How’s my Australian English shaping up?
I can’t shorten words and phrases the way Aussies do. I still say sunglasses, breakfast, and chicken instead of sunnies, brekkie, and chook. Speaking in abbreviations feels forced and unnatural for me, like text speak. I can’t do that either. I text mostly in complete, properly punctuated sentences. It’s not because I’m a snob (I am a little bit of a snob). It’s because I have to concentrate more and it takes me longer to type something such as, “My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.”
Translation: “My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It’s a great place.” That’s an actual text message from a 13-year-old girl.
Australian English is not as cryptic as a teenager’s text message, but it just sounds wrong coming out of my American mouth with its Miami accent. Part of the Aussie charm is the accent and some words depend on it to sound right. I said “g’day” once by accident and I was horrified. My partner Theo makes fun of me for (allegedly) being unable to pronounce his best friend’s name, Graeme. It is like gram, gray-em, gray-um. Gray or grey? Apparently, these are pronounced differently.
I have adopted some Australian English words. It happened naturally with words and expressions used here that are not widely used back in the US. Other words require more thought, but I like to use them for convenience as well as for adaptation. Here are some of the local words I’ve adopted.
Biscuit: A biscuit in Australia is a cracker or a cookie. This is one of the words I have to think about. I’m still often inclined to say crackers and cookies. It’s not like Aussies don’t know what I mean, but I always get corrected so I might as well go with biscuit.
Bogan: This one has a complicated meaning. The word bogan may be used pejoratively, in a self-deprecating manner, or even in an affectionate and proud way. Much like the way white trash, hick, and redneck are used in the US, bogan generally refers to someone who may come from an unsophisticated background, who lacks manners, or education. The stereotype includes flannel shirts, beer guts, missing teeth, and mullet haircuts, but the word is sometimes embraced to mean a sort of quintessential rugged Australian. I feel uncomfortable using this word. I don’t like it, but if I use it, the listener knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Bush: This is one of the words that I’ve adopted easily. As in “the bush”, it refers to lands outside urban areas. Sometimes you’ll hear it used interchangeably with “the outback”, but generally the outback (another word I’m comfortable using) refers to more remote places. I’m also comfortable saying bushfires instead of wildfires.
Footy: Short for football, footy is Australian rules football. Saying “football” is confusing as it may refer to footy, soccer, or North American football, which is sometimes called gridiron.
Pram: A pram is a baby carriage or stroller.
Prawns: Australians know the word shrimp, but don’t much use it. The Outback Steakhouse is lying with all those “shrimp on the barbie” ads. This is one of those words that I pronounce wrong (allegedly).
Rubbish: Rubbish is garbage, but it also means to criticise or reject (e.g. rubbishing an idea) and can also refer to something useless (e.g. a rubbish manager). Australians are exposed to enough American entertainment to understand our English, but it’s like when I say cookie instead of biscuit. They act confused, speak slowly, and enquire further, “Oh, you mean…rubbish?”
I confuse pharmacy, chemist, and drugstore. When I was in London years ago, I asked my B&B’s owner where the nearest drugstore was. She did that I’m-confused-so-let-me-speak-slowly thing and asked, “By drugstore, you mean…the chemist?” So I always remember that the English use chemist (because this one woman represents all of England) and since I tend to think of Aussies as being pretty British (they would disagree), I’m inclined to think they say chemist too. I just say whatever comes out of my mouth.
Another thing I can’t adopt is the Australian love of using a vulgar word for female genitalia to describe anything or anyone they don’t like. I like my girlie bits. If I’m going to use them as a descriptor for something else, it better be awesome. It’s like when someone says, “That’s gay.” I presume they are talking about something awesome because that’s what all my gay friends are.