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Saturday, July 3, 2004

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Sussing Aussie English -- it's a bugger


When I found out I'd be spending a month accompanying two Australians around Japan, I thought, "Easy -- we speak the same language." Bloody wrong! "Aussie English" is completely different from the English used on my planet, the United States.

Australian English has an errant "r," which can be added or discarded at will. "R" can be added to select words ending in vowels, such that "America" becomes "Ameriker" and a "koala" becomes a "koaler." If you are a cartoonist, you're good at "drawring." Discarding the "r" is just as rampant, as seen in the favorite Australian slang term, "bugger!" (correctly pronounced "bugga!"), a term that transcends all parts of speech but is most often used to express surprise when something doesn't turn out as one thought it would.

Words with three or more syllables can freely be slimmed down to two, usually by adding a "y" or "ie" at the end of the word. Thus the word "Australian" is trimmed to "Aussie" (pronounced "Ozzie"). Long, cumbersome nouns will find nowhere to hide in Aussie English: a chocolate is a "chockie" and a mosquito is what else but a "mozzie"? The word "barbecue" is entirely too burdensome with three syllables, thus any good Australian would put steaks on the "barbie" instead. Bugger that in the U.S., though, because if you put steaks on a Barbie, you'll have a sexual harassment case.

People can be slimmed down as well: A brick layer is a "brickie," a postman a "postie" and the milkman is a, umm, "milko." Even some two-syllable words are cut down to two shorter syllables. If you were to ask someone if they'd like "breakfast," for example, you'd say, "Would you like some brekkie?" Sure, what the hecky.

"Sunnies" are what you put on your head to protect your eyes from the, um, sunny? And how do you know if a "telly" is a television or a telephone? Ah, bugger it!

While many things are measured in metric in Australia, most things are still measured in the unofficial units of "heaps" and "stacks." Since Americans associate a heap with something the shape of a hill, as in a "heap of garbage," the Aussies create a stunning image for us when they say, "We've got heaps of kangaroos in Australia." Likewise on my planet, a stack is a tall tower of something flat like boxes, magazines or bricks. When I heard an Australian say, "We've got stacks of mangoes in Australia," I thought that perhaps they had discovered a new type of flat mango.

Bugger the singular and plural in Aussie English as well. You go out to "the shops" even if you're only going to one. Your mate who has invited you over for "snags" (sausages) on the barbie lives "12 mile" down the road.

Leave it to the Australians to come up with quaint phrases to make English more colorful. Children are referred to as "ankle biters," new surfers are "shark biscuits" and if you've gone crazy, you've gone "troppo" (from "tropical madness"). When taking your camera somewhere, would you take regular, boring old photos? Of course not! You'd take "happy snappys." Lunch is served in the "arvo" (afternoon) and the evening meal is called "tea." Morning tea or afternoon tea, on the other hand, is the hot liquid stuff served with bickeys (biscuits). All these teas will assure frequent stops at the "dunny" (toilet). Bugger!

Australian English has so many twists that even the Aussies call it "speaking Aussie." It's no wonder then, that the sport formally called "Australian football" is shortened to merely "Aussie rules."

If you're Australian and would like to "take the mickey out of" American English, then go ahead, it's your "shout."

e-mail: amychavez2000@yahoo.com


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