Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stone the Crows, I’m Flat Out Like a Lizard Drinking!*

By IINightwolfII
When I send an email to my non-Australian friends, sometimes I think I should include a glossary of terms. It’s common for me to receive a reply with “please explain” asterisks dotted throughout the document. I certainly know what “proper English” is. After all, I’m qualified to teach English as a second language. But when it comes to casual letters or conversations, I let my Aussieness show through and that’s when the fun begins.

In fact, it reminds me of when native Spanish speakers taught me their language and had a ball messing with my head. They’d teach me all sorts of loopy phrases that I innocently learnt and then tried out on their parents. The raised eyebrows and dropped jaws made me realise I’d just made a clanger. Mind you, my friends would be on the floor, rolling around in fits of laughter.

I do get the chance to turn the tables every now and again and yeah, I can see why my Spanish speaking friends found it so much fun. But when it comes to the serious stuff, like my writing, I need to really think about what I want to write and how I need to write it.

My main characters in my novels are Australian. I like putting an Aussie on the world stage as I find their personalities and lyrical way of speaking interesting and fun to play with. But there are some hazards. The last thing I want to do is have my characters sound like Crocodile Dundee. I love that movie and it did do a lot for Australian tourism, but seriously, we don’t speak like that. Nor do we go for a walkabout in the desert. Well, some people do, but it’s not a regular occurrence. I could go on and on about stereotypes, but that’s not this week’s topic so I better move on!

Because I want to dominate the world and have my books available in every country... actually, scrap that. I want to have them available in every galaxy (yes, sarcasm is a major part of being an Aussie), I have to make sure people can actually understand what I’m writing. If I fill the pages with Australian phrases and terms, no one will understand what I’m writing about. But if I don’t add the odd Aussie saying in, then people think my character is English or American. It’s a fine balance and that’s why I’m so thankful for my wonderful critique partners. They read my work with a non-Australian slant, and they’re smart enough to get what the slang means. But every now and then I put in a curly one that leaves them scratching their heads. It’s a constant balancing act and one I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on—now.

A lot of Australian slang derives from England, and of course there are many phrases and terms we use that are North American. As you know, Australia is a multi-cultural country, so we also have a lot of words that have been adapted from a myriad of nations. We enjoy adopting foreign words and turning them into our own. I do, however, feel for people who grace our shores for the first time, especially those who have English as a second language. Lina wrote a wonderful post about her adventure in learning English and how difficult it was. Throw some Aussie slang and a thick accent in, and you have a recipe for disaster. But rest assured, Aussies are a friendly bunch who are accustomed getting blank looks after we speak, so we’ll find another way to get the message across, even if it means getting out a piece of paper and crayons.

And of course, I couldn’t finish the post without sharing some of my favourite words and sayings. But be aware, some of these haven’t been used for decades. Go on, give them a whirl!

Cactus: something that is dead, e.g. the bloody TV is cactus

Chook: chicken

Cleanskin: A bottle of wine bought without the label on it. Usually bought from companies that have an abundance of a certain vintage of wine.

Coathanger: Sydney Harbour Bridge

Mad as a cut snake: very angry

Dag: technically the yucky bit that hangs off a sheep’s bum, but in Australia a dag is a funny person

Earbashing: nagging

Feral: hippie

Furphy: false or untrue e.g. she’s told the biggest furphy

Grundies: underwear

Mystery bag: a sausage (also called a snag)

Nuff-nuff:  not very intelligent

Rack off: go away (not that polite)

Root rat: someone constantly looking for sex

Screamer: someone who gets drunk easily e.g. “She’s a two pot screamer” refers to someone who gets drunk on two glasses of beer

Show pony: someone who dresses to impress

Tall poppies: successful people 

Tall poppy syndrome: someone who talks badly about those successful people

Woop Woop: invented name for a small, unimportant town e.g. he lives out near Woop Woop

*Oh my, I am very busy


  1. The one I always get people asking about is "bogan" - which I hear is an offensive term in Canada? And almost no-one seems to understand I'm not being dirty when I talk about thongs :-)

  2. Thanks for the translations, Alli. Finally, I know what you're talking about. :) Curious, though: are there regional differences in Aussie slang?

    Julia B, are thongs something different to Australians than they are to North Americans?

  3. Me too, Heidi. Finally, we'll know what she's talking about, right? ;)

    And Julia, can you translate?

    On a side note, but there have been a couple of occasions when I've met Aussies and thought they were Americans from the first few sentences then noticed the accent only after a while. Probably says more about my hearing than anything but just saying...

  4. Julia, I lived in Canada for five years and never heard that term. So I looked it up, and now I know why I never heard it. It surely is offensive in Canada. Of course, as you know, it's nothing like the term Aussies use. Your thongs comment cracked me up--I'll let you explain it to everyone. :-)

    Heidi, there are some differences in slang, but it's mostly varies from state to state. For example, in Victoria we call a large glass of beer a pot, but in other states, they call it a schooner, middy or handle. As for accents, there's not a lot of difference, but regional accents tend to be more drawn out, lose more r's and people speak a little slower.

    Supriya, you've met Aussie like me then! When speaking to non-Aussies I tend to lend an English twang to my accent because it just seems easier for people to understand. When I lived in Canada I had to adjust my accent as well, for once I started pronouncing my r's at the end of words. For exmaple, caR not ca!

  5. I think I'll be stealing several of these for my Australian character! Thanks!

  6. Edith, anytime you need an Aussie on to help you with your Aussie character, let me know. I'm happy to help!

  7. I also put a lot of Aussie slang into my writing -- just my small way of turning the tide! And we do have some brilliant slang! All Australians are also fluent in understatement and sarcasm.

  8. I enjoyed the blog post AND all the comments! Lots of fun. I love discussing language and regionalisms... I grew up referring to flip flops as thongs—and at that time, "thong" didn't have any other meaning than the footwear (that I was aware of anyhow). The term "flip flops" sounded funny to me! I've retrained myself over the years, though. :)

  9. I like your thinking, Jen. I know what you mean about sarcasm. I visited a friend in the States with my hubby and kids and after a few hours my friend asked if the hubby were doing okay. I said of course, but she was concerned because we were giving each other a hard time with our comments but little did she know it was bantering and that's how we roll!

    Heather, it has been fun chatting about this and I'm so glad you've joined the conversation. I always refer to flip flops as thongs and I'm very used to getting weird looks from my non-Aussie friends.

  10. Alli, this was the funniest language lesson I've ever had. I have to memorize all of them! By the way, is there a term "kneebiter" in the Aussie slang? I was told that this is how you call your tots... And I LOVE the photos!!

  11. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Lina! Stay tuned for some more lessons! And you were very close, it's "anklebiter" for kids. Although, kneebiter sounds better. I might need to adopt that!

  12. I couldn't stop laughing at the trick your Spanish speaking friends played on you. I remember doing the same thing. But as sweet as you are I can only call you chula.

    Please stop by my blog I have a surprise for you.

  13. Wow, thank you so much for the surprise! I love your blog. Stay tuned for our part to come up.

    You made me smile when you called me a chula. I haven't heard that word in a long time!

    And yeah, my Spanish speaking friends had a great time with me as their entertainment. I think they cried the day Spanish finally clicked for me and then I knew exactly how cheeky they had been!