Australian English vocabulary

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Australian English is a major variety of the English language spoken throughout Australia. Most of the vocabulary of Australian English is shared with British English, though there are notable differences.[1] The vocabulary of Australia is drawn from many sources, including various dialects of British English as well as Gaelic languages, some Indigenous Australian languages, and Polynesian languages.[2]

One of the first dictionaries of Australian slang was Karl Lentzner's Dictionary of the Slang-English of Australia and of Some Mixed Languages in 1892.[non-primary source needed] The first dictionary based on historical principles that covered Australian English was E. E. Morris's Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases and Usages (1898). In 1981, the more comprehensive Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English was published. Oxford University Press published the Australian Oxford Dictionary in 1999, in concert with the Australian National University. Oxford University Press also published The Australian National Dictionary.

Broad and colourful Australian English has been popularised over the years by 'larrikin' characters created by Australian performers such as Chips Rafferty, John Meillon, Paul Hogan, Barry Humphries, Greig Pickhaver and John Doyle, Michael Caton, Steve Irwin, Jane Turner and Gina Riley. It has been claimed that, in recent times, the popularity of the Barry McKenzie character, played on screen by Barry Crocker, and in particular of the soap opera Neighbours, led to a "huge shift in the attitude towards Australian English in the UK", with such phrases as "chunder", "liquid laugh" and "technicolour yawn" all becoming well known as a result.[3]

Words of Australian origin[edit]

The origins of some of the words are disputed.

  • Battler – a person with few natural advantages, who works doggedly and with little reward, who struggles for a livelihood and who displays courage. The first citation for this comes from Henry Lawson in While the Billy Boils (1896): "I sat on him pretty hard for his pretensions, and paid him out for all the patronage he'd worked off on me... and told him never to pretend to me again he was a battler".[4]
  • Bludger – a person who avoids working, or doing their share of work, a loafer, scrounger, a hanger-on, one who does not pull his weight. Originally, a pimp.[5]
  • Bogan – an Australian term for describing someone who may be a yobbo (redneck). The major difference between the two is that yobbo tends to be used as a noun, whereas bogan can also be used adjectivally to describe objects pertaining to people who are bogans. Regional variations include "Bevan" in and around Brisbane, and "Boonah" around Canberra. It's usually an uncultured person with vulgar behavior, speech, clothing, etc.
  • Big Smoke – any big city such as Melbourne or Sydney.[6] (Not exclusively Australian — used of London[7] in particular)
  • Didgeridoo is a wind instrument that was originally found only in Arnhem Land in northern Australia. It is a long, wooden, tubular instrument that produces a low-pitched, resonant sound with complex, rhythmic patterns but little tonal variation.[4]
  • Digger – an Australian soldier. The term was applied during the First World War to Australian and New Zealand soldiers because so much of their time was spent digging trenches. An earlier Australian sense of digger was "a miner digging for gold". Billy Hughes, prime minister during the First World War, was known as the Little Digger. First recorded in this sense 1916.[4][8]
  • Dinkum or fair dinkum – "true", "the truth", "speaking the truth", "authentic" and related meanings, depending on context and inflection. The Evening News (Sydney, NSW) 23 August 1879 has one of the earliest references to fair dinkum.[9] It originated with a now-extinct dialect word from the East Midlands in England, where dinkum (or dincum) meant "hard work" or "fair work", which was also the original meaning in Australian English.[10]
  • Fair go – a reasonable chance, a fair deal. Australia often sees itself as an egalitarian society, the land of the fair go, where all citizens have a right to fair treatment.[4][8]
  • Jackaroo – a type of agricultural worker.[4]
  • Nasho (plural nashos) – a term meaning a person from the National Services, mandatory military service in Australia.[citation needed] The word is often used for Vietnam War soldiers when conscription became controversial. Since that time, conscription has not been invoked in Australia.[11]
  • Nork – a female breast (usually in plural); etymology disputed, but has been linked to Norco, a NSW milk company.[12]
  • Outback – a "remote, sparsely-populated area".[4]

Words of Australian Aboriginal origin[edit]

Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been incorporated into Australian English, mainly as names for flora and fauna (for example koala, dingo, kangaroo).

Some examples are cooee and yakka. The former is a high-pitched call (/ˈk/) which travels long distances and is used to attract attention, which has been derived from Dharug, an Aboriginal language spoken in the Sydney region.[13] Cooee has also become a notional distance: if he's within cooee, we'll spot him. Yakka means work, strenuous labour, and comes from 'yaga' meaning 'work' in the Yagara indigenous language of the Brisbane region. Yakka found its way into nineteenth-century Australian pidgin, and then passed into Australian English. First recorded 1847.[4]

Boomerang is an Australian word which has moved into International English. It was also borrowed from Dharug.[4]

Words of British, Irish or American origin[edit]

Many such words, phrases or usages originated with British and Irish settlers to Australia from the 1780s until the present. For example: a creek in Australia (as in North America), is any "stream or small river", whereas in England it is a small watercourse flowing into the sea; paddock is the Australian word for "field", while in England it is a small enclosure for livestock. Bush (as in North America) or scrub means "wooded areas" or "country areas in general" in Australia, while in England they are commonly used only in proper names (such as Shepherd's Bush and Wormwood Scrubs). Australian English and several British English dialects (e.g., Cockney, Scouse, Geordie) use the word mate to mean a friend, rather than the conventional meaning of "a spouse", although this usage has also become common in some other varieties of English.

  • Billy – a tin or enamel cooking pot with a lid and wire handle, used outdoors, especially for making tea. It comes from the Scottish dialect word billy meaning "cooking utensil".[4]
  • Fair dinkum – reliable; genuine; honest; true, comes from British dialect. The phrase is recorded in a north Lincolnshire dialect for the first time meaning "fair play" or "fair dealing", although "dinkum" on its own had been used in Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, meaning "work" or "punishment".[14] "Fair dinkum" was first used in England in 1881, and is the equivalent of West Yorkshire "fair doos". The word "dinkum" is first recorded in Australia in the 1890s.[15]
  • G'day – a greeting, meaning "good day".[8][16]
  • Manchester (frequently lower-case) – household linen (sheets, pillow cases etc.), as in "manchester department" of a department store. From "Manchester wares" with exactly the same meaning.[17]
  • Sheila –slang for "woman", derived from the Irish girls' name Síle (IPA: [ˈʃiːlʲə], anglicised Sheila).
  • Yobbo – an Australian variation on the UK slang yob, meaning someone who is loud, rude and obnoxious, behaves badly, anti-social, and frequently drunk (and prefixed by "drunken").

Rhyming slang[edit]

Rhyming slang is more common in older generations though modern examples exist amongst some social groupings. It is similar, and in some cases identical, to Cockney rhyming slang, for example plates (of meat) for "feet" and china (plate) for "mate". Some specifically Australian examples are dead horse for "sauce",[18] Jack Holt for "salt" (one famous Jack Holt was a horse trainer, another a boxing promoter), Barry Crocker for "shocker" (Crocker is a well-known entertainer).[19] Chunder for "vomit" most likely comes from Chunder Loo = "spew" ("Chunder Loo of Akim Foo" was a Norman Lindsay character; "spew" is synonym for "vomit").[20][21] See.[22]

Diminutives and abbreviations[edit]

Australian English vocabulary draws heavily on diminutives and abbreviations. These may be confusing to foreign speakers when they are used in everyday conversations.

There are over 5,000 identified diminutives in use. While other English dialects use diminutives in a similar way, none are so prolific or diverse. A large number of these are widely recognised and used by Australian English speakers. However, many are used only by specific demographic groups or in localised areas. Researchers are now beginning to study what psychological motivations cause Australians to abbreviate so many words.[23]

Colloquial phrases[edit]

Numerous idiomatic phrases occur in Australian usage, some more historical than contemporary in usage.

Send her down, Hughie is an example of surfie slang. Australian Football League spectators use the term "white maggot" (derived from their formerly white uniforms) towards umpires at games.[24]


Amber is generic term for any beer (lager/stout/ale) in general, but especially cold and on-tap.

Not only has there been a wide variety of measures in which beer is served in pubs in Australia, the names of these glasses differ from one area to another. However, the range of glasses has declined greatly in recent years.

Names of beer glasses in various Australian cities[n 1][n 2][n 3]
Capacity[n 4] Sydney Canberra Darwin Brisbane Adelaide Hobart Melbourne Perth
115 ml (4 fl oz) - small beer foursie shetland
140 ml (5 fl oz) pony pony pony horse/pony pony
170 ml (6 fl oz) butcher[n 5] six (ounce) bobbie/six
200 ml (7 fl oz) seven seven beer butcher seven (ounce) glass glass
285 ml (10 fl oz) middy middy / half pint handle pot[n 6] schooner[n 7] ten (ounce) pot middy / half pint
350 ml (12 fl oz) schmiddy[n 8]
425 ml (15 fl oz) schooner schooner schooner schooner pint[n 7] fifteen / schooner schooner schooner[n 9]
570 ml (20 fl oz) pint pint pint pint imperial pint[n 7] pint pint pint
  1. ^ Entries in bold are common.
  2. ^ Entries in italics are old-fashioned or rare.
  3. ^ Entries marked with a dash are not applicable.
  4. ^ The "fl oz" referred to here is the imperial fluid ounce.
  5. ^ Prior to metrification, the butcher was 6 fl oz.
  6. ^ "Pot" is also known as Pot glass
  7. ^ a b c Confusingly for visitors, South Australians use the same names for different volumes than in the other States.
  8. ^ A modern glass size, mainly used with European beers. While the glass may be 350ml, a 330ml or 300ml fill line is common.
    With the increasing popularity of European beers, glasses of size 250ml and 500ml are also becoming more prevalent, but as yet don't seem to have acquired "names".
  9. ^ Traditionally, 425 ml is a size not found in Western Australia.

Pre-decimal currency[edit]

Prior to decimalization, Australian monetary units closely reflected British usage: four farthings (obsolete by 1945) or two halfpence to a penny; 12 pence to a shilling; 20 shillings to a pound, but terms for the coinage were uniquely Australian, particularly among working-class adult males: "Brown": a penny (1d.); "Tray": threepence (3d.); "Zac": sixpence (6d.); "Bob" or "Deener": a shilling (1s.); "Two bob bit": a florin (2s.)

Slang terms for notes mostly followed British usage: "Ten bob note": ten shillings (10s.); "Quid" (or "fiddly did"): pound note (£1); "Fiver": five pound note (£5); "Tenner" or "Brick": ten pound note (£10). Other terms have been recorded[25] but rarely used outside the racetrack. One confusing matter is that five shillings prior to decimal currency was called a "Dollar", in reference to the Spanish Dollar and "Holey Dollar" which circulated at a value of five shillings, but the Australian Dollar at the introduction of decimal currency was fixed at 10 shillings.



Australia has four codes of football, rugby league, rugby union, Australian rules football, and Association football. Generally, rugby league is called football in New South Wales and Queensland, while rugby union is called either rugby or union throughout. Both rugby league and rugby union are often collectively referred to as rugby in other states where Australian rules football is called football. Australian rules football is commonly referred to as "Aussie Rules" throughout Australia, but may also in Victoria and South Australia be loosely called "footy" outside the context of the Australian Football League.

Association football was long known as "soccer" in Australia and still persists. In 2005, the governing body changed its name to Football Federation Australia. Association Football in Australia is called "football'" only when mentioned in conjunction with a specific league, such as the A-League or Premier League, otherwise "football" on its own means either Australian football or rugby on its own depending on the region of Australia.

Horse racing[edit]

Bookie is, in Australia as elsewhere, a common term for an on-course bookmaker, but "metallician" was once a (semi-humorous or mock-intellectual) common synonym.[26]

Comparison with other varieties[edit]

Where British and American vocabulary differs, Australians sometimes favour a usage different from both varieties, as with footpath (for US sidewalk, UK pavement), capsicum (for US bell pepper, UK green/red pepper), or doona (for US comforter, UK duvet) from a trademarked brand. In other instances, it either shares a term with American English, as with truck (UK: lorry) or eggplant (UK: aubergine), or with British English, as with mobile phone (US: cell phone) or bonnet (US: hood).

Terms shared by British and American English but not so commonly found in Australian English include (Australian usage in bold): abroad (overseas); cooler/ice box (Esky); flip-flops (thongs); pickup truck (ute); wildfire (bushfire).

Australian English is particularly divergent from other varieties with respect to geographical terminology, due to the country's unique geography. This is particularly true when comparing with British English, due to that country's dramatically different geography. British geographical terms not in common use in Australia include (Australian usage in bold): coppice (cleared bushland); dell (valley); fen (swamp); heath (shrubland); meadow (grassy plain); moor (swampland); spinney (shrubland); stream (creek); woods (bush) and village (even the smallest settlements in Australia are called towns or stations).

In addition, a number of words in Australian English have different meanings from those ascribed in other varieties of English. Clothing-related examples are notable. Pants in Australian English follows American usage in reference to British English trousers but in British English refer to Australian English underpants; vest in Australian English pass also in American refers to British English waistcoat but in British English refers to Australian English singlet. Thong in both American and British English refers to underwear (known in Australia as a G-string), while in Australian English it refers to British and American English flip-flop (footwear). There are numerous other examples, including biscuit which refers in Australian and British English to what in American English is cookie or cracker but to a savoury cake in American English (though cookie is often used for American-styled biscuits such as chocolate chip cookies); Asian, which in Australian and American English commonly refers to people of East Asian heritage, as opposed to British English, in which it commonly refers to people of South Asian descent; (potato) chips which refers both to British English crisps (which is not commonly used in Australian English) and to American English French fries (which is used alongside hot chips); and football, which in Australian English refers to Australian rules football, Rugby league or Rugby union – what British refer to as football is referred to as soccer and what Americans term football is referred to as gridiron.

In addition to the large number of uniquely Australian idioms in common use, there are instances of idioms taking differing forms in the various Anglophone nations, for example (Australian usage in bold): Home away from home, take with a grain of salt and wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole (which in British English take the respective forms home from home, take with a pinch of salt and wouldn't touch with a barge pole), or a drop in the ocean and touch wood (which in American English take the forms a drop in the bucket and knock on wood).

British and American English terms not widely used in Australian English[edit]

There are extensive terms used in other varieties of English which are not widely used in Australian English. These terms usually do not result in Australian English speakers failing to comprehend speakers of other varieties of English, as Australian English speakers will often be familiar with such terms through exposure to media or may ascertain the meaning using context.

Non-exhaustive selections of British English and American English terms not commonly used in Australian English together with their definitions or Australian English equivalents are found in the collapsible table below:[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Andreas Hennings, Australian and New Zealand impact on the English language, 2004, p. 17
  2. ^ Macquarie University (2007), International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes, retrieved 20 August 2013
  3. ^ Donnison, Jon (11 June 2014). "The rise and fall of Australian slang". Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms". Australian National Dictionary Centre, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  5. ^ "ANU: Ozwords December 20 2001". ANU. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  6. ^ "Dictionary of Australian Slang". Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  7. ^ Breen, Matt. "Most Googled: why is London called the 'Big Smoke'?". Time Out London. Retrieved 29 November 2022.
  8. ^ a b c Department of Immigration & Citizenship (2007), Life in Australia (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 25 June 2013, retrieved 20 August 2013
  9. ^ "Morning Gallops". 23 August 1879. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  10. ^ "The dinkum oil on dinkum: Where does it come from?". Australian National University. Archived from the original on 11 May 2002. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  11. ^ "nasho - Wiktionary". Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  12. ^ The Australian National Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1988.
  13. ^ "Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms". Australian National Dictionary Centre, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  14. ^ Moore, Bruce (14 November 2014). "The story of 'dinkum'". Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  15. ^ School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics – Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms
  16. ^ "Australian English – British English". Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  17. ^ The Australian National Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1988. ISBN 0195547365.
  18. ^ "The Cockneys Started It". The News. Vol. 59, no. 9, 024. South Australia. 11 July 1952. p. 13. Retrieved 28 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "OzWords: When People Become Words" (PDF). Australian National Dictionary Centre, Australian National University. October 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 April 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  20. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (6th ed.), Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-920687-2
  21. ^ Frederick Ludowyk. "Aussie words: chunder". National Dictionary Centre. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  22. ^ "Appendix:Australian English rhyming slang".
  23. ^ Why we shorten words, Australian Geographic, 2 August 2010
  24. ^ "Definition of white maggot". Retrieved 19 July 2009.
  25. ^ "What's the Reason for this Rhyme?". Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate. No. 23, 640. New South Wales, Australia. 12 July 1952. p. 5. Retrieved 28 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  26. ^ "How a Metallician Saved a "Motza"". Sydney Sportsman. No. 1878. New South Wales, Australia. 22 June 1935. p. 1. Retrieved 24 February 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  27. ^ "The Macquarie Dictionary", Fourth Edition. The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, 2005. Note: Entries with Chiefly British usage note in the Macquarie Dictionary and reference to corresponding Australian entry.
  28. ^ The Macquarie Dictionary, Fourth Edition. The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, 2005. Note: Entries with Chiefly US usage note in the Macquarie Dictionary and reference to corresponding Australian entry.
  29. ^ "The Macquarie Dictionary", Fourth Edition. The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, 2005. Note: Entries with Chiefly British usage note in the Macquarie Dictionary and reference to corresponding Australian entry.
  30. ^ The Macquarie Dictionary, Fourth Edition. The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, 2005. Note: Entries with Chiefly US usage note in the Macquarie Dictionary and reference to corresponding Australian entry.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hornadge, Bill.(1989) The Australian slanguage: a look at what we say and how we say it (foreword by Spike Milligan). Richmond, Vic: Mandarin ISBN 1-86330-010-4

External links[edit]