Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 20, 2020

Aussie Speak: A Whole Different English

By SOPHIA GAUTHIER | September 20, 2012

"We abbreviate our nicknames. It's very lazy."

Indeed, Australia, it is extremely lazy. In the country where afternoons are “arvos”, breakfast is “brekkie”, and today is actually tomorrow, just talking about the time really messes with your head. But I’m not here to discuss jet lag.

A friend of mine who lives in the smallest building of her residential college explained to me how the Australian students christened the edifice, “Tassie”, short for its nickname, “Tasmania”. Australians call themselves “Aussies”, and hail from the land of “Oz”. Now, the folk here are reputed for their laidback lifestyles, but I’m beginning to wonder what they do with all the extra letters they can’t be bothered to use. Australian English is known as “strine”, but I think it may be more appropriately just “glish”.

As you can imagine, the nicknames and truncations can be rather confusing to an outsider. Australian English is actually a completely different dialect:

togs and cossies are the same thing, which is apparently a bathing suit. But thongs are flip-flops instead of part of a (very skimpy) bathing suit. The trunk of a car is a “boot”, so you can pop and lock it, but you can’t drop it.

You’d think a little kangaroo would be a ‘roo, but ‘roos are normal kangaroos and the little ones can be joeys or wallabies, depending on your definition of “little”. Wombats are just that, although it’s difficult to tell exactly what that is, kookaburras sound like monkeys and koalas are not bears. (The locals are very touchy about that one.)

“Barbies” are no longer the beloved doll of the ‘90s but sausages on sliced bread, “ticks” are no longer blood sucking arachnids but measurements of time, and everyone asks for “capsicums” on their sandwich when they want bell peppers. “Footy” can mean either union rugby or rugby league, depending on who you’re talking to, and sometimes football, which is still not football in the American sense or anything like soccer, which would be the next logical guess.

Heaps of my mates, both blokes and lassies, say “cheeky” and “dodgy” and gesture vaguely behind themselves when talking about the “bush” which is apparently somewhere “outback”. University is “uni”, where some courses have practicals called “pracs” and others have tutorials, which are called “tutes”. Someone who is “pissed” is generally drunk although I suppose you could be “pissed” and pissed off at the same time. Also, the first time somebody asked me, “How you going?”, I foolishly and yet curiously responded, “Where?”

And you know, it’s not just Australia. I find that my Australian roommate speaks too quickly for me, though our other roommate from Norway thinks I speak too quickly for him. I can’t imagine what he thinks the Australian is saying. We all talk at such differing speeds with various forms of jargon that I’m beginning to suspect we’re never actually talking about the same thing.

So what’s up with the English language barrier? Like cockroaches or the Roman Empire in 150 A.D., English is slowly invading every corner of the globe. Primary schools from America to Uganda, Ireland to China, include English as a regular part of their curriculum. Everyone is learning the language. But it’s like a massive game of telephone. The farther the English language stretches, the more distorted it gets. Eventually, everything becomes, as they say, lost in translation.

I ventured down under assuming language differences would be the least of my concerns. I immediately found out how wrong I was. But seriously, they should require an Australian English prerequisite before they let Hopkins students go down there. Otherwise, us tourists end up looking like fruit loops with a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock.

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