Aussie Language

I’ve been meaning to get back to one of my favorite subjects: the trip my wife and I took to Australia in April and May of 2007. Of course, taking six weeks off from work and life at home meant we had to do a lot of catching up when we got home. The result was that I did not get to writing up my experiences on that interesting continent until now.

First, I want to mention just some of the peculiarities of the Australian “language”. Now of course, the official language in that country is English but it is unique version of that language, reflecting the history of the people and their isolation from most other places on the globe. The United Kingdom has had the greatest influence on the Aussie tongue but immigrants from around the world, and of course the aborigines, have all had their sway. The result is a brand of English that can at times be difficult for the outsider to understand without some aid. Betty and I were lucky to spend the first few days of our trip with some Aussie friends in Perth, Russ Hobbs and Sue Harrington, who were born and raised in the country. We knew Russ (a native Australian) from our graduate school days together at the University of Alberta in the 1970s. On our trip, he and Sue helped us with the vocabulary, as well as learning about driving on the left side of the road (first look right when crossing a street [either as a pedestrian or driver] and drive left—which takes some getting used to). They also showed us some of the spectacular scenery of southwest Australia.

Here are just some of the slang words and phrases we heard followed by my interpretations of their definitions from my Canadian viewpoint.

bloke – guy, man
chook – chicken
dunny – restroom, outhouse
dunny paper – toilet paper
dinkum – good, honest or genuine
fair dinkum – very good, honest or genuine; usually understated as “David Beckam is a fair dinkum soccer player.”
g’day – good day
footy (or footie) – football, specifically—Australian Rules football; played on a cricket pitch with little protective gear, very few pauses between plays, and points are made by kicking the ball into the goal with the foot.
gridiron – North American football, played with a lot of protective gear and a lot of pauses between plays (not played in Australia but often compared to the footy, rugby and soccer played there).
hoppy – kangaroo
jumper – sweater
mate – friend, often used loosely, as in “g’day, mate”
mozzie – mosquito
no worries – no problem or don’t worry, usually said cheerfully, as in “no worries, mate”
plonk – wine
pom or pommie – a derogatory word for an English person, derived from the fruit—pomegranate—because the stereotypical English person often burned his fair-skinned face in the hot Australian sun—hence a face like a pomegranate
sheila – girl, woman
tucker – food
walkabout – a trip, a hike
walking track – hiking trail

These are the ones we can remember. There are many more, as listed in Sarah Dawson’s book, Aussie Slang (1999, Penguin Books) and on the Australian Slang Dictionary web site.

So, what’s wrong with that?


About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
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