G’Day Mate!

opera house 6By Al Lim, Yale-NUS ’19 – See bio

“G’day mate. Slap a shrimp on the barbie!”

In the years that I have lived in and traveled around Australia, I have never actually heard anyone say that. I have heard people from everywhere else in the world try to say that in a terrible Aussie accent though, if that counts?

Tip 1. They’re not shrimps, they’re prawns!

If you’re going to survive in Australia, why not pick up a couple of words before you go Down Under?

Down Under 101

Aussie: Australian; pronounced “ozzy” not “awsee.”

Arvo: Afternoon; example: what’d you do this arvo?

Blacks: Getting your full/open driver license. The states may differ in their rules but in Australia, “Learner” drivers must have an L plate visible on the exterior of the car. After a period of time they can test for their red P’s, after another period of time apply for their green P’s, and after another period of time get their “blacks”, or their open license.

Crikey: The impression given by Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is false: Aussies do not say “crikey!” in their broadest accents whenever they stumble across a manta ray or Tasmanian Devil.

Cuppa: At its essence, “meeting up for a cuppa” means to ask someone over for a cup of tea, but there’s an unspoken acknowledgment that with the tea comes a healthy dose of gossip and catching up.

Fair dinkum: True, honest, fair and square. The preferred etymology (the other one being an anachronistic derivation of a Cantonese phrase) would be that “dinkum” originally meant a day’s work from Lincolnshire or East Midlands of England. And thus, the workers would recognize a “fair dinkum” as a fair day’s amount of work which would hold a rather large amount of significance.

Footy: Australian Rules Football or Rugby League, depending on where you are in Australia.

Hard Yakka: Hard work; derived from Aboriginal language (indigenous people of Australia), in particular from the Jagera/Yagara language once spoken in the Brisbane area.

Mate: Probably as ubiquitous as the Singlish “lah” or Thai “krub,” this term is the equivalent of friend or even just a sentence-final particle.

No worries: A phrase you hear a lot in place of “you’re welcome,” especially between friends or even casual transactions.

Roo: Short for kangaroo (comes from “gangurru” from the Guugu Yimidhirr), which in the Bush Capital (Canberra), according to Tara Dear (my future classmate who is an Australian native and fellow globetrotter), you see hopping around fairly frequently; quite a number live on the hill near her house, which is only about ten minutes’ walk from Parliament House.

Roo Bar: This would be the same as a bull bar, a metal bar fitted on the front of Australian-made cars for protection against crashing ‘em kangaroos. This has been a severe issue: 44.8% of crashes in Australia involve direct impact with an animal or a swerve to avoid an animal on public roads.

Strewth!: An exclamation that only really hard-core Aussies come out with, not sure exactly where it came from (a slurred “it’s the truth”?) but one that generally expresses surprise, alarm, amazement, envy and amusement.

Ute: Short for utility vehicle or utility truck; also known as a pickup truck.

Who Are They?

Bludger: Slacker or somebody being lazy.

Bogan: The equivalent of an Australian Redneck? In my opinion, they love their flanno (flannelette shirt) and VB (See “VB”); Urban Dictionary’s definition is as stellar as usual (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bogan).

Dux: Valedictorian or first in the year/class/grade.

Nigel no friends: A person with no friends; a social pariah; this would be similar to loners except that loners have the choice to be alone.

Where to Go?

Bottle-O: Liquor Store; Uncle Dan’s (Dan Murphy) is a common one.

Brissie: Another word for Brisbane.

Bush: The “Outback” or really anywhere that isn’t considered town.

Coathanger: Another word for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Notably, it took 1,500 men, eight years, 53,000 tons of steel and six million hand-driven rivets to complete this 10 million dollar feat (1.5 billion when adjusted for inflation).

Woop Woop: Timbuktu; middle-of-nowhere town; far away.

Mmm… Hungry, or Thirsty?

Barbie: Shortened form of barbecue (BBQ) and only for kicks and giggles can you use shrimp in the same sentence as barbie.

Chook: A number of us entrepreneurial Aussies keep chickens in our backyard, for the fresh eggs and kitchen scraps disposal. Chooks refers to these live birds; but chicken is what you have in your kebab or stir-fry.

Damper: Aborigines’ bread that I made once in food technology class… really quite enlightening

If you’re interested, here’s a recipe: http://alldownunder.com/oz-u/food-recipes/damper.htm

Esky: Proprietary eponym or generic trademark for ice coolers.

Grog: Alcohol; BYOG means Bring Your Own Grog.

Hungry Jacks: Burger King of Australia!

Lamington: Aussie dessert coated in chocolate icing and desiccated coconut. Quality Desserts and the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce joined hands to set the world record for the largest lamington ever, weighing in at 2,361 kilograms, which is the equivalent of around 45,000 normal lamingtons (http://www.thechronicle.com.au/news/giant-lamington-makers-enjoy-taste-of-success/875961/).

Lollies: Candy.

Maccas: McDonald’s, Mickey D’s.

Pav: Pavlova, which is an Aussie and Kiwi (New Zealander) dessert.

Schooner: Large glass of beer.

Snags: Sausages.

Tucker: Food; like “Bush Tucker”.

VB: Victoria Bitters which is a cheap beer option for Aussies.

Vegemite: I find it as stinky as  Australians find durian. This dark spread (like jam/jelly, nutella or peanut butter) is made from brewers’ yeast extract. President Obama described it as “a quasi-vegetable by-product paste that you smear on your toast for breakfast.” I guess Gillard spoke true when she said that a beginner’s mistake would be to smear as much as you would jelly for a PB&J.

Spread it thinly, if you dare.

Fashion Dilemma?

Budgie Smugglers: Swim Trunks, also “Cozzie” and “Togs.

Sunnies: Sunglasses, and believe me you need ‘em!

Thongs: No, this ain’t Brazil, thongs are the Aussie equivalent of flip flops or open-toed sandals.

Ugg boots: Unisex sheepskin boots than people actually wear.


Coming from James Michener in Return to Paradise (1951),

“To get on in Australia, you must make two observations. Say, “You have the most beautiful bridge in the world” and “They tell me you trounced England again in the cricket.” The first statement will be a lie. Sydney Bridge [sic] is big, utilitarian and the symbol of Australia, like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower. But it is very ugly. No Australian will admit this.”

 I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Quick shout-out to my future classmate, blog-writer, and native Aussie, Tara Dear, who helped me with this post and added in a couple of Aussie words! What a legend. And also to my mate in Sydney, Hayden Baker, for helping to start this list and for providing a truly Aussie perspective.

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