Mind Your Language: Tips on Australian English

‘Owsitgoingmateorright? If you’re not used to Australian English, navigating meanings is hard, and working out what to reply is difficult, too. We often forget how much of our lingo is… well… ours. This post will help you.

Before we get into the thick of things, watch this short video. It comes from They’re a Weird Mob, the film adaptation of the famous Australian novel by the same name, written by Nino Culotta. It is one of the best books about the problems one Italian man experienced in migrating Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, as many Italians did.


Learn the basics of Australian

Here are some definitions you will find useful in Australia; hopefully enough to keep you out of trouble. If you have any other words that you have trouble with, let us know!

Ankle biter – small child… small enough to bite you on the ankles!

Bar fly – A man who is always found at the bar in a pub. Usually old men, usually alcoholics, and usually sitting on one pony all day long. Bar flies tend to hang around in pubs for the social benefits rather than the drink (but the drink helps!).

Bastard – This is a problematic word for new Australians. It means bad things (as an insult), it means good things depending on the context. It all depends on how you say it, to whom you say it, and when you say it. Here are some examples:

  • You are a complete bastard – said angrily; therefore, ‘bastard’ is an insult
  • Oh you bastard – said playfully, maybe after a practical joke. It means ‘ohhh you got me, nasty person’
  • You beautiful bastard – said to a good mate after they’ve done you a good turn, it’s more intimate than ‘friend’. You’d never say this to someone with whom you wouldn’t be comfortable hanging around in your pyjamas!

Beauty! – as in, You beauty! – an exclamation of joy and happiness. If you win at the races, you might well exclaim you beauty!

Bloke – a man. Once upon a time, everyone was a bloke, male or female; which is why you sometimes see it in classic Australian literature this way. Then, men were blokes and women were birds or chicks or sheilas. This gender split is pretty consistent now.

Bust a gut – hurt yourself by working too hard

Crust – job. Whaddayadoforacrust? can literally be translated as, “How do you earn your money?”

Cuppa – cup or mug of hot drink, usually tea or coffee.

G’day – everybody knows this as Australia’s greeting. Not everybody uses it, posh circles never use it, but it’s common right throughout rural Australia even today. The intimate version is G’daymatehowsitgoin? (Hi friend, how are you).

Get cracking – Depending on the context this can mean either ‘get organised’ or ‘hurry up’.

Gut – belly. Also: beer gut, meaning large belly that is a direct result of beer consumption.

Lingo – language.

Mate – friend. Well, most of the time it means ‘friend’. It has double layers of meaning, however, depending on how it is spoken:

  • You’re a good mate – you’re a good friend, usually only spoken to intimate friends
  • Maaaaattteee! – exclamation of shock, joy, horror, disbelief, etc
  • What do you think you’re doin’, mate? – aggressively, emphasis on ‘mate’: This is an unfriendly greeting, typically saying ‘hands off’ or ‘get out’, or ‘back off’, or the like.

Middy – beer glass. Also comes with regional variation. In NSW, it’s a small beer glass, in Vic it’s a medium-sized beer glass, and in SA they don’t exist at all!

Pint – beer glass, common to SA, Qld, and NSW, although the size of them varies (a pint is smaller than a schooner in NSW for example, but the other way around in SA). In Victoria a pint is an actual imperial pint and nobody drinks them. Except for visitors from other states.

Pony – beer glass, common to Vic and not so much anywhere else. This is a tiny little beer glass, usually consumed by old bar flies.

Rissole – A particular type of home-made meat patty

Schooner – This is one that causes problems these days, even for Australians. The problems exist because of regional variation. In NSW, schooners are large beer glasses. In SA, they’re small beer glasses. And in Vic, they don’t exist at all (they’re called pots in Vic).

Shout – This is a friendly ritual of sharing, most commonly applied to beer but it will also apply to other drinks. If you say to someone, ‘I’ll shout you a beer,’ it gives them liberty to order a beer. If you say to someone, ‘I’ll shout you a drink,’ you’re giving them an open bar, so be careful which one you choose. As pointed out in the clip above, the law of shouting dictates that if someone shouts you a drink, you shout them one back. It’s just courtesy.

Tee it up – Get it organised

Thongs – footwear, referred to as ‘flip flops’ in the UK or ‘jandles’ in NZ. They are not underwear!

Togs – Depending on where you are, and the context of the word, Do ya have ya togs? can mean either ‘do you have your clothes’ or ‘do you have your swimwear’.

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