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Aussies speak Australian, NOT English

Written by 18 May 2011 22 Comments

When moving to Australia from England, the Australian accent and language didn’t even factor as a problem. We all speak the same language, right? It’s not like I’m moving to Spain or Italy where I would truly be isolated by my lack of foreign language. I was never a star pupil in my foreign language class at school so it made sense for me to move to a country that speaks the same words as I do… however, I was not prepared for the strong accent and some of the slang that dominates the vocabulary of many Australians I have encountered.

Often, people here are impressed with my very pronounced English accent; asking if the Queen taught me to speak (why not?!) or taking immense pleasure of guessing where I am from e.g. asking if I’m from Edinburgh or Glasgow (you obviously don’t know a thing about the difference between Scottish and English accents so please stop talking to me). I thought I had it figured out, until I worked in a bustling café where fast-talking or mumbling Aussies make quick orders with token bits of slang mixed in. All in all, guaranteed to send me in a spin and sound like a parrot constantly repeating, “What? WHAT???”, “What did you say??”, “What the hell is that??”.

My first dire mistake was ANZAC day. It’s on 25th April and is a national holiday to commemorate the ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ that have served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. In Oz supermarkets, they have cookies that are named Anzac cookies…. 25th April rolls around and there I am sounding like the stupidest Brit in the world saying, “Wow, a day dedicated to cookies?! This is my kind of country!”. Turns out they were the biscuits that wives sent to their loved ones on the front line back in the day.

O.k. so I messed up a bit on Australian history that I was not aware of. Then the true slang shows its face in day to day communicating, and I’m not talking about the typical ‘Fair Dinkum!’, ‘Streuth!’ or ‘Bloody Oath’ which stereotypical Aussies have led us to believe.

Thongs are flip-flops, NOT your underwear so don’t get disgusted if they ask you if they can borrow your thongs. And there are other random day-to-day words/phrases that I’ve adjusted to:

“Let’s get BLIND tonight!’ – Let’s get so wasted until we can’t see or puke, or both.

“Awwwwwwwwwwww yeah??” – That’s said in agreement or awe.

“Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” – That is merely a simple ‘No’.

“Doona” – Duvet or thick blanket.

“Let’s go to the Grog Shop” – Let’s go buy some alcohol.

“I’m popping to the Milk Bar” – I’m popping to the Convenience Store/Newsagent’s.

“Me dad caught me Wagging!” – My father caught me skipping school!

“He got sent out Woop Woop” – He had to go to a small unimportant town or place.

“Yup, she spat the dummy” – Yup, she was pissed off

“You bloody bludger” –  You’re such a lazy so-and-so

However, the terms which I was most surprised about were the names of all the different immigrants who have infiltrated Australia. It is a melting pot of cultures where many are migrating over to this developed developing country where land is endless and jobs are multiple. But quite a few Aussies who I have met don’t hold back on their nicknames for foreigners. I already knew that they like to call the English ‘Pommes’, but was new to the terms ‘Wog, ‘FOB’ and ‘Abo’.

‘Wog’ is slang for a person of a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean origin, many are Italian and are proud to be Wogs. FOB stands for ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ which they apply to the Asian/Chinese. Technically that is what my Chinese relatives are as they migrated from Malaysia about 10 years ago, however this term is not politically correct or deemed a correct social term. Abos are what some Australians call the native Aboriginals, but again this is not politically correct.

I’m now used to the Australian accent, but now I’m struggling with the Kiwis (New Zealand) who have come over. My new chef at my work… she’s just got a new ‘bed’ but what I hear is her talking non-stop about her new ‘beard’. She hides the facial hair well.

To help you learn to copy (or simply understand) the Australian Accent better, we suggest you watch this video:

G’day, mate!

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  • Chloe said:

    You should add ‘goon’ to that list :-)

  • Chloe said:

    Oh and ‘snag on the barbie’

  • Katja said:

    haha, what’s snagging on the barbie??

  • Sophie said:

    Haha i think it means throw another sausage on the BBQ!
    I cant believe i left out goon!! rookie mistake…. goon is wine in a bag.. and the ingregiants suspiciously mention ‘fish eggs’.

    I can’t believe i forgot ‘Bogan’ too! it took me a while to recognise what an actual bogan was: trucker caps, tracksuit pants, mullets, usually with a can of grog in one hand, i think ultimately the Aussie version of a British chav.

  • Chloe said:

    Yes definitely the Aussie version of a British chav!

  • Chloe said:

    Oh and yes it means to throw another sausage on the BBQ :-)

  • wat uppig said:

    mate whats goin’ on here
    you appear to have forgotten
    durries (cigarettes)
    devo (devastated)
    shell be right (i do not wish to continue working)
    burt mate[possibly a local saying] (i strongly disagree with your opinion and recommend you remove yourself from the vicinity)
    probably more that i don’t even realise
    ow’s the serenity?

  • Katja said:

    haha, i friggin love “ow’s the serenity”!

  • Amanda said:

    I can’t believe you published this article, I’m australian & I have never met a single person who uses any of this language unless ironically or in a film, eds of travelettes you have been taken for a total ride, this is pure fiction.

  • Sophie said:

    im sorry if ive offended you Amanda, maybe i should have added the note: ‘while living in melbourne, these are the phrases that i have encountered. it does not apply to all asutralians’.
    the australian friends i have have found this particularly funny as i have quoted them directly.

  • Amanda said:

    Hey Sophie, I’m a melbournian too! Not offended just incredulous, particularly about the FOB, wog and abo references, I guess we just have really different friends, I am shocked you even encountered these terms, they would be offensive to many in my group given our different cultural back grounds, & where I work if some one used these terms they would probably be fired.

  • Sophie said:

    I am aware that they are offensive, that’s why i said they were NOT political correct, but i reported truthfully as i have actualy encountered these terms. i guess that’s a shame that a tourist has heard them within 9 months of living here… I have heard ‘Abos’ used in a casual sense which i personally do NOT agree with, my cousins have joked that they are ‘FOBs’ as they migrated from Malaysia/Singapore and i have a few Italian friends who refer to themselves as Wogs.

    i know they arent right but i felt i should mention them to show the controversial slang as well as the light-hearted slang. but i do appreciate seeing your comments though as at least it high-lights how offensive and politically incorrect those terms are. i should have emphasised the derrogative nature of these terms more!

  • Laura said:

    After just returning from a year living in Melbourne this has seriously made me smile! So much Aussie lingo is confusing, even after a year some things still hugely confuse me!
    I also encountered some of the more politically incorrect terms but you find them everywhere! Different parts of the UK find certain terms more acceptable than others……….. yes some Aussies use them but thats just how they have been brought up! I know plenty of people here in the UK that would use far worse language!

    Congratulations on this piece! I even sent it to my Melbourne friends for them to have a giggle! :)

  • Dennis said:

    How about the Aussie phrase “May I knock you up?” This has a VERY different meaning in the States. It actually happened to a female acquaintance too!

  • Sophie said:

    Thank you Laura! :)
    Dennis, what on earth does that mean in Australia??? haha it would sound pretty dodgy if someone said that to me in England!

  • Don Faust said:

    I was just recently on an Alaskan cruise with an Aussie. He thought we talked funny (from the US) and I was the Yank from that point on.

  • Amanda said:

    Hi Sophie,

    This post made me laugh!

    Although it would be good if we could put words like ‘strewth’, ‘bonza’ and ‘cobber’ out of their misery in the minds of international visitors.

    Most Australians stopped using these 40 years ago. In the case of ‘cobber’, I suspect it fell out of common use between the First and Second World Wars!

    Being Australian, every time I hear an American or a Brit talk about their ‘thongs’, I get the mental image of a giant flip-flop worn over someone’s nether regions!

    And don’t start me on what happens when Americans have the unfortunate name of ‘Randy’ or talk about their ‘fanny packs’. Makes me crack up every time!

    I’ve got a few great sayings from the Northern Territory for you to add to your vocab:

    gammon – rubbish
    donga – a transportable cabin or house
    barra – barramundi (a very yummy fish!)

    Anyway, thanks for the great post!

  • matilda said:

    as an australian who grew up overseas and just moved back ‘home’ to melbourne for uni i adore this. Im constently try to understand what people are talking about! not to mention them trying to understand me with my mix of europian and american slag i like to throw around!

  • bianca said:

    The one thing that can be said for the Australian take on English is that we shorten every word possible (or at least in Perth where I come from). I’m sure other English speaking countries shorten certain words to, but I would be surprised if they went to the same extent as us Australians.

    Train Station = Traino
    Barbecue = Barbie
    Goalkeeper = Goalie
    Fremantle (my hometown) = Freo
    Football = Footy
    Afternoon = Arvo
    Australia = Aus/Oz
    Mosquito = Mozzie
    Present = Prezzie
    Moment = Mo (also used for moustache)
    Umpire = Ump/Umpi

    It’s ridik!

  • Infoholic said:

    Great post.

    To further expand your knowledge of the stray’n dialect of English you may want to watch these short videos so that you fully understand all of the meanings of the word “mate”:


  • chib said:

    I love the confusion of non-Australian English speakers. Fun article!
    Although Amanda above mentions “cobber” being out of date, I had a friend working at a bottlo (drive through liquor shop) in Tasmania last year, and had too many customers coming through on Fridays mumbling “case o carlton cold cobber”, which roughly translates to “I would like a case of carlton beer from the refrigerators, good sir.”.
    Things are a little different in Tassie (Tasmania).

  • Kim said:

    Think I pretty much use all the words you quoted in the article except wog, fob and abos. Abos is highly offensive and disrespectful, wog had become much more “tongue and cheek” with people of mediteranian heritage referring to themselves as wogs, definatly offensive in the past but they have turned that one around. FOB was a term I heard of from others who were originally from overseas; it’s more in reference to the fact that someone is a newbie in Oz. Curries is another one, again told to me from a person proud to be a “curry” but can also be offensive. It’s all about whom you are talking to and in what way as to whether something is offensive or not. I also love referring to my “other half” (bf/gf)there is also some accent differences around too. Oh an “Mozzie” is also maori aussie, polys – polynesian etc. the list is endless.

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