complain
windcheater: windbreaker jacket
© 2009 Laurie McAndish King. This article was originally published on Examiner.com on April 14, 2009. Reprint rights to this article are available for purchase.