Saturday, September 8, 2007

Giving Aussie slang a burl

Using slang of any sort is a tricky thing. It usually requires years of practice and an ear attuned to the nuance of the language of your environment. So, when the lovely ladies of America's Next Top Model, Cycle 8 came to Sydney and were set the challenge of interviewing locals using Aussie slang from a list they were given, it was bound to make for some excruciating television.

As the girls yabbered their way through their vox pop pieces, an on-screen "slang-o-meter" toted up their scores, and subtitles defined the words they used for non-Aussie viewers, which was an education in itself. Dag, for instance, was defined as "funny person". So all those times I've called people dags for their unfashionable clothing sense, or their dorky nature, I was actually commenting on their comedic timing? I don't think so.

The part where I nearly fell off my chair however, was when one of the girls started using the word "avro" as an abbreviation of afternoon, and it appeared on the subtitles as well. As any good Aussie knows, it's arvo, not avro. A researcher prone to typos, or a bad source of slang information?

It all got me thinking (yes, I know that is not always a good thing), and I wondered where aspiring Aussie slang learners would turn to for a source of vernacular to spice up their English.

So I googled "Aussie slang dictionary" and perused the results. Based on the first few sites I looked at, I constructed the following dialogue:

G'day you old bastard! It's ripper to see you. I'm stuffed. I went with a cockroach and a croweater to the aerial ping-pong, sunk a gutful of piss, stripped down to my grundies and ended up going home in a divvy van. Feel like a bit of a galah now.

Now this may be fine if my slang-loving gentleman (bloke) is speaking to his long-time friend (mate) who has come to collect him from the police station (cop shop), not so fine if he's addressing his South Australian lawyer, or his Sydney-born wife (trouble and strife)!

While bastard may be a term of endearment in some circles, it's probably not one you would want to use in a professional environment, and not usually used with women. And yes, while cockroach and croweater are terms used to describe people from New South Wales and South Australia respectively, they are usually somewhat derogatory terms. And heaven help anyone describing Australian Rules Football (footy) as aerial ping-pong in Melbourne, particularly during finals season. It's a put-down term usually used by rugby lovers.

When it comes to slang, it's all about context. Proceed with caution.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Do You Speak Snow?

Skiing and Boarding in Australia requires special skill. Not only do we intrepid antipodeans cope with ice, crud, slush, fog, arctic winds and ice-showers (often on the first run of the day); we also have to learn to read Snow. Not the white crystals that fall from the sky, but the language used to entice us to drop everything on a Friday afternoon for a weekend in the Snowy Mountains in August.

In the language of Snow there is no such thing as ice, crud or white outs. Instead we have

A firm base” (Ice)
Hard-packed snow” (Ice)
A fast surface” (Ice)
Loose snow” (Tricky, needs to be interpreted in context. Could be a dusting of snow over ice or ice cookies)
Tree-lined trails would be your best bet” (It’s windy out there, don’t wear anything too billowy lest you fly off the mountain)
softening during the day”. (It’ll all be slush by lunchtime)
Best snow to be found up high” (As in Mt Kosciusko, everything below 1900m will be slush)

So we end up with pearls such as “fast and firm conditions in the morning, softening as the day continued” or that ultimate indicator of a day that should finish at lunchtime “It’s beautiful and sunny, don’t forget to slip, slop, slap!”.

Visitors, don’t be fooled. We Australians have real measures for judging the snow conditions. I ski Thredbo and find that the following questions are a good measure of snow conditions:

  • Is Dream Run open?

  • Are grass and rocks showing through at the bottom of Funnelweb?

  • Look at the snow cams of High Noon. Are there dark patches showing on the right hand side?

  • Can you see Eagle's Nest from the village?

Patches showing through on High Noon early in season 2005

Not that it makes any difference. No matter what the run conditions I still go skiing because we Aussies are tough. We know if you can ski Australian conditions you can ski anywhere. So put on your waterproof gear, don your helmet and sharpen your edges and come and ski/board with the wild ones. You might even learn a new language.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Youth Wordz: "Randoms"

Last week I met a girl in her late teens who started to tell me about her job working in a five-star hotel. Her dad was standing nearby and leant into our conversation, with a wry smile, to suggest that I ask her what is the worst thing about her job .

Ms Ellipsis: What's the worst thing about your job?
Teenage Girl (rolling her eyes): Having to talk to Randoms.
Ms Ellipsis: Randoms?
Teenage Girl: You know, Randoms, people you don't

Tough problem for a person working in the hospitality industry.

The closest reference I've found to Random in this context is the Macquarie Dictionary's definition No. 7:

a fool; an idiot: that guy is such a random.

But this was used in the context of unknown. Or perhaps all "unknowns" are, by definition, idiots.

UPDATE: Further definitions of Randoms found here :

random: a dismissive description of an uninteresting and unimportant person... can also be used to describe an odd or amusing situation
Example: Person A: How was that party last night? Person B: Ehh,
it was was mostly a bunch of randoms. Or, What the hell was that? That was SO random!

random: An unknown person (stranger). Example: We met a few randoms at the party last night.

and also here: random

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Poll Result: Maccas 25 Macker's 0

A national spelling emergency has been resolved. After an all-nighter in the tally room Ms Asterisk and Ms Ellipsis can reveal that the preferred spelling of the Aussie slang word for McDonald's, amongst readers of this blog, is:

Result: 25-0

To be fair, I did meet three people who preferred the "Macker's" spelling however they were not computer literate and felt unable to vote.

Thank you for voting and visit again for further polls of national importance.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Move along. There's nothing new to see here.

I was about to become quite petulant about Ms Ellipsis' previous post and launch into a rant something along the lines of: 'How dare those Generation Y-ners bastardize the English language as we know it? LOLcat and TXT-language indeed. How about mastering the Queen's English first?' when in a moment of pure serendipity, I stumbled across a reference to the practice of defence personnel and their sweethearts using acronyms in correspondence during World War II(Notebook:, August 2007, p. 48) . Perhaps, I paused to reflect, creating code-like language is not something new?

According to an entry at everything2, The World War II acronyms developed as a way of expressing endearments with extreme brevity (e.g. for use in telegrams) or as a 'secret' language between the lovers. The words could be concealed in sentences, or written across the back of the envelope.

Although some of these examples are well-known now, I wonder if the parents of that generation (and the correspondence censors) were as much in the dark about the meaning of BURMA, SIAM and ENGLAND as today's parents are about LOLcat?

Some of the less saucy examples are:

ITALY: I trust and love you
HOLLAND: Hope our love lasts and never dies
SWALK: Sealed with a loving kiss

And my personal favourite (although a little racier):

NORWICH: 'Nickers off ready when I come home

SNAFU (Situation normal, all f***ed up) and FUBAR (F***ed up beyond all repair) are also thought to have had their origins in the Second World War.

But the fun didn't stop with the Silent Generation. The Baby Boomers and their Generation X children have (among a multitude of other language tweaking practices) created a treasure-trove of acronyms to describe demographics and lifestyle choices:

DINKS: Double income, no kids
YUPPIES: Young upwardly-mobile professionals
LOMBARD: Lots of money but a real dickhead

And the one which always makes me LOL (laugh out loud):

SITCOM: Single income, two children, outrageous mortgage

The corporate world has also weighed in with examples such as:

SMART goals: Specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, time-bound goals
SWOT analysis: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats analysis

Imagine these in context:
Q: Where's Bob? A: He's in the tearoom, doing a swot on the comestible supplies situation. He plans to set some smarts regarding coffee, fresh milk and Tim Tam availability levels.

Most acronyms seem to have been adopted from BrE or AmE, however in my extensive research(!) I did come across one which the good people at BBC' s h2g2 attributed to Australian origins. We Aussies can proudly lay claim to the classic:

FIGJAM: F*** I'm good, just ask me

So now, I'd like to say I'm off to RELAX (Research Every Last Acronym eXample) but I'd be lying. Instead I think I'll do a bit of HACK-ing (Have A Coffee and Krispy-kreme)!

R U Rdy 4 Auzi LOLHymn? O RLY, no? 2 Bad

Hai World

When Ms Asterisk asked her 10 year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend to write down the Aussie slang word for McDonald’s they wrote:


While debate ensues about the “correct” spelling of the word (matters? think not) these girls were certain about one thing. Macas is the easiest to text, as in

CU 4 lnch @ macas*

*lets meet for lunch at a McDonald’s Family Restaurant

Welcome to the cyber-generation. Are you tsk tsking? Well don’t because right under your nose two new languages are forming. One you know: text language, which derives out of a need to abbreviate English to fit small screen sizes; and one you might not be aware of: LOL or internet slang. Your kids will grow up speaking both fluently and if you want to get a handle on what they are saying about you or arranging with their friends on their MySpace/Facebook page then sit up and listen.

* LOLcat from here

LOL is a language which has grown out of a combination of gaming language, those funny cat pictures, texting and instant messaging. Is it a true pidgin English or simply a code language? Who knows? The term "kitty pidgin" is gaining popularity. The main difference between text language and LOL is that with LOL language:

*LOL is not always a shorter form eg. Invisible Man = God;
*numerals can be used to replace letters not just sounds: d00dz = dudes;
*the grammar is “marked” ie. unusual: eg. I can has Cheezbrgr?
*it can include deliberate common misspellings or typos: eg. teh = the
*It is more than a simple derivation, it is a growth away from English

LOL language seems to find inspiration from a wide range of language cultures such as gaming, hip hop, sci-fi, fantasy and perhaps even Yoda. Arguably all cultures consistent with "internet geekdom"

This emergent language is funny and irreverent and has spread across the internet in humour such as LOLcats (also check here), LOLpresidents and even as LOLcode and is now gaining the interest of linguists (eg. Mark Liberman's Language Log) . There is a lot of cross-section between LOL and text languages and both are now starting to appear across a range of written texts (emails, blogs, websites).

Look out for: Hai World (Hello); Kthxbye (okay, thanks, bye); ROFL (roll on the floor laughing); O RLY? (Oh really?); OMG (oh my god…); TEH (the). Perhaps pertinently to your teenager: PRW (parents are watching) and PRT (party). More to be found here.

Oh, and my personal favorite: a translation of the first few paragraphs of Genesis here.

IYCBTJT (if you can’t beat them, join them). I’d like to contribute to the LOL lexicon with my translation of Advance Australia Fair .* A “LOLHymn”.

Auzi Hym

All Auzi cmon hav fun
Coz we yung an we can has wot we want
We can has gud home and can has dollarz if wrk hard
Auzi home does has watr all round
Auzi home does has much gud stuff
We iz lucky
Invisible Histry guru wud sai
Go Auzi Go Auzi
Cmon sing loud
Go Auzi Go Auzi

Under cool starz
We can do hrd wrk and thnk gud thingz
An mak r home
Well known all over
Fur visible guys want come from other landz
We can has sharing wiv u
So be brav an come, an sing
Go Auzi Go Auzi
Cmon sing
Go Auzi Go Auzi
*1st & 3rd verses of orig. as is traditionally sung

Friday, July 13, 2007

I say Maccas, You say Macker's, Apostrophe optional

I hate to draw more attention to the McDonald’s chain of Family Restaurants than is necessary but we have a National Emergency relating to the spelling of Aussie slang.

Last week while perusing Dr June Factor’s excellent book on children's colloquialisms Kidspeak! I noticed the following definition

Macker’s = McDonald’s

Wait a minute…. Dr Factor is a highly respected academic and author of kids’ favourites such as “Far out Brussel Sprout!” and “All right, Vegemite!”. Surely she would know that we Aussies call McDonald’s


Don’t we? Five out of five adults I asked that night thought so. But I did the honourable thing and emailed Dr Factor to ask how, why, what!? Here is her lovely reply

Dear Ms Asterisk and Ms Ellipsis,

.. it's all about pronunciation: my spelling is an attempt to catch
the sound (and note the apostrophe). But of course you may well be right, at least where you live, and people pronounce it your way*. …



* content not related to our discussion omitted

Pronunciation we can agree on, it’s spelling that is causing me angst. How do we check which spelling is used most? Let’s check that paragon of knowledge: the Internet


  • “Maccas” turns up 183,000 search results; all results on the first page concerned McDonald's, top result referred to the Australian McDonald's Website .
  • “Mackers” turns up 57,800 searches; none of the first page results referred to McDonald's.

Fairfax Newspaper Archives
A search of the Fairfax archives in the last 12 months finds 48 references to “Maccas” but no references to “Mackers” or “Macker’s”.

ABC website
A search of the ABC website finds 44 references to “Maccas” as in the restaurant (Not Ian “Macca” McNamara) and one reference to “Macker’s” (PM program in 2001).

The Australian Index (exploring australian blogs)
A search of this website revealled 78 references to "Maccas" and 3 references to "Mackers"

Neither term is referenced in the Macquarie Dictionary or the Australian Word Map.

So where is the spelling “Mackers” used? It's used in websites designed to introduce non-Australians to Australian slang such as the ones here and here. References to these and similar “Aussie slang” websites are to be found in a few blogs but the spelling "Mackers" doesn't appear to be extensive.

Spelling is something that evolves over time and “Maccas/Mackers” is a young word. Which one will win out? I reckon the overwhelming case is for a “Maccas” spelling.

What do you think? I mean, not that I care but, well, it’s just going to annoy me.

One thing is certain: it’s obvious from the literature that we have no idea whether Maccas/Mackers has an apostrophe or not. I’m voting for not. But that is a subject that deserves its own post.

NEW! Vote for your preferred spelling in our online poll. See the sidebar for details.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I'm busy being busy.

I remember a time when the expected response to the question, "How are you?" would be something along the lines of:
  • Very well, thank you.
  • Fine, thanks, and you?
  • Not bad, mate.

or even,

  • Good. (accompanied by determined nodding of the head)

I've noticed a creeping tendency for all of the above to be replaced by:

  • I'm so BUSY.
  • Keeping busy.
  • You know, busy as always.

In fact, "How are you?" is also in danger of being made obsolete by the query, "So. Are you busy?"

Busy has become a state of being.

How many e-mails start with the line, "Sorry I've taken so long to get back to you, I've been busy with [insert appropriate activity here]"?

Busy is worn as badge of honour. There is a degree of smugness accompanying the use of the busy descriptor. The implication is, "I have had important activity to do, and what you requested of me was frivolous."

Let's face it. We're all busy. We all have the same number of hours to fill in a day, and we all fill them. If some people choose to spend most of those hours watching tv and sleeping, then they are still busy - with their own priorities.

Telling someone you are too busy to do what they request of you is an attempt to illicit agreement from the requester that your own activity is of greater importance, or denigrate the value of the activity you have been requested to complete.

A more honest response would be, "I know that X is important to you, but I have higher priorities at the moment."

Try replacing the word busy with the synonymous term "out of control".

Now, being busy doesn't look like such a desirable state of being, does it? It means you haven't planned and prioritised your day.

Next time you are asked, "Are you busy?" watch the tailspin the questioner goes into when you respond, "No, not at all. I've got stuff on, but it's all under control." You're just not expected not to be BUSY!

And then, just for fun, watch your interrogator bluster uncontrollably when you counter with the totally unexpected, "So, how are you? Are you happy?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Please don't be offended by my AuE

Anyone who has travelled internationally will know that misreading the regional and international differences in the English language can cause a raised eyebrow or two.

I have a well travelled friend who cannot stand the Aussie use of the word ‘toilet’ to signify the room in which the toilet sits. This is AuE (Australian English). She would prefer the AmE (American English) “restroom” or “bathroom”. The BrE (British English) version is “lavatory”, “loo” or “lav”. Toilet is used in BrE but is seen as ‘declasse*’.

I know this because, not wanting to offend anyone who reads this blog, I quickly checked Lynneguist’s blog Separated by a Common Language to see if there was a universally acceptable term. This blog is a haven of AmE/BrE quirks. From my extraordinarily extensive research there (!) it appears that we simply have to deal with regional differences.

So I’m sorry if I offend anyone but here in Australia we go to the toilet. Or if that is not ‘declasse’ enough - the dunny. If it makes you more comfortable my mum (AmE: mom) goes to the “lav”.

* OED: declasse: adj. “that has fallen in social class”
** photo of outback dunny courtesy of here

We Aussies are Top-Rate Spongers!

Have you ever checked out the Australian Word Map site? It’s a co-production between our own dictionary - The Macquarie - and the ABC to map Australian regional speech. I recommend you log on and add your own Aussie words or comment on whether you ate Polony, Devon or Fritz sandwiches as a child. Or whether you wear bathers, cossies or swimmers to the beach.

However, it doesn’t comment on pronunciation. From what I gather AuE (Australian English) is somewhat of a sponge language. We soak up words from everywhere. And since English, itself, is somewhat of a sponge on other languages we Aussies are top rate spongers! Can’t invite us anywhere.

The effect is that, according to our researchers at the Macquarie Dictionary, we not only soak up words from other countries and add them to our mix, but we also soak up their pronunciation (and give it our own little twist). As a result, we accept more than one pronunciation for each word and there doesn’t seem to be any clear regional differences.

the new studies seem to suggest that the pronunciation of Australian English everywhere is effectively the pronunciation of 'Sydney English’. This is why it is everywhere uniform to a surprising degree and why, paradoxically, it is everywhere various too. Macquarie Dictionary Online

Melbournites will hate to hear that. Anyone who has lived in Melbourne will know that they proudly pronounce “Reservoir” as Reservwar rather than Reservwa; and “Castle” as Cassle instead of Carsel.

But on the other hand there doesn’t seem to be any regional pattern to the pronunciation of other words such as Schedule (Skedyool/Shedyool). Your preference seems to depend whether you identify more with BrE* (Shedyool) or with AmE* (Skedyool) and that, I guess, may be revealing in itself. The Macquarie recognises both of these as correct. And many people say both, interchangeably.

I have a well-travelled friend who can’t stand the word “toilet” also can’t stand “schedule” pronounced “Skedyool” either. I guess she will be able to meet the Queen, and I won’t.

*BrE = British English; AmE = American English