Monday, November 24, 2014

Practical Australian English guide for American Immigrants

I've been living in Melbourne, Australia for over 3 years. I made the mistake when I moved here from the US of assuming they spoke the same language but just with a different accent. I had read about 'Strine, a heavy slang based version of Australian that is not commonly spoken in the circles I travel in Melbourne. Those phrases are funny and popular in lists of Australian words. But I was unprepared for the terms that are in common usage here and new to me. Note that British immigrants will find many terms listed here familiar, but since Americans split from the empire much sooner than Australia we developed a more distinct dialect.

The first thing you notice is that Aussies have a great sense of humor. Or at least, they like to think so. They poke and joke and they call it "taking the piss", which is NOT the same as "taking a piss" or "getting pissed", though these often happen in the same venue. It can be quite off putting as a new immigrant, unsure of my place in the social structure and eager to learn the Aussie ways. In the end you just have to learn to be more incredulous of every surprising thing you hear; drop bears are just the beginning!

"Did you know that wombats' poo is square?" or "A Tasmanian devil ate my tires!" - I'll leave it to the reader to figure out which is true, I have heard both at a recent cocktail party.

And now for my handy list of practical words an American needs to know when relocating to Australia. Please send me your favorites and I'll add them on.

coriander = "cilantro", one of my favorite herbs, the seed and the leaves have the same name in Australia

rocket = "arugula", a slightly bitter lettuce common at cafés here. This one I learned in London, so I figure it must be a British label.

capsicum = "bell pepper", I suppose the Aussie version is technically more accurate since it uses the latin word, but I still prefer the "bell" shaped reference

fairy floss = "cotton candy"

icy pole = "popsicle"

skinny = not just for jeans, use this when ordering a "skim" milk drink

cap = short for "capuccino", my morning starts with a "skinny cap"

reckon = as in "I reckon it will take 5 minutes", used instead of "I think" or as a quick way to agree with someone "yeah, I reckon"

heaps = same meaning as "lots" but used lots more, I reckon it is one of the more common words I hear

old mate = used instead of "whatshisname" or "whatamacallit" when you can't remember or are too lazy to name a place or person. As in "I reckon old mate will be here soon". Hopefully you know who they are talking about from context.

chips = "french fries" as in "fish and chips", but also used to mean "potato chips", which the British call "crisps", but the Aussies just overload "chips" for both types of crispy potatoes. Very common to order a "bowl of chips" at a pub with beers.

sanga = "sandwhich"

burger = any sanga with some form of patty, usually round; can be beef, lamb, chicken, fish, vege. 

sauce = multipurpose: any liquid condiment that you can put on a sanga or burger. Typically tomato or bbq. Aussies love their sauces.

tomato sauce = "ketchup". Typically a bit less sweet here and more tomato flavored. Note that what American's call "tomato sauce" is called "marinara sauce" here. You may also hear "dead horse" or "deadorse" when someone is using 'strine to be funny, ask them to tell you why they call it that.

pumpkin = "butternut squash" or other forms of squash. You will not find big orange jack-o-lantern style pumpkins here.

corn flower = "corn starch"

polenta = "corn meal"

university/uni = "college". As in "when I was in uni..."

maths = "math". Why is there an extra 's', it is just one subject!!!!

drink driving = "drunk driving" 

Autumn = "fall". I note this one because if you say "fall" out of context, they won't know what you mean, just stick to Autumn.

toilet = "restroom". Some people use "loo" in Aussie, but the word on all the signs is "toilet" and "restroom" confuses them.

bin = "garbage can"

rubbish = "trash" or "garbage"

car park = "garage". I get laughed at sometimes for using "garage", it is the most common word that gets me mocked for my strong American pronunciation of "a". Houses have a "garage", cities have "car parks".

fringe = "bangs". Remember that "she bangs like a dunny door" is a 'strine reference to sex and avoid using "bangs" at the salon.

serviette or tissue = "napkin". They know what you mean when you ask for a napkin at a café, but I was told by a friend that they usually reserve the word napkin to refer to the feminine variety.

fanny = "vagina", so best not to talk about your "fanny pack"

rubber = "eraser", not a condom

doing it tough = "having a hard time" 

on the dole = "on welfare". Except that the whole system is different, so it is hard to make a direct comparison.

pants = "pants" (British say "underpants"- thanks for the correction!)

trousers = "pants" (another way to say it)

pushbike = "bicycle". They do ride them rather than pushing them, so I'm not sure where this came from.

dinking = riding with a friend on handlebars of a pushbike. And you thought it meant something naughty!

beetroot = "beet". To me it is obvious it is a root and so why add the extra 4 letters. Odd that the Aussies go through the effort of the full word given their tendancy to shorten everything else. These show up in the most unlikely places, including on burgers with an egg.

caster sugar = finer grain "granulated sugar". This one drove me nuts at the supermarket. I just had to buy a bag and take it home to find out.

onesie = no longer just for babies, this is a popular form of costume for adults and you will see them for sale in the oddest places.

Ripper! = "Brilliant!" or "Awesome!" Remember not to pronounce the second 'r', it is more like "rippa!" Usage is well demonstrated in the classic Aussie film "The Castle", which you must watch because otherwise your Aussie friends will keep asking you if you've watched it yet.

chockers = "full" kind of like "Chock full of nuts", but it can be used to express how crowded a place is, as in "that pub was chockers".

chuck = "toss", as in "chuck it in the boot"

boot = "trunk", clearly a Britishism

bum = "butt"

mum = "mom"

bubba = "baby"

chook = "chicken"

How ya going? = "how are you?"

cuppa = cup of tea

flat white = somewhere between a latte and a cappucino, but very inconsistent from cafe to cafe I find

CBD = "central business district". This is a global English term and basically means "downtown"

bloke = "guy"

hens night = "bachelorette party"

bucks night = "bachelor party" ... what does this say about gender stereotypes here? I leave it to the reader to decide. 

milkshake = a sweet, flavored glass of milk

thickshake = closer to an American "milkshake"

slice = a dessert that is cut from a sheet into rectangles. Common instances are "lemon slice" or "caramel slice"

bake = "casserole", as in "pasta bake" which is kind of like baked ziti.

lollies = "candy"

tick = "check", as in "I got that done, tick!" or "tick the box"

In a tick/just a tick = "in a minute/just a moment"

dosh = "cash", as in "I need to get some dosh from the ATM"

quay = a location by the water, pronounced "key"

pokies = "poker slot machines", commonly found in pubs as well as casinos since gambling is legal in Australia 

prozzie = "prostitute", legal in some states in registered brothels

mozzie = "mosquito", sadly they have them here too

fuel/petrol = "gas"

servo = "gas station"

barbie = Bar-B-Q or "grill"

prawns = "jumbo shrimp", I haven't seen what I know as "bay shrimp" here at all, they only seem to have the big kind of shrimp. Yes they put them on the barbie, but if you say "put another shrimp on the barbie" you will get glared at.

esky = "cooler"

bench = "countertop"

lounge = "couch"

brolly = "umbrella" - I just learned this one from the Facebook forum for "Yanks Down Under", good addition! The contributor asks, "why not brelly?" and I think that is an excellent question!!

footpath = "sidewalk"

trolley = "shopping cart", and the ones in Melbourne are coin operated. My theory is that it is too expensive to hire staff to collect them ($15 min wage) so they make it so you have a $2 incentive to return the cart.

shops = "mall"

ta = "thanks"


This is just the list I felt would be most useful, clearly there are many more. 

Some other quick tips for new American immigrants:

1. When attempting to pronounce place names: soften your 'r's. For example "Cairns" is pronounced like "Cannes" and "Prahran" is "Praan".

2. They use grams and kilometers. So when you hear "kilo" it could refer to kilogram or kilometer depending on the conversation.

3.  Everything can be shortened and a 'y' or 'ie' added: brekkie for breakfast, lappy for laptop, tradey for tradesman,  sparky for electrician, etc. Make up your own and try it out!

Here's some other fun reading on the topic of Aussie and British English:

1 comment:

  1. I once got scolded in Nowra for referring to the fuel for my car as gas instead of petrol. Petrol does make more sense, huh?

    It also took me a while to learn that saltanas are just raisins.