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 their own Australian Oxford Dictionary in 1999, as a joint effort 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 Australian English term Outback means a "remote, sparsely-populated area". Jackaroo is a type of agricultural worker.[4]

A Battler is 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]

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. The Evening News (Sydney, NSW) 23 August 1879 has one of the earliest references to fair dinkum.[5] 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.[6]

A Digger is 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][7]

Fair go is 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][7]

A "Yobo," also spelled Yobbo, is someone who tends to be loud and obnoxious, lacks in social skills and general behaviour. A Yobbo can also apply to someone who over indulges in alcohol and may have little or no regard for his/her appearance. Historically (1970-1990) Yobbos have also been known to have hairstyles such as the 'Mullet' or 'Rattails'. May also be shortened to Yob.

A bogan is another term for describing someone who is a Yobbo, although may have subtle regional differences such as "Bevan" in and around Brisbane (although bogan is more commonly used), and "Boonah" around Canberra. The major difference between the two is that Yobbo tends to be used as a noun, whereas bogan is a noun that is also used adjectively and can describe objects that are pertaining to people who are themselves bogan (or Yobbo).

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.[8] 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]

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]

Words of British and Irish 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.

Fair dinkum — Reliable; genuine; honest; true comes from British dialect. It is recorded from Lincolnshire, England in 1881, and is the equivalent of West Yorkshire fair doos fair dealing. The adjective is first recorded in Australia from the 1890s.[9]

G'day — a greeting, meaning "good day".[7][10]

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

Bludger — A person who avoids working, or doing their share of work, a loafer, a hanger-on, one who does not pull his weight. Originally, a pimp.[11]

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]

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.[12]

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",[13] 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).[14] 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").[15][16] See [1].

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.[17]

Colloquial phrases[edit]

Numerous idiomatic phrases occur in Australian usage, some more historical than contemporary in usage. Send her down, Hughie is an example.


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) small glass 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[n 9] 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. ^ a b Traditionally, 425 ml is a size not found in Western Australia and Victoria.

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[18] 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 soccer. 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 "AFL" 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.[19]

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 – via
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms". Australian National Dictionary Centre, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  5. ^ "Morning Gallops". 23 August 1879. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ a b c Department of Immigration & Citizenship (2007), Life in Australia (PDF), retrieved 20 August 2013
  8. ^ "Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms". Australian National Dictionary Centre, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  9. ^ School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics - Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms
  10. ^ "Australian English - British English". Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  11. ^ "ANU: Ozwords December 20 2001". ANU. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  12. ^ The Australian National Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1988. ISBN 0195547365.
  13. ^ "The Cockneys Started It". The News. 59, (9, 024). South Australia. 11 July 1952. p. 13. Retrieved 28 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (6th ed.), Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-920687-2
  16. ^ Frederick Ludowyk. "Aussie words: chunder". National Dictionary Centre. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  17. ^ Why we shorten words, Australian Geographic, 2 August 2010
  18. ^ "What's the Reason for this Rhyme?". Newcastle Morning Herald And Miners' Advocate (23, 640). New South Wales, Australia. 12 July 1952. p. 5. Retrieved 28 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "How a Metallician Saved a "Motza"". Sydney Sportsman (1878). New South Wales, Australia. 22 June 1935. p. 1. Retrieved 24 February 2019 – via National Library of Australia.

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]