Most Aussies speak English – but with a twist that turns it into Australian English, otherwise known as ‘Strine’.
Say ‘Australian’ REALLY quickly without any too much emphasis on diction or correct pronunciation – an Aussie will be able to say it in just one syllable – and you’ll get a word that sounds almost like Strine. Get it?
We’ve got our linguistic laziness to thank for giving us the ability to mimic almost any other accent – an ability that doesn’t seem to work in reverse. Adapting our untrained vocal muscles and off-hand pronunciation to a new set of words is easier for an Aussie than it is for speakers of more rigorous languages to adapt to Strine.
Those lazy habits are also evident in idiomatic Aussie slang. Learning the local lingo – or at least a few key words and phrases – can be fun. But if you’re struggling with Strine (especially those words that sound almost – but not quite – like English) here’s a simple starter guide of Aussie slang from A-Z (with footnotes to the Aussie Slang rules’ at the end of the post).
See how many YOU understand!
Avagoodweegend (#1): Usually heard on Friday arvo (#2) and literally means ‘Have a good weekend’.
Barbie: Shortened form of Barbecue. No self-respecting Aussie would put a ‘shrimp’ on the barbie when there’s a snag (sausage) in sight! A barbie is usually preceded by a trip to the Boozer (pub) for some – yes, that’s right – booze!
Cuppa: A cup of tea. How much easier is it to say ‘Cuppa?’ Than ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ Unless the queen is visiting, of course! Sometimes offering a choice – ‘Cuppa, or a Cold One?’ – is appropriate so your guests can choose between tea or a cold beer.
Dunny: When nature calls, you’re caught short, or you want to spend a penny, just ask ‘Where’s the dunny, mate?’ and you’ll get directions to the nearest toilet! If you’re lucky, it’ll be a Scenic one!
Esky: Take your Cold Ones to the Barbie in an Esky and this handy insulated container will keep them cold! It’d be a rare Australian home without at least one.
Flat Out (#3): Very busy, moving very fast or going like the clappers! A short version of the phrase flat out like a lizard drinking (see below) meaning belly down, getting on with it.
Galah (#4): These colourful Australian native birds (see top photo) aren’t known for their stupidity or foolishness. But a person with these characteristics is often dubbed a silly Galah! Go figure!!
Happy as Larry (#5): Very happy, even though no one actually remembers who Larry is/was and why we are measuring our happiness against his.
Iffy: Dodgy. Not quite above board. Unclear. Can describe people, activities or situations.
Joe Blake (#6): Snake. Continuing the proud tradition of
stealing borrowing from the Brits that triggered a mass banishment to the colonies in the first place, us Aussies have adopted rhyming slang as our own. Not to be confused with Mad as a cut snake which describes an angry or deranged person.
Knock: A useful word with multiple meanings. To knock is to poke fun at; a knocker is one who knocks; to knock back is to refuse; and to knock off is either to steal something or finish work. Or both.
Lurk: A strategy to outwit your boss, or find a way around rules and regulations is a good lurk. Knowing all the lurks is a valuable ability, especially if it also benefits your mates.
Mate: Friend, buddy, chum, pal. Oddly enough, most of these are also dog food brands. The most common Australian phrase, and the most mispronounced (by new chums) is G’day, mate! Your friends can also be your Scumbag mates – either a compliment or term of derision depending on who’s doing the calling!
Ned Kelly: Bushranger known for courage under fire. A brave person is as game as Ned Kelly. However, a person who tries to ‘put one over’ (ie trick or cheat = highway robbery) is also known as a ‘Ned Kelly’
On ya: Or more commonly, on ya, mate! Abbreviated form of ‘Good on you’.
Perish: Die, or come close to death through starvation or poverty. Doing a perish is the activity leading to the ultimate conclusion of starvation or poverty.
Quack: Doctor. Originally applied to an unqualified doctor, it’s now applied to ANY doctor.
Ranga: Redhead (see below). But a redhead can also be called Blue (#7)!
Smoko: Pronounced ‘Smoke-oh’, it refers to morning or afternoon tea
time when taking a break meant boiling the billy (ie making a cup of tea over an open fire) and having a cigarette.
Tucker: Food. Qualifiers can be used to define food types such as good tucker for food that’s bonzer; or bush tucker for food with native ingredients, or that has come from the land.
Up yourself: An insult applied to a person who think s/he is better than others, or is showing off.
Veg Out: Relax. Pronounced ‘Vedge’, and refers to vegetables which are known for their lack of intellectual ability. A veggie or vego is either a person of limited intelligence or a vegetarian.
Wombat: A wombat is an Aussie animal who eats roots and leaves. It’s a derogatory term when used by females to describe a male with these habits – root being a euphemism for sexual intercourse. It’s often a term of admiration when used by a male to describe another male. Go figure.
XXXX: A well known brand of Aussie beer promoted by the jingle ‘I can feel a 4X coming on’. Pronounced ‘Four-ex’, it’s not to be confused with a popular brand of US condoms.
Yakka: Work. Hard yakka = Hard work.
Zonked: Tired. Also Knackered.
What have I missed? Do YOU have a favourite slang term?? Or a phrase you’ve heard for which you’d like a translation???
Let me know in the comments below!
Aussie Slang Rules:
These are just a few of the general rules applicable to Aussie slang – but be warned! Every rule has its exceptions and often, neither the rule NOR the exceptions actually make sense!
Rule #1 – Run words together quickly and don’t worry about keeping syllables separate
Rule #2 – Shorten a word (including names) and add ‘o’ (or another vowel) at the end
Rule #3 – Take a phrase with intrinsic meaning and render it incomprehensible by only using the first two or three words!
Rule #4 – Adopt native animal characteristics to describe human traits – or show them to be the opposite.
Rule #5 – Long forgotten people’s peculiarities live on in the words and phrases once used to describe them. Don’t try to understand.
Rule #6 – Rhyming slang is the exception to Rule #2. If it rhymes, it’s acceptable for a word or phrase to be MUCH longer than the original
Rule #7 – A word with the opposite meaning can be used to describe a person or thing.
Once you’ve mastered the beginners version try these for a more comprehensive slang workout:
- Australian Slang Dictionary
- Going Rank Glossary of Australian Slang
- Australia Travel Search Dictionary of Australian Slang
- Australian Words via Australian National University (thank you Karol!)
And … check out A-R in my Aussie ABC HERE!
I used Aussie English -an explanation of the Australian Idiom by John O’Grady; and The Ringers Book of Outback Terms and Phrases, produced by Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre as references in preparing this post.
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