When Alex and I started dating in January 2016, we quickly learned that we both did not really speak the same English language.  

Alex, being Australian born, loves to abbreviate everything he says but somehow still loves to add extraneous letters when writing, especially the letter “u” to words which do not require this addition.  

When spoken, bottle shop, for some reason, becomes bottle-o.  When written, color, for some reason, becomes colour.  

“But why?” (insert scowling face), asks this Taiwanese-born American.  JUST WHY?  

It’s become quite the funny experience for Alex et moi to learn English from each other. For me, I’ve had the chance to appreciate the Queen’s English and pick up some more Aussified sayings.  For Alex, it’s also been hilarious to discover what is considered quintessentially Australian in vernacular.  

One of the things I started to do as new phrases and words came about in our conversations was to keep a list of Aussie slang in my notes on my phone.  It started expanding more and more as time went on and I’ll share the full, raw list as it sits in my phone today a bit later on.

But first, can you decode these Australian sayings?  Let’s give it a whirl!

Australian vs. American English

Back in December 2016, Alex and I spent a few days in Melbourne drinking delicious flat whites and exploring while continuing to develop our relationship.  We had known each other for one year and were trying to figure out if and how we continued our LDR and where we would live.  NYC?  Australia?  Somewhere else?  

It’s always been interesting for us in our regular exchange as communication goes deeper than just speaking the same language on the surface.  It’s not only about understanding the content of what we’re saying to each other.  It’s also the cultural components that play in, the approach and the delivery of tone that contribute to our mutual comprehension.  It takes a bit of digging deeper, back-and-forth feedback and an appreciation for the other’s background to gain a well-rounded grasp of each other’s inclinations in the English language.  Though we both speak English, there’s often a debate on who speaks better English, all in jest, of course.

Test Your Understanding of Aussie English

Early on in our relationship, our friend Leanne invited us to a celebration happening at the school we went to in Taiwan. It was a gathering for Australia Day. Up in a large room, we discovered Aussie flags mounted on walls as decoration, Shapes crackers, Tim Tams and other iconic treats and symbols. It was a nice tribute to Australians and a chance to learn more. It was then where Alex offered me up to participate in what I will call an initiation of non-Australians to learn Australian customs and sayings. It was also the first time I tried vegemite, straight out of a tube, onto my finger and into my mouth. No butter, no toast. Gasp from all of Australia.

Quiz time. Just as I was quizzed back then with my minimal knowledge of general Australian expressions, now it’s your turn to try!

If I were to say to you the following sentence, would you know what I was referring to?  Go on, take a guess.  No fair if you are Australian.

“G’day, I reckon this arvo I’ll shout your cuppa but if your uni marks are bodgy, no more trips to the bottle-o to fill up the esky in your boot.”

I first shared this little phrase after some contemplation on how much Aussie slang I had learned up to that point in time while chilling at the the Melbourne Docklands.  It was still so much fun to discover distinct ways to express oneself as well as the tendencies and nuances of regional and country differences.  

Let’s just pause for a moment.  

Could you understand more than 50% of that sentence?  More than 75%?  More than 90%?  I’d be impressed if you could get above 75%!  I think if an American were to read it over and over, they could likely guess through context what the sentence meant after some thought.  But if you were just hearing it in passing, it would likely go over your head unless you had taken some time to understand, or had previous references that aided in comprehension.  It’s pretty funny, because that’s how I would feel when Alex would say certain things.  He would say it without knowing necessarily that it was a phrase or word that I didn’t know.  After all, how do you know something is quintessentially Australian if you yourself are Australian and it’s just normal to you?  

Such is the fun that these moments introduce when bringing cultures together with different perspectives and different backgrounds.

The translation:

“Hello, I think this afternoon I’ll treat you to a coffee, but if your college grades are subpar, no more trips to the liquor store to fill up the cooler in your trunk.”

Hahaha!  Even to this day, I just love how the meaning behind something can be manifested in such disparate forms!

Let’s dissect this for a moment. 

What makes us greet people differently when speaking in, arguably, the same language? The salutation of G’day vs. Hello is something we likely have heard through movies and our general knowledge of Australia.  Yet, though we understand the meaning of each, we have a proclivity to opt for one over the other when we’re saying hi to a friend.

Then there is reckon vs. think.  When Alex and I first started conversing, I remember thinking how much he would use the word reckon, a word I understood inherently via other contexts but would never choose myself to use when speaking to express a thought.  I would definitely say I think or I believe vs. I reckon.  To me, when I hear reckon, it almost feels less confronting in a way than stating your beliefs outright.  From my perspective, it almost has a passive quality even though it is an assertion of thought but the tone to me feels less aggressive than think or believe.  

I never would have known the meaning of  I’ll shout your cuppa had I not first learned the meaning of shout as a way to treat others to something by paying for it vs. a yelling or screaming or elevation of one’s voice.  Hearing cuppa for the first time, it had made a lot of sense to me then but it wasn’t something I would have thought of saying simply because I’d never naturally think to abbreviate a cup of coffee in that format where it’s only two syllables and ends in a vowel sound.  As I learned more about the nuances of Australian English, it became apparent to me that often certain words would become a nickname of itself with a shortened version utilizing the equation of beginning of word + chopped off end of word ending in a vowel sound.  Cases in point:  servo, uni, bottle-o, arvo…and the list goes on!

When it comes to that post high school academic period in one’s life, you know, that supposedly best time of one’s life many look back on in their old age…what would that be to you?  Would you say college or would you say university?  Maybe as an American you might choose to use university vs. college, but if you’re Australian you might simply skip three of the five syllables of university and just say uni.  For me, when I see or read uni, I’m always thinking of the ridiculously delicious food that melts in your mouth that I will order in addition to sushi: the sea urchin’s gonads.  But now when I hear uni, somehow I know it’s a reference to college.  But let’s not be fooled; when attending uni, a student in Australia does not receive grades but rather marks.

Bodgy.  That was a word I had never ever heard before in my life.  I thought to myself, does it maybe mean dodgy?  Just because it rhymed, you know?  Great way to guess, Christina. But nope, it just means subpar, something that is of poor quality.  

I come to the word bottle-o and I still remember when I had first learned of this word.  Alex was driving us around his hometown and he showed me a liquor shop with a drive-thru and said something about the bottle-o and I was like huh?  Now I will never forget that the bottle-o is just a nice lil’ abbreviated way to say a liquor shop, one oftentimes equipped with a drive-thru.

We’re almost done with this little analysis of the sentence.  As I’m writing about it, I laugh to myself and just love how the English language gave us such a gift of having different ways of expression.  Thank you, Australia.  

Moving on to esky, I bet many of you probably thought it was short for an eskimo, but you’d be incorrect.  Through context you may not have thought that but if esky were standing on its own, I think it would be an educated guess.  Who knew that it would actually mean a cooler, a cold compartment for keeping drinks, food, etc.  

And finally, it’s great how even describing part of a car (btw, is it pronounced car or cah) can bring about some funny moments.  Whereas in the states, one might say trunk for the back storage section of a vehicle, nope, not in Australia.  I quickly learned that it is known as the boot.  

So, now.  If we revisited the sentence equipped with all this newfound knowledge, wouldn’t it be so much easier to understand? What’s your comprehension percentage now when you read it?

“G’day, I reckon this arvo I’ll shout your cuppa but if your uni marks are bodgy, no more trips to the bottle-o to fill up the esky in your boot.”

So much better!

A Slight Twist of the Tongue

Now, imagine had you made educated but incorrect guesses on the meanings of the words you didn’t know.  The sentence could transform completely!  I’m going to replace the words I didn’t know with the initial impressions I had of them and see what we get as a fun exercise. Should we try it?

G’day = Hello.  I knew this one.  I knew reckon but didn’t originally know the meaning of arvo.  I quite honestly can’t think what I would have thought it meant back then but let’s say it was avocado.  Then there’s shout and I would have likely thought it meant to yell.  Cuppa I could guess the actual meaning.  Uni to me meant sea urchin gonads.  Let’s say bodgy was dodgy, let’s say bottle-o I had thought was a bottling factoryesky was eskimo and boot was just a good ol’ snowboot.  Shall we try this?

“Hello, I think this avocado I’ll yell out your cup of coffee, but if your sea urchin gonads are dodgy, no more trips to the bottling factory to fill up the eskimo in your snowboot.”

Yeah.  Just as I thought, that makes absolutely no sense at all!  Hahaha!  

That was how I used to feel when hearing specific Aussie locutions that I wasn’t familiar with.  But through time, context and some of the funniest discussions, the illusive has definitely been illuminated.  I’m loving discovering more Australian slang and the process of elucidation has been super fun. Thank you, Alex!

A Taiwanese, Italian and American Walk into a Bar…

At the beginning of 2018, Alex and I were still in a long distance relationship.  I was living in New York and he in Rockhampton, Australia.  We decided to make a trip back to Taiwan where it had all started, the beginning of our relationship.  And the beginning of the ongoing debate of whose English is actually proper. Pra-puh.

I’ll let you choose on the above.  No taking sides though!!!  Haha.  Anyway, in our time, we got together with a few of our good friends living in Taiwan.  Alex and I, along with Tian, Sherina, Alice and Charlene went to a local eatery to have some bubble tea and hang out.  Tian hails from Italy, Sherina from Australia, Alice from the US and Charlene from Taiwan.

It was time.  Time to bust out the ongoing Australian slang list compiled in my phone notes.  Ha, finally everyone else can “have a go” at deciphering some of these meanings!  

We had quite a fun time while Charlene, Tian and Alice guessed at the following Australian sayings. Sherina, herself being Australian, loved loved loved this little sesh. I wrote loved three times because, believe me, if I could actually write it 100 times, I would then perhaps suitably capture her actual excitement.

Can You Guess these 13 Aussie Expressions?

We quizzed our friends with the below expressions. I’ll list them here for you to guess with a video of our fun time together and then with the responses.

1. Sultana 

2. Rissoles 

3. Nappies 

4. Esky 

5. It’s my shout! 

6. I rocked up… 

7. Singlet 

8. Schoolies 

9. Toolies 

10. Fair dinkum 

11. Budgie smuggler 

12. Schooner 

13. Good on ya

Guess that Aussie Slang: Watch the Video

Here’s our fun time with our friends playing Guess that Aussie Slang.

Let’s Reveal the Meanings!

I hope it was fun trying to guess the meanings. It’s been really fun for me over the years to learn more and more. It really opens up a culture, an attitude, a way of living and so much more. I hope in the future to continue this process of discovery! In the meantime, I will continue to guess, laugh, learn, compile, debate with Alex on who speaks better English and quiz my friends!

Here are the meanings of the expressions that we quizzed our friends on, below:

1. Sultana = raisin

2. Rissoles = meat patties

3. Nappies = diapers

4. Esky = cooler

5. It’s my shout! = It’s my treat!

6. I rocked up… = I walked up…

7. Singlet = tank top

8. Schoolies = the week where you party after graduating high school

9. Toolies = adults who crash the party above

10. Fair dinkum = are you for real

11. Budgie smuggler = tight-fitting men’s swimwear bottoms

12. Schooner = 425 mL glass of beer

13. Good on ya = nice one (in a sarcastic tone)

The Compilation

As I’ve learned more Australian sayings, I’ve continued to add them to my iPhone notes list. I don’t always write the most precise definitions and these notes have been added to and edited over time like little scribblings on a Post-it note that have been stacked and removed and restacked again with other notes.

It’s my approach for learning in general. Try to take down meaningful morsels, have fun, build upon what you’ve learned and then keep going. I’ll leave you with these notes. They are pretty much in the order I learned each word or expression, apart from when I added some subcategories and then I’d keep adding those learnings in order under the subcategory. Some parts don’t have definitions at all but just were jotted so I could remember. And this is probably the only time where punctuation errors don’t matter to me. I love this little list.

This is an American’s attempt at not getting lost in Australian lingo. Enjoy!

Joggers/ Tennis shoes 

Reckon/ I think I feel

Arvo/ Afternoon

Uni/ College

Shout (for food when paying)/

Rubbish bin/ Trash can

Tafe/ community college 

Thongs/ flip flops

Wat-ah/ Water

Air con/ AC

Stacked her bike / crashed / wiped out

Year 12/ Senior

Uni marks/ college grades

Offal/ intestines

Do not say Fanny bc it means something else

Proper 

Dummy/ pacifier 

Double parked/ double fisting 

Bonnet/boot/hood:trunk 

Servo/ gas station

Bottle-o/ bottle shop/ liquor store

Maccas/ McDonald’s 

Stubby / bottle for beer 

Midi for mid-strength beer 

Pot/schooner/stubby 

Tosser / wanker / 

Sanga/ sandwich or a Toastie!

Banga/ sausage

Thongs/ flip flops

Cuppa/ cup of coffee or tea

Esky/ ice box (NZ chilly bin)

Fair dinkum / are you for real

Good on ya / Nice one – sarcastic 

Hook turn

Telly = television 

Nappies = diapers

Rock up = turn up/ arrive 

Indicator = blinker

Sultana = raisin

Rissoles = meat patties 

Malteser = malt balls 

Ice block = ice cream bar 

Notes instead of bills

Hens and bucks party = bachelorette and bachelor party

Jobstoppers = tattoo preventing you from getting a job 

It’s pretty full on = it’s intense

Crook = not feeling well

Brekkie = breakfast

Bottle-o = alcohol retailer 

Servo = gas station

Rego = registration 

Singlet tank top

Solicitor lawyer

Bloke

Treelopper

Silverside = corned beef

Vanilla, cherry, caramel SLICE

Stuff it = forget it, I’ll do it regardless, okay fine

Schoolies? Week where you party after high school 

Driving on opposite side of road and learning how to drive stick (but Aussies say manual)

Bumping into someone and you say sorry

Thank you…”It’s okay!” What do you mean it’s okay? I’m thanking you!

Gift receipts 

Food options and subbing things in and out

Prices of food in Australia

Fish and the culture of knowing what types of fish

Miles per gallon no more…liters per kilo 

See ya later

Budgie smuggler

Dole bludger someone unemployed 

Bludger = lazy person 

What a nob

Take the piss = paying out on someone “just taking the piss” = “I’m just paying out on you!” Just kidding – taking the piss out of you

Deadset

Cheap as chips 

Keen as mustard 

Effluent = sewage

Tomato sauce = ketchup 

Wanker = dickhead, asshole 

Sports

He threw a dummy = he did a fake!

Intercept = interception or intercepted 

Aussies find weird about Americans:

Bleachers

Clothes pin = Clothes peg

Pronunciation 

Nissan 

Herb

Mazda

Aluminum 

Filet fillet

Here

Zebra 

2 Comments on An American Lost in Australian Lingo

2 Replies to “An American Lost in Australian Lingo”

  1. Sultanas are dehydrated grapes. So are raisins. But raisins are soaked in juice and more dehydrated. Sultanas are just plain dehydrated grapes.
    Kiwis call it a Chilly BIN not chilly box.
    Esky IS the brand name of coolers.
    I love that pub quiz of Aussie slangs. Looks like fun. I did a similar sesh in UK with Alex and his Aussie friend Candice, just chatting about things we missed or things that ppl didnt understand, like calling it alfoil for one (that would really stood out in my mind) or calling everything chips (UK it’s hot chips and crisps). And the English boys with us (my bf at the time and his friends) were all staring at us, mouths open and actually said “it’s like you are talking another language cause I dont understand the words you are saying!”
    Its so entertaining that three countries, all speaking English and there r still words and expression unique to that country. American words and expressions are more popularly known thanks to Hollywood, but still entertaining.
    Miss u Christina. Continue to jot down words that Alex comes up with that you didnt understand. Makes for funny convos like your one above it the pub.

    1. Hahaha! I love it. I love the nuances of the English language when taken from an Australian and American context. Looking forward to one day being reunited together and we can continue this conversation!

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