Australians wear thongs on their feet!

Posted by on September 02, 2010

Our first guest blog in Australian English month comes from Jesse Karjalainen about the similarities and differences between Australian and British and American English. Australian Jesse Karjalainen lives in the UK and works as a writer and editor. He also edits the online English-usage website www.whichenglish.com.

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The Australian accent is famous the world over but, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of Australian English, not everyone is aware of how, exactly, it is different from other forms of English. The best way to explain this is to answer the question: how is it similar?

It is a common assumption to think that Australian English is basically British English but with a deeper tan and a more easy-going attitude. Yes and no. When it comes to spelling, then yes, Australian and British English are almost identical. Apart from the odd word, both forms match closely. We have a Labor Party but write labour everywhere else. A lot of people write color even if, traditionally, it is colour, while it is not unusual to see jail spelt gaol in the newspaper. However, the similarities end when it comes to the words we use.

Australian vocabulary is in many ways closer to American English. They share many words that are most definitely not used in the UK, such as eggplant (UK aubergine), zucchini (UK courgettes) and pants (UK trousers). Australians, too, are happy to use seemingly American words like critter, truck and gotten, which raise eyebrows in Britain. Yet Australians and Brits use words and meanings not used in the US: rubber (US eraser), jumper (US sweater) and chemist (US drug store).

Where Australian English stands alone in the world is in its rich vernacular. These are the everyday words, meanings and expressions that exist nowhere else in the English-speaking world. One of my favourites is chook, for chicken.

Many Australian expressions are completely baffling to visitors. They include: cark it (die), give it a burl (make an attempt), grouse (fantastic), ripper (great), hit the turps (get drunk), get the flick (get dumped), icy pole (ice lolly), lollies (sweets) and yewy (U-turn). We don’t say Hello, we say G’day. We don’t say Cheers!, we say Ta! Footie is never football. We don’t walk on the pavement or the sidewalk, but the footpath. We wear cozzies and togs, not swimsuits, and gumboots, not rubber boots.

Sometimes things are a little upside down: the first floor in Australia is the ground floor in the UK; the second floor in Australia is the first floor in the UK. Everyone in Australia is called mate, even when you don’t like someone. And, weirdest of all, Australians wear thongs on their feet! You might know them as flip-flops.

Comments (12)
  • My first teacher of English here in Argentina was an Australian, Mrs. Lucy Colvin Martin, way back in the ‘fifties. I remember it was easier for me to understand American speakers. She pronounced the word “either” or “neither” with the sound /i:/ not /ai/ like in British English.

    Posted by Rich on 2nd September, 2010
  • Although I had totally forgotten about it until I read this post, in my childhood (outside New York City, in the 1960s), we called flipflops “thongs.” Hmmmm….

    Posted by Susan on 3rd September, 2010
  • Yes, I also grew up in St Louis saying thongs for flip-flops of today. Thong simply got a new meaning in the lingerie department…….much later.

    I teach a course on English-speaking countries, and I often tell students that Australia is a British-based country with American orientation (often due to the size of the country, history, attitude, etc).

    Posted by Barbara on 6th September, 2010
  • Isn’t “cark it” included in Brit Eng as well?

    Posted by Crystal on 7th September, 2010
  • Um… I think you’ve got mixed up about the ground floor/first floor thing. In Australia we walk in on the ground floor, go upstairs to the first floor and so on.

    Apart from the building at uni where my office is where you go in on the fourth floor but that’s a whole ‘nother mulit-leveled storey. (pardon the pun – I couldn’t resist)

    Posted by Jodie Martin on 10th September, 2010
  • I agree with Jodie – ground floor, then 1st, 2nd etc – it’s the Americans who don’t use ground floor as I understand it. Also, swimsuits are called bathers here in Western Australia.

    Posted by Louise Ward on 15th September, 2010
  • Yep – bathers in South Australia too!

    Posted by Jodie Martin on 15th September, 2010
  • … and a nightie to bed!

    Posted by Ingrid on 23rd November, 2010
  • [...] just gonna be you and old cynical me. Good luck with throwing your sabots – or should I say thongs – into the clockwork of industry [...]

    Posted by If Kony lived in Broome (or blogosphere, I dare you!) | Travel tales, on 4th May, 2012
  • Australians have been wearing thongs on their feet well before the name thong for underwear existed and americans who took the idea from australia and jumped on the old bandwagon and called them flipflops. The same goes for ugg boots that have been in australian since the year dot as well.

    Posted by atkins on 11th August, 2012
  • “Pants” IS used in the U.K. – for things such as trousers (a smart two-legged garment worn as part of a school uniform or part of a suit), combat pants (similar to trousers, but not smart, and tend to have lots of pockets – more modern crappier ones tend to not have anything proper to fasten most pockets with), tracksuit pants (similar to trousers, but quite flimsy but flexible material, meant for running in) and similar things.

    It’s just that a lot of people in the country have started being silly and started calling underpants “pants”. I’ve called pants (not underpants, which go UNDER pants, hence their name – UNDERpants) “pants” since I was a little kid. Most people from Manchester seem to call them pants too.

    Posted by PJ on 8th November, 2012
  • Growing up in Colorado, early 1960s, we also called them “thongs” — so along with Susan and Barbara, that represents a pretty good geographical spread across the US. I don’t call them thongs now and I don’t remember when I stopped — but I’m sure I was peer-pressured into “flip-flops” because that’s the term everyone else was using, starting when I got to college in the early 1970s.

    Posted by Orin Hargraves on 12th November, 2012
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