Learn the Lingo of Australia
I can honestly say that everywhere I’ve travelled to in the world I’ve had one of those awkward moments when I’m happily chatting away and all of a sudden I’ve been met with a stunned silence. The silence grows louder as I realise something I’ve said is completely and utterly wrong or I’ve been completely misunderstood – usually I have no idea what it is!
That, my friend, is the language barrier. Usually, I’m sitting there scratching my head and thinking, “what did I just say!?”, and my newly-found friends are scratching their heads thinking “what a weirdo”. Or worse, “what a pervert”. Sigh. But what can you do? It happens.
So, it seems a lot of people from a lot of countries just can’t grasp a general understanding of the way a true blue Aussie converses. We Australians are known for our quirky phrases, drawling accents, and “where-did-that come-from?” sense of humour, which is fine when you are watching Home and Away with subtitles, but a little hard – no, impossible – to understand when an unsuspecting tourist asks a rural bus driver how long it takes to drive to the next town and he says: “Well strewth love, it’s not within cooee of ‘ere, practically back of Bourke, that one.” Pardon?
Home and Away doesn’t offer much of a dialectical compass anyway. Unless they are a fictional male named Alf, with a ruddy complexion and mild anger management issues, no one in Australia actually says “stone the flaming crows” or “toss another shrimp on the bar-bee, luv” any more than an Irishman says “to be sure, to be sure”. No, what a traveller needs to get safely around this wide brown land is a firm grip on real Australian slang.
Here are some of the more common ones that are quite commonly used and you will probably hear at some stage on a trip and should try to get to know.
Starting out with an easy one here, a digger is simply a soldier. The term comes from the First World War when a soldier’s first job on any battle field was to dig trenches to fight from. Dig. Digger. Get it?
Thanks to our convict heritage, Australians are obsessed with the under-dog. In a David and Goliath fight, we will back David all the way. The battler, sometimes extended to the “little Aussie battler”, is the guy or gal doing it tough day-to-day, putting in a honest day’s work for a modest wage, and is the one we all want to come out on top at the end of the day.
This one is important for every traveller to know. Like first aid is important to know, this one can save your life (kinda). Basically, it’s where you buy liquor. But “bottleshop” has too many syllables in it for the abbreviation-obsessed Aussies, so we shorten it to bottle-o. It’s often a place we will “duck down to” too. As in “I’m just going to duck down to the bottleo to buy a slab”. Keep reading for “slab”.
Still very popular among the older generation and in areas outside major cities, this is simply an informal and pleasant way of saying “see you later”. It means exactly the same thing as “hasta la vista, baby” but with way less kudos, which is why you don’t see Arnie saying “hooroo” after stealing some biker’s leather pants in Terminator 2.
This is my favourite phrase. It has a lovely translation too – it means hard work, sweaty work, back-breaking work. Work that is so hard that as soon as I finish it I want to duck down to the bottle-o and buy a slab.
The best way to transport 24 cans of liquid gold is in a box. Yes, we are talking about a carton of beer. Ssslab. The way the ‘s’ rolls into the ‘l’ lends a beautiful air of gravitas to this mighty tray of treasure.
Mmmm, now in many a country this is taken to mean something completely different. One would imagine someone silly or goofy as per the movie The Goonies. However, in Australia, ‘Goon’ is a 20-something’s term for the classic box ‘o’ wine. You will be hard pressed to find a backpackers hostel in Australia without a box of Goon on the premises. so be prepared.
Possibly the most misused phrase by travellers to Oz is ‘no worries’. It has nothing to do with worrying at all. Used in various ways it generally means ‘that is no trouble at all’, ‘yes, absolutely’ or ‘I’ll be happy to do that for you’.
Also referred to simply as ‘trackies’, these are in fact the humble sweatpants. Ironically, the terms sweatpants and sweats are completely confusing to Aussies, since the thing sweatpants are most commonly used for here is sitting on the couch and feeling comfortable, with absolutely no danger of breaking a sweat at all.
So, you can keep your Google Translate app handy when you backpack through Oz, but it’s probably not going to help you much. I am dying to see US comedian Chris Tucker’s views on this whole language barrier debate when he performs at The Star in Sydney. He rightly points out, Aussies have the most ridiculous expressions in the world! I personally think it all just happens to be part of the charm and challenge of travel. With endless beaches, impossible sunshine and friendly locals, travelling around Australia is definitely worth the effort.
If all else fails, just add an ‘o’ or ‘ie’ on the end of any word you use and she’ll be right mate! The important thing is to get out there and make your own awkward moments.