Forget crikey! Nothin’ more Aussie than a cuppa and a bikkie

Posted by on September 07, 2010

Australian English month continues with a guest post from Jodie Martin, an Australian PhD student of linguistics, studying jazz music student writing. She has started blogging about her PhD in ‘Linguistics and all that jazz’ and tweets as @jazzlinguist.

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The best thing about studying languages are those moments when someone points out some simple fact that you maybe unconsciously knew but could never quite put your finger on. Suddenly so much makes sense!

So yes, Australian English has at the extreme end those idiosyncratic phrases born of the country, the people, and sometimes a desire to affirm identity by excluding others. And we have that jumble of vocabulary judiciously or haphazardly picked from both the UK and North America, Aboriginal languages and various migrant languages. And a good part of it I’ve never heard in real life or would never use. But the simple mechanism which decodes so much of the Australianisms we unconsciously use is this: we abbreviate a word, then add ‘o’ or ‘ie’ at the end.

I can’t claim credit for discovering this. I read it Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English, in which he credits it to a Dr Kate Burridge.

So simple, yet so prevalent! Pressie is a present, brekkie is breakfast, arvo is afternoon, muso is musician, pollie is a politician, journo is a journalist, bikkie is a biscuit, brollie is an umbrella, piccies are pictures, trackies (or tracky-dacks) are tracksuits (usually just the pants). Many of those words look strange to me, because I say them and never write or read them. And of course an Aussie is an Australian. For the record, though, it’s pronounced ‘Ozzie’, not ‘Ossie’.

It seems trivial, but when I’ve explained it to both Australians and non-Australians living in Australia, it’s been a revelation.

I once worked with someone who gave instructions to a new non-Australian, non-native English-speaking staff member: “I’m going on my break. Mrs Smith likes a bikkie with her cuppa. Ta.” She came back from her afternoon tea break and Mrs Smith had neither received her cup of tea nor a biscuit with it. Her first thought was that this person didn’t really speak English. Then suddenly she reflected on the English she was speaking.

The most revealing characteristics of our language, perhaps, aren’t necessarily the vocabulary we stick in tourist books and language guides, but the systems we apply and understand unconsciously when we’re not even trying.

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Comments (6)
  • “Sickie” for sick-day also springs to mind.

    Another interesting area is with nicknames in Australia, removing the end of names with a double r and adding -zza. Barry becomes “Bazza”, Sharron “Shazza”, Garry “Gazza”, etc.

    Posted by Brendan on 8th September, 2010
  • Is that just Aussie English though? It’s been happening to me for as long as I can remember…

    Posted by SharonC on 8th September, 2010
  • With regard to sickies (mentioned by Brendan), the important thing is to get the collocation right. In this case, the correct “operating verb” is THROW, and if you don’t believe me see here:
    http://throwasickie.com/
    But i believe you can also say CHUCK:
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chuck%20a%20sickie

    Posted by Michael Rundell on 9th September, 2010
  • @SharonC – I think it does happen in many versions of English, but it is its prevalence in Australian English which is defining.

    Another one I thought of after was “sunnies” for “sunglasses” – one of those terms which is so embedded that it doesn’t occur to you why the person you’re talking to is giving you a blank look when you say you can’t find your sunnies.

    Posted by Jodie Martin on 10th September, 2010
  • @Brendan – Do you know, I thought about the -zza names, but hadn’t identified that it was names with ‘R’ in them. Not strictly double r, though; I knew several Lozzas in primary school (Lauren). My brother is Jez (Jeremy – called Jezza before shortening it to Jez). Jareds can be Jazza, Darrens are quite often Dazza, Warrens are Wozza. Karens can be Kazza. And so on. I can’t think of any examples without an ‘R’, but think I have heard them, but they don’t stick and are just used as a joke. I could be wrong about that last point though.

    Just goes to show how unconsciously we use the systems. However, in my corner of the country at least, the -zza names are dying out a bit.

    Posted by Jodie Martin on 10th September, 2010
  • The dreaded ‘-zza’ names! I haven’t heard one in ages. I have a friend with a ‘rhyming slang’ type nickname – from ‘Mathers’ to ‘Bathers’ to ‘Bays’.

    Importantly, you can also PULL a sickie. Firies and Tradies and Ambos probably never do that, although at a servo I saw a truckie was taking a really long smoko.

    Maybe Lady Gaga was trying to get her Aussie on when she sang ‘spend the last dough in your pocko’?

    Posted by jess scott on 12th September, 2010
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