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.
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.