R is for Roly Sussex : Australian Lingo

Roland Denis Sussex OAM is Emeritus Professor of Applied Language Studies at the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies of the University of Queensland, in Brisbane.

I’ve attended several presentations by Roly Sussex over the years – on occasion having even blogged about them- and have always found the linguist willing to share fascinating stories and knowledge whilst remaining the kind of bloke you would be happy to chat with over a wine at a barbeque.

In an article published in The Guardian dated 21st April, Roly shares some of the latest new Australian expressions being considered for inclusion in the Macquarie Dictionary.

The Macquarie Dictionary’s managing editor, Victoria Morgan states that “Each month we choose five from our words-to-watch list that have been submitted either by the public or by us.”

Roly provides the following terms selected for April : 

Gendy nooch – meaning gender-neutral

Cozzie liv – cost of living

Murder noodle – a venemous snake

Tiger Toast – toast with a topping of Vegemite and strips of cheese

Password child – a child favoured over their siblings, as shown by their name being used in a parent’s digital password.

In all honesty I’m leaning towards being appalled as opposed to acknowledging the creativity. What about you?

Demystifying Australian Language

P is for Prison Slang: Australian Lingo

Unsurprisingly, Prison slang is used primarily by criminals and detainees in correctional institutions. Many of the terms deal with criminal behavior, incarcerated life, legal cases, street life, and different types of inmates. 

Prison slang can vary depending on institution, region, and country. It can  be found in other written forms such as diaries, letters, tattoos, ballads, songs, and poems. Words from prison slang often eventually migrate into common usage, such as “snitch” and “narc”. 

Here are some examples of Australian Prison Slang :

Cellie – a cellmate

Dog – an informant

Screw – prison officer

Cockatoo – An inmate tasked with alerting other inmates that prison officers are approaching

Segro – segregation wing

I would just like to add that I know none of these terms from first hand experience.

Demystifying Australian Language

N is for Nicknames : Australian Lingo

When I was a child scampering over rock pools on the south coast of New South Wales I had an Uncle Lofty, who was as short as he was wide. He was an oyster farmer and a handy person to know. My cousin with her thick red hair was either called Blue or Bloodnut which was a lot easier to say when you’re five years old than Valentine. When the Kowaloski’s moved next door they were known around the neighbourhood as the “Wheelbarrows”. Not meant to be racist, just easier to pronounce. As a teenager I had a mad crush on a St George footballer, whom I admittedly used to stalk, who went by the name of Lord Ted.* And who didn’t have a tall friend known as Stretch?

Nicknames can stick with you throughout life. My Dad was an Alf but close friends called him Mick. No idea of the relevance.

Interestingly, building sites seem to be the breeding ground for nicknames, especially for young apprentices.  Here’s a couple of examples which should raise a smile :

Harvey Norman – it’s been 3 years with no interest.

Bushranger – always holding everyone up.

Pothole – cause they’re always in the road.

Devondale – someone who always does the cream jobs.

Mastercard – someone who always takes credit for someone else’s work.

Slinky – good for nothing but fun to push down the stairs.

Blister – only appears when all the hard work is done.

Do you have any nicknames to add?

*Confession: It was only in the last six years I tossed out Teddy Goodwin’s autographed photo – some fifty years later ! Which reminds me of a boyfriend called Keg – his Dad owned the local pub.

Demystifying Australian Language

M is for Military Slang : Australian Lingo

Military slang, also known as Digger slang or ANZAC slang, is the language employed by the various Australian armed forces throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. There have been four major sources of the slang: the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

 The name Digger slang derives from the cultural stereotype of the Digger in the First World War. 

Digger is military slang for primarily infantry soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. Evidence of its use has been found in those countries as early as the 1850s, but its current usage in a military context did not become prominent until World War 1, when Australian and New Zealand troops began using it on the Western Front around 1916–17. 

Evolving out of its usage during the war, the term has been linked to the concept of the Anzac legend but within a wider social context, it is linked to the concept of “mateship”.

Wiktionary has a glossary of Military slang, some of which is pretty much in-your- face. You have been warned!


Demystifying Australian Language

K is for Kangaroo: Australian Lingo

A recent post recently stated that the Australian language or lingo has evolved from a mixing pot of cultures over the past 230 years. It began on the ships of the First Fleet with a mix of convicts, soldiers, settlers and sailors who spoke a variety of differing dialects and versions of British working-class slang. More recently the Chinese, Pacific Islanders and Americans who come to our shores have contributed to the new and colourful expressions in our language.

We mustn’t forget, however, that many of our words derive from Indigenous languages, particularly the names of animals and places. 

Aboriginal Australians, more commonly referred to as First Nation people,  comprise many distinct peoples who developed across Australia for over 50,000 years. These peoples have a broadly shared, though complex, genetic history, but only in the last 230 years have they been defined as a single group.

The word kangaroo derives from the Guugu Yimithirr word gangurru, referring to eastern grey kangaroos. The name was first recorded as “kanguru” on 12 July 1770 in an entry in the diary of botanist, Sir Joseph Banks during a sea journey in the HMS Endeavour under the command of Lieutenant James Cook. Guugu Yimithirr is the language of the First Nations people of Cooktown where the “roos” were spotted during a time when Cook’s ship was undertaking several weeks of repairs.

The kangaroo is a recognisable symbol of Australia. Most notably, both the kangaroo and emu feature on the Australian Coat of Arms. Why? Because neither the kangaroo nor emu can walk backwards.

Demystifying Australian Language

J is for Jumbuck : Australian Lingo

A jumbuck is a male sheep. You may be familiar with the term as a jumbuck features in Andrew Barton Paterson’s poem, “Waltzing Matilda”.

Banjo Paterson’s poem, written in 1895, is considered a bush ballad as well as Australia’s unofficial national anthem.

The title was Australian slang for travelling on foot (waltzing) with one’s belongings in a “matilda” (swag) slung over one’s back.The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or “swagman“, making a drink of billy tea at a bush camp and capturing a stray jumbuck (sheep) to eat. When the jumbuck’s owner, a squatter (grazier), and three troopers (mounted policemen) pursue the swagman for theft, he declares “You’ll never catch me alive!” and commits suicide by drowning himself in a nearby billabong (watering hole), after which his ghost haunts the site.

North Gregory Hotel, Winton, where Banjo wrote Waltzing Matilda

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his “Billy” boiled,[51]
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his “Billy” boiled,[a]
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
And he sang as he shoved[b] that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”


Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
“Whose is that jumbuck[c] you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”


Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never catch me alive!” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

– A B Paterson

Demystifying Australian Language.

I is for Insults : Australian Lingo

Insults in Australia are a funny thing. Sure, they are colourful, and yes, they more often than not contain profanities.

However, they are also often quite humorous.

We all know what being a “Bastard” means. For as long as I remember, being called a bastard is also a term of endearment, though I think this hails more from the previous generation. Everyone was a bastard of sorts : a happy bastard, a skinny bastard, a stupid bastard. Being called a Bastard was almost a badge of honour with my parents’ generation.

I recently heard my 36 year old military son-in-law call a woman a “prawn”. Prawn? Nice body, shame about the head. Of course I gave him a lecture, but I had to laugh…….

Here are a few of the milder insults commonly used :

“If my dog had a face like yours, I’d shave its arse and teach it to walk backwards.”

“A face like a dropped meat pie.”

“You look like a half-sucked mango.”

“Couldn’t organise a root in a brothel with a fist full of fifties”

“Wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire”

“Wouldn’t work in an iron lung”.

“Wouldn’t know it if a tram was up him until the bell rang.”

“Dickhead / Dickwad / Dickshit ( worse that a dickhead)

“Shit for brains”.

Demystifying Australian Language