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Spreading the Word

A word or two about Aussie slang:

The world remains fascinated by the way Australians speak.

And the latest edition of National Geographic Traveler wants to make sure visitors expecting to hear English know there’s a different dialect Down Under.

An article on Sydney and its surrounds warns potential travellers that they might have “thought they spoke English in Sydney” but to expect some eccentric terms.

“If Australians’ tendency to turn one vowel into three doesn’t throw you, their quirky expressions might,” the article says.

It goes on to list 20 slang terms visitors will need ñ from tinnie to mozzie, fair dinkum to onya, and gone bush to it’s my shout.

The tongue-in-cheek article also defines the word root as “an activity that takes place between consenting adults; in other words, not something to tell a pub full of Aussies you’ll do that evening for their favourite cricket team”.

Macquarie Book of Slang editor James Lambert, whose latest edition on the Aussie dialect will have 6000 entries, is not surprised by the international interest.

“I think to them it sounds kind of cute because it’s different,” Mr Lambert said of Australian slang.

Although Americanisms are making inroads in Australia, Aussie slang has also colonised the US and other nations.

Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s ubiquitous “crikey” is echoed around America where he is hugely popular.

And soaps such as Neighbours and Home and Away, which have found favour in Britain, are playing their part in spreading Aussie slang.

Mr Lambert said words such as agro, cop shop, demo (public demonstration), dinkum, dumper (a large wave) and no-hoper had also been picked up in the US and other nations at various times.

The Australian idiom has evolved over the years from the English spoken by Britain’s 18th century working class, mixed with the slang of convicts, soldiers and settlers.

“There was this mishmash of all different sorts of slang and a mixture of lots of different dialects which very quickly settled down in an Australian type accent,” Mr Lambert said.

He said it was important for cultural identity to maintain Australian slang in the face of a cultural onslaught from America.

“I think in America, Australia is flavour of the month and they’re paying us a bit more attention,” he said.

“But it’s never going to go the other way around where a lot of Australian slang goes to America.

“There has been a lot of slang here that has died out … which is a great pity.”

And now for some reader participation. What is your favorite Aussie slang word? If you are not sure, you may want to look here for inspiration.

For me, it is probably strewth.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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