We initially thought that serving a mission in another English-speaking country would be a piece of cake! I got a glimpse of the fact that there might be a least few challenges soon after our mission call. I was watching a series on Netflix while exercising on the elliptical machine in our basement when a new Australian character was introduced on the show. Even after listening to him through quite a few episodes, I could hardly understand a word he spoke!
How could this happen?! I had no trouble with Crocodile Dundee, or Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter! It turns out that Australia, like the United States, has different dialects in different parts of the country. Add to that the fact that there are huge populations of ex-pats here that add a Philippine, Japanese, Chinese or Tongan or other accent on top of their Australian English. The native Indigenous/Aboriginal people’s native language is usually not English, either. And guess what?! It works both ways – we are sometimes asked to repeat ourselves or speak more slowly, too! In addition, there is a growing set of terms we have had to learn in order to get on, here. Yes – “get on” is one of them!
It’s a good thing I kept track of them when I first got here, while they were still fresh. These are sounding so normal to me now, I’ll probably have a little trouble reverting to the corresponding American terms when I get home. Some of them may also have additional meanings – I hope my Australian friends will enlighten us regarding that in the comments. 🙂 Here they are:
- How’s this for nitty gritty: That little black dot at the end of a sentence is a “full stop,” not a period.
- A living room or family room is called a “lounge” here. Sofas and love seats are also called lounges, but recliners and chairs are not.
- On an elevator (called a lift here) what Americans would call the second floor or level, Australians would call the first floor, which is one level up from the ground floor. That means their fifth floor would be the same as our fourth floor. Confused, yet?
- You already know that a friend is your “mate.” However, mate is also used the same way Americans used to say “partner” when speaking to someone they don’t know. Everyone is pretty much everyone’s mate, whether male or female. It’s downright friendly, don’t you think?
EATING AND FOOD (this one deserves its own section!)
- Breakfast is “breckie.”
- Lunch is lunch.
- Dinner is dinner, but must be an evening meal, not earlier on a Sunday afternoon, for instance.
- Tea, anyone? Don’t worry if you’re LDS and are invited to tea. Tea is what we would call supper or dinner, or the evening meal, and may not involve tea at all.
- Supper means light refreshments, like after a meeting or fireside
- Hob: This was a tough one! It’s a cook top, including glass or ceramic ones, although it also has meanings related to fireplaces and games.
- Everyone by now should know from Outback Steakhouse ads that a barbie is a barbecue.
- Raisins are called “sultanas.” The difference, though, is that they come from “white”or green seedless grapes. The name sultana and product originally came from Smyrna in eastern Turkey, but is now grown here. It took a long time before I saw regular raisins in Darwin.
- Crackers are in the “crispbread” section of the store, which makes total sense. I received some further clarification, however, from an Australian friend. She said that “crackers” and “crispbread” are two different things. Crackers go “crack” when you bite into them, and crispbreads have a soft “crunch.” – I’ll take the Ritz crispbread, please.
- Cookies are “biscuits” here. The American word “cookie” comes from the Dutch “koekjes” which came from the Dutch “koek”, meaning “cake.”
- Napkins are “serviettes.”
- Take out (food) is “take away.”
- Any kind of ground meat is called “mince.” There’s beef mince, sausage mince, and of course, kangaroo mince – among many others.
- Cantaloupe is “rockmelon.”
- Popcycles are called “iceblocks,” per an Australian friend. I really needed to know that in Darwin, where the only daytime temperature is HOT!
- Bell peppers are called “capsicum.” When mentioned in a recipe I was making, I had no idea what capsicum was until I later spotted a sign above the peppers in a grocery store.
Jelly is “conserve” on some labels, but Aussies call it “jam.”
- Now it gets really confusing for us. Jello is “jelly” here. (Yay, they DO have it- I was told they didn’t! The question is, where do they put it?!?) Most often used as a dessert for children, it has no artificial flavors or coloring (!) and is usually served with ice cream, fresh fruit, or in a trifle.
MORE FUN ONES:
- Overtaking means passing a car on a road or highway
- To yield is to “give way” when you are driving
- Ta! means thank you. Just learned that one. At first I never noticed it being said, but now hear it all the time.
- They don’t say, how are you doing but instead say “How are you going” in Australia. We kind of like that one – it makes more sense.
- Gambling is legal pretty much everywhere, so when you see a sign saying “pokies,” it is telling you they have slot machines.
- To drop off is to “set down”
- No overtaking means it’s a no-passing zone. Don’t pass another car on that part of the road or highway (and remember to pass people & cars going the same direction as you are on the right, not on the left). I’m still a menace when walking in malls or stores.
- The windshield on your car is called a windscreen.
- “Give way” means to yield when you are driving.
- To steal something is to “pinch” it.
- A “bush ranger” is an outlaw.
- Public restrooms are “toilets,” or at least that’s how they’re labeled in the Darwin area. I did get some clarification from an Australian friend who has lived in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra, where they are called “bathrooms.” This confusion may have originated by my asking where the restroom was; people looked at me like I was crazy! They probably thought I was asking for the nearest lounge … I’ll have to get this one further clarified by one of my Darwin friends.
- However, full bathrooms that adjoin a bedroom are called an “ensuite.” There is a camping park near Darwin that has an “ensuite” in a tiny building next to every trailer parking space, and advertises it, which I thought was fun. Why do we persist (in America) in calling everything a bathroom even when you can’t bathe in it? I still prefer bathroom to ensuite, though … And I also found out that the main bathroom in many Australian homes does not have the toilet in it; it is located in a separate small room on its own – again, very practical. And this is how it is in our flat, too, so now I understand why!
- A Pharmacist here is called a “chemist;” and what Americans would ordinarily call a drug store carries many more vitamins and health store type products than drugs, which the chemists are quite knowledgeable about, as well. Nice!
- A Sidewalk is a “foot path.”
- Downtown is the CBD (for central business district). In nearby Palmerston, however, it’s called “up top” because it’s on one of the highest hills in the area. Perfect sense, right? I think “downtown” is really a goofy term. It is thought to have been coined in New York City, where it was in use by the 1830s. It referred to the original town at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan.
- A group of people in the Top End is sometimes called a “mob,” even when their demeanor is friendly. 🙂 The term originated with Indigenous or Aboriginal families. Elsewhere, unfriendly mobs were originally called “rabble” until some Latin scholar of the seventeenth century recalled that the Latin phrase for a “fickle rabble” was mobile vulgus, which soon was shortened to “mobile,” and eventually to “mob.” Isn’t language interesting? However, I’m told that “mob” is only used that way in the Top End, or outback. Everywhere else the term used is “crowd” or “rabble.”
- I just learned that a herd of sheep is also called a “mob,” although “group of sheep” was used to define it.
- Any kind or form of wood is called “timber” – timber desk, timber table, timber used in building a home, etc.
- A saltie is a salt water crocodile.
- A freshie is a fresh water crocodile.
- A model home is called a “display home.” If there is a bunch of them built together, it will be called a “display village.”
- Get your rug up – means it is going to be cold, so do what you need to keep warm.
- Please diarize this message- means put it on your calendar.
- Be two chevrons back- means keep two car lengths back from the car ahead of you. We’ve only seen this in the top End.
- If you say thank you for helping me or I’m sorry, Australians will nearly always say,”No worries.” Australians in general are kind, thoughtful, gracious, and forgiving. It is rare to see someone show anger, especially in pubic.
- Jumper means sweater.
- Mosquitos are “mozzies” here. Incidentally, one type that incubates in salt water marshes and around mangroves was recently found to carry a flesh-eating bacteria this year (2016)! We were told by the government to stay away from those types of areas for a two or three-week period this spring (Oct/Nov) and to wear insect repellent. They really stay on top of that sort of thing in the Darwin area.
- Doing it all or doing everything is “doing the lot.”
- University or college is “uni,” and students are at not in “uni.”
- You don’t go to the hospital here – you go to hospital.
- Football (Australian type) is called “footie.”
- TV or television is “tellie.” (Side note: have you ever heard of Mormon inventor Philo Farnsworth, who was an American inventor and television pioneer? He invented the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television system.)
- A police officer is called a “copper” here – some say because their badges used to be made out of copper, but one online site said, “Copper, as slang for policeman, derives from the verb to cop, which dates from 1704 and means to catch.” That’s probably where the term “cop” in America comes from.
- Fire crackers and fireworks are called “crackers” or “bangers” and are legal here in the Top End and in Tasmania, but apparently can’t be sold to the public anywhere else. There are small windows of time during which they can be sold, however.
- The trunk of a car is the “boot” and the hood is the “bonnet.”
- When a task or idea is completed, it is “sorted.” When we checked out a couple of items at the library the other day, the clerk said, “All sorted,” after logging (that’s a weird term, isn’t it?) them.
Well, at least for now, this post is “sorted,” too! If you’re ever fortunate enough to get the chance to go Down Under, I hope this helps you get acclimated – or at least avoid giving or receiving as many of those blank, “what on earth are you talking about” looks when you find yourself in conversation with the locals!
I really don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing people speak this fun and fascinating dialect of the English language! Hopefully, I’ll pick up a little Australian American accent of my own, while I’m here!