It’s Different Down Under, Part I

On the afternoon of July 22, 2005, I flew into Sydney’s coastal winter for the first time, having left behind a European summer. I was moving to Australia to study for a master of international relations at Macquarie University, and one of the things that had attracted me — besides the obvious perks of living in Sydney and MQ’s solid academic program, of course! — was the ability to study in English. I’d been living for a couple of years in the non English-speaking world and I was keen to study in my mother tongue again. After a few memorable, unintentionally offensive, and head-scratching moments, I realized: the mother tongue has gone in such delightfully different directions over the last few hundred years.

During my master’s program, and now back here as a diplomat, I have tried to familiarize myself with Aussie slang and expressions. It’s important to know what they mean; it’s embarrassing to ask someone to repeat themselves and to keep missing the subtext or point of what’s being said. And I love the straightforward Australian way of speaking that doesn’t pull any punches. Although I don’t necessarily use all their slang, I have re-adopted a lot of their phrasing. Put some of this slang together with the vowel-bending Aussie accent, and I reckon it can be confusing for Yanks down under!

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Sailing in Sydney, November 2005

I’m not an expert, but here’s a non-exhaustive list of common Aussie words and expressions I know and have personally encountered so far during my time in Oz.

In Part II, I’ll talk about foods. Enjoy!

Common Words and Expressions

Australian English American English equivalent
arvo afternoon
biffo fistfight
biro ballpoint pen
bloke guy
bludger someone living off welfare
bogan redneck
bollocks up mess up
booking reservation
buggered exhausted
bum bag fanny pack
bush countryside, out of the city
chemist pharmacy/drugstore
clothes peg clothespin
cot baby crib
crook feeling unwell
dobber snitch
docket receipt
doctor’s rooms doctor’s office
dunnie outhouse
fete carnival
fortnightly biweekly
garbo garbage man
give it a miss not interested
globe light bulb
ground floor first floor
have a go take a turn
how ya goin’? how’re you doing?
in good nick in good shape
I reckon I suppose
it’s all down to (something) it’s because of/depends on (something)
knock back refuse
knock up wake up
lift elevator
loo toilet
lounge suit business suit
mate friend (even someone you don’t know)
matron head nurse
milko milkman
mozzies mosquitos
my shout my turn to buy a round
naught zero
no dramas no problem
pissed drunk
poll election
postie postman
power point electrical outlet
queue line
ring someone call someone
rubber eraser
rubbish bin garbage can
sacked fired
serviette paper napkin
she’ll be right it will be OK
skivvy turtleneck
stubbie beer
sunnies sunglasses
swimmers, cossie, bathers swim suit
ta thanks
thongs flip flops
tick the box check it off the list
tip garbage dump
torch flashlight
touch wood knock on wood
tucker food
well alight engulfed in flames
what’s on in CBR what’s happening/going on in Canberra
whinging complaining/whining
wonky unstable
wouldn’t be in it not interested
year grade in school
zed the letter “z”

And here’s a little bonus of vocabulary related to driving…

Behind the Wheel

Australian English American English equivalent
bitumen asphalt
bonnet car hood
boot car trunk
carpark parking lot
footpath sidewalk
mudguard fender
panel beater automotive body shop
parkbrake emergency brake
petrol gas
petrol station gas station
prang fender bender
rego registration
tyre tire
ute pickup truck
windscreen windshield

  4 comments for “It’s Different Down Under, Part I

  1. November 23, 2017 at 07:46

    Loved the post! Just to add to your list of translations – “knocked up” can often refer to getting someone/being pregnant 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 23, 2017 at 15:37

      Interesting! That’s how it’s used in American colloquial English too. I thought here it was just used as “to wake up”, but maybe that’s one phrase that’s more similar than different!


  2. November 28, 2017 at 11:55

    When I was still in Korea, some friends and I formed a “fortnightly” brunch squad, and I always worried I was using the word in the wrong way. But I guess it really does mean biweekly! They weren’t making shit up!

    Liked by 1 person

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