Last Updated on October 24, 2017 by Red Nomad OZ
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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I love “Happy as Larry” 🙂
Most I didn´t even know it´s Aussie slang! I just “grew up” with it, I reckon…
You say thongs, we say flip-flops.
I also like that you make it cute like brolly, glovies and such.
Haha, I posted it on Google+ where some bloke told me most of my ‘Aussie’ slang was Irish/UK! So I guess it comes from all over, but it depends where you heard it first, Iris!! I could probably do another post with completely different slang against most of the alphabet letters – there’s a LOT of weird expressions! Glad you enjoyed it!!
Fair Dinkum! Well said Red! 😉
ANU got “scientific approach” to Aussie lingo:
Good onya, mate!! I’ve just added the link you supplied to my post, Karol! Thanx so much for that – I hadn’t seen that website before, but I’ll be going there a LOT in the future!!
Great post Red. When we went to SAfrica several years ago the people where we stayed loved my husband’s use of Aussie slang!
haveagoodweegend and chuck another snag on the Barbie.
them’s the breaks!
Too right, mate! Stone the crows, eh? Go for your life and I’ll cop ya later!!!
Slang sets us apart, Jill!! It’s funny when people ask you to ‘say something’ just so they can hear your Aussie accent & whatever comes out of your mouth!! I was once talking to a couple who’d been living in China – she English, he German – and I felt my accent growing broader and broader, and heard myself saying ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’ which I NEVER say!! Maybe I’m just a show off at heart!!
Now you got me thinkin…
cobba, bonza, shit a brick, have a sticky beak, bludger, dead set, fossick around – or just fossick, blowie, brekkie, gutsful – or, had a gutsful, built like a brick shithouse, take the piss, piece of piss, have a go ya mug, hottie, plonk or turps, rip snorter, ripper, shonky, troppo, wanker, wuss, give it the flick, dead dingo’s donger.
So many of ’em we still say ’round ‘ere. Oh dear, hope it doesn’t make me sound like a bogan – there’s another for ya!
Amazing what comes back to you when peeling carrots for dinner – or, tucker 😉
I should have hired you as a consultant for this post, Vicki!! Sadly, I couldn’t fit all the good ones into my post – but I see another, perhaps much longer, post like this in my future!!
Sadly, I don’t hear as much Aussie lingo as I used to when I was young. Many of the old true blue Aussies – esp’ the blokes – aren’t around now. I used to hear so much slang.
Times are a’changin’.
I well remember; mob, dinkum, fair suck of the sav, good onya, mates rates, I reckon, mad as a cut snake – I always thought that would be pretty bloody mad, sparrows fart (still use that one), too right, ripper, nah worries (still do), possie/pozzie (yep), come a gutsa – hubby always did that on his dirt bike, Aussie bottler (at 52, think I qualify for that now), dinky di and errrrm… crack a fat – won’t give any more details on that one 😀
And, I catch myself saying, “Astraiyn”. 🙂
Mad as a cut snake is one of my favourite Aussie expressions – we don’t realise how much of what we say is actually meaningless to other countries until we say something ‘normal’ and no one else knows what we mean!! There’s a LOT more slang away from the ‘big smoke’, Vicki – out in the rural and remote areas you can learn a LOT by talking to the locals! Especially at the pub 😀
Very true. Used to hear much more on the farm and in the country community we lived in.
One day, it’ll back to the country for us.
It’ll be worth it just to admire the turns of phrase 😀
My fave is “Up Yourself” – it just describes some people so perfectly, I can’t imagine another term so fitting! It has been a much used term by me over the years….and it never dates!
PS. How about the word “dag” – that’s another good one to describe someone!
Yeah – that one’s SO appropriate for SOOOOO many people, Annie!! I didn’t want to go into detail about what it literally means, but I’m sure we all get the picture!! Dag is another beauty – lots of our slang has multiple meanings, and this is a good example!!
Classic Red, a ripping yarn.
It’s funny how many of these don’t seem that strange to me but totally would to an ‘outsider’. We have some great colloquialisms. And yes, who was harry and why is our happiness measure around his? And I haven’t heard ‘joe blake’ before. Maybe it has cockney origins? Like ‘plates of meat’ for feet. I also call my four-year-old a wombat constantly. Is that bad??
Joe Blake is rhyming slang, Andy – whether it’s originally cockney or just adapted to Australian conditions from the concept, I’m not sure. But I AM sure there’s a thesis or dissertation in there somewhere – if it hasn’t already been done! I’m sure there’s more than one meaning for ‘wombat’ – but you’ll know to be worried if OTHER people start calling him that when he’s a little older 😀
A fun post. Bill and I had a lot of laughs over the years with him trying to understand Aussie slang. He’s okay with it now, true blue, but when he was learning English we had some fun. In my last post I mention his confusion when my dad asked him on our wedding day “What do you do for a crust?” which could be English but I think it is used here too.
Haha, it’d be hard to make sense of a literal translation of ‘earn a crust’ Diane!! I’ve definitely heard that one in OZ – but not sure from where it originated. It’d be interesting to do a Google translate of some of our Aussie idioms and see what we ended up with!
Always wondered if the word “dunny” came from the Welsh “dynion” (pronounced “dun-yon”) meaning “Gents”, which is what you see on toilets in Wales. Lots of Welsh miners sought riches in the Australian goldfields.
There are many theories about the origin of ‘dunny’, John – and yours is as good as any. Given it usually refers to an outside loo, it’s quite possible it originated on the goldfields. But there are many other euphemisms (subtle and not-so-subtle) for toilet down here too – maybe that PROVES we’re a multicultural nation 😀
#5 Happy as Larry. Larry is explained by Lee in the comments section of my post last Thursday 19th.
I’ll never understand how hard it is to get G’day mate sounding right. We Aussies toss it off to everyone, yet outsiders just can’t get it. Must be something to do with enunciation; they have it, we don’t.
Haha, I saw your post, River! Our pronunciation must just be unique – maybe THEY all say it properly, and WE don’t!!! Have a good weekend!
Most Aussies find it hard to say, y’all, as said in southern US states. Too much emphasis on the “you”.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a non-Aussie get G’day right… 🙂
Haha, I think you’re right about the ‘G’day’ thing, Vicki!! But I can say ‘y’all’ with the best of them!!
Ha ha ha! Aussie slang all makes perfect sense to me now! I love it how we either add an ‘o’ to the end of a word (as in compo, bottl’o, righto) or a ‘y’ (as in brekky, bicky, sicky). I also love rhyming slang such as “hitting the frog and toad” or putting “dead horse” (sauce) on our snags. We are very unique!
Using Aussie slang is also a survival mechanism, Kathy – not only does it decrease the amount of time we need to have our mouths open, but it also means no one else can understand us. Which is useful if we want to talk about something or someone without the rest of the world knowing what we’re saying!! I love the ‘dead horse’ – but sadly, it was overridden by ‘dunny’ for D!!!
I knew “bush” and “tucker,” and I used to think that I knew much of Aussie English. But there are so many words!!
Making a list of A – Z must be hard – I just say it’s amazing, Red!
You are doing well to know even a few words of our Aussie slang, Kozue!! You probably know even more – there are lots of words I didn’t put in because they wouldn’t fit!! Some letters were hard to find words to fit – but I got there in the end! Have a great weekend!!
This was bloody great, loved this post
Thanx Jo-Anne – it was fun to write as well! But hard to pick just one for each letter – there’s so many great slang terms I left out!! Maybe I’ll do a follow up one day 😀
That Federation Pie looks delish!!!! Fascinating vocab……zonked would best describe my condition today. So glad it’s Friday! And that Galah is a stunner!!!
Haha, Chris – zonked is such a great word!! It can even describe the end-of-weekend hangover 😀 Or how you feel after wading through that Fed Pie!! The Galah is one of my favourite Aussie birds – although it’s quite common here. You’ll have to come down & see it sometime!! Have a great weekend!
I love your pretty Galah! And the sand dune shot is awesome, a great landscape shot.. I enjoyed reading this post, the slang and the fun twist of words. Great post. Have a happy weekend!
The galah is quite common down here, Eileen – but I never get tired of photographing them! The sand dune is the absolute reddest one I’ve seen – yet! But there’s another called ‘Big RED’ that I’ll have to get to one day!! I hope this post helps understand us Aussies better! Have a wonderful weekend too 😀