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A Dictionary of Ozian Terminology
translated into American English
Australia is truly a Western diaspora embedded in the heart of the Orient. Many of these terms are not original to Australia, but rather simply unfamiliar to me. Most of these Oz-adopted words are British, the peoples who most influenced the formation of the unique culture that is today's Australia. The Australian love of slang is perhaps unparalleled anywhere in the world, adding a rich vocabulary of original words to the world's Englishes. (Though I had thought the word Ozian to be my original contribution to Aussie slang, a recent Internet search revealed that the term Ozian is routinely used in reference to characters in The Wizard of Oz and, in at least one case, it was used as a double entendre for both Oz folk and Aussie folk. The same search turned up Ozian as a Hungarian surname.) Spellings of slang words that end in a y sound or contain the double s so frequently pronounced as z (zed in Australian, not zee) have varying spellings. For instance, the transplanted British slang for bathing suit (or rather, bathing costume), cossie, is just as acceptably spelled cossie,cozzy and cozzie.
A few Australians who have lived in the U.S. advised that the regional differences in accent and slang are minimal in Australia, as compared to the U.S. However, many Australians tell me they can hear accents from different parts of the country, and as noted in some of the definitions, there are apparently regional differences in slang. Aussie Lance Brooker writes, "I must say as someone from the 'east' there really are definite differences between Vic, NSW, QLD (eastern states) and South Australia/WA (non-eastern states). As you mentioned - a lot of this must be because of the larger amount of people directly derived from english stock - probably non-convict/free settler stock too... So we in the east seem a tad less formal and use less typically english phrases. A good example you used was 'bathers' vs cossies. To me 'bathers' is a word used by a Mum trying to be posh or sound upper class... So, in fact it is not just the location (east vs west) but the socio-economic class."
My son, who has lived for extended periods of time in both Perth and Sydney, was the first to mention that Australian accents aren't as diverse as American accents, yet also the first to mention that there are what he calls "localisms": "In the west, beer is pronounced bee-ah, in the east beeh. Funny I know that one so well."
The dictionary to which I refer below as the Oxford Australian is the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 5th ed., which, by the way, would require a very large pocket to contain it. Recently I discovered a book that seems to have done a fine job of making an analysis of Australian English, including an exhaustive listing of slang words and phrases, Bruce Moore's Speaking Our Language: The Story of Australian English. I highly recommend it for anyone who will be staying in Australia for any length of time. (By the by, if you're in the market for Aussie bar-crawl slang that predominantly focuses on the area demarcated in the north by the navel and in the south by the knee, click here for clever and witty X-rated phrases—strictly not for delicate sensibilities.) Another useful and entertaining Internet record of Aussie phenomena is The White Hat Guide to Australian Inventions, Discoveries & Innovation at http://www.whitehat.com.au/Australia/Inventions.html.
abo This short term for aboriginal is a serious and hurtful racial slur. Visitors and newcomers to Australia often make the mistake of using this slang, thinking it is simple shorthand for aboriginal. It's not! Don't use it!
Aboriginal/Aborigine a common term for an Indigenous Australian. I had to move to Australia to bother to look up the term and learn that Aboriginal applies to native (indigenous) peoples throughout the world. In North America, the American Indians some years ago expressed a preference to be called Native Americans, a more accurate label. In some literature, particularly old anthropological and missionary texts, Native Americans are referred to as the Aboriginal peoples of America. In Australia, where the native peoples have long been labeled Aboriginal, the word Indigenous is becoming the preferred term. Another designation that is frequently heard is First Australians. Aborigine is usually the noun form, and Aboriginal the adjective.
aggro aggressive, e.g., "Don't go aggro on me, mate" or "She was so aggro."
Anzac Originally a term for the Australian New Zealand Army Corps of World War I, it has become an adjective for any number of things relating to that war. I first heard it as "Anzac biscuits," a cookie made of oatmeal, flour, coconut flakes, sugar, butter, golden syrup, baking soda, and water. Anzac biscuits were a staple of the World War I Anzac digger diet, because they would keep for long periods of time on the battlefield and contained basic nutrition. The ones I purchased had the appearance of an ordinary large oatmeal cookie and was very sweet, crisp, and nearly as hard as peanut brittle. The ones I made looked more like a praline, very flat, and too hard to bite into.
arvo afternoon. Aussie Lance Brooker wrote to add this one to my list. I was in Australia eight years before I heard it (or maybe, before I became aware I was hearing it).
athletics a category of sport competition (running, jumping, discus, etc.) known in the U.S. as track and field. Also used in discussing athletics in general, as it is in the U.S.
baby capsule infant car seat.
banger sausage link (sometimes a hot dog, which is also called a sausage).
bangers and mash sausage links served with mashed potatoes.
barbie barbecue, both the pit and the event.
bathers bathing suit. I first heard this within the family during my 1997 visit to Perth. It was easy enough to discover the meaning when my granddaughter, instructed to go put on her bathers, returned wearing her bathing suit. Taryn East states this term is only used in Western Australia, cossie and swimmers being the usual term "in the east." Sociologist Zohl Dé Ishtar tells me that bathers is the preferred designation in South Australia, but agrees with Taryn that easterners use cossie and swimmers. Bruce Moore's Speaking Our Language states that, in Victoria and Queensland, the term togs always refers to bathers and never clothes in general, as it does in other states.
bathroom a room for bathing only. Toilets are housed in a separate, small, closet-like room, a true "water closet." The bathroom typically is equipped with a sink and a bath tub ("Roman bath") or shower (rarely both, except in more expensive homes). Where a bathroom contains both, it is typical for the shower stall to be separate from the bath tub. (Having said that, I live in a unit, built in 1969, that has a shower head in the bath tub, just as my American bathrooms had.) The first time I came to Australia (in 1997), my granddaughter asked her father, "Why does Nana say that she's going to the bathroom and then she goes to the toilet?" During that first visit, I learned to ask for the location of a "public toilet," as I found the terms "restroom" and "bathroom" to be puzzling to many Australians. Since then, the increasing presence of American television programs and American tourists have made these American peculiarities more widely understood—so much so, that I ate in a restaurant whose signs to the toilets actually said "bathrooms." It is a peculiarity of Americans that we will ask where the "bathrooms" are, but we will be looking for signs that say restrooms or public toilets, or lounge (not in much use since the 1960s) or ladies, gentlemen or men, women or the universal graphics for male and female—but never will public toilets be labeled bathrooms. Go figure.
beaut / beauty As a colloquialism, it means Great! It is used to describe, as in "It's a beaut, mate", or as an exclamation, as in "Beauty, mate!". Is the "mate" necessary? You bet your sweet bippy it is!
bedsit I asked an American-born Aussie what a bedsit is (I saw them advertised as rentals in the newspaper). He replied, "an efficiency apartment." Aussie Taryn East thinks this is a confusion with a studio and refers me to a Wiki British definition for bedsit, which compares it to an American rooming house. According to the description offered by my Aussie friend, Zohl Dé Ishtar, this would be fairly close, though neither the American nor Australian versions completely fit the British legal definition of a bedsit. Zohl says, "that’s a rented room with a bed and if you’re lucky a chair in it. You get to bed-sit, i.e., sit on the bed. Size of a small prison cell."
bench kitchen counter, as well as other types of counter tops. Countertop appliances are called benchtop appliances.
bespoke custom made, e.g., a custom-made suit is a bespoke suit.
bickie slang for biscuit (cookie).
bikie biker, i.e., motorcycle rider. In Western Australia, the most notorious bikie gang is the Gypsy Jokers. Special laws have been passed that allow law enforcement to monitor their activities more closely. Aussie Colin Mclean makes a worthy addition to my definition by pointing out that, in Australia, "bikie and biker are different. Bikie is someone who rides with a motorcycle gang whilst a biker is someone who rides a motorcycle."
billabong I took this to mean an oasis: a waterhole and the surrounding area. Bill Bryson in In a Sunburned Country took it to be just the waterhole. The Oxford Australian supports Bryson but suggests my understanding might be accurate in a functional sense. The dictionary describes it as a backwater formed by a river during a flood, or the pool or lagoon remaining when the water level falls or even the dry bed where the water once was situated. Australian Taryn East states, "officially a billabong is made when a river has a loop in it and the river gets silted up so the path of the river changes, leaving the loop intact as a lake." Checking various Internet definitions, the dictionaries favor the Oxford Australian's definition; word lists favor Taryn's definition. Likely they're both correct. Out of curiosity I asked my friend, Zohl Dé Ishtar, a sociologist who lived for several years in the Aboriginal community of Balgo, how the indigenous people define a billabong. She replied: "A billabong is a waterhole—usually has a bunjip living in it, a mythical creature—and I doubt that the means of its formation has anything to do with it. But there is no 'Aboriginal language.' There's 250 now, used to be over 700 before Whitefellas. Every one of them has their own word for waterhole. Billabong, for example, is not used in Balgo." So there you go. I suppose Bill Bryson came up with the best and least controversial definition: waterhole.
billy can used for cooking when camping out. It is mostly associated with boiling water for tea. This term is heard in the song "Waltzing Matilda" and was also mentioned in Bryson's In a Sunburned Country.
bin waste basket, kitchen garbage can, or similar waste disposal container.
biro ballpoint pen. A fact previously unknown to me is that the ballpoint pen was invented by Hungarian journalist Lasalo Biro and his chemist brother, Georg, in 1938 (at least according to one website). One source said it was the Biro brothers in Argentina (not really a conflict in fact; one can be a Hungarian abiding in Argentina), but another said Ladislo Biro, and yet another said George and Lazlo Biro. All agree that it was in 1938 and the last name is Biro. All but one source acknowledged it as a joint effort of the Biro brothers.
bit of under / the other copulation. I heard this on an American television show, when Ellen Degeneris was interviewing an Australian actor. I thought I heard "a bit of under," but Aussie Geoff Woodcroft thinks I may have heard "a bit of the other," which he says originated in Britain.
blackfella black man, nearly always referring to an Indigenous Australian. The term was coined by native Australians and has made its way from Aboriginal English to Australian English, without being thought of as disparaging or insulting.
block a real estate term for a plot of land. A house is said to occupy a block, rather than a lot. Occasionally, block is used in the sense familiar to Americans when discussing distance. However, for some, saying that a place is four blocks away means it is four houses down, rather than four streets over. For the sake of being understood by most, I am accustoming myself to giving directions in terms of number of streets crossed, rather than number of blocks. I also hear references to a "block of units," which means an apartment building or complex. A strata block is a building or complex of condominiums.
bloke a guy, a man. "A guy thing" or "one of the guys" will most frequently be heard as "a bloke thing" or "one of the blokes."
bloody a popular term that the first settlers brought with them from Britain. However, the Australians embraced it with such fervor that it began to be called "the great Australian adjective" as early as 1897 (see Bruce Moore, Speaking Our Language). Though now considered mild profanity, it descends from a curse that was considered quite shocking when it began circulating in England, God's Blood, which got shortened to "sblood," and then ""bloody."
bludge to evade responsibility. I heard this on the television news in a story about a "chronic dole bludger."
bludger loafer; lazy bum. The Oxford Australian also lists "pimp" and "person who lives off the efforts of others."
bollocks I have been hearing the exclamation "Bollocks!" frequently since I arrived in Australia, and I've taken it to mean the equivalent of "Bullshit!" However, I've gone astray in the first instance by an error in spelling. I originally spelled it "bullocks," which my Oxford Australian informs me is nothing more nor less than castrated bulls. Nerida Wilson, an Aussie living in the U.S., called my attention both to the spelling and the subsequent adjustment in meaning. "Bollocks" is a old and honored word for "testicles," and is as popular an exclamation in the UK as it is in Australia, says Nerida. Whereas Nerida agrees with me that the meaning is frequently the same as "bullshit," she points out that it is often associated with the meaning of another popular Aussie/Brit exclamation, "Balls up!," which is "when everything is going wrong." Such pictures come to mind that I think this is a good place to stop.
boomer kangaroo. I found this term in a children's book, Outback Adventure by Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood: "Santa waved to Cody as he went on his way, with six white boomers towing his sleigh."
boundary rider Australian James McPhee kindly contributed the following: "It is probably useful to know that the term originally relates to the stockmen who ride the boundary of a station to repair fences – in Australia that can be many days of riding and they are usually tough, solitary, no-nonsense men – these men are real Bushies." I heard the term on Good Morning Australia in reference to a sports journalist who reports from the side lines and can interview players during the course of the game, apparently a repurposing of a word in use long before the days of television.
bowser gas pump. Wikipedia says that the fuel pump was invented and first used by Sylvanus Bowser in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1885. Cars had yet to be invented, and Bowser used it to fill kerosene lamps and stoves. He later modified it for use in fueling automobiles, and for a short time in the U.S. the word bowser referred to vertical gasoline pumps. It is still used in Australia and New Zealand, but Wikipedia says its use there is fading.
Brizzy slang for Brisbane, capital city of the state of Queensland.
brumby wild horse. Like rabbits, foxes, and domestic cats, the horse was brought to Australia and has survived too well. Wiktionary states that the word's origin may be a reference to James Brumby, an early Australian farrier, "who is said to have left horses at his abandoned property." James Brumby would not have been the only one, though. Too often, stations (ranches) were abandoned and stock left behind. Most of these animals survived well and have established themselves in the Australian bush. The hard hooves of horses compact earth, which causes erosion and destruction of wildlife burrows. They also foul waterholes and carry seeds in their manes, tails, and dung, thus spreading weeds into areas where they have no natural enemies to contain their growth. The greatest damage, though, is destruction of vegetation that is used as a primary food source for animals such as wombats and bilbies. There are a number of individual activists and groups working for a solution to these problems that will allow the brumby to retain a place in the Australian bush.
Buckley's chance no chance at all. "You've got Buckley's chance, mate." Some say it is after William Buckley, a British convict who escaped and lived with Aborigines for 32 years in the state of Victoria, till he presented himself to the new settlement at Port Phillip Bay in 1835. I read about this possible origin of the popular Aussie saying in editor Tim Flannery's introduction to the 2002 edition of John Morgan's The Life & Adventures of William Buckley, first published in 1852. It is not unusual for it to be shortened to "You've got Buckley's!" In 2007, Aussie Diane Bethell wrote to tell me about another story of its origin: "When I was a girl there was a major department store in Melbourne that has now closed down. 'Buckleys and Nunn' was the name of it as Buckleys & Nunn were the proprietors. Therefore if someone said you had Buckleys, it meant you had no chance because it would be 'Buckleys and Nunn'. Nunn (none) as in no chance at all. The word chance did not get used because the person that you said 'you've got Buckley's hope' to, knew you meant they had none or no hope at all." Aussie Taryn East adds, "You also hear people say 'you've got two chances'—referring (without actually saying) to 'Buckley's and Nunn'."
budgie parakeet; slang for Budgerigar, the wild parakeet, which has a light green chest and a blue tail.
budgie smuggler men's tight, brief bathing suit. Many Aussies refer to these types of suits generically as "speedos" after the Speedo brand, first adopted by competitive swimmers, later embraced as a fashion statement. Incidentally, Speedo is an Australian company.
bugger Originating in Britain (as so many of the words I once thought to be uniquely Australian), this is a verb describing the action of the male phallus being placed in any orifice of another being (human or otherwise). Aussie Colin Mclean furnished me with this more exact definition: "To bugger someone is to perform anal sex on them." As a noun, calling someone a bugger is more frequent and apparently less offensive than calling someone a fucker (unless, of course, you mean it in the meanest sort of way). Aussie Ian Montgomery suggests that, as a noun, a bugger is specifically a pain in the ass. Just as "shag," "bugger" is more acceptable in polite company than the F bomb.
bulldust the fine red dust of central Australia; an exclamation meaning "Nonsense!" I first heard this on television when a politican was assessing an opposition policy. It was said with such condescending vehemence that I took it to be the Australian equivalent to bullshit, that is to say, cattle droppings. However, I've only found the two definitions in dictionaries: fine dust and nonsense.
bullock a steer, i.e., a castrated bull. Noted in Skinner's Fifth Sparrow and other sources. Skinner also refers to "bullock wagons." This suggests that, while a steer is castrated in anticipation of his slaughter for food, the bullock is castrated to make him a more amenable work animal. Perhaps even, bullock and ox are interchangeable. The Oxford Australian says the verb bullock is unique to Australian English, meaning "to work tirelessly" as the animal may do. In checking the Oxford under ox, I note that, indeed (and in particular in Old English) the definition of ox is "castrated male of a domesticated species of cattle." The current definition removes the condition of castration, stating rather "large usu. horned ruminant used for draught, milk, and meat."
bum bag fanny pack. In Aussie and British English, fanny is a quite risque word that raises eyebrows and may even cause a gasp of shock from those of delicate sensibilities.
bush uncultivated rural land that has been left to nature, roughly equivalent to "out in the country." To go bush could mean visiting a rural area, moving to a rural area, or retreating alone to a remote area.
bush bash I heard this term on a television newscast describing an inch-by-inch search of the bush for a missing person.The Oxford Australian shows this as an alternate to bush-scrub, which it defines as a cross-country trip. Aussie Paul Francis kindly provided this clarifying information: "Bush bashing is not just a cross-country trip, but means to travel directly through scrub (short stubby bushes and small trees) rather than on a road or path (or fire trail). Bush bashing can occur on foot ('I took a wrong turn on the walking track and had to bush bash to get back to the car park!'), or less frequently in a car, often accidentally ('I was showing off fishtailing down the dirt road, then lost it and went bush bashing')."
bushranger armed robbers who lived in the bush during the early years of settlement. The most famous was Ned Kelly. I first saw this reference in Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. Since reading Bryson, there have been a couple of films on Ned Kelly and other television references to bushrangers.
bushwalker hiker; someone who enjoys hiking in the bush.
cack as a noun, something or someone who is hilariously funny; as a verb, to laugh really hard. This no doubt comes from the British slang for poop, or to put it rudely, shit. When an Australian says, "I cacked myself," he might mean he laughed really hard, but a Brit would mean that he laughed so hard that he shit himself.
calico unbleached muslin; also may be used to describe any fabric of the color of unbleached muslin.
car park parking lot or parking garage.
caravan house trailer or Winnebago-style mobile home. A caravan park is a trailer park.
cark it to die. One source believes this derives from carcass. See http://www.australianbeers.com/culture/cark.htm for an interesting discussion of the "proper" use of the word. Moore's Speaking Our Language proposes that it originates from " 'cark the call of the curmudgeonly crow.' "
caster sugar very fine granulated white sugar. I've seen a similar product in the U.S. marketed as "coffee sugar."
chat in addition to the usual definitions, a white new potato of the coliban variety.
chatting up flirting, e.g., "I saw him chatting her up at the neighbour's party." This is starting to show up in the U.S., meaning to have a lively, friendly conversation—perhaps to impress the person. Thus, it does not necessarily mean to flirt, but to favorably impress.
cheeky brazen, somewhat shocking. My daughter-in-law tells me that when my son first made reference to her fanny, she thought he was being cheeky until she learned that he was using the polite American term for one's behind and was unaware of the Australian and British meaning of the word.
cheers No worries and cheers are Australia's most frequently used multi-purpose words. Cheers can mean "goodbye," "have a nice day," or "thanks"—or even all three at once.
chips french fries. A lot of American foods have caught on in Australia, so even though chips continues to mean french-fried potatoes, corn chips and potato chips of the American variety are available in all grocery stores. Aussie Ian Montgomery tells me American-type chips were once called crisps.
chocka block as full as it can get. (contributed by Ian Montgomery)
chockies chocolates. I heard this one on Australia's Wheel of Fortune.
chocko American Amanda Napier reports that her Aussie friend said he is working on his chocko tan. An Internet search turned up a definition in Wikipedia: "persons of southern European, Arabic and southern Asian descent living in Australia."
chocky bicky slang for chocolate biscuit (cookie).
choko chayote squash, a popular vegetable of Mexico that is grown by some Australian farmers (though I wouldn't say it has developed any degree of popularity).
chook chicken. Sometimes used as an endearing term for young girls.
chucks off Aussie Margaret Aikenhead contributed this one. She says it means "to criticise in a hurtful or nasty way."
clacker anus (apparently). On my favorite TV program, Harry's Practice, a dog sniffed Dr. Harry in the crotch from the front, and then quite up his arse, as it were, from the rear. Dr. Harry said the dog was "right up me clacker." I couldn't find the term in any of my three dictionaries, but I did find a definition for clack, "a loud noise," in the Oxford Australian. It was only reasonable then to suppose the arse may be considered a producer of loud noise, and therefore a clacker. But then I heard from Tiffany@asktiff.com, and she provided the following comment: "The term in fact is derived from the latin word for sewer - cloaca - Rome had an awesome sewer system for the whole city which was called the Cloaca Maximus. The word cloaca is also the name given to the single internal body channel of a monotreme (platypus or echidna) which is used for both reproduction (mating and birth) and elimination of body wastes. ... and yes .. I guess they're noisy sometimes .. ha ha ha."
compère host a show or program. Seen on abc.net.au: "The 7:30 Report is the ABC's flagship current affairs program, compered by one of Australia's most respected and experienced journalists, Kerry O'Brien." The Oxford Australian lists "compère," "a person who introduces a variety show." Interesting that it is from the French for "godfather." Though all three of my dictionaires show the pronunciation as com'pair,, the several times I've heard the term used on television, it has been pronounced com'per. So far I have only heard it spoken as a verb, as illustrated in my example above. Aussie Taryn East adds, "I've also heard it used (in the past) for the host of an organised party, e.g., the school formal. Not in as common usage today."
concession discount offered to certain groups, such as senior citizens, students, or special-needs citizens. Cards are always issued to identify those eligible for the various concessions.
cordial a sweetened, fruit-flavored drink, traditionally made without carbonated water, such as Kool Aid. Cordials (pronounced kor'dee uhl) are very popular in the summer months in Western Australia. Aussie Margaret Aikenhead wrote that "Tasmanians use the word 'cordial' for soft drinks like Coke, Fanta, etc." and that this useage sets them apart from other Australian Easterners.
cos Romaine lettuce. An Internet search revealed that it is called cos because it is believed to have originated on the Greek island of Cos (Kos). Another interesting bit of trivia is that it has been grown for nearly 5,000 years and was eaten cooked by the Romans, who believed it had great healing effects (particularly the white "milk" that is contained in the base of older leaves). My source: http://www.foodreference.com/html/artromainecoslettuce.html
cossie bathing suit (and for Aussie readers, we also call it a "swim suit"). I have only heard this British slang for bathing costume once since arriving in Perth, and that was from a New Zealand-born Brit. However, the Oxford Australian lists it as Australian slang. (Perhaps mistakenly? In the British film Shirley Valentine, the main character uses "cossie.") Aussie tj e-mailed to say that her New South Wales nieces and nephews use cozzie. Aussie Taryn East also finds cozzie (along with swimmers) the commonly used term in New South Wales (where Sydney is the capital city).
cot baby bed.
creche day nursery for young (pre-school) children and infants; also the baby's room (nursery) in a home.
crikey Wow! The Oxford Australian defines this as an "expression of astonishment" and "euphemism for Christ." It also indicates that it is an international colloquialism, though the only place I've heard it is from the Australian croc legend, Steve Irwin. The first time I saw it in print was in the February/March 2004 edition of Western Australia Postcards, the companion magazine to the television program, Postcards WA. Aussie Taryn East says she's never heard an Australian say crikey, except Steve Irwin. Australian sociologist Zohl Dé Ishtar tells me that she hasn't heard it used since she was a child. So it sounds as if crikey is out of fashion.
cripes Aussie Barb Zahari says this was one of her father's favorite exclamations. She thinks it's probably the same as crikey, and likely a derivation of Christ.
crook not up to par; off; not so good. I have heard people comment on "feeling crook," and on a television gardening show, the host was giving remedies for a lawn that was "a bit crook." Aussie Colin Mclean offered a more specific definition: "ill, can also be used for criminal, or also dogey."
crown jewels slang for male genitalia. In the U.S. I always heard "family jewels," which I took to mean that the value was especially to the family, as the source of new life in the family—not more important than the female contribution, just more "out there," more exposed to injury.
cuppa cup of tea. "Can I fix you a cuppa?" is the first thing you'll hear in an Australian home. It is considered gauche, if not rude, to fail to offer a cup of tea or coffee to anyone who drops in. Coffee has become quite popular in Australia, but tea is still the national drink (though many would argue that it's beer).
cutlery flatware; silverware. My Australian friends found it very odd that Americans think of cutlery as kitchen knives and other sharp blades, in a category separate from the common table settings of knives, forks, and spoons.
diary appointment book; organizer. The term is very rarely used to mean "personal journal," which is its primary meaning in the United States.
digger member of the Australian armed forces. The term was coined during World War I, when a frequent task of the troops was digging trenches. It has since become a popular term for Australian miliary troops in general, just as GI (government issue) has come to be synonymous with the military in the United States. Australians generally speak of their diggers with great affection and respect, remembering the terrible loss of life suffered by Australian forces in Turkey during World War I movingly depicted in Russell Crowe's 2014 film The Water Diviner. Bruce Moore's Speaking Our Language says the term digger was first used in Australia during the country's 1850s gold rush.
dob in to turn someone in to the authorities. "He was drawing three pensions under three different names until his neighbour dobbed him in."
doco (pronounced dock'oh) documentary. Aussie Taryn East tells me that this is also business slang for documentation.
doctor The word doctor is used in all the same ways as it is in American English, with one notable exception. The doctor is an evening seabreeze that relieves the stifling heat of an Australian summer. See, specifically Fremantle doctor.
dodgy messed up or defective. The crockery water dispenser provided by my drinking water service wasn't glazed on the bottom and thus leaked. The woman with whom I lodged my complaint said that it sounded as if I had a "dodgy" one. My Oxford Australian says "awkward, unreliable, risky." There is also a second meaning listed: "cunning, artful." Aussie Taryn East adds, "There was a comedy series on TV that featured a series of skits where a pair of crooked salesman were featured: called 'the dodgy brothers'. This has entered Aussie popular culture, with the term being used for crooked/shonky workmanship, cost-cutting and the sorts of people that would cut any corner to make a little more money."
dole welfare payment. "On the dole" most frequently refers to receiving unemployment payments. In Australia, government assistance is based on a couple's income, whether or not they are married. Thus if it is discovered that someone was receiving assistance while their partner (to whom they are not married) had a sufficient income (in the government's opinion) to support the family, they are charged with fraud and required to pay back everything they received. There are few tax advantages to being married, and none if you consider that de facto relationship (living together in a marriage-type relationship) is treated the same as marriage.
dole bludger chronically unemployed bum or someone deceiving or defrauding the government to receive benefits.
dressing gown bath robe.
dummy baby pacifier.
dumper "large wave which crashes down as it breaks, driving a surfer towards the bottom." I ran across this term in the Oxford Australian from whence I plucked the quoted definition. Most children in Australia grow up learning to surf. It is not so universal as footy or cricket, but very nearly so. (Aussie Taryn East has informed me: "not so sure about that - but most aussie kids learn to swim - and will generally learn to swim in the sea too. It's extremely rare to meet an aussie that can't swim at least doggie-paddle."
dunny outhouse or any variation of an Outback toilet. First noticed in editor Tim Flannery's introduction to the 2002 edition of John Morgan's 1852 The Life & Adventures of William Buckley: "A trip to the dunny necessitated use of the muurong pole. It was used to 'remove a circular piece of turf, and dig a hole in the ground, which is immediately used and filled in with earth, and the sod so carefully replaced that no disturbance of the surface can be observed'" (p. xxxv). Queenslander Nerida Wilson reminds me that dunny is frequently used as slang for any sort of toilet.
earthed grounded, as in creating an electrical ground. A news reader, reporting a fire that occurred when a man was filling a gas can that was sitting in the bed of his pick-up truck, said, "The accident would not have happened had he earthed the can by setting it on the ground."
easterly wind blowing from the east. In Perth, the ever-present wind normally is a sea breeze coming from the west off the Indian Ocean, but often enough, the hotter wind blows in from the desert in the east. This is the dreaded easterly that can make a summer day's heat unbearable.
eftpos acronym for "electronic funds transfer point of sale." This is the local system for accepting Australian bank debit cards in stores. These debit cards cannot be used for telephone, mail, or Internet orders. The owner of the card must be present and the card must be presented at the "point of sale."
esky picnic cooler or ice chest. Australian Ian Montgomery wrote to tell me that Esky is a trademark of Nylex and has been around about 50 years. Just as Kleenex in the United States has come to mean nose tissues of any brand, so apparently has Esky come to mean an ice chest of any brand in Australia. Aussie Taryn East says that esky comes from Eskimo. I guessed at that reference, but have been unable to find an "official" recognition of that derivation.
face washer wash cloth.
fair dinkum a person or situation that is honest and just. The Oxford Australian says "true, genuine, reliable." In Australia this is a high compliment and also considered to be generally descriptive of the Australian people.
fairy bread a favorite children's party food. My original definition stated that fairy bread is sprinkled with sugar, then multicolored sugar sprinkles. Queenslander Nerida Wilson was first to write to tell me "Fairy Bread – is not covered with sugar – is bread with a spreading of butter and then 100's an 1000's sprinkled on top. Was a common kids party food in the 70's – not these days." Recently, Aussie Taryn East wrote in support of Nerida's recipe—definitely no sugar! Taryn also referred me to 12 steps to making the perfect fairy bread, an illustrated recipe with variations. Taryn insists that only 100's & 1000's (a brand of multicolored sugar sprinkles) are used. Accept no substitutes! As for Nerida's claim that fairy bread is no longer around, it's probably a regional thing. As the 12 steps website shows, many Aussies (including my young Aussie granddaughters) still consider fairy bread a party essential.
fairy floss cotton candy.
fairy lights miniature Christmas lights.
fanny a woman's crotch, but at the same level of crudity as the slang pussy. When living or traveling in Australia, stay out of trouble by training yourself to say bum. In Australia, the fanny pack is called a bum bag. Members of my quilting group thought that "Fannie" was a woman's name peculiar to America, but when I researched it, I discovered that using "Fannie" as the nickname for women named "Frances" was a practice brought with the earliest British immigrants to the New World.
feral a wild animal of a foreign domesticated species. Feral has taken on a more specific meaning in Australia because of the problems experienced from introduced species, such as the domestic cat and the horse. Thus, in Australia, it is extremely rare to hear the term feral applied to any wild animal other than those introduced domestic species that have thrived in the Australian wild. All introduced species have had serious effects on native vegetation and animals. Rabbits, foxes, cane toads, horses, domestic cats, domestic dogs are a few among those creating environmental mischief. Feral is also a popular derogatory term for describing someone with objectionable behavior. Aussie Taryn East talks about people who have gone feral, that is, "usually rabid environmentalists who have stopped brushing their hair and washing in some twisted conception that they're saving the earth by doing so." My granddaughter's favorite use of this adjective is in reference to her brother.
fiddler a swindler or cheat, according to the Oxford Australian. Mollie Skinner, in her autobiography, The Fifth Sparrow, says the middle man between a cattle rustler and the butcher who bought the stolen cattle for slaughter was called a fiddler. So it is unclear if the term could really be equivalent to the American "fence," who is the middle man who finds a buyer for a thief's stolen goods.
fly screen window screen. Aussie Colin Mclean made a very good point when he reminded me that it "can also mean fly screen door not just window."
fly wire screen wire.
flyover freeway overpass.
Fremantle doctor Summers in southwestern Western Australia (specifically in the capital city of Perth and the nearby old seaport town of Fremantle) were unbearably hot for the early British settlers and their convict laborers, partly because the British insisted on wearing the same clothes they wore in London, but mostly because Perth summers are usually unbearably hot. But nearly every afternoon the west wind kicks up across the Indian Ocean, bringing a "cure" for the terrible heat, an ocean breeze that marks the beginning of a characteristic coolness that usually lasts until late the next morning. Settlers came to call this the Fremantle doctor or sometimes just the doctor.
football In Australia, I have noticed four different games of football: soccer, Australian Rules Football, rugby, and rugby union. The only one of the four routinely called football is soccer, which is also called football throughout the remainder of the soccer-playing world (except the United States, who developed soccer leagues relatively recently). Aussie Rules Football is called footy, and rugby and rugby union are called just that. According to Aussie Colin Mclean, rugby league is also called footy in some regions. Aussie Taryn East says that she has never heard an Aussie call soccer football. I have, but in thinking back, they were Aussies who grew up in European countries, where soccer is always called football. Within the past couple of years (2007-2008) the Australian national soccer team, the Socceroos, has had such a good showing at international tournaments, that there have been news stories of a name change in recognition of the fact that the rest of the world (except Australia and the U.S.) call soccer football. So far, nothing so drastic as a name change has occurred. Lance Brooker adds to the discussion: "The subtlties of 'football' are more complex than you describe. To me from Western Sydney - 'a' footy is a rugby league ball, 'the' footy is a rugby league game and 'the footy oval' was where you played the game with the ball (the park need not be round to be called an oval - indeed, it may only be a true "oval" shape during summer when cricket is played on it!). It wasn't till I was in high school that I even heard about Australian Rules Football (a predominantly Vic/SA/WA game) or rugby union (upper classes in NSW and QLD)."
footballer one who plays football. The term player is not typically used in any sport, and the term athlete typically refers only to participants in the events classified in the U.S. as track and field.
footy or footie
Where I was living in Western Australia, footy refers to Australian Rules football, both the game and the ball with which it is
played. Though soccer and rugby are also called football in WA, the term footy is exclusive to Australian Rules Football.
The ball looks similar to a U.S. football, but is larger and is not fully
inflated. Though the field and the goal posts are similar to U.S.
football, there are numerous differences between Aussie footy and American
football (which the Aussies call gridiron),
not the least of which are uniform coverage and average size of the
players. Footy players wear short shorts, sleeveless shirts, and no helmet
or other protective gear. Since blocking and tackling aren't an important part of Aussie Rules, the players are not valued for weight or height, but rather for speed and ability to kick the ball a long way on the run. Whereas American boys may grow up playing toss with their footballs, young Aussies will practice their kick. Some of the best Aussie Rules players have landed lucrative contracts with American professional football teams as kickers. Aussie Colin Mclean adds a clarifying note:
"Depending upon what state you are from the meaning [of footy] can mean
rugby league or Australian Rules."
Freo nickname for the old Western Australia seaport of Fremantle.
freshie fresh-water crocodile.
frock up dress up.
full stop in punctuation, a period.
furphy false report or rumor, or an absurd story. Burke's Backyard (a television gardening show) had a program on gardening myths and furphies. the Oxford Australian said, during WWI, an Australian firm, J. Furphy & Sons manufactured water and sanitary carts where people hung out and gossiped.
garbo garbage collector.
gazump raising the price after the deal is made. This was a question on an episode of Australia's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, but I didn't find it in any dictionary. UK resident Julia Bruce was kind enough to e-mail and let me know that it is spelled gazump and not gezump, as I had originally written it.
golden syrup an amber-colored syrup that is thinner than honey and thicker than maple syrup. It is called for in many Australian dessert recipes. Wikipedia tells me that it is of British origin and is made from a byproduct of "refining sugar cane or sugar beet juice into sugar."
gollie black rag doll dressed in formal attire (see the definition for golliwog). Aussie Colin Mclean has given me another usage: "Gollie can also mean spit. Such as I hucked up a big gollie."
golliwog or gollywog British/Aussie nickname for a black rag doll dressed in formal attire. The original gollywog was a black man cloth doll in fancy dress that was one of the beloved playthings of British children's author Florence Upton. Today the doll and the stories are considered politically incorrect. I'd have to read the stories myself to judge if there's a strong basis for this opinion. The appearance of the doll says nothing to indicate prejudice, unless it can be interpreted to look like American black-face minstrels.
Good Sammy slang for Good Samaritans, a charitable organization that collects clothing and household goods that are sold in their stores to raise money for their service projects.
gridiron American football.
guernsey As it is in the United States, it's the name of a British island and a breed of cattle, but in addition, it's the shirt that players of Australian Rules Football (footy) wear in official competition. Just as American football players have a "jersey number," footy players have a "guernsey number." Bruce Moore's Speaking Our Language, says the term originated in Britain, where it was a seamean's "closely fitting vest or shirt, generally made of blue wool" and was first used in Australia in reference to a shirt worn by the diggers in the goldfields.
guillotine the same meanings as in the U.S., but it is most frequently heard in reference to a paper trimmer/cutter (pronounced gil' lo teen).
haberdashery sewing notions. It is interesting that the dictionaries give the American meaning as "men's clothing" and a haberdasher as a men's clothing shop. Growing up in 1950s America, I only heard the term applied to men's furnishings. The haberdashery department in a store sold hats, ties, gloves, cuff links, etc., but never trousers, jackets, coats, shirts, or underwear. Dictionaries also mention that a haberdasher was, at one point in British history, a hattery. The general notion of the word seems to be "odds and ends."
hamper (noun) hand basket, such as a picnic basket. The term is used more generally to designate a package of any sort that contains a food assortment, particularly as a gift. A Christmas hamper is a package containing all the makings for a Christmas dinner.
hash key "#" key on a telephone. In the United States, this key is called a "pound key." So, in Australia, when going through those awful telephone menus with a bank or other institution, you are instructed to press the "hash key," rather than the "pound key" after entering requested information. In the U.S., the # symbol means number or pound (e.g., 2 pounds of sugar may be written as 2# sugar, and number 2 may be written #2), or that you're preparing for a game of tic tac toe. A U.S. "hash mark" is a simple vertical line, such as the number one, and is used in counting things.
high tea A posh version of afternoon tea, served socially to groups of guests or commercially as a high-priced afternoon cuppa with a menu of gourmet eats. According to the Australian website Escape, "The Duchess of Bedford started it all in the 1830s when she was wont to feel faint with hunger between lunch and late summer dinners and ordered the servants to prepare tea, cake and cucumber sandwiches to tide her over." Escape reports that afternoon tea at London's Ritz Hotel is so popular, despite its AU$80 price tag, that reservations are made months in advance to get a seat at one of its four daily sittings.
hoon street drag racer. Oxford Australian also lists hooligan (young ruffian), show-off, and bludger. It also lists a verb, hoon around, which is defined as "drive dangerously or at reckless speed in order to show off." Robyn Hodgkin e-mailed to tell me that the term hoon originates from the sound made by the engines of the cars that hoons drive. I first heard the term on a television newscast about the new Western Australian Hoon Laws, aimed at putting a stop to the illegal street drag races that draw hundreds of teenage spectators. The large crowds that sometimes gather are usually drinking and disrespectful of the residents of the neighborhood in which the night's races are held. Western Australia has a high road-accident mortality rate among young males. The state government has looked at various models in other countries to garner ideas about solutions. So far, they are depending on fines and impounding the car for a few days. This has been extended to include highway drivers who travel at very high speeds.
hoovering vacuuming the floor. Queenslander Nerida Wilson reminds me that this term derives from the Hoover brand of vacuum cleaners. She also tells me that this is a British term that is not too common in Australia. Young Aussie Jojo Gaze says she always uses vacuum and thinks that she might have been influenced by American television shows. In my tiny pocket of Australia, here in Perth, I've not heard anyone use the term vacuuming, but always hoovering. Perhaps the British influence is particularly predominant here or perhaps I just haven't yet had a domestic-science conversation with someone who prefers vacuuming to hoovering.
hotel bar. The same as major cities throughout the world, Australian cities are replete with large high-rise hotels (most of which contain bars). But in Australia, if you see a charming two-story structure with a large sign that says "Hotel," you can count on it being a bar, usually with restaurant facilities, but no rooms to let (except perhaps in a country inn). The Oxford Australian lists as the first definition of hotel a "public house" or "pub" and "a place of accomodation" as the second definition. The Oxford English reverses the order, listing first "a place of accomodation" and second "pub." The latter also indicates that calling a pub a hotel is unique to Australia and New Zealand. It must have spread back to the homeland, however, because in a British reality television series, Ladette to Lady, the young women going into a pub were described as "dropping by a hotel for a drink."
ice block popsicle. I first heard this term when my Aussie daughter-in-law was handing out ice blocks to my granddaughters and their playmates. Aussie Jojo Gaze claims to never use the word ice block but always says popsicle, attributing this possibly to "I'm young and I've been influenced by American TV shows."
icing sugar confectioner's sugar; powdered sugar.
industrial action labor union strike.
inverted comma single quotation mark. In Australia (as in the UK usage), the single quotation mark is used for quotations, and the double quotation mark is used for quotations within quotations—the reverse of American convention.
jackaroo a young male trainee stockman (ranch hand). I
heard the term on a television program about the Outback. Being a jackaroo
is more in the nature of a rural experience for teenage boys, rather than
an actual training position that will result in a career as a stockman (cowboy). The
Oxford Australian says a jackaroo is "usu.
English and of independent means." During 2003 and 2004, Prince Harry
worked as a jackaroo. The word has also entered barroom slang as a moniker young women will hang on any good looking guy whose acquaintance they would like to pursue.
Jacky Howe a type of sleeveless tee shirt. I found this reference in Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. Queenslander Nerida Wilson wrote to tell me that Jackie Howe is the correct spelling and that it "is a singlet, named in honour of a well known shearer." My guess is that both spellings are variously correct. Oxford Australian prefers the Jacky spelling, which is most likely where Bill Bryson went to check his spelling. But there is no difference of opinion on who Jacky/Jackie Howe was. Quoting verbatim from the dictionary: "navy or black sleeveless singlet worn esp. by shearers, rural workers etc. [John Howe, champion Queensland shearer (d. 1920)]" See the definition for singlet below.
jelly gelatin dessert (equivalent to Jello). One of the all-time favorites here is an English trifle, made with alternating layers of cake, fruit, and jelly (a sweet, fruit-flavored gelatin mix).
jillaroo a female jackaroo. See entry above for jackaroo. I originally had this listed as jennaroo and was corrected by Aussie Colin Mclean. I pulled it erroneously from memory, remembering the female equivalent of Jack as Jenny (a female jackass is a jenny), rather than remembering the Jack and Jill rhyme. (Thanks for that, Colin, and many thanks for your careful reading of my text.)
joey All marsupial babies are called joeys, not just kangaroo babies.
journo journalist. There was a newspaper article about "dodgy journos," meaning sloppy or dishonest journalists.
jumble rummage sale.
jumper pull-on sweater; any type of knit shirt that is pulled over the head rather than buttoned up. For several months, I was unsure what the characteristics of a jumper were. I saw a television report about school children knitting jumpers for fairy penguins. When these very small Australian penguins have to be bathed because of oil spills, the bathing detergent strips their natural oils, and they are unable to keep themselves warm. The penguin jumpers, knitted in a simple rib stitch by the children, were sleeveless with holes for the flippers (similar to a knitted vest). Definitions listed in the Oxford Australian include a traditional goldminers' smock, a knitted pullover, or a loose outerwear jacket worn by sailors.
King Brown long-neck beer (750 ml).
kiwi nickname for New Zealanders, as well as the famous flightless bird native to New Zealand and the yummy little green-meated fruit.
knickers women's and girls' underpants.
Koori a regional term for aboriginal people. Aussie Rae Doble contributed this entry, saying "it means people in one of the indigenous languages." You are most likely to hear this on the east coast, in New South Wales (capital city Sydney) and Victoria (capital city Melbourne).
lamington Aussie Colin Mclean offered this definition: "a square shaped piece of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and then rolled in desiccated coconut." A lamington is the only dessert more popular than pavlova. It was served to me on several occasions as a cake roll that was made from chocolate sheet cake spread with whipped cream, then rolled like a jelly roll and coated with grated coconut. I have seen it in stores in square shape and, very popularly, in small rectangles called "lamington fingers." Aussie Irene Varda told me that the original lamington, as invented by Australian pioneer women, was a square of stale cake embellished with chocolate and coconut, just as described by Colin Mclean.
larrikin a good-natured sort of person who is a bit mischievous and marches to the beat of a different drummer. I've heard it several times on TV. Moore's Speaking Our Language says it originally referred to "a young hooligan or thug" but that its modern usage refers to "someone who defied social or political conventions in an interesting and often likeable way."
Laurie a man's nickname, short for Laurence. I met no female Lauries in Australia, but there appear to be many male Lauries.
lay by lay-away.
lemonade 7-Up, Sprite, or other similar carbonated lemon/lime soft drink. American-style lemonade, fresh made with lemons and sugar, is not well known in Australia.
long drop outhouse seat.
lounge living room; also sofa. A "lounge suite" is a matched set of living room furniture, which includes sofa(s), chairs, and sometimes tables.
Macca's McDonald's fast food chain. I originally spelled this Mackers, because that's what I heard. Queenslander Nerida Wilson was kind enough to set me straight on that spelling.
maggot bag meat pie. Aussie Allan Orr read my entry for fairy bread and wrote to me, "I'm clueless as to Nerida's background, but fairy bread is almost as common in Australian parties as maggot bags and a stubby are to a workman's lunch." Then I had to write to Allan to find out what maggot bags are. He says it might be a regional term.
maggoted "to get maggoted," to get drunk. Heard on Good News Week, an Australian TV comedic take on the week's news.
manchester household linens, including bath linens, tea towels, table linens, and curtains. Now shut down because of cheap foreign imports, the mills of Manchester and nearby towns in England once produced nearly all the woven goods for that country, as well as exporting their fabrics. Read their story at http://www.manchester2002-uk.com/history/victorian/mills.html
map of tassie female genitalia. Aussie Rae Doble contributed this phrase, saying it is "because of the shape [of the state of Tasmania] and it has a lot of bush."
mash usually, mashed potatoes. However, I also hear reference to butternut pumpkin mash (mashed butternut squash) and other mashed vegetable dishes. I have also eaten a tuna potato pie at a country restaurant that turned out to be mashed potatoes mixed with tuna, no doubt an adaptation of Shepherd's pie. My recipe of the latter was a hamburger-vegetable mix topped with mashed potatoes.
mate friend (British origin). Londoner Craig Johnson noticed this essential part of an Aussie greeting was missing from my dictionary. Thanks, Craig! Aussies (most frequently men) call just about everyone mate. Perhaps I should qualify that: Most Aussie men call every other Aussie man mate. Someone addressing a stranger in the U.S. might ask, "How's your day going?" This would be an incomplete sentence to an Aussie male, who would always ask, "How's your day going, mate?" Never just "Hello," but always "Hello, mate." (Well, maybe I should mention that in many American cultures, a man might greet another man with "How's it going, man?")
maths mathematics. It is never said in the singular, math, as it is in the United States.
Matilda The bushman's swag, or bundle of belongings that he carries. To waltz Matilda is to carry the bundle. Neither the Oxford Australian nor Bryson's In a Sunburned Country knew the origin of the terminology. It is assumed that this use of "waltzing Matilda" was already well established when nineteenth-century Australian poet Banjo Paterson wrote his famous song, "Waltzing Matilda." There are several interpretations of the story in the song, but there is no certainty about its meaning. An apparently carefully researched interpretation of the famous song is at http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/WM/WMText.html. There is also an extensive website published by the National Library at http://www.nla.gov.au/epubs/waltzingmatilda/. In early 2009, Aussie Taryn East wrote to tell me, "specifically it's the motion of the bundle swinging back and forth as you walk... thus waltzing." Geoffrey Hall of Sydney added, "In the German language the word Waltz means roll or rolling. The connection to a swag being rolled up is obvious. Add to that the idea of walking around the bush, it is a natural progression from rolling up a swag (bedroll) to waltzing/rolling that swag from day to day."
meat pie similar to a pot pie, but without vegetables and not so drippy—and the pastry is always top and bottom, as it is designed to be eaten with the fingers. It is made with ground beef (beef mince, the Aussies would say) and seasonings. Click here for one of several recipes that can be found online.
midgies gnats and other tiny flying things. Aussie Taryn East tells me she has only heard it said as midges, which I find in the Oxford Australian to be an Old English term for gnat.
milkie/milko milkman. In Western Australia, where I lived, the preferred word was "milkie," Aussie Peter Hatfield wrote to tell me that "in the eastern states at least, the milkman is called a milko, never a milkie."
mince usually hamburger, i. e., ground beef, but also lamb mince, chicken mince, turkey mince, etc.
mob family or friends. Ways of Being, Ways of Talk, a book about Aboriginal English, offers three definitions: (1) a few people regarded as a group; (2) a lot of something, such as a mob of waters, a mob of cats, a mob of cars; (3) "my mob," meaning my family, tribe, community, friends.
moggie cat of no pedigree; that is to say, mutt kitty. In the United States, veterinarians politely label such cats "American Short Hair" (or "American Long Hair," as the case may be). Aussie Taryn East writes to tell me that, in Aussie pet shops, a moggie would be called a "Domestic Short Hair."
moke an Australian colloquialism of unknown origin, meaning horse, usually an inferior one. The reference is in Mollie Skinner's, Fifth Sparrow: "That upset his dignity and he would roar at me all the way home about my poor seat in the saddle and my abomination of an old moke."
mucking around messing around.
mum mom; mother. Mum is clearly the equivalent of the American mom, and in keeping with the Aussie love of slang, it is nearly always preferred to mother. It appears to be the only slang for mother, though it may simply be that I have not yet heard other variations, such as mommie, ma, or mama Aussie Taryn East assures me that I may hear mum or mummy in Australia, but never ma or mama.
mushy peas mashed peas, the same consistency as mashed potatoes. This is such a popular dish that you can buy mushy peas in a can. Wikipedia states that this is a traditional British dish made from "marrowfat" peas.
nappy/napkin diaper. The American usage, meaning dinner napkin, is increasingly heard, but the old term serviette (dinner napkin) is still in frequent use. And though some have adopted the American napkin, no one has adopted diaper. Thus, nappies are always diapers, but napkins are sometimes dinner napkins. Letitia Fulton a fellow American Ozophile and former Perth resident reminded me I had left this one off my list. Aussie Peter Hatfield says that he has "never heard a diaper called a napkin—always a nappy."
netball While basketball as it is known in the United States is played by Australian women, netball is the more popular form of women's basketball. There is an international league that includes Australasia, Africa, and Europe. The basket is mounted on a pole, and there is no backboard. There is no dribbling, only passing—and a player may not travel while in possession of the ball and may only have it for three seconds. The uniform is a short skirt similar to old-fashioned cheerleader skirts. Aussie Jojo Gaze kindly wrote to tell me that netball is one word; I originally listed it as net ball. Jojo also pointed out that men also play netball. A quick Internet search indeed turned up men's netball teams in Australia and a few other countries, as well as mixed teams. A history of how netball evolved from American basketball (while it was still being played with peach baskets) is found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netball.
newsreader A person who reads the news reports on television or radio, usually a journalist; a news anchor.
nick as a verb (in addition to the usual meaning), to steal. I heard this on television when someone was talking about their keys getting nicked. In a completely different context, something that is in good nick is in good condition. For anyone interested, there is an interesting discussion of this phrase at http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/22/messages/654.html. It is defined as in the pink, and pink has nothing to do with color.
nits lice. Aussie Taryn East adds, "Actually nits are the eggs of lice. The lice are still known as lice - but mostly people talk about their kid getting nits." The Oxford Australian backs Taryn: "egg or young form of a louse or other parasitic insect." In the process of looking this one up, I've found a reference that I've never heard: "used as a warning that someone is approaching. keep nit keep watch." Also "nitkeeper" and "nitkeeping."
no worries Frequently used in place of "you're welcome" in response to "thank you," and also used to mean "I'm glad to do it" in response to any request for help. As well, I hear it in the place of "sure" or "yes" in response to "may I have . . .?" It is also used when someone says, for example, "I'll be in the cookware department when you finish looking at shoes." The response, instead of "okay," would be "no worries." It is the equivalent, I suppose, of the American "no problem" or "not a problem," but I like it better.
nominate name. The meaning and definition is the same, but the usage is different. Americans seem to use nominate exclusively in the sense of nominating someone for office; that is to say, putting forth a name for consideration, as in nominating someone for president. Australian usage is more broad. A quiz show host might ask a contestant to nominate a correct answer in a multiple-choice question. Thus, Australian usage is as a synonym for name.
norks female breasts. I found this reference in Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. Aussie Taryn East tells me that it is also spelled norgs.
nursing home The Oxford Australian defines this as a hospital or home for invalids or old people, just as in the U.S. In Skinner's Fifth Sparrow, the nursing homes she set up in rural areas, during the early twentieth century, were general hospitals, where several patients could be nursed by one nurse (or more, depending on the number of beds) at one location and the doctor had just one place to visit. So it appears that hospitals developed as a means to have nursing available to patients, the nursing services more difficult to come by than the medical treatment.
ocker I first found this reference in Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. The Oxford Australian defines ocker in a decidedly negative way, as a "boorish" person, among other disparaging descriptions. Aussie Taryn East adds, "more specifically, an inbred, lower class, unintelligent Aussie with a strong, nasal accent... probably the closest equivalent would be hillbillys." But apparently, just as hillbilly (and redneck, for that matter) are not always negative terms, neither is ocker. According to Aussie Geoff Morrison (currently working in America), who says that he has worked in many places throughout Australia, "Ocker is a term for a genuine, 'True Blue' Aussie, generally working class, blue collar worker, farm hand who displays the full traits of an Aussie bloke" and "not generally used in a derogatory manner." According to Bruce Moore's Speaking Our Language: The Story of Australian English, the term derived from a 1960s television character, Ocker, in The Mavis Bramston Show. Ocker was a working bloke who wore shorts and thongs and liked his beer.
office bearer office holder; officer of an organization.
one-off one of a kind.
oval sports stadium, primarily used for playing footy, Australian Rules Football.
offsiderside kick. Heard on a quiz show: "Who was Yogi Bear's offsider?" The answer was "Boo Boo."
paddock bomb My gratitude to Aussie Paul Francis who contributed both the term and the definition: "A paddock is a field for herd animals (usually cows or sheep in Australia), and a bomb is slang for a car in a very poor state of repair. Combining these gives you the term 'paddock bomb' which is a car that is no longer legally roadworthy, but still drivable, so is kept on the property (generally a large farm) for travelling around in, or moving things around if it is a ute (a utility truck). In the country, they can often be driven by teenagers [learning to drive within the confines of the family farm] who are not legally able to get their license."
panelbeater a craftsman or business that specializes in removing the dents from damaged automobile bodies.
pannelly Aussie Peter Hatfield contributed this one: "a panel van"
pavlova a favorite cake-shaped dessert made with whipped cream and chopped fruits. Aussie Colin Mclean has been kind enough to send me this more complete description: "a desert made from meringue and then covered with fresh fruits and whipped cream."
petrol head I first heard this in the context of an addict who sniffs gasoline. However, Aussie Ned Callahan, wrote that in his part of the continent, addicts are called "petrol sniffers," and "petrol head" refers to a car lover. Now that he mentions it, I do hear it more frequently in that context. I'm not sure if there's one particular corresponding term in the U.S.—maybe "car freak." Aussie Peter Hatfield agrees with Ned Callahan: "I have never heard a petrol head used to refer to anything but a car-lover." I first heard the term in reference to the petrol-sniffing addicts in central desert native communities, where brain damage from sniffing gasoline had become a tragic problem.
piccaninny an Aboriginal child, or a black child. The usage is the same as in American English, but it is more frequently heard in Australia, where it is also offensive at times (but apparently not as universally offensive as it is in the U.S.). I read the term in several places and noted its use on a painting's caption.
piccaninny dawn morning's first light, or "infant dawn." While consulting the Oxford Australian for the local meaning of piccaninny, I saw this entry and thought what a lovely phrase that is, infant dawn. Its lovely imagery somehow made the term piccaninny less offensive. I don't know the origin of the word piccaninny. Perhaps my visceral reaction has less to do with the meaning of the word and more to do with the treatment that was afforded in Colonial America to the slave children who were called piccaninnies.
pikelet a small, light-textured, sweet pancake, just barely larger than a silver-dollar pancake. Batter made with white flour and confectioner's sugar (icing sugar in Ozian) appears to be more popular in Australia than unsugared batters.
pissed drunk. Aussie Taryn East found my one-word definition too incomplete. She adds, "used because alcohol is referred to as 'piss' (due to its similarity with beer). Also used in phrases such as 'he's on the piss at the moment' (to say that he's drunk) which shouldn't be confused with 'taking the piss' (which - along with the humourous circumlocution 'extracting the urine' - means 'to make fun of' - generally with the intent to show them up for doing something silly)."
pokie poker machine, such as those found in casinos.
pom or pommie slang for people from England. On the occasion of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, a program on pom-bashing stated that POM is an acronym for Prisoners of Mother England. However, at least one source states that the terms pom and pommie probably originated no sooner than the late 1890s. The earliest found is 1916, more recent than convict immigration and most likely the result of rhyming slang. Michael Quinion, at his website World Wide Words, notes: "An immigrant was at first called a Jimmy Grant . . . but over time this shifted to Pommy Grant, perhaps as a reference to pomegranate, because the new chums did burn in the sun." If you don't read Quinion's entire discussion at http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-poml.htm, you will have indeed missed something entertaining and worthwhile. My thanks to Londoner Craig Johnson for telling me about this website. Note: Many of the forebears of today's native white Australians were brought to Australia in the 1800s as a prison workforce to build the country. Use of convict labor aided Australia in avoiding the use of slavery in the labor-intensive commercial agricultural endeavors undertaken by early Australian settlers. I recently read that the appliances found in today's average household do the work of fifty slaves. So perhaps it was the Industrial Revolution, and not a positive development in the public conscience, that put an end to slavery in the United States. Aussie Taryn East adds, "Convict labour was slave labour to a certain extent. People were shipped out for sentences that far exceeded the depth of their crime, e.g., seven years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family." As a side note, most convicts were allowed to work off their sentence and become free, land-owning settlers, though most were not allowed to return home to England.
poof sissy, effeminate man, or gay man. As a side note, "sissy" appears to be American slang and most probably originated by teasing young boys and calling them "sissy" (affectionate nickname for sister) when their behavior did not meet the standards-of-the-moment for masculinity.
poofter gay man. Heard on an Aussie soap opera.
port school bag, which may also be called school case, case or bag. Thanks to Aussie Diane Bethell for this one. Aussie Taryn East adds, "It's an abbreviation of portmanteau - and quite rare in usage. I believe it's confined to one of the states - but can't remember if it's Queensland or South Australian in origin." So it's a few years later, and former Queenslander Margaret Aikenhead discovers my dictionary and confirms Taryn East's contribution: "It is a word that is used only in Queensland." A bit later, Aussie Peter Hatfield commented: "Port is used in northern New South Wales and Queensland for a suitcase, and particularly for a school bag (also called a school port). It might be dying away but I would not say it is that uncommon." Since portmanteau is a word that I had heard from time to time in America, I took a look in American dictionaries and found that, in American speak, a portmanteau is a large suitcase or trunk that opens into two parts. No doubt the term came into use in both America and Australia from the British influence—and judging from its spelling, I'd guess it came to Britain from France.
power point electrical outlet.
pozzy position. I would have missed this one out of context. My first thought would have been possum. A coordinator of volunteers was instructing me on how to set up a table to promote our Mt. Lawley Neighbourhood Learning Centre at an event for National Adult Learners Week. She said we should get there early and find a pozzy.
publican operator of a public house (pub). In Australia pubs are called hotels (as well as pubs, which is a British term).
p-plater novice driver who must display a red or green P on any vehicle they are driving. News stories about automobile accidents or, more frequently, spectacular violations of speed limits often feature P-platers. P stands for "provisional." There are three levels of driver's license: Learner, Provisional, and Full. Just as in the U.S., however, each state has its own driver-licensing laws. In New South Wales, for instance, a young driver may sit the first level of the Provisional test no sooner than age 17, and will be at least 20 before Full license is granted (see http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/licensing/gettingalicence/car/learners/index.html). In Western Australia it is possible to hold a Full license as young as 19 (see http://www.transport.wa.gov.au/licensing/20424.asp).
prezzie present, i.e., gift.
push bike bicycle.
recycling tip shop a store that sells items recovered from dumpsters. It is unclear whether these are items separated from garbage or whether the dumpster (tip) is a special container for donations.
referee In addition to a referee at a sporting event, someone who will attest to your good character or professional competence, i.e., a reference listed on your employment application or résumé.
rellies relatives. Aussie Ian Montgomery says they use relos in his home state of Victoria.
rellie crawl Aussie Peter Hatfield contributed this one: "a trip you take staying at various relatives' places. People with families in Britain like to do rellie-crawls in the UK."
removalist moving company and one who works for a moving company. Also see shift.
retic slang for reticulation. See below.
reticulation most commonly, an automatic sprinkler system for lawns and gardens, a far more common sight in Western Australia than in the United States. Real estate ads often refer to "reticulated gardens." "Bore reticulation" indicates that the water source is not the municipal water supply, but rather a bore well on the property. Aussie Taryn East wrote to say that the word is scarcely heard in Sydney. My family in Sydney agrees with Taryn: " 'Retic' (as we've always called it) is certainly not as common here in Sydney compared to Perth. All of our gardens in Perth had retic but not one of the properties we've lived in here have had it!"
return flight or return ticket In the United States, this would indicate the return leg of a round trip (half the trip, in other words). In Australia it represents a round trip (as opposed to one way).
rice bubbles rice crispies.
road train I originally defined this as an eighteen-wheeler truck; however, I was graciously corrected by Stacey Kelly, whose definition follows: "Road trains actually have at least 38 wheels (10 on truck itself, 4 on C trailer, 4 on B trailer and 6 on A trailer) . . . The Australian term for '18 wheeler' is semi or semi-trailer, as Australian trucks with just the truck and one trailer have 22 wheels (triple axles on the trailer)."
rocket a common salad green that is known in the United States (where it is considerably less common) by its botanical name, arugula.
roo bar a hefty front bumper frequently seen on rural vehicles. The roo bar is bigger than any front bumper I've ever seen in the United States. Those who frequent country roads and open highways will, at some point in their lives (and maybe several times in the course of their lives), hit a kangaroo. The roo bar is designed to minimize the damage to the vehicle. Hitting a kangaroo is not at all like hitting a deer, but perhaps more comparable to hitting a moose. There was a recent television news report showing an eighteen-wheeler wrecked in a highway run-in with a kangaroo. The roo may have given up his life to do it, but he won.
roundabout playground merry-go-round. Also used in reference to traffic circles and the circular, curbed barriers frequently placed at street intersections in residential areas. These force drivers to slow down to negotiate a semi-circular turn in order to move forward. The merry-go-round reference was heard on ABC's (Australian Broadcasting Company) Fireflies when a character spoke of "swings and roundabouts" at a playground.
Royal Show state fair. There are nine Royal Shows in Australia each year, one in each of five states and two in the sixth state, Victoria. Additionally there are Royal Shows in two of the internal territories: Northern Territory and the ACT (Australian Capital Territory, comparable to the U.S.'s District of Columbia). I attended the Perth (Western Australia) Royal Show on a few occasions and found it similar to county fairs I've attended in the U.S. (I've never attended a state fair.) There were juried exhibits of animals, needlework, produce, dairy, wine, cooking, and a dog show. And there were just-for-fun events, such as the pig races, and of course carnival rides. Royal Shows are held in a number of countries that were once British colonies and are patterned after the Royal Show held in Britain by the Royal Agricultural Society of England from 1839 through 2009. Though the original English Royal Show has been discontinued, the well-attended Royal Show in Wales continues.
rude In addition to the usual meanings, it is frequently used to indicate sleazy, racy, or pornographic.
rug lap robe, afghan, throw, etc. Floor rugs are called carpets or mats, depending on pile or lack of it.
rug up bundle up in warm clothing.
runners the entire range of athletic shoes that are popularly called tennis shoes (or tennies) in the U.S.
St. Vinney's The Saint Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic charity.
saltie salt-water crocodile.
Salvo slang for Salvation Army. More frequently heard as "the Salvos."
Sammy slang for Good Sammy, which is short for Good Samaritans, an organization that collects clothing and household goods and sells them in their stores. A non-profit organization similar to Goodwill Industries in the U.S., Sammy employs the handicapped.
sand pit most frequently means a child's sand box.
sandgroper native or resident of Western Australia. This is an old nickname that is no longer frequently used.
scarper to run away or escape (verb). I saw this term used in Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. The Oxford Australian says the term probably derived from the Italian "scappare," meaning escape.
schoolies, school leavers Students on vacation from school, usually recent or soon-to-be high school graduates. I first heard this term in a television report about the annual Schoolies Week on Rottnest Island (and the problems of drunkenness, property destruction, and broken glass on beaches, etc.).
script all the usual American meanings, but also a prescription.
seppo slang for an American (short for septic tank). Londoner Craig Johnson e-mailed to suggest that this is rhyming slang, a very popular form of slang creation in Australia and Cockney London. Checking about, I found that Craig's theory that seppo derives from the rhyming of yank and tank is more widely accepted than the more colorful origin that was first proposed to me, that seppo is a mostly affectionate derogatory term, which is short for "septic tank," since it is widely believed that Americans are full of . . . well, you get the idea.
shag have sex, the emphasis usually being on the male penetration. Equivalent to the American bonk, poke, pork, and especially the universally adopted Old English fuck
shagwagon/shaggin' wagon "panel van fitted out for sleeping in, as a convenient place in which to engage in sex etc." Quoting from the Oxford Australian, where I found this word by chance. Queenslander Nerida Wilson e-mailed to say that it should be shaggin' wagon, which is also listed in the Oxford Australian as an alternative term with the same meaning.
sheila young woman.
shellback The following explanation is a footnote to the use of the term "shellbacked Tories" in M. L. Skinner's autobiography, The Fifth Sparrow (Sydney University Press, 1972: "The use of this term is an interesting indication of the divergence between Western Australia and the other States, where the term 'shellback' denoted a person of convict origin whose back was liable to be hardened by the effects of the lash. In Western Australia the term retained the British interpretation as one of slow-moving, conservative habits reminiscent of the tortoise or the snail."
shift move from one residence to another. Also "move house," after the British. In Western Australia, movers are called "shifters" or "removalists." When I first arrived, people would ask me, "Are you all shifted?" It took me a few moments to absorb what they were asking.
shonky The Oxford Australian says this is a uniquely Australian slang of unknown origin that means "unreliable, unsound, dishonest." I picked this word up from Aussie Taryn East, when she was giving me a definition of dodgy, which, among other things, she says is "crooked/shonky workmanship, cost-cutting and the sorts of people that would cut any corner to make a little more money."
shout a round / shout a few / shout a few rounds buy rounds of drinks.
showbag a bag of assorted merchandise purchased at the Royal Show (state fair). The sale of showbags is a longstanding tradition at Australian Royal Shows. Some children save year round looking forward to their showbag purchase. Each bag has a theme. In the budget category, you might find the Cadbury Pick and Mix (chocolates) for $4 or the Tricks and Jokes (trick cockroaches and flies, invisible ink, and so forth) for $6. A Batman showbag for $30 features a projector torch, a dart shooter, a mobile foam kit, a belt and accessories, and a mask and cape set. There's a variety of showbags with Disney themes, including the Disney Fairies and Frozen showbags.
silverside cookitsimply.com, an Australian (or British?) website defines beef silverside as "a lean, tough cut of meat from the hind leg of the animal." In an Aussie home, I was served a delicious "silverside" that was a corned mutton (made in the same fashion as corned beef). I have since been informed that silverside is "always"/"usually" beef. In other words, to most Aussies, these people claim, silverside is the same thing as American corned beef.
sickie sick day off from work; to "take a sickie."
singlet tank top, usually worn as an undershirt.
Sister a title for nurses. In George Johnston's novel, Clean Straw for Nothing, he writes, "The nurses and sisters seemed pleased with his progress." This sent me scurrying to the Internet for a definition. I learned that a sister is a nurse who is of a higher rank and supervises other nurses. Her uniform distinguishes her from those she supervises.
skickered really drunk, sloshed.
skirt board/skirting baseboard.
skivvy turtleneck shirt, typically worn as an undergarment in cool weather and usually made of cotton or a cotton blend. A turtleneck sweater would be classified as a "jumper." The Oxford Australian lists skivvy as U.S. and Australian usage: "thin, high-necked, long-sleeved garment." I grew up hearing the term "skivvies," meaning long underwear of the sort worn under winter clothing in very cold climates. It was occasionally also more broadly used as underwear of any sort, such as "walking around the house in your skivvies." Since the American dictionary has the same definition as the Australian dictionary, my childhood definition is apparently a family definition, or perhaps a regional one.
sledge Verbal abuse of one sports player to another in order to break focus on the play. The Oxford Australian lists it as a cricket term pertaining to a fielder heckling a batter. However, I heard it on the news with regard to a footy player sledging another player, i.e., insulting someone on the opposing team in a moment of heated play. This is identified as a uniquely Australian colloquialism, and I recently heard the story of its origin on a British talk show, starring Australia's own Dame Edna. Shane Warne, a recently retired and very celebrated Australian cricket player, appeared as a guest. Warne explained that sledge means "when you have a go at an opposition player." He said that years ago there was a famous Australian cricket player who was particularly aggressive in hurling verbal abuse at the other team's batters. His unusually combative heckling style won him the nickname of Sledgehammer, and as such things go in Australia, it was very quickly fashioned into the verb to sledge.
slice a dessert bar, quite popular for morning tea. Made in a square, round, or rectangular baking pan, a slice can be a baked or refrigerated dessert. The refrigerated dessert would be made of consecutively layered and chilled ingredients. The baked dessert is usually a batter that separates in cooking to form at least three layers: a crust-like layer at the bottom, a soft and moist center layer, and a crunchy or toasted top layer. As the name suggests, it is served in modest slices.
smash in addition to the usual meanings, an auto wreck. Thus, a smash shop is an auto body repair shop. The term wreck is also used, but not as frequently.
smoko smoking break. Currently in the news (August 2005), are John Howard's proposed industrial reforms, which opponents say will take away worker rights to meal breaks and smokos. Queenslander Nerida Wilson wrote to tell me "Smoko – refers to morning or afternoon tea – or any break from work – not just a break to have a smoke."
snagger an inept shearer. (Thanks to Aussie Geoff Morrison for pointing out an early error in my listing, which showed snagger as sausage.)
snags sausage, usually hot dogs.
Spag Bol Sydney Sider Lance Brooker called my attention to this Aussie slang for Spaghetti Bolognaise.
Spaghetti Bolognaise the typical spaghetti with a tomato-based meat sauce. In the U.S. when someone refers simply to spaghetti, we expect they are talking about spaghetti with tomato sauce (and usually ground meat); Australians always qualify it as Spaghetti Bolognaise (or Spag Bol). My original notion was that this was due to the large Italian presence in Australia. However, an Internet search led to the discovery that Bolognaise is actually a French term. The Italian is Bolognese. So, both the Australian version that is called Spaghetti Bolognaise and the American version that is most frequently called simply spaghetti are the same dish, which, according to Internet sources, is found only outside Italy.
spanner wrench (tool).
spot on comparable to American "hit the spot" or "on target." The apparent meaning is an enthusiastic "just right" or "perfect!" A delicious dish could be described as "spot on."
starkers naked, as in stark naked.
sticky tape cellophane tape; Scotch tape.
stocktake inventory. It took me months to figure this out. I saw signs for "Stocktake Clearance" and "Stocktake Sale," but it wasn't until an ad said, "It's stocktake time," that it finally clicked.
strata block A building or complex of condominiums.
strata fee regime fee or maintenance fee on a condominium.
stubby/stubbies a beer bottle with 375 ml capacity, opposite of a long neck. The larger bottles (750 ml) are called King Browns. Stubbies can also refer to men's short shorts. The old footy shorts were called stubbies or stubby shorts. These are still available in shops for casual wear (around the house) or work shorts. Click here to see a catalog photo. For a series of pretty funny, stubby-related definitions (pertaining to men's shorts), see Squackle.com.
stubby holder a coosie designed to hold a 375-ml beer bottle or soft-drink can. (According to Wikipedia, also called Koozie, cosy, or cozy.)
stuffed ruined. I have also heard "I was stuffed," meaning elated or overcome with joy. Perhaps "ruined by joy" as a synonym for "beside myself."
super slang for superannuation (as well as the usual meanings).
superannuation roughly similar to the branch of social security known formerly as OASI (Old Age Security Insurance), but now called FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act). Australians and their employers pay into their superannuation fund, or pension fund, just as Americans and their employers pay their FICA insurance through payroll deduction. It is similar to a 401K, in that the super, as Australians call it, is invested in the Australian stock market, and the employee owns the entire amount, which s/he may withdraw at retirement. Reading in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), I encountered the titillating phrase, "superannuated coquettes." A quick check of the Australian Oxford revealed another definition for superannuate: to discard as too old for work or use.
surgery a doctor's surgery is his offices where treatment is given. It may refer to only doctors who do some kind of minor surgery in their offices, because the doctor's office is also often referred to as her or his "rooms."
swag the bedroll carried by campers, bush walkers, and other walking adventurers, which contains their bedding and various other necessities.
swaggie slang for swagman.
swagman an itinerant traveler who carries all his belongings in a swag. From Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country: "The term comes from the rolled blanket, or swag, he carried." This may be an itinerant worker or simply a hobo.
swimmers In addition to people who swim, this term is also sometimes used as slang for bathing suit.
switchboard This has absolutely nothing to do with telephones (at least not in this day and age), but rather the combined electrical switch and outlet ("power point") mounting plate that is located on the baseboard ("skirt board"). When the outlet is not in use, the switch is kept in the off position. A two-plug outlet has two switches, one for each plug position. I love it. So much easier to flip the switch than to go about unplugging everything.
Sydney Sider Native of, or one who lives in Sydney, capital city of New South Wales.
ta slang for thank you. Generally used informally and in a friendly, but familiar, manner. You'll hear it from strangers—but rarely. I have also heard it used on a British sitcom, so it is apparently of British origin. Pronounced "tah."
take the piss to tolerate teasing or roasting with good humor. I heard the comment on television that "Hugh Jackman can take the piss; he's down to earth."
tall poppy someone who attracts attention to themselves with their achievements. Australians see them as people who need to be "knocked down." Moore's Speaking Our Language says that the term tall poppy syndrome originated in the 1980s, referring to the Australian "tendency to cut down or denigrate high achievers." I heard it used to suggest that the "tall poppy" lacked humility. There is a sort of social convention among Australians about touting one's own good fortune: you must never burst out with the good news that you've been given an award or won the lottery; the topic must be introduced by someone else who urges you to tell all. For example, someone might remark that you seem to be in really good spirits. That's not yet quite enough to allow you to talk about yourself. You might reply simply, "I am." From there, it is up the gathered company to prod the story from you. Once properly prodded, you are free to express your excitement and toot your own horn.
tea There are five meals in the diet of the Australians I have observed close hand in Perth and Sydney: brekkie, morning tea, tea, afternoon tea, and tea. Morning tea and afternoon tea are roughly equivalent to morning and afternoon coffee breaks in American businesses. Words such as breakfast, lunch, supper, and dinner are also in use, but not so frequently heard among the locals with whom I socialize. I might get invited out for lunch, but most likely invited in for tea. Brekkie is, of course, breakfast, served in all the same traditional forms as in the U.S., with the addition of a bit of Vegemite on the toast. Morning tea is served around here about 10:00 AM. Children are often served juice, milk, or weak tea with a snack; adults take tea or coffee and usually a sweet pastry or cake. Morning tea for a group might take the form of a spread of fresh fruit, pastries, cakes, and perhaps one or two bits of something savory. The first tea of the day is lunch, served around noon. Then, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, afternoon tea is served. This is frequently a bit heartier than morning tea and may include savory tarts and pastries (or even sandwich halves), as well as a sweet or two. The second tea of the day is the evening meal. As in America, dinner (the largest meal of the day) is more likely to be served as the evening meal than at lunch. No one serves cups of tea or coffee to guests without including a bit of something to eat, usually cake, though quarter slices of a good bread (say a french stick or good sourdough) slathered with real butter are altogether acceptable. It is considered rude to not offer a cup of tea or coffee to any visitor, no matter how brief their anticipated visit. Because of my experience with my circle of friends and relations in Sydney and Perth, I believed these practices were universal in Australia. I was wrong. Queenslander Nerida Wilson took the time to write and say, "We do not have 'tea' in the middle of the day — it is lunch! Some of an English origin may refer to the midday meal as dinner. Children are not typically served weak tea at all. The evening meal is referred to as either tea or dinner. A snack before bedtime is referred to as supper (again more by people of an English origin). Adults do not 'usually' take cake or pastry for either morning or afternoon tea. Most people would be lucky to get a cuppa these days! Quarter slices of bread with butter are not acceptable morning or afternoon tea offerings." No doubt many Aussies will agree with Nerida. (Also see high tea)
telephone exchange telephone conversation, but never telephone equipment or a part of a telephone number. (Aussie Peter Hatfield disagrees with me: "A telephone exchange could refer to a telephone conversation, but it usually means the switching apparatus. In the days before automation, it was where the telephone operators put you through to the number you asked for." So I guess never is too big a word for my definition. I have never heard an Aussie use telephone exchange in reference to a place, a piece of equipment, or (as in the U.S. when I was growing up) the first three digits of a telephone number. A big thanks to Peter and all the Aussies who write in to correct my impressions.
thongs Thong sandals. Australians who are aware of American usage are quick to note that thongs are always sandals and that what Americans call "a thong" (underwear) is called "a g-string" in Australia.
tilly a certain type of utility truck; more commonly called a "ute."
tinnie a small fishing boat.
tip dumpster. I have also heard it called a skip, and recently I even heard dumpster. Aussie Taryn East writes, "the term 'the tip' refers not to the dumpster, but to the location in which the stuff is dumped. Not the same place as for general garbage, the tip is used for old and discarded stuff such as white goods or broken furniture. This also could explain your recycling tip shop reference - because people do go to the tip to salvage things that can be fixed or restored."
tip shop see recycling tip shop.
tipper slang for tip truck, which is a dump truck.
togs As in the U.S., togs is slang for clothing. However, according to Bruce Moore's Speaking Our Language, in the states of Victoria and Queensland, the term togs always refers to swim suits and never to clothing in general. Former Queenslander Margaret Aikenhead says that "in other states the word 'togs' can mean your best clothes."
tomahawk any type of hand ax or hatchet, including all the modern models.
tomato sauce ketchup/catsup. Aussies don't have a uniform canned tomato sauce that is used in recipes as we do in the U.S.
toolies older men. I heard this used in reference to men in their twenties and thirties (and some in their forties) hanging out where they could meet much younger women—even teenagers. Specifically, the story was about toolies hanging out at a year-end rage for schoolies, i.e., older guys crashing a high-school party.
torch flashlight. Though torch is also recognized as having the same meaning that is most common in the United States, it is most frequently used to denote the battery-operated source of light.
tradie tradesman; specifically, a craftsman in the building trades. I heard the term on a newscast. There is a great shortage of tradies in Australia. Construction can take a long time while waiting in line for the tradies in various trades to become available.
trolley shopping cart. In both the U.S. and Australia, trolley is used to describe any number of devices that move about on wheels. However, in the U.S., mention of a trolley evokes images of the type of rail cars that were common on city streets at the dawn of the twentieth century and are still to be seen in San Francisco and a few other tourist spots. The word trolley in Australia most immediately evokes the image of a grocery shopping cart.
true blue The meaning in Australia is the same as in the U.S., that is, genuine, the real thing. But in Australia it's come to mean genuine Australian. As Aussie Geoff Morrison (currently living in the U.S.) explains, "As Australian as you can get. Genuine, the full Monty, the real McCoy."
tuck in or tuck into Eat heartily. Heard on a British veterinary television show. The recovering hamster was really tucking into a strawberry. The Oxford Australian says it comes from the phrase "tucking away food," originating from "Low German or Dutch."
tucker food. Aussie Taryn East noticed that I had omitted this common Aussie word from my list. When I first arrived in Australia, I repeatedly heard the term bush tucker, which was one of my first words in this dictionary. Later I began to hear tucker used as a word on its own. Taryn adds, "A famous Aussie icon is 'the dog on the tucker box' which is a sculpture of a dog sitting on the lunch box of a man (presumably guarding it and waiting for the master's return)."
ute slang for utility truck, a type of utility truck that was first made from a car body and a pick-up bed or homemade truck bed to create a utility vehicle for farm and ranch use. These hybrids were the models for later vehicles such as the Ford Ranchero.
valance bed skirt.
valuer real estate appraiser.
Vegemite a sandwich spread made from brewer's yeast (which is very high in B vitamins). Vegemite was developed by an Australian in the early 1920s to compete with Marmite, a British-made product. Though it was the late 1930s before Vegemite gained acceptance, it is now more universal in Aussie homes than is peanut butter in American homes. Read all about its history and popularity at http://www.vegemite.com.au/index.cfm?fuseaction=vegemiteDiscovery.welcome.
verge the edge of a piece of land or a highway. The highway roadside is called the "verge," and the part of a residential yard between the street and sidewalk, or about the first five feet from the street, is also called a verge.
Vinnies members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic charity; also the name of their shops where donated goods are sold.
voucher coupon. Cents-off coupons for groceries and such are a rarity in Australia. I can't remember ever having seen one.
wag school cut school.
walkabout When someone goes walkabout, they do not have a destination, but are taking to the open road or to the bush for the sake of the travel experience. Aussie Rae Doble tells me this is "the equivalent of a U.S. roadtrip." It derives from the Indigenous Australian term for an extended trip, on foot and into the bush, living off the land. Indigenous teenage boys would go walkabout as a rite of passage. Though many Indigenous communities have discontinued this practice, it is being revived in some areas as a way of instilling self-esteem in young Indigenous men as they learn to live in two cultures, rather than totally abandoning the ways of their ancestors.
whinge whine. I hear this a lot from mothers entreating their young children to "stop whingeing."
white goods large household appliances, i.e., refrigerators, washing machines, dish washers, stoves.
whitefella white man. The term was coined by native Australians and has made its way from Aboriginal English to Australian English, without being thought of as disparaging or insulting, but simply a descriptive label.
widdle urinate; wee wee. I heard this on Harry's Practice, a veterinary advice television show, when a viewer wrote in that she had adopted a cat that widdles in the house.
willy willy tornado. I overheard an Australian complaining that the news reports had adopted the American term tornado. He pointed out that an Australian willy willy is just as unpredictable as an American tornado, but that they tend to be smaller and limit their damage to a relatively small area. Aussie Taryn East wrote to say, "This never refers to a full-scale tornado. This word is only ever used to refer to those small 'whipping about the leaves and dust' kinds of winds that you might refer to as a 'dust devil'. They can seem pretty creepy when they're in the outback as they're quite visible when full of red dust - and can often stay aloft for quite some time." True tornadoes are rare in Australia. Click here for a personal account of one.
wind screen automobile wind shield.
wog Greek or other eastern European. Sometimes used for Italians and other Europeans. Usually disparaging, but sometimes good-natured. Recently I found in Arundhati Roy's 1997 Booker Prize winner, The God of Small Things, the following sentence: "You're both whole wogs and I'm a half one." Roy was writing about a family in a village in India, and the character speaking was half British, half Indian. The Oxford Australian says, "foreigner or migrant, esp. a southern European one." The English Oxford says, "a foreigner, esp. a non-White one." And, finally, the American Oxford says, "a person who is not white." All three sources list it as an offensive term of unknown origin. The Oxford Australian suggests it may have derived from golliwog. Australian Kathleen Tuck emailed to tell me "The term 'Wog' in Australia also refers to anyone suffering a dose of influenza, commonly referred to as the 'flu'." Keep those cards and letters coming!
wrinklies old people.
yabby an Australian crustacean; a type of fresh-water cray.
yob/yobbo The Oxford Australian says this always denigrating designation means lout or hooligan. There's a really good description, more in keeping with the tone used when I heard it, at Squackle.com.