Australian English vocabulary

Australian English vocabulary

Many works giving an overview of Australian English have been published; many of these are humour books designed for tourists or as novelties.

One of the first was Karl Lentzner's Dictionary of the Slang-English of Australia and of Some Mixed Languages in 1892. 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 1976 the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary was published. In 1981, the more comprehensive Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English was published, after 10 years of research and planning. Updated editions have been published since and the Macquarie Dictionary is widely regarded as authoritative. Oxford University Press published their own Australian Oxford Dictionary in 1999, as a joint effort with the Australian National University, and have also some other dictionaries of Australian English, including the Oxford Dictionary of Australian English and the Australian National Dictionary.

Various publishers have also produced "phrase books" to assist visitors. These books reflect a highly exaggerated and often outdated style of Australian colloquialisms and they should generally be regarded as amusements rather than accurate usage guides.


History and origins

Australian English incorporates many terms that Australians consider to be unique to their country. One of the best-known of these is outback which means a "remote, sparsely-populated area". Another is Jackaroo, a type of agricultural worker.

Many such words, phrases or usages originated with British and Irish convicts transported to Australia in 1788–1868. And many words which are still used frequently by rural Australians are also used in all or part of England, with variations in meaning. 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",[citation needed] while in England it is a small enclosure for livestock. Bush (as in North America) or scrub mean "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.

The origins of other terms are not as clear, or are disputed. Dinkum or fair dinkum means "true", "the truth", "speaking the truth", "authentic" and related meanings, depending on context and inflection. It is often claimed that dinkum was derived from the Cantonese (or Hokkien) ding kam, meaning "top gold" or "deposit", during the Australian goldrushes of the 1850s. This, however, is chronologically improbable since dinkum is first recorded in the 1890s. Scholars give greater credence to the notion that 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.[1] The derivation dinky-di means a 'true' or devoted Australian. The words dinkum or dinky-di and phrases like true blue are widely purported to be typical Australian sayings, however these sayings are more commonly used in jest or parody rather than as an authentic way of speaking.

Similarly, g'day, a stereotypical Australian greeting, is no longer synonymous with "good day" in other varieties of English (it can be used at night time) and is never used as an expression for "farewell", as "good day" is in other countries.

Sheila, Australian slang for "woman", is derived from the Irish girls' name Síle (IPA: /ʃiːlʲə/, anglicised Sheila).

"Bludger" – someone who is lazy – is derived from the British slang term of the same name referring to a pimp.

Words of Australian Aboriginal origin

Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been incorporated into Australian English, mainly as names for flora and fauna (for example dingo, kangaroo). Beyond that, few terms have been adopted into the wider language, except for some localised terms, or slang. Some examples are cooee and Hard yakka. The former is a high-pitched call (pronounced /kʉː.iː/) which travels long distances and is used to attract attention. Cooee has also become a notional distance: if he's within cooee, we'll spot him. Hard yakka means hard work and is derived from yakka, from the Yagara/Jagara language once spoken in the Brisbane region. Also from the Brisbane region comes the word bung meaning broken. A failed piece of equipment might be described as having bunged up or referred to as "on the bung" or "gone bung". Bung is also used to describe an individual who is pretending to be hurt; such individual is said to be "bunging it on". However, at the same time, the word bung can also be used to describe someone who actually is injured, as in "he's still got a bung leg".

Terms for people

Australians use a variety of terms to refer to people. These terms may indicate such things as the person's ethnicity, the place where the person resides, the social status of the person, the person's behaviour, etc. Many of these words occur in other English dialects, especially New Zealand English, whilst others are unique to Australian English. Some of these words were once heard to be derogatory, but many now have been adopted. e.g. Bluey - a person with red hair

Proper nouns

It is also common amongst Australians to shorten the names of places, people, companies, etc. Some of these terms are regional, while others are in relatively widespread use. Many terms derive from company or brand names and some from rhyming slang or the use of diminutives. For example males are often referred to by a diminutive of their surname e.g. "Gibbo" for "Gibson".


Australians use many unique terms to relate to items of clothing. Some of these terms are regional.

What Americans call a sweater is often referred to as a "jumper" as in the UK, a Sleeveless T-shirt is called a "singlet" and sunglasses are commonly shortened to "sunnies". The footwear known as "flip-flops" in the US are called "thongs" or "pluggers" in Australia.


Australians use the British English terms of cupboard and wardrobe for furniture in which clothes or other items are stored. Australians recognise the American term closet, but mostly associate it with the phrase coming out of the closet.


Australians use the word tap, as the British do, to refer to a water outlet, in contrast to faucet used in some regions of the United States.

Civic infrastructure

Australians, in common with the British, use the word footpath instead of the more American English version of sidewalk. Although the latter's usage is increasingly accepted and understood, the use of footpath continues to be prevalent in colloquial usage and government signage. The term pavement is also commonly used but the term is more generic and does not uniquely refer to a pedestrian walkway beside a road.

Food and drink

Where foodstuffs are concerned, Australian English tends to be more closely related to the British vocabulary, for example the term biscuit is the traditional and common term rather than the American terms cookie and cracker. As had been the case with many terms, cookie is recognised and understood by Australians, and occasionally used, especially among younger generations. Australians may also call biscuits "bikkies".

Australians, like the British, use the term chips where Americans say french fries. In Australia, like the Americans, chips is also used for what are called crisps in the United Kingdom. American restaurants such as McDonald's continue to use the term french fries in Australia, so the term fries is understood and sometimes used by Australians (though it is commonly applied only to chips of that particular elongated shape).

In a few cases such as zucchini, snow pea and eggplant, Australian English uses the same terms as American English, whereas the British use the equivalent French terms courgette, mangetout and aubergine. This is possibly due to a fashion that emerged in mid-19th century Britain of adopting French nouns for foodstuffs and hence the usage changed in Britain while the original terms were preserved in the colonies.

Australia uses the botanical name capsicum for what the Americans would call (red or green) bell peppers and the British (red or green) peppers.

Australians generally use the term rockmelon where North Americans would use the term cantaloupe, although in Victoria and Tasmania the two terms are used interchangeably.

In Australian English, dried fruits are given different names according to their variety and use. Raisins (grapes) are largest while Sultanas (grapes) are of intermediate to small size and have a wider range of uses which includes their use as a snack food. Both are generally recognised as being primarily for use in recipes or in cereals.

In Australian English as in British English, tomato sauce (often known simply as "sauce") is the name given to a product similar to what Americans call ketchup. However, American-style ketchup, with its slightly spicier and sweeter taste, is still sold in many grocery stores and is common in fast food outlets such as McDonald's. Other sauces made from tomatoes are generally referred to by names related to their uses, such as barbecue and pasta sauce.

Served coffee beverages are given unique descriptive names such as flat white, for an espresso with milk. Other terms include short black (espresso) and long black (espresso diluted with water, similar to an Americano in the United States). Since the mid-1980s other varieties of coffee have also become popular, although these have generally been known by names used in North America and/or Europe.

As in British English, the colourless, slightly lemon-flavoured, carbonated drink known in North America and elsewhere under brand names such as Sprite and 7 Up is called lemonade, while the more strongly flavoured drink known as lemonade in North America that is typically made of lemon juice and sugar is sometimes referred to as lemon squash, pub squash, traditional lemonade or club lemon, particularly in carbonated form.

The carbonated drink commonly called sarsaparilla in Australia is a type of root beer, named after the sarsaparilla root from which root beer is made. However, the taste is quite different, to the point that they may be considered two completely different products.

Australians also often refer to McDonald's restaurants as Macka's or Maccas (Macka being a nickname for any person with a "Mac" or "Mc" surname). The corporation itself sometimes refers to itself informally as Maccas in advertising.

Cheap, unbranded Australian wine is called "cleanskin" wine, after the term for unbranded cattle. Cheap cask wine is often pejoratively referred to as goon (diminutive slang for flagon), and the plastic cask is referred to as a "goon sack", "goon bag" or "goony"[citation needed]. Wine purchased in a box containing a bladder with a plastic spigot may be referred to pejoratively as "Chateau d'Cardboard", "gin's handbag" (the term "gin" being a slightly pejorative term for an older Aboriginal Lady) or a "Dapto Briefcase".[2] More expensive bottled wine tends to be known by its grape variety or varieties in Australia; this is possibly due to the Appellation rules prohibiting the use of regional names (such as burgundy or chablis) to describe wines of a particular style that are not made in the country of the style's origin. Hence, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are examples of popular white wines grown and consumed in Australia and shiraz and cabernet sauvignon (often shortened to "cab sav") are examples of popular red varieties.[3]

A portable cooler, usually made of metal, plastic and/or polystyrene foam, is called an esky. This is a genericised trademark from the trade name Esky.

A series of Australian tourism advertisements shown in the United States used the expression "I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you". Australians, however, invariably use the word prawn and never use shrimp. The translation was a deliberate one for American audiences. Shrimp is sometimes used to refer to someone who is short.

Beer glasses

Not only have 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)
butcher small beer shetland
140 ml
(5 fl oz)
pony pony pony horse/pony pony
170 ml
(6 fl oz)
six (ounce) small glass bobbie/six
200 ml
(7 fl oz)
seven seven seven (ounce) butcher seven (ounce) glass glass
225 ml
(8 fl oz)
eight (ounce)
255 ml
(9 fl oz)
285 ml
(10 fl oz)
middy/half pint[n 5] handle pot[n 6] schooner ten (ounce)/pot pot middy/half pint
350 ml
(12 fl oz)
schmiddy[n 7]
425 ml
(15 fl oz)
schooner schooner schooner pint fifteen/schooner schooner[n 8] schooner[n 8]
570 ml
(20 fl oz)
pint pint pint imperial pint pint pint pint
  1. ^ Entries in bold are common.
  2. ^ Entries in italics are old-fashioned and/or rare.
  3. ^ Entries marked with a dash are not applicable.
  4. ^ The "fl oz" referred to here is the imperial fluid ounce.
  5. ^ "Half Pint" is much more common in Canberra than Sydney, usually in Irish Pubs.
  6. ^ "Pot" or also known as Pot glass
  7. ^ A modern glass size, mainly used with European beers. While the glass may be 350ml, a 330ml or 300ml fill line is common.
  8. ^ a b Traditionally 425 ml is a size not found in Western Australia or Victoria.


To barrack for a sporting team, means to hoot or cheer in support of something. The American term "root" is not used, as this is both a noun and verb referring to the act of sexual intercourse (noun) and to having sexual intercourse (verb – "rooting").

In Australia a table grouping teams according to their position in a league is called a ladder.


The game of cricket is immensely popular in Australia and has contributed slang terms to Australian English. Some of this is shared with rival cricketing nations, such as England and New Zealand.

Australians can be bowled over (taken by surprise), stumped (nonplussed) or clean bowled or alternatively hit for six (completely defeated). When answering questions, one can play a straight bat (or a dead bat) (give a non-committal answer) or let that one through to the keeper (often shortened to let that one through or the slightly more Americanised let that one slide) or shoulder arms (dodge the question), particularly if they are on a sticky wicket (in a tight situation). The questioner in turn can send down a bouncer, a googly, a flipper or a yorker (difficult questions to varying degrees). Alternatively, the question could be a long hop or a dolly – an easy question that person being questioned can use to his or her advantage. The expression "to bat for the other side" is commonly used in respect of gay men or lesbians, and is not necessarily a pejorative. If you take a proactive stance, then you are "taking it on the front foot", whereas if you are reacting to matters, "you are taking it on the back foot." Both are methods of playing cricket shots in terms of footwork.


The word football or its shortened form footy is used by Australians for several different codes of football or the ball used to play any of them. Australians generally fall into four camps when it comes to the use of the word.

See also

  • List of nicknames used in Australian rules


Work vehicles

In Australian English the term "ute", short for utility vehicle or utility truck, refers to a passenger car-like vehicle with a tray back – a pickup truck in American English.

Truck (rather than lorry) has been the more usual term for heavy goods vehicles in Australia since World War II. Four-wheel drive, which is often abbreviated in writing as 4WD and in speech as "fourby" (4x4), is the usual name for the class of vehicles called SUVs in American English, as well as for utes with 4WD capability. In contrast to American English, neither utes nor passenger 4WD vehicles are usually regarded as being trucks in Australia. Four-wheel drives that are used only in the city and never for off-road driving are commonly given derogatory nicknames based on the names of wealthier suburbs of Australia's various state capital cities, the most common of these is Mosman Taxis, referring to the affluent Sydney suburb of Mosman or Toorak Tractors, referring to the Melbourne suburb of Toorak and their use by many parents to ferry their children to and from school.

There are a variety of terms for large and/or articulated trucks, depending on the type of cargo area, size/length, number of axles/wheels and so on. A single trailer articulated truck (typically with 22 wheels in Australia) is known as a semi-trailer or semi ([ˈsemi], not [ˈsɛmaɪ] as in the USA), an articulated truck with two trailers (typically with 34 tyres) is known as a B-Double (the lead trailer is shorter, with a fifth wheel supporting the second trailer). The largest of all articulated trucks are road trains, which have at least two full length trailers (plus 42 tyres). In all articulated truck configurations, the powered vehicle at the front is invariably known as a prime mover except when driven without trailers, in which case it is called a Bobtail.[4]

Articulated Buses are commonly known as either "Bendy Buses" (as in the UK) or "Banana Buses" in the major cities, where they are prevalent.[5]

Police vehicles

The panel vans used by police forces are known in some parts of Australia as black marias (although this term is also used to refer to the vans used to transport prisoners between prison and courts), in accordance with international usage. The panel van is often referred to as a paddy wagon in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory, South Australia and some parts of Victoria. In Victoria they are most often called divvy vans, an abbreviation of the Victoria Police jargon divisional van, especially in low socio economic areas with high crime rates. The staccato chant of "You're going home in the back of a divvy van" (followed by clapping) can occasionally be heard when a crowd is nearby one of these vehicles, or when a person is led away by the police at a sporting or other large event. This term is often used in any state where Australian Rules football is the primary kind of football. In Sydney, some people refer to similar vehicles as bull wagons and in the Riverina they are known as bundy wagons. In South Australia any form of police van used to restrain more than one person is often called a dog box. This term came about from Australian utes being converted into police vehicles through the addition of a simple metal box, which looks a lot like an aluminum dog crate.

Large special purpose police vans, generally built on truck chassis, which have facilities to test whether drivers' judgment and reaction times are impaired by alcohol are known as booze buses. In two states, booze buses are also able to check drivers for consumption of illegal drugs. These are known as BAD (Booze And Drugs) buses.

Military slang

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is made up of the Australian Army, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Each have their own distinct traditions but share a defence force culture. This culture includes Australian military slang. Some words, such as digger, meaning a soldier, have become widely used by Australians in general. Most slang used in the ADF is restricted to its personnel, or is widely understood outside Australia.

Other words used

The word holiday in Australia, as in the UK, is both used to describe time away from normal employment or school, and to describe recreational travel involving a stay away from home. A government decreed day off work is called a public holiday as in the UK. Australians, in common with the British, do not use holiday to describe days such as Valentines Day or Mothers Day which do not involve time away from work.

As in the UK, the term "Fall" is not used as another word for "Autumn".

Also, the verb "root" ("to root"), while it has the same American and British meanings of "to fix oneself in" (never "to root for": to lend support, usually a sporting person or team, instead "to barrack for" is used), in Australian English it is also a verb that means "to have sex with". While not an especially offensive, this is still a vulgar expression in Australia, usually used in the "broad" language among friends. For example, this became confusing for international audiences of Chris Lilley's Summer Heights High, where character Mr. G sings: "she's a slut and she knows it/she wants to root all the boys", in which many misunderstood the verb to be "she wants to ruin all the boys". "Rooted" (like the term "buggered") is a term used to describe something ruined, or a person in a state of exhaustion.

With regard to foreign countries, the word abroad is rarely used in Australian English. Overseas is commonly used in the same sense because all other countries are overseas from Australia.

Old, declining or expired slang

Many terms fall out of usage due to the informal nature of slang.

Rhyming slang

Rhyming slang exists to some extent in Australia.

See also


Further reading

  • 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

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