Toxic Custard Workshop FilesGuide to Australia

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Language and slang

I'm going to be studying abroad in Australia for a few months, and I just had a quick question. Why is Australia called Oz? For that matter, how frequently is it called Oz, if at all? I'd hate to get something wrong not long after getting there. Thanks. - Tracy
Macquarie Dictionary book of slang Australians have many nicknames. "Wanker" and "you idiot" spring to mind, though these are generally used as specific terms for specific people. One of the more prominent terms to describe the population as a whole is "Aussies". While this may look to some people like it should be pronounced with a soft "s", it's not - it's pronounced "Ozzies". Which makes it entirely logical that the slang for Australia should be "Oz".

As for how often the term is used, that varies. I get the feeling that while "Aussie" is quite common, "Oz" is mostly used by tourists visiting (or boring their friends with endless discussions about planning future holidays and stories about them when they get back) and by Australians when overseas, wistfully talking about home.

what is a bogan? just the other day it was national bogan day, and i had no idea to what triple j was going on about. what they were saying made no sense and it was absolutely hilarious! i feel ashamed not to know this because i am from queensland in australia.  - Miranda, Queensland

Area 7: Nobody Likes A Bogan

Triple J Radio (organisers of the National Bogan Day)

National Bogan Day? It was National Bogan Day and I didn't know about it? Ah well.

The Macquarie dictionary defines it thus:

bogan noun 1. a fool; idiot. 2. WA a lout or hooligan, especially of a particular social group noted for wearing black shirt and jeans. 3. Tasmania a rough lout or hooligan. In Hobart equivalent to a Chigga. [probably from Bogan a river in NSW]

Those of us here in Victoria would probably find the WA definition the closest, whereas Area 7's opus "Nobody Likes A Bogan" goes into more detail about a particular example of Bogandom.

Off the top of my head, some attributes of bogans might be: tight jeans, tight t-shirts, cigarettes, loud music, bad haircuts, swearing, not a particularly high income bracket, and a hotted up car.

Ultimately being a bogan probably isn't a choice, and isn't really the clothing, either. It's more an attitude. A kind of indefinable ... uuhh... thingy. Yep.

I am trying to learn to speak with an Australian accent for a play - any ideas on best way to learn it? (short of spending a month in Australia) - Wally, probably USA

How fortuitous - an article about accents in today's newspaper!

What precisely is wrong with spending a month in Australia? Sounds like the ideal way to learn to speak with an Australian accent. Heck, we could certainly do with you coming and spending some hard currency.

Perhaps the easiest way in most parts of the world is to head down to your local video shop and rent some movies. Anything Australian will do, though if you want the kind of over the top not-really-used-in-cities accent most familiar to most people overseas, just get Crocodile Dundee or Priscilla. Other alternatives include Lantana, The Dish or Gallipoli. Play it a few times, practice a lot, and you'll be set.

Alternatively, for a little more fun, you could jump onto the Australian Yellow Pages and choose a business or two to politely ring and enquire about widgets. Preferably without letting on what your real intentions are.

My nephew rang me the other to ask me "Aunty Karen .. what does the Black Stump mean?" Well I couldn't answer him because I couldn't remember the exact expression or what it means can you help... - Karen, Australia

Macquarie Dictionary book of slang It's important for you not to automatically believe that just because you couldn't answer your nephew's answer, you're a bad aunty. Many aunties throughout the world would be unable to answer this question.

The expression generally used is "beyond the black stump", meaning not only that something is a helluva long way away, but also that it's out in the middle of nowhere.

Tittybong, for instance, this site's favourite example of a rural town, could be described as being beyond the black stump, since judging from the map it really is out in the middle of nowhere. I can't say if there actually is or isn't a black stump on the way, since I haven't been there yet. But I'm sure it will happen eventually, and rest assured, readers here will be the first to know.

In which Australian schools is German offered as a foreign language? - Wilfried Huelsemann, Germany

Australian state education links

I could be a smart arse here and say all of them - that is, in every Australian school that teaches German, it is offered as a foreign language. But that wouldn't be very helpful, would it?

I studied German in high school. As I recall, I did six months of it in year 7 (the first year of high school), then I did two years of it in years 9 and 10. The former was compulsory (with Greek), the latter was a choice between French, German or Japanese. And I have to confess, I only chose German because of the three it was the language most similar to English, and I thought it would therefore be the easiest to learn. Though it may have had the opposite effect.

Needless to say, having not used it at all in the last 15 years, I've forgotten nearly all of it.

And thus another rambling answer finally gets to the point: some schools in Australia offer German, at various levels. Languages Other Than English (known as LOTE at least in Victoria) are now an important part of school curricula, at both the primary and secondary levels. The schools that offer German would be far too numerous to name, but to track them down, I would suggest contacting the education department in the state you are interested in.

My sister is living in Perth... she asked "Ask your missus if she still likes her COOBLER!!" I've looked on a few Aussie slang sites, but still don't know what the word (Coobler) means... - Terry, UK

Macquarie slang dictionary

Recipe: Apple Coobler (typo?)

Cobbler (fish)

I have to admit, I have absolutely no idea about this one. It doesn't appear to be in either the "normal" dictionary or the slang Macquarie dictionary. However, something called Apple Coobler shows up in recipe collections, so maybe that's what she meant. (Though that could be a misprint)

Naturally if any readers know better than I (and they frequently do) then drop me a line.

Perhaps the answer is that your sister is completely mad. You could try writing back and asking her "Hey sis, what the hell did you mean 'coobler'? Is the West Australian sun affecting you so much you've started to make up words?"

Reader suggestions have included:

  • That it's a typo for cobber. Doesn't quite make sense in that context though.
  • Or cobbler, which is a type of fish found in WA, and I'm told it's delicious. (Thanks David and Yvonne)

I am currently teaching (American) English to High School students in Japan. A couple of them are about to go on an Exchange program to Australia (one to Melbourne) and I am supposed to give them some extra tutoring. However, I know barely anything about Australia or about Australian English. I also want to teach the kids interesting things... can you help me at all? - murasaki, in Japan

Travel Library: Australian English

Australian slang

The Man From Ironbark

Mulga Bill's Bicycle

ABC NewsRadio webcast

ABC Triple J webcast

ABC Radio Australia webcast

A few years ago, Clive James showed a now infamous clip on his TV show, of a Japanese show purporting to teach American English to Japanese kids. It consisted of a Japanese bloke with black make-up on, wearing Walkman headphones and sunglasses, and saying, with a totally unconvincing American accent, the following frequently used American phrases:
  • Hey man!
  • What's happening?
  • Get down!
  • Huh!
  • Hey bro!

To those of us who are somewhat more familiar with the English language, as well as American culture, this was utterly hilarious, of course. And if you were after a similar effect for Australian English, you could consider something such as a marathon viewing of Crocodile Dundee movies. It would of course be a complete exaggeration and simplification of Australian English.

Most Melbourne people (indeed most Australian city-dwellers) speak a much less broad version of Australian English than the accent popularised by Paul Hogan and his ilk. It's still noticeably different from other countries' accents though, and quite a bit different from an American accent. The main characteristic I can think of, off the top of my head, is less emphasis on the "r" in most words. Americans would no doubt notice a world of other differences... but then... they talk funny.

As far as the vocabulary itself goes, there are huge numbers of slang terms and phrases, some more common than others. A glance through a list of these, perhaps accompanied by some piece of prose for decoding, should provide plenty of interest. And for the voice, try getting hold of a shortwave radio tuned to Radio Australia, or just plug in via the Net.

'Kin oath.

What the bloody hell is a 'dingbat', a 'yobbo', 'daks', 'galah' and a 'snag'? I know that 'snag' is something you put on a BBQ, but..... what the bloody hell is it?!!! - An English tourist

Macquarie dictionary

Slang dictionary

Just wondering, have you been called some of these words?

Dingbat: a stupid person, such as someone who can't figure out what a dingbat is.

Yobbo: an obnoxious, rude, or noisy person.

Daks are trousers (or underpants).

A galah is literally a bird, but is another slang word used to mean a stupid person.

A snag in the barbecue sense is a sausage, or otherwise could be an abbreviation for a Sensitive New Age Guy.

What the hell does Howdy really mean. [Afriend has just suggested that its a shortened form of How do you do,sounds like crap to me ,Is he right?] - Anonymous

Macquarie dictionary

Err... what does this have to do with Australia? Okay, so some of us (including me) say "Howdy" to people sometimes, in my case typically to people I know quite well. But I would have thought that just about everyone knew it's slang that originated in America. It's the kind of thing that big, dirt eating, gun slinging cowboys say through gritted teeth to other big, dirt eating, gun slinging cowboys. Which makes this, a forum not known for its cowboys, a decidedly odd place to ask about it.

Anyway, yes, your friend is probably right - according to the Macquarie Dictionary, it is indeed short for "how do you do?"

When I visit Australian sites, i.e. sites from Australia(!), I often encounter the word 'LOL'. Can you tell me what it means. I know you have a lot of Australian slang and because many Dutch people emigrated to Australia(!), you could have borrowed it from Dutch, in which the word means 'having fun'. But now I wonder.......... - Ans, Netherlands

Net slang dictionary

It would be nice to think that LOL had been adapted from the Dutch term. There are probably a few English words that have been adapted from Dutch, but now I have to come up with some actual examples, I can't. Not to worry.

In fact for some years, my sister has been promoting use of the word "fensterbunk" for the bit of a car between the back seats and the windows. This is a misheard version of the Dutch word "vensterbank", meaning "window sill". There is an English term for this: "rear parcel shelf", but this is not a good thing to call it, because anybody with the remotest idea about car safety will tell you it's a bloody stupid place to put parcels.

But as for LOL, I'm afraid it's got nothing to do with Dutch. It's Net slang, and is short for "laugh(ing) out loud".

I used to live in Australia. I've been living in the US for the past seven years, and, upon reading Aussie news websites (ninemsn.com.au etc), I've noticed that they seem to be spelling humour without the u, analyse with a z and so forth. Is there any reason for this? Just wondering if I'm unaware of new grammar rules. Thanks. - Heather

ninemsn

MacQuarie dictionary

The Age: why we use American spelling (Thanks Niki)

It's a very strange thing: the "official" spelling of words (such that there is) hasn't altered. The standard way is still "humour" and "analyse". But some sections of the media insist on dropping the "U"s, though I personally haven't observed the proliferation of "Z"s. I haven't figured out why they do this.

I used to think it was just to save ink, but since we're now in the electronic age, I'd say it's either to save keystrokes, or because so many of the stories they run are pulled from American-based news feeds.

In fact, I was closer to the mark the first time: The Age say it's to save space.

If they start dropping the "ue" from "catalogue", then we'll know they're serious about switching to American English.

The phrase "flat out like a lizard drinking": I've always thought that it was a quite straightforward expression in the sense that if I say I'm "flat out like a lizard drinking" it means I am doing whatever I'm doing just as swiftly as a thirsty (presumably desert-bound) lizard would drink. My mate Matt, however, assures me that it's a double entendre, arising from the observation that a lizard must lie "flat out" in order to drink from a pool of water. What do you reckon?? - Troy, expat Aussie in California, USA

Queensland Holidays - slang

Slang dictionary

To me, the expression "flat out" just means very busy, or going very fast. I reckon Matt's reading too much into it, but I don't think it literally refers to the lizard being thirsty, either. It just means very flat out. It's just another one of those expressions of the form of "As X as a Y" or "X like a Y". Other examples include:

  • Built like a brick shit house
  • Sticks out like dog's balls
  • Mad as a cut snake

You can tell Matt he's just got a dirty mind!

A friend in the US asked me if there was a 'G'day' equivalent for goodbye. Now maybe it's because I've been living in the States for almost two months now (or perhaps because I've lived in Sydney for most of my life), but I can't think of any Aussie farewell that's as famous. Perhaps Daniel and the good readers of Toxic Custard can come up with some ideas? - Vanessa, USA

Aussie Slang Having a little think about this, I can come up with three possibles:
  • "Hoo roo" - very Australian I suspect, but probably not well known outside Australia
  • "See ya later"
  • "See you round" (like a rissole)

I don't know if any of these are as famous as "G'day" though.

I asked our panel of Australian experts (ie readers of this page) for suggestions about how Aussies say "bye". Suggestions included:

  • "Ciao" - adapted from all the Italian immigrants. Sometimes spelt "Chow" for unknown reasons
  • "Piss off"
  • "Bye" - never would have guessed this one
  • "time to hit the frog and toad" - sounds more like Cockney I reckon
  • "Toodles"
  • "Catch ya"
  • "Later"
  • "G'night"
  • "I'm off like a Bondi tram"
  • "Too-da-loo"
  • "Cop ya later"

Thank you to all who contributed.

I'm gonna be going to Australia for a month this summer. I was wondering if there are any particular phrases I should avoid. Also I am writting a paper on Aussie culture. Any interesting facts 'bout it? - Alicia, somewhere on the planet

Toxic Custard Guide to Australia: Culture Is that your summer, or our summer? The two do not necessarily occur at the same, as I'm sure you are well aware.

Phrases to avoid... well, off the top of my head, we have a problem with the word fanny. If you mention rooting for something, a few of us might get the wrong idea. But other than that, try not to insult anybody, and keep the swearing to a minimum when people's grandmothers are in the room, and you should be fine.

Interesting facts about Australian culture? Yes, there are many. You can find them all over this web site, and I'm too tired right now to summarise them for you, so start reading!

Sheila in Australia is another name for what? - Anonymous, USA 
Aussie Slang Woman, girl, person of the female gender, that kind of thing. It is sometimes suggested that the typical Australian man's version of foreplay consists of shouting "Brace yourself, sheila!" That's not true of course. Australian men would typically use the woman's actual name.
Do people in Australia really greet each other by saying G'Day? - Lina, location unknown
Links:

Australian slang

Some do, some don't. I do sometimes, though it tends to be with people I either don't know, or people I do know that I know have similar speech patterns. It doesn't feel quite right to say it to people who I know prefer not to speak like that. (Posh bastards!)
Where does the expression POM come from, or POME, as an expression meaning Englishman? Is it a term of endearment or ridicule? - Anonymous
Links:

Macquarie Dictionary

Related TCWF:

Megabogue's Rock Opera: Pommy

The word "pom" is not an acronym, in fact according the Macquarie Dictionary it's rhyming slang, an abbreviation of "pomegranate", to rhyme with "immigrant". Okay, so it's not very good rhyming slang.

It's definitely ridicule when used in connection with the adjective "whinging". On its own, I suspect it comes somewhere between endearment and ridicule, depending on your tone of voice. Perhaps some poms - errr... English people would care to comment?

I know at least one in my area who likes it - he or she has a car with the licence-plate "IMAPOM". And a QPR sticker in the back window.

The acronym "POME" (and its supposed meaning "Prisoner Of Mother England") appears to be an unsubstantiated myth, kept alive in such places as the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree discussion groups.

How do the majority of people spell "arse" (aka "ass")? - Anonymous
Links:

The premier reference of Australian English: Macquarie Dictionary

As if they knew, the week of the vote, the word in question featured in an episode of The Bill.

 

Arse? Ass? Bottom? Bum? Rump? Is that the word you mean? Not "donkey"?

Personally, I spell it as arse, hence the gags about the Australian Royal Security Establishment in the very early TCWFs. But that could just be because my mum is English. To be honest, I have no idea if the majority of Australians spell it the same way. It's not something I generally ask of people when I meet them. "Hello there, my name's Daniel - pleased to meet you. How do you spell 'arse'?"

So, in the true democratic traditions of this site, where the most trivial conundrums are put to the populace, we had a reader poll. Perhaps it reflects the readership of the web site and the mailing list, but the votes were overwhelmingly in favour of arse.

Votes from Australians: arse 92%, ass 8%. I think the arse has it.

Votes from non-Australians: arse 80%, ass 20%.

In Canada, we have this belt pouch worn around the waist - nicknamed "butt pack" or "fanny pack." Tourists, joggers, etc. sometimes use it. I've been told that I shouldn't use the word "fanny" in polite company in Australia. It refers to some part of a woman's anatomy. Umm, what part, exactly, of a woman does it refer to? - Anonymous, Canada
  Ah, nothing screams "I'M A TOURIST!" louder than a bum bag, as we call them in Australia.

And yes, you've heard right. The word fanny does mean something different in Australia. I suspect a few Australians with a sensitivity to such things raised their eyebrows a little when they first heard the theme song to "The Nanny".

"She was out on her fanny" ?! Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.

Okay, let's not beat about the bush here: fanny means ummm... errr... what's the best way to put this? Let's just say... umm... okay, how about frontbottom. Or clacker. Vagina. Or perhaps the dictionary's rather cold definition: the female genital passage.

Okay, I think everybody's got the general idea now. So yes, the word could be considered one to avoid, at least around people with whom you would not normally discuss such areas of the human anatomy.

Emma, in Melbourne has called me a bogan. I've a feeling I should be insulted, but just can't quite pin down what it is I've been called! - John, probably USA
Links:

Macquarie dictionary

Bogan is a curious word, dating back at least half a century. I first came across it growing up in suburban Melbourne in the 1980s. But its meaning has developed to mean a number of different types of people.

In my circle of friends around St Kilda, a bogan was generally a heavy metal fan. Long boofy hair, tight jeans, a black t-shirt advertising the dulcet tones of Megadeth, and the inevitable flannelette shirt ("flanny"). Moccasins were the footwear of choice, and you could almost bet there'd be an almost empty packet of cigarettes somewhere about the bogan's person. The spoof heavy-metal act "Megabogue", whose performances adorn some of the early writings on this site, originate from the word.

Then came the Comedy Company. This TV show, while not exactly ground breaking, featured the character Kylie Mole, who suddenly started calling just about anybody she didn't like a bogan. Watching the show you never really quite got a handle on what she meant, but I got the feeling that her meaning of the word wasn't quite the same as mine.

These days, it's made it into the dictionary, at least, into the generally recognised definitive dictionary of Australian English, the Macquarie dictionary, which defines "bogan" as:

/'bohguhn/ Colloquial --noun 1. a young person who dresses and behaves in an uncouth fashion. 2. Chiefly NSW someone who lacks stylishness in their manners or appearance. --adjective 3. lacking in style; unsophisticated. Also, bogon. [origin unknown]

I've received information that the origins of the word are based around the Bogan River in New South Wales, where sometime earlier this century the people of the region had a reputation for being somewhat uncivilised.

So, there you go. Now you know you've been insulted.

Last year I met an Australian that said there are more asians in Australia than HongKong. He said that all signage and shops are written in chinese. Is this right? I've never heard that you were bilingual before. Anyway, I wanted to visit but it sounds like I may as well go to Singapore.- CC, location unknown
Related Link:

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Somebody's been lying to you.

In a few areas well trodden by tourists, there are some signs in Japanese and English. A few shops run by particular ethnic groups have signs in English and their own language, but just about everything else is in English only.

Although Asian immigration is one of those issues that is constantly highlighted by certain groups, the number of Asians in proportion to the total population is only something like 5%.

A friend of mine has the first name "Dag." I mentioned him in passing to friends of mine who were from New Zealand, and they wouldn't quit smirking. Okay, what does "dag" mean, and should I be insulted if an Australian or New Zealander calls me "dag" to my face? - Sunita Bhatia, Delaware, USA
  Dag (the word, I mean, not your friend) literally means a bit of excrement hanging off the back of a sheep. But it is more commonly used to refer to a person who is a bit nerdy, uncool, silly or otherwise in need of mild verbal abuse.
Since the advent of the Australian Royal Security Establishment (in the Popsicle Adventures), I've wondered if Aussies pronounce the Commonwealth 'arse' at all like the American synonym 'ass'? - William in California
  It's pronounced like it's spelt, remembering of course that Australians generally don't pronounce "r" as strongly as Americans, so it's probably more like "ahss". But it means the same thing.
What the heck does "Fair dinkum" mean? - Craig, probably somewhere in North America
  "Fair dinkum" is a phrase generally employed down the pub on a Friday afternoon when someone decides to tell a story that is so obviously exaggerated and untrue that nobody, not even people in a self-induced drunken stupor, would believe.

At the end of the story, when everyone conscious is staring at the teller, and thinking "you lying bastard", the words "Fair dinkum!" exclaimed by the story teller will instantly win the story credibility. And everyone will stop thinking "you lying bastard" and say "wow... that's amazing", and accept without further question that the story is true.

So as you've probably worked out by now, "fair dinkum" means "honestly!", "truly!" and "I'm not lying, and to prove it I'll buy you another drink!"

I am interested in what real Australian speech is like. For instance, when you pronounce "flavoured" can one tell it is spelled with a "u" (i.e. an "or" sound as opposed to an "er" sound). Also, do you really use expressions such as "tastes like complete Koala piss"? - Dan, probably also in North America somewhere
  No, you can't tell that there's extra vowels thrown in. One of the main differences in a word like "flavoured" is that the "r" is pretty inconspicuous. It comes out something like "flave ud".

Personally, I use the phase "complete wombat's piss". But only in relation to Fosters' Lager. And usually only in front of tourists so I sound more ocker.

how the hell do you explain to an american (or persons of varying nationalities) what a "yobbo" is?? - Somebody with an unknown name, in an unknown location
  A hoon, a larrikin (though larrikin usually implies unruly but acceptable behaviour), a yob, a person indulging in unacceptable and rowdy behaviour, etc, etc. Check your thesaurus for two hundred more words of varying usefulness.
What language are you going pick so Australia can be bilingual? They have French in Canada, We have Epsanol here in LA? - Tim Kelly, Los Angeles
  There are various locations in Australia where you'll see signs in languages other than English - primarily Japanese, as desperately struggling (not!) opal shops try to pick up trade from the tourists.

You'll also quite often see Chinese, Greek, Vietnamese... in fact, you name it, it's probably up on a sign somewhere. In fact, there's a chemist in South Yarra in Melbourne that has a sign up showing "chemist" in dozens of different languages - including the American translation: "drug store".

But I think if we were to pick a second language, it would have to be Strine. It's different enough to English, but most Aussies could pick it up pretty easily, and it would enhance that Crocodile Dundee cliche and keep those tourist dollars rolling in.

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