Australia is pretty famous for its unusual and colourful slang. There are videos all over YouTube of non-Australians comparing or guessing the meaning of certain words Australians use – and they’re very entertaining to watch. But language is fluid and ever-evolving. Over time, new words are introduced while old ones are phased out.
If you’re an expat, this could happen while you’re away. And the longer you’re away from home, the more out of touch you’ll become. Unless you only surround yourself with people who are also from your home country (which isn’t too hard in some parts of some countries), you will adopt and get used to the language of the country you’re in and start to forget the one you left behind. It’s just inevitable.
Even if you think “people should just accept that you’re a foreigner and you talk funny”, and you try to maintain your “Australianisms” abroad, it gets old trying to explain what you mean and having every interaction interrupted with reactions to the fact that you’re different.
This is especially true in a work environment. You can’t insist on calling things what they’re called in your home country, even if it’s in the same language. You have to use the local terms, just like you would expect foreigners to do if they lived and worked in your country.
This kind of thing can cause issues on a bigger scale. Online news source news.com.au reported that Australian soldiers have been banned from using Australian slang around US troops because it caused a miscommunication. It’s the reason why certain industries, such as aviation, use standard universal terms and codes.
As an Australian who’s been living in Canada for seven years, I can attest to this. I’ve experienced first-hand the miscommunication that can be caused by using an everyday phrase in Australia to find that means something else entirely here. My brain has become a mish-mash of Aussie and Canadian lingo, and every year I notice more Australian words disappear from my vocabulary.
But in the past year or two, I’ve noticed more Australian-themed advertising pop up in this part of the world, complete with Aussie lingo. There are ads for Australian wine and footwear on the subway, and the didgeridoo appeared in a commercial for e-marketing, to name a couple. Some of the ads are great! They’re cute, clever and make home seem a little closer.
But some of these ads are using interesting versions of what I know to be Australian slang, and it’s making me ask: do Australians actually say these? Have they always said it, or is it new? Or is it just the North American twist being put on it that’s confusing me?
It’s gotten to the point where, even though I was born and raised in Australia, I’m questioning whether these are authentic Australian lingo or not.
And I’m not the only one. It’s throwing off other Aussies living here as well. Here are a few examples.
1. Calling Australia “Aussie”
I’ve heard some North American celebrities do this. I’ve always known “Aussie” to be an abbreviation of the word “Australian” . You can call someone or something “Aussie” or “an Aussie”. But you can’t call Australia “Aussie”. If you want to shorten Australia, it’s Oz. To me, it’s like calling the USA “Yankee” or Canada “Canuck.” I polled a group of Australians and got 60 responses. 92% of them said you can’t call Australia “Aussie”. That means 8% of them said you can! Which is it?
2. Calling flat whites “flatties”
Second Cup, a Canadian coffee chain, has been really trying with the Australian lately. First the meat pie effort, now this. Australians in Canada appreciate it. But I’ve never heard a flat white referred to as a “flatty”.
To find out, a bunch of Aussies living in Toronto were polled, and out of 71 responses, only a few of them said they’ve heard Australians in some parts call a flat white a “flatty”. Is it true?
3. Saying “shrimp on the barbie”
This is the only one I’m sure about. Australians definitely don’t call them shrimp.
It’s prawn. PRAWN.
We can thank Paul Hogan and Jim Carrey for this delightful one. I wonder how much they both got paid for this abomination?
At least this Flight Centre Canada ad got most of the lingo right.
It’s amazing how the usage of word can be permanently altered because it’s used a certain way and that way catches on. I no longer trust my own knowledge of Australia and the North American influence in my life isn’t helping. I hope globalization and the need for a universal language doesn’t eradicate Australia’s unique slang. It’s one of our many amazing qualities. Any thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments.
The joys of being an expat!