Lost in Translation: Australian slang
When I visited Australia for the first time in June as a Queensland Blogger Correspondent, I figured I knew enough Australian slang to fit in. After all, I’d watched Crocodile Dundee. Twice, in fact.
“G’day” and “mate” (sounds like “g’die” and “mite”) are part of the local vernacular. I could pull that off without sounding like an idiot, right? And I understood that if someone called me “sheila,” it wasn’t that they didn’t know my name was Kara – it meant “woman.” And “shrimp on the barbie”? That could roll off my tongue as smoothly as if Nicole Kidman said it. (Not that I think the Australian-born movie star is grilling her own seafood on a barbecue all that often.)
Australians speak English, not a foreign language. Or do they?
Turns out, the number of phrases, abbreviated words and downright bizarre phrases that Australians use in everyday conversation make it sound as if they speak a totally different language than English.
We do speak English. Sort of. (Photo: Morrolicious)
Take, for example, the Australian propensity to shorten nouns and add the sound “ee” to the end of them. (Hmmm. Are they lazy… or creative and clever?) Some of these abbreviations are easy to figure out and some… not so much.
For example, on the street in Queensland, you might just overhear, “I’m bringing some prezzies to my rellies for Chrissy while wearing trackie dacs and sunnies, but I’ve been bitten by mozzies and nearly stepped on a cockie.”
What the heck?
It means, “I’m bringing some presents to my relatives for Christmas while wearing athletic pants and sunglasses, but I’ve been bitten by mosquitos and nearly stepped on a cockroach.”
It’s also not unusual to add an “o” syllable to the end of words. For example, a “bottlo” is a liquor store, and a “servo” is a service station or gas station. Er, rather a petrol station.
Of course, some American English words are totally different in Australian English, and they have abbreviations, too. For example, an American “cookie” is an Australian “biscuit” or “bikkie.” Americans typically use the word “mailman.” But in Australia, he’s a “postman” or “postie.” A “sandwich” is a “sanga” or “sannie.” A “lollie” isn’t a lollipop, but any sweet candy.
The array of words for “bathing costumes” is entertaining. In Australia, you might say “cozzies” (short for “costumes”), but when you jump the ocean, you might also be wearing “togs” or “bathers” or “swimmers.” Then there are “boardies” (board shorts). But my all time favorite is a term for a men’s Speedo: “budgie smuggler.”
Indeed, if you are planning a trip to Queensland, you’d best start studying now. The language and colloquialisms are that different.
I knew I’d mastered at least one common phrase when on one of my last days in Queensland a hotel manager greeted us in the lobby with a “G’day.” I replied, with just a touch of Australian twang, “G’day. How are you going?” And he didn’t blink an eye.