I love living within other cultures (mostly because of the food – I love to eat) but also to learn how to communicate with the locals, like a local. When I lived in France in 2009, I spent three-quarters of my time learning the basics of the “official” French language. Only the last few months were actually spent learning the words I heard every day. I finally found I could understand what the teenagers were saying on the train. They have adapted slang (Verlan and Argot, for example) words into their speech, which make French almost incomprehensible for foreigners who don’t learn it. It was an incredible breakthrough for me.

Spending two months in Australia – even though they ACTUALLY speak a version of the same language – was like that. I often had that feeling of “OMG – what does that mean?”

If they can shorten a word or adapt it to “Aussie”, they will. I’m not sure why this is – is the climate too hot for them so they conserve precious energy by speaking in incomplete words? Do they want to keep strange foreigners confused by using words no one else understands? Whatever the reason, it’s fascinating, learning this alternate language.

In case you visit Australia and wander around (as I did) for the first month muttering to yourself “why can’t they just speak English?”, I can help! Here are a few examples of some of the most common phrases I heard and what they mean…

Word Translation
Uni A no-brainer – it’s university… they’re smart enough to go, just a bit lazy on finishing the word 😉
Gap year The year between high school and uni (or between uni years). Australians are one of the most traveled people I’ve ever encountered. It’s amazing how their youth are encouraged to go out and experience the world.
Avo Another simple one… Avocado
Arvo (not to be confused with Avo. I’ve done it, it’s not pretty) Not sure how this one evolved but it means afternoon.
No drama No worries, no problem…
Esky Their version of a camping/beer/food cooler. They are sometimes even motorized. Odd, sad and true!
Bogan (it can be both a noun and a adjective) A less-than-desirable person, a slacker who dresses poorly in public (I’ve heard Russell Crowe referred to as bogan)
Ute A utility vehicle or 4X4 (often driven by bogans or rich people or actual farmers)
Rock up To arrive
“Weak” coffee What those of us who like fancy drinks would call “half sweet”. I ordered a “half sweet” when I first arrived and got half a cup of really sweet chai latte…
Op Shops: Salvos, Vinnies Opportunity shops are what we call “thrift stores”… Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul stores where second-hand items are sold. And where I bought an awesome pair of $6 jeans!
Roo Another easy one – Kangaroo… the most common road kill found in the country
Toilets Washrooms – asking for washrooms in restaurants will get you a very strange look. In homes, the toilet is often found in a separate room from the shower and sink
Bottle shop Liquor store
Footy “Australian Rules” football – not at all like North American football but also not European soccer
Chook Backyard chickens, mainly used for eggs
Pom An Englishman
Mob A group of people or family… as in “he’s one of your mob” (Canadian)
Docket Shopping receipt
Doco Documentary
Thongs Flip flops
Lolly Lollipop or general candy sweets
Pokies Gambling slot machine
Pav Pavlova – a delicious dessert made with merengue, whipped cream and fruit
Plonk Cheap wine
Sunnies Sunglasses

By the end, I felt like I was fitting in, mainly because I could actually follow the conversation when a group of Aussies got together in a room. I have to admit that I shamelessly used my “I’m not from around here” accent as an excuse to have people repeat things I found especially amusing.

Thankfully, “g’day mate”* was blessedly absent from most of my conversations; however, they DO say “mate” a lot.

Hopefully, these translations are useful in your travels to the great Down Under. Please add to the list if you have particular favourites not explained here… They are a kind and fun-loving people (and fairly thick-skinned so I hope I haven’t offended any of my Aussie friends).


*Note: A made-for-TV mini-series (called Hoges) was advertised for the full two months I was there and aired only after I had left the country. It would have been interesting to watch it and learn about his story – he is still a huge icon there.

And “he” is Paul Hogan (or Crocodile Dundee) for those of you who weren’t old enough or alive in the 80s when the movies about the Outback adventurer were ever-present. One of his main (annoying, stereotypical) phrases was “G’day mate”.

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