It was early on in our Sydney residence when my husband, Kevin, had an altercation with a bus driver. Kevin was holding up the line trying to stuff a bent paper bus pass into a ticket machine, and the driver lost his cool. “You gotta keep it in good nick, mate,” he snapped. Kevin turned to me in confusion. All I could do was shrug; I had no clue what the driver had just yelled. But then the man unleashed his pointer finger like an arrow from a quiver, and we read loud and clear the universal signal for “get the fuck out.”
In good nick gnawed at us for a few weeks until it appeared again while shopping for household items on Gumtree, the Australian equivalent of Craigslist. Amid the doonas and wardrobes, we found a tall boy (tall dresser) that said “Only a few years old. In good nick.” In this context the meaning was obvious: good nick means good condition.
In a country with so many parallels to the United States, the daily language puzzles are a rich source of amusement and cultural comparison. From the odd-at-first greeting “How y’going?” to the “too easy,” “no dramas” or “ta” you get after you pay the bill—not to mention all the differences in stress, accent and inflection—this creative new lexicon and all its subtleties could be a life-long adventure, even for a native English speaker.
Aussies don’t take a shower or a sick day; they have a shower and chuck a sickie. Though like Brits, they do take the piss (joke around). At Australian grocery stores, bell peppers become capsicums; arugula is rocket; cilantro transforms into coriander and cookies are biscuits—bikkies for short.
Take a scroll through the slideshow to learn some Aussie slang, and download the for more.
The act of shortening words and adding the suffix -ie or -y is one of Australia’s greatest talents. Aussies—correctly pronounced with a “z” sound, like Ozzie Osbourne—eat brekkie before flying to Brissie for Chrissie despite the mozzies (eat breakfast before flying to Brisbane for Christmas despite the mosquitoes). Sometimes the suffix is an -o, especially for male names such as Tomo and Jono as well as professions including muso, garbo, and journo (musician, garbage collector, journalist). And then there are the -ers words such as preggers, chockers (chock-full) and Maccas (short for McDonalds and spelled like it’s pronounced). “It is with home-grown slang that Australia has really excelled,” says Dr. James Lambert, who has studied Australian slang for the past 25 years and edited multiple dictionaries on the subject. “It rivals the slang lexis of both Britain and America despite the inordinate gap in population sizes.”
Interestingly, the -ie ending doesn’t signify a “diminutive” as one might expect, Lambert says. “A brickie is merely a brick-layer, not a small brick-layer, a surfie a surfer…A postie is an ordinarily-sized postman or postwoman, and a derro is an ordinarily-sized derelict.”
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