Shrimp on the Barbie

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After living in Scotland, I thought I had any slang of the English language down pat. In fact, when I returned to the States, I rather pissed my mom off by answering her requests with phrases like “I can’t be arsed” (meaning, frankly I’m just too lazy), which let me tell you did not go over well.

I’ve made quite a few Aussie friends from my travels (no one gets around quite like my pals from Down Under), meaning I was pretty used to their vernacular (I thought so at least). So when I got to Australia, I was down with the talk of “thongs” (meaning flip-flops) and “G-strings” (meaning bikinis). I wasn’t going to make an ass out of myself by calling “trousers” “pants” (meaning underwear). But apparently, when they’re on the road, they feel the need to mute things a bit, as so the rest of the world can understand. Because walking around in Brisbane? I might as well have been living back in Holland, for as little as I understood.

If you’re new here (or just visiting via the Bloggies site), you probably don’t know how anal retentive I am when it comes to the English language. I rather love how Jane Austen novels flow so lyrically and absolutely detest how my generation feels the need to make themselves sound even stupider with shortening every word under the sun (some particular annoyances include “def,” “adorbs,” “obvi,” “totes”). Well, little did I know, the Aussies are “totes” to blame for this; turns out, they’ve been “abbreving” everything for decades (e.g. “backy”=tobacco; “cossies”=”swim costumes”=bathing suits;Β  “durries”=”ciggies”=cigarettes; right, glad we got that all straight).

So when Kylie, our Queensland tourism rep, would start speaking in a whirlwind of Aussie slang, I felt like she was talking to me in Swahili. Those “wingey poms” (whiny Brits) best not be “pashing” (snogging) those “bogans” (rednecks) in their “DICKTOGS” (my absolute favorite Aussie word ever, meaning Speedos, ha!); oh no, they did-unt. It’s like Australia has its own special code language, and I loved it (um, except for the abbreviation part, obviously). The only thing I didn’t love was feeling like the outsider who was not given the proper key to understand it. It reminded me of when while living in Denmark, Danish pal Helle and I traveled through France for several weeks on assignment. She was accustomed to traveling with her fellow Danes and thus speaking in the language of Hot Potato, which only a mere five million worldwide speak (meaning she could pretty much be traveling in any foreign country, talk in Danish and guarantee that no one within a 100-mile radius would understand). Therefore, she taught me some basic phrases as means for us to converse in mixed company (“no I don’t want to do that;” “what do you think;” “you are poisoning my life”). Little did I know then, if only we had spoken “Aussie,” we probably would have been fine!

Kylie and Me, hashing things out at the farewell dinner

Lori and I were enthralled about this revelation: We couldn’t stop pinging Kylie with the meaning of various words, and when it turned out to be similar to the American term, we’d turn to each other, disappointed, shrug and say “same” (bonus points to those of you who know what movie we were unintentionally acting out!).

Before I left Oz, Kylie gave me a dictionary of Aussie Slang as a parting gift (um, that might have come in handy the first day!). Here are some of my favorites:

Stick Beak…a nosy person

Banana Bender…a Queensland native

Camp as a Row of Tents…a term for a homosexual person


Christmas on a Stick…thinking you’re more special than you are

Come a Clanger…make an embarrassing mistake

Couldn’t Fart in a Bottle…utterly useless

Couldn’t Organize a Fart in a Bean Factory…stupid

Dead Horse…tomato sauce


Full as a Fat Woman’s Underwear…drunk

Hell for Leather…very fast

Holus-Bolus…all of it

Jerkin’ the Gherkin…um, I think you can probably decipher this one on your own

Like a Pickpocket at a Nudists’ Camp…uncomfortable


Malley Root…prostitute

Packing Polenta…to be extremely scared


Uncle Chester…child molester

Do you have any favorite Aussie phrases you care to add to the mix?

  • January 29, 2009

    Ha! Hilarious.:) Who thinks these things up?

  • January 29, 2009

    Ah, DT’s and camp as a row of tents… Can we go back now? Please????

  • January 29, 2009

    The movie? LOVE ACTUALLY!

  • January 29, 2009

    I knew it was Love Actually too! I love Colin, because has has a big KNOB!!! Hahaha

  • January 29, 2009

    HAHAHAHAHA!!! I love it! I don’t have any Australian phrases to add . . . but I feel you on the whole “Pants/Trousers” thing. I was babysitting a British child once and we got in a screaming fight about where his pants were . . . the sad thing is, if I’d thought about it for a second I could’ve averted the whole argument. Its hard to focus with a semi-naked, only halfway potty trained toddler running around though πŸ™‚

  • January 29, 2009

    I am laughing and snorting out loud in my office…where I’m not suppost to be reading blogs! I am truely going to try my hardest to integrate some of these terms into my everyday conversations with co-workers. (I almost wrote “convo”) No doubt it will only confirm thier suspicions that I couldn’t fart in a bottle.

    See I’m off to a good start.

  • January 29, 2009

    as someone who works with quite a few people who “couldn’t fart in a bottle,” i find this list fantastic!

  • January 29, 2009

    Dead horse for spaghetti sauce? How did they come up with that one or all the others? I love slang too, and accents. I would be totally lost as well.

  • January 29, 2009

    These totally made me laugh! But I have to confess, my favorite phrase was the one from the first paragraph: “I can’t be arsed.” I think I will use that one today. πŸ™‚

  • January 29, 2009

    Hmmm… as an Aussie, I read some of those on the list and can see GLARING mistakes – as most of those books are produced outside of Australia, they usually get it wrong.

    If you’re a language snob, I suggest you listen to Stephen Fry’s take on language at (available as free podcast). He’s a breath of fresh air when it comes to language pedants.

  • January 30, 2009

    Love Actually! love that movie!

    I don’t have any Aussie phrases though.

  • January 30, 2009

    many of the phrases aren’t exclusive to Oz, either..

    I can’t be arsed, Hell for Leather, camp as a row of tents, & sticky beak are all used fairly extensively in the UK and Ireland, just so you know!

    Kath is right- the recent Stephen Fry podgram on language was great, as are all of his podcasts πŸ™‚

  • January 30, 2009

    I love the Aussie phrases. I love saying that I can’t be arsed to do anything!

  • January 30, 2009

    well, now that you are not dating anymore…you have lots of time to hop on a place and come and visit me!!!!

  • January 30, 2009

    sorry…that comment was meant for moose. not sure how THAT happened!

  • January 30, 2009

    Ali: Haha, even though you meant it for Moose, it’s kind of right…I mean, technically I’m not “dating” as I’ve been a taken woman for a long time…so yes, my time is much more open as I’m no longer on The Hunt, ha! Yes, Toronto 2009 (or um, Atlanta again?)!

  • January 30, 2009

    I KNOW!! I KNOW!! Love Actually!!!!

  • January 30, 2009

    dicktogs! That makes want to go to Australia even more than I want to right now.

  • January 30, 2009

    Dicktogs? I prefer “Budgie Smugglers”! Ranga is another fav (red head). As an Aussie, it always made sense to shorten words, perhaps coz we’re all lazy and it’s just too damn hot for full sentences! Living in LA, sometimes its hard for the ‘seppos’ to understand me.

  • January 31, 2009

    I am giggling over here like crazy over “Couldn’t organize a fart in a bean factory”. I’m 30 going on 9, apparently.

  • January 31, 2009

    I love the Aussie terms bogan for redneck, and wopwops for boondocks.
    And hatever you do in Australia, don’t call that thing around your waist a fanny pack (better yet, don’t even wear one!).

  • January 31, 2009

    I’m generally not big on abbreviations either, but I am a fan of “obvs.” But not “obvi,” for that is horrible.

  • January 31, 2009

    ‘I can’t be arsed’ is just so damn catchy – the most versatile response ever invented! I hope it catches on here in the US..

  • February 1, 2009

    how about: ‘Ranga’ or ‘Fanta pants’ for a redhead.

  • February 1, 2009

    Don’t forget “arvo” which means afternoon. how they got arvo from that, I’m not sure…

  • February 2, 2009

    I couldn’t agree with you more re: being a little anal retentive about the English language. I won’t repeat your words, because you summed up my feelings quite well, but I just _loved_ your wee list of the Aussie slang. I, too, stayed in Scotland for a bit and dated a Scottish beau for a little over four years, and consider myself quite familiar with Scottish slang. But wow… I also would have had great difficulty understanding the native Aussies. I need to travel more πŸ™‚

  • May 8, 2009

    “Uncle Chester” makes me howl with laughter!

  • January 29, 2010

    A few more Aussie terms – ‘fire crotch’ is another one for a ranga. A ‘snag’ is a sausage. ‘Dead horse’ is rhyming slang for tomato sauce (what you call ketchup). A few more are ‘saucepan lids’ for kids, ‘trouble and strife’ for wife.

    We toally do shorten absolutely EVERYTHING, usually by adding an ‘o’ – arvo for afternoon, servo for service station, smoko for a ciggie break.

    Also just to clear it up, ‘pants’ here are like slacks or trousers. For underwear we say ‘undies’ or ‘knickers’. And a g string is a g string, not a bikini, no idea where you got that one from.

    Although a lot of typical Australian slang we don’t use in an every day situation, it is fun to use it around foreigners! It’s also interesting to notice how many sayings or just words we have that you don’t realise no one else understands.

  • March 19, 2010

    I just got back from Oz and it’s hard to go back to the Canadian way of speaking!
    My favorites were:
    Chuck a sickie= calling in sick!
    Ranga= red head (seems a lot of people like this one!)
    Jumper= sweater
    Togs= bathing suit
    Sparrow’s Fart= crack of dawn!
    And I could never get enough of saying heaps and reckon! I think I’ll keep those around for a while!

  • April 2, 2010

    I’m glad that the above commenters mentioned “budgie smugglers” and “fanta pants” which are two of my favourite additions to the Aussie lexicon. I’d like to add:
    Prawn: an ugly person with a good body
    S/he’s got a face like a half sucked Mars Bar
    and, from my always appropriate step-father, ‘sweating like a pedophile at a wiggles concert”.

    I love your blog – it’s terrific!

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