One of the wonderful things about being an English speaker is the fact that you can communicate with all sorts of different people around the world.
Whether English is your first language, a skill you learnt at school, or something you picked up watching popular TV shows or listening to music, speaking the global lingua franca opens doors both professionally and personally.
However, it’s not all smooth sailing. As you travel from place to place, English words you thought you knew slip from your grasp, twisting and turning until they take on a whole new identity. And the further you go from home, the more the words and accents you hear transform.
What does this mean? When you fly across the ocean to the far-flung island nation of Australia, along with your plug adapter and travel visa, you’ll also need to familiarise yourself with the local lingo.
Skeptical? Don’t come crying to us when you find your new Aussie friend screaming that her lappy is cactus and you don’t know what to do!
Learning can be fun, but studying and making vocabulary flashcards are the last thing anyone wants to do before going on holiday.
Here’s a visual guide to introduce you to some common Australian words you may find baffling the first time you hear them. Each term is explained in greater detail below.
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Wondering how to use these Australian words in a sentence?
Let’s look at each one in context to help you spot them in the wild.
You find your seat on a plane bound for Australia.
Just as you’re about to pop on your headphones and surrender to the longest flight of your life, a man walks down the aisle with a grin on his face and a mobile phone in his hand.
Your finger stops in mid-air, halfway to the play button, and as he scoots into the seat beside you, you can’t help but overhear the words, ‘Are the ankle biters in bed? Well, tell them I’ll be home soon!’
‘That’s odd’, you think, ‘he doesn’t strike me as a little-dog person. Much less someone who feels the need to relay messages to his pets across thousands of miles. I wonder if he has chihuahuas or dachshunds or…’
It seems you’ve been staring at the man in a dreamy state of bewilderment because he smiles and shows you a picture on his phone. A picture of two young children who bear a striking resemblance to your next-seat neighbour.
Now you’re caught in a web of small talk before the plane even takes off. But at least you’ve learnt something! For Australians, an ankle biter is an affectionate term for a young child.
It’s a few days into your Aussie holiday and you’re chatting with a friendly new acquaintance at Melbourne’s Mordialloc Beach.
She tells you that some friends are planning a beach barbie this weekend, and should they count you in?
Mind you, you’re well over the age of 9 and were never much for playing with dolls, even in your youth. You smile at your prospective friend-to-be and tilt your head to the side, trying to buy yourself some time as you think about how to let her down easy.
In the meantime, she is blabbing on about steaks and burgers and asks, ‘Do you eat meat or are you a vego?’
It dawns on you that you are being invited to a barbecue.
Here are some accessories you may want to bring to your first Australian barbie:
- Avo = avocado
- Chook = chicken
- Esky = cooler/icebox to keep food and drinks cold
- Snags = sausages
- Sunnies = sunglasses
- Tinnie = can of beer
(Note: ‘vego’ is a common term for vegetarian)
You’re behind the wheel of a rental car, headed out of Melbourne for an epic road trip along the Great Ocean Road. You roll the windows down to enjoy the breeze.
Stopping at a red light, you notice a blue car pulled off to the side of the road. There’s a woman in a yellow dress on her mobile. ‘I need someone to come pick me up’, you hear her say, ‘the car is cactus’.
The light turns green and away you go, feeling a bit bad for the stranger with car trouble, but ultimately forgetting all about her and her broken-down automobile long before you catch your first glimpse of the famous limestone ‘Apostles’ rising out of the waves.
At a trendy coffee shop in Sydney, the person in front of you asks the barista for a ‘short black’.
You don’t bat an eye because you know that’s Aussie for an espresso. You’re a ‘long black’ (americano) drinker yourself, but you’re not one to begrudge someone their preferred caffeine delivery system.
But then he says, ‘Could you tell me the password for my lappy?’
Before your jaw drops, you should know that no, he is not asking for some sort of secret lapdance. He just wants to get his laptop computer hooked up to the Wi-Fi!
The sun is shining on another glorious beach day at Byron Bay.
A pair of teenagers walk toward the water while awkwardly carrying surfboards. One of the teens turns to look back at a group of friends sitting in the sand, and his board smashes into the knees of the friend walking beside him. Yelling ensues.
Some experienced surfers next to you snicker. ‘Shark biscuits.’
The aspiring surfers get in the water and awkwardly fall off their boards again and again. Luckily, the local sharks must be on a diet because nobody gets eaten.
‘I have to cancel our plans tonight. I’ve been working long hours and I’m stuffed.’
Though it is possible, the odds are pretty good that the Australian who utters this phrase is not a professional eater training to beat the record for most hot dogs eaten in 10 minutes. (In case you were wondering, it’s 73 hot dogs.)
They could be working any job at all: saying they’re stuffed just means that they are tired or exhausted.
‘Did you bring your swimmers?’
No need to call up the synchronised swimming team and ask them to come round! Swimmers are the article of clothing you wear to go swimming.
Depending on where you are in the country, you may also hear togs, bathers, or cossie used to mean the same thing.
But wait, there’s more! ‘Boardies’ are board shorts, while ‘budgie smugglers’ refers to speedo-type swimwear.
When you hold the door open for a stranger and they say ‘ta’, they’re not brushing you off. Ta means thank you! Simple as that.
If you have been invited for tea in Australia, you had better bring an appetite! You’ll be eating a whole meal, or what you might call dinner.
If they had wanted to have a chat while drinking a hot beverage made from tea leaves, they’d ask you over for ‘a cuppa’. A cup of tea, that is. If you’re lucky and your host has a bit of a sweet tooth, you might get a ‘choccy biccy’ to go with it. (A chocolate biscuit.)
Don’t be alarmed if an Aussie asks to borrow some thongs.
And definitely don’t hand them your underwear.
All they want is a pair of flip flops!
And there you have it: the top 10 slang terms you need to learn before your plane lands in Australia.
There are many more words you can learn (heaps more, as an Aussie might say), but it won’t do you any good to bury yourself in a big long list of words you have no chance of remembering.
It’s much easier to get new words stuck in your brain if you focus on learning just a few at a time. Plus, it’s fun to save a few linguistic surprises for your travels Down Under!