Australians love slang. You’re probably already familiar with our work “barbarising” the English tongue. We gave the world the word of a decade — “selfie” — allegedly invented by a man after a drunken night out.
Here is a rich variety of local slang and corresponding definitions to help you brush up your vocabulary before touching down in Australia.
1. How’s it going, mate?
This is the classic Australian greeting, is delivered with a nasal slur and a little half-smile. Note that “mate” is gender neutral and can be peppered into all conversations. It is pronounced “Howzitgooooaaan, mayyyyyte?”
In this small phrase, we have the Australian language in full throttle, conveying almost no meaning but sounding very pleasant and agreeable nonetheless.
“Yeahnah,” pronounced with the mouth in an almost stationary position, is a fairly meaningless word comprised of a yes and a no, so it basically cancels itself out. It’s also useful if you want to disagree with someone in a very polite way. Note that the “yeahs” and the “nahs” can be combined together with endless creativity: “yeahyeahyeahyeahnahhh” or “yeahyeahnah” is also entirely appropriate.
3. Good onya, mate
As in, “good on you”, mate. This is also a pretty meaningless pleasantry used to fill the conversation with noncommittal good vibes. You could also use it to congratulate somebody for something. Or sarcastically when somebody fails at something or does something you don’t like.
Perhaps originating in the idea of someone producing screams of amazement, surprise or laughter, a “screama” (screamer) describes something that is impressive or impactful. For example: “Mate, that was a screama of a match last night.”
5. Yeah, real rip snorta
The term “rip snorta” means fantastic; really, really good; intensely excellent. It is said that this word came to us via the Americans, who had a penchant for inventing outrageous sounding words in the 19th century (humdinger is another one and it means more or less the opposite of ripsnorter). Ripping and snorting certainly convey a sense of violent amazement — ripsnorting even more so.
6. Yeah, Damo was loose as but
There’s quite a bit to pull apart in this phrase.
Let’s start with Damo. Damo is short for Damien. We use it here to illustrate that Australians love nicknames and will shorten even the shortest name. Emma for example, become Em, Emsy, Emsa, Emmy, or even something as absurd as “Face” or “Maccas”, if the friends are particularly creative.
Moving on to “loose as”, this refers to behavior that is very wild or reckless. A versatile word, “loose” might also refer to being very drunk. “As” is functioning here as a kind of posterior emphasizing adjective.
Placing “but” at the end of sentences is also very common, it means the same as it does if it were placed at the beginning. You’ll hear this a lot.
7. Piece of piss
If something is a “piece of piss”, it’s something easy to achieve. For example:
“I ran 5k this morning, piece of piss mate!”
8. Had to call the ambos.
We’re using “ambos” here to illustrate that Australians are very fond of shortening profession titles. “Ambo” is a shortening of ambulance workers. We also have tradie for tradesperson; brickie for bricklayer; firie for fireman; polly for politician; journo for journalist; greenie for environmentalist; gyno for gynecologist…
9. He’s a good bloke but, hey?
A “bloke” is a male. Linguists postulate that the word bloke comes either from the language of the gypsies or from Shelta, the secret language of Irish and Welsh travelers. Whatever its origin, it found its way to Australia, where it has come to be associated with the archetypal (and now largely mythological) Australian male, a beer-guzzling, egalitarian fella (fellow), loyal and a little bit cheeky. The female equivalent of a bloke is a sheila, though you would only use this word if you wanted to be self-consciously Austrayan (Australian).
“Hey” is very commonly heard at the end of statements in South Australia. Delivered with a rising intonation, it doesn’t mean anything but invites the interlocutor to agree with the speaker.
Bevvos are beers, but they can also be referred to as frothies, grog, longnecks, or cold ones. The important thing is to convey great affection for the substance.
Meanwhile, indulging in the activity of drinking beer is referred to as “having a sesh”, which comes from “drinking session”, as though consuming alcohol required all the concentration and strength of a weights session at the gym.
10. Rock up
To “rock up” somewhere is to arrive someplace, sometimes in an unexpected or casual manner.
11. Fair enough
This is a very versatile phrase that can be used in almost any situation to express agreement or understanding, or even to concede a point in an argument.
12. Spit the dummy
Spit the dummy refers to “having a tanty” (tantrum). Clearly, the phrase originates from the idea of a baby spitting out its dummy and wailing inconsolably.
If you are “spewin’”, you’re really pissed off.
14. No wukkas mate
“No wukkas” means no worries or no problem. No wukkas is a shortening of no wuckin furries, which is a spoonerism for a phrase you can probably guess at… Note that no worries/no wukkas can also be used to say “you’re welcome” or “anytime,” as in:
“Thanks heaps! Thank you very much.”
“No wukkas. You’re welcome.”