Australians speak funny.
I learned this pretty quickly seven years ago when I arrived right into the guts of remote Western Australia (“dubyay”) and went straight to work on an underground mining crew.
(Your first lesson on pronunciation: Only tourists call the country “oss-TRAIL-ee-uh”. It’s “strah-ya” or “a-STRAH-ya”, to most ‘strahyans.)
My crew, a colourful collage of coworkers – with nicknames like Cowboy, Ripper, Princess, Peewee, Gun, Slugger, Hollywood, Pirate, and Rambo – said things daily that had me scratching my noggin. After 8 months with them, I was versed in a vernacular of Australian slang to a level exceeding most real Aussies.
The certificate proving I’m a propa Aussie gives me license to teach you these words.
If you never intend to travel down under: Be entertained by them. If you plan to visit or live in Aus: Here’s your chance to get a head-start learning the dingo lingo. (I admit: that one’s made up. But I could never dream up the rest of these)
Let’s begin – with the beach, of course!
Aussies love to wear thongs. But I will never stop calling them flip flops, because if there’s one ambiguity I wish to avoid, it’s my choice of underwear. (Boxer-briefs, thanks for asking)
Another essential piece of beachwear: togs are swim trunks.
I’ve no idea how Aussies shortened the word ‘afternoon’ into arvo (pronounced ‘AHH-vo’). But they did. (not to be confused with ‘AH-vo’ – that’s an avocado).
This means to trip over or fall down.
This means to be upset, and it certainly confused me at first: North Americans use this word for something very different.
“This arvo I saw a fella in his togs carrying a carton of beer down to the beach. One of his thongs broke and he completely stacked it, smashing a few bottles. He was spewin.”
Another multifaceted Australian word, like root (see the ‘Mildly Inappropriate’ section below). On it’s own, “piss” means beer. But you can also “sink piss” (drink beer), and “get pissed” (get drunk). Things can be “a piece of piss” (really easy).
But most importantly, and completely unrelated to beer, “take the piss” means make fun of someone in a playful way. This is an important part of Australian culture and one that bothers some uptight foreigners who don’t realise it’s a sign of fondness, not disrespect.
Thankfully I was taught this within days of my first landing in Australia by someone who told me, “If people aren’t making fun of you every day – it means nobody likes you.”
My crew must have really liked me.
Shortened from ‘domestic dispute’. Used to describe anytime couples fight, especially situations which are not actual domestic disputes.
Shortened from ‘aggravated’. It’s amazing how much more often you’ll reach for this adjective when it’s half the syllables.
“Bruce was sinking piss all arvo at the pub, and was getting pretty aggro. His missus came to get him, and they had a bit of a domestic.”
From “uncoordinated”. This is pronounced ‘UN-co’, and it’s heaps of fun to say. It’s mostly used self-deprecatingly when you suck at a sport or suddenly trip over the air.
Tradies: Sparky, chippy
You should be able to guess by now. Tradies are tradesmen. Sparkies are electricians, and chippies are carpenters.
The term sparky is so ubiquitous I almost never hear anyone use the word ‘electrician’. In Aus, words that necessitate such elocutionary enunciation are always modified. We wouldn’t want to accidentally practise our pronunciation!
A friendly noun to describe your mate when they’re acting incompetent.
A person with red hair. One of my absolute favourite words. It’s from ‘orang-utan’.
Just a warning: some rangas consider this word offensive. Probably because they’re still getting over the merciless teasing they suffered during their childhood. Poor rangas. Go give one a hug.
An important subculture of low-social status Australians known for being tasteless and unsophisticated. There is much written about them.
But (just to turn things downside-up) there now exists the ‘cashed-up bogan’ (aka ‘CUB’), due to decades of resource-boom demand for blue-collar jobs. CUBs splash their cash thoughtlessly on gaudy-coloured Holden utes (a type of car existing nowhere else in the world), chunky designer sunglasses, jet skis, and ever-expanding sleeve tattoos.
“That chippy mate of yours – the ranga – he’s such a muppet at work! He’s always hurting himself.”
“Nah nah, he’s alright mate, just a bit unco. Still better than those other bogans.”
Can be used as a noun to describe uncouth or disgusting people. Also an adjective to describe yourself when feeling physically wild or unkempt.
After days in the bush without a shower, I’m feeling pretty feral.
Another great adjective: Daggy means unstylish, untidy, or unclean. It’s not necessarily derogatory, as most people use daggy to describe a temporary state of themselves or their friends.
Can you change out of those track pants? You look really daggy.
I love this one because of the origin of the root word ‘dag’, which is the matted and shit-encrusted wool around a sheep’s butt.
We both know that Aussies aren’t exactly famous for being politically correct.
So you’re probably wondering “Fuller you muppet, where’s all the cursing slang?”
Well I’ve set aside some mild vulgarity into a special bonus section for you, just a click away:
Believe it or not this is only a fraction of my Australianism dictionary – but the fraction I’ve chosen for maximum entertainment or usefulness.
Australian English is riddled with slang, and every newcomer here is regularly confuzzled by it. But embrace it and you’ll love it. I’d never heard any of these words in Canada, but now I use them regularly. Australian English is heaps of fun.
Even if you don’t want to jazz up your speaking, I hope this introduction helps reduce the noggin scratching all newcomers to Aus inevitably experience.
Good on ya, mate!
p.s. if you plan to also visit nearby Indonesia too (some Western Australian’s call Bali “Perth’s northernmost suburb”), you might want to read my Eating the Breeze: 6 Funny and Useful Indonesian Expressions Not Found in Phrasebooks post.