How we took the English language and made it Ostrayan

To all the blokes and sheilas, no matter whether you’re a Banana Bender, Croweater, Mexican, Taswegian, Top Ender or Sandgroper, and hail from the ‘burbs or out whoop-whoop, the Australia Day long weekend is a time to celebrate what makes this nation unique.

When it comes to abbreviation, we Aussies have a serious case of Bill Shorten. We lop the ends off words, and sometimes chop the starts off as well, in almost every ‘convo’.

Our sporting cathedrals are known simply as the ‘G, WACA and Gabba. Our best mates are Robbo, Jezza, Shaz, Gaz, Woz and Simmo. And on a ripper Sunday arvo, you can find us cooking lamb chops on the barbie, with a few choice snags and a coupla rissoles that Stewie picked up from Woolies. You’ve cracked a tinnie, the missus is into the Savvy B, and the ankle biters have already demolished half a box of chokkies and are running amok out the back.

National stereotypes aside, Australians took the basics of the English language, developed a globally recognisable accent and, along with it, some unique linguistic habits.

“We do tend to minimise our words and give them diminutive forms. We have brekkie, we go to the footy, we have a cuppa. That sort of thing. It’s uniquely Australian,” says speech pathology lecturer at La Trobe University Dr Tanya Serry. “There’s an Aussie laconic sociocultural sense to the way that Australians use this diminutive form.”

In other words, Dr Serry says we’re very good at abbreviating words. Even the name of our great nation is getting carved up, much to Dr Serry’s chagrin.

“The way that Eddie McGuire says ‘Australia’, he actually says Ostraya. It’s like he’s concertinaing the word, and that’s an Aussie-ism as well.”

Strangely enough, sometimes these shortcuts aren’t shorter at all – like uggies for Ugg Boots, Scotty for Scott, bikkie for biscuit, dunny for toilet or a coldie for beer. This suggests we shorten our words for some reason other than saving time. Perhaps it’s a way to sound more laidback and less showy. Because saying “car registration” instead of “rego” is just showing off.

Kath & Kim

Kath & Kim were exponents of a well-known variety of Australian accent. Photo: Getty

Our different accents

Across the nation our accents have huge differences as well, although Dr Serry says this can be a bit of an illusion.

“It’s more of an impression that there are different regional accents,” says Dr Serry. “The regionalisation of Australian accents is not as strong as some people might think it is. It’s more a difference between the regions and cities and factors like that.”

Overall, there are three major categories of accent:

• Broad: Steve Irwin, Paul Hogan, Kath & Kim
• General: Margot Robbie, Hugh Jackman
• Cultivated: Geoffrey Rush, Ita Buttrose, Cate Blanchett

“I think people immediately go to the broad accent when they think of the Australian accent,” says Dr Serry. “The broad accent has a bit more of a nasal quality.

“[B]ecause we were settled later, communication around the country was much faster. So there was much more opportunity for that cross-pollination of the way that we speak.”

Yet some differences just stick out, such as the Queensland drawl, the posh South Australian, or the ‘bogan’ nasally twang.

“There’s a view that in general Queenslanders sound a little slower, that they’re a bit more drawly,” says Dr Serry. “I don’t know whether they would find this offensive, or whether they would agree.

“Melburnians say our city with a bit of an ‘ah’ sound in the first syllable, whereas everyone else says Melbourne with an ‘e’ like the ‘eh’ for egg sound.”

“People from the western part of Australia will, with a double vowel like ‘ear’, they’ll say ‘ear’ quite distinctly, whereas in the east we say more like ‘eeah’. We lose a little bit of that second part of the vowel.”

On Vocabulary

Now don’t spit the dummy if anything we’ve said so far sounds different to what you say in your home state. There are lots of regional variations in Australian vocabulary. Dr Serry says the words we use do differ from state to state, but notes that language is a living thing.

“I think what we’re continually adopting is new vocabulary and terminology, whether it’s Americanisms from television or concepts from Southeast Asia.”

Here, we have a look at how the names of some common things vary from state to state. 

Canteen/tuck shop

While canteen seems to be the dominant term in NSW, it is also clear that a marked difference exists between what the food stall is called in public and private schools. Private schools favor tuck shop, while public schools call it a canteen.

The word “tuck” in tuck shop is slang for food and most likely derived from the longer word “tucker”, an Aussie phrase that originally described food found in the bush. “Tuck shop” is also popular in the UK, where it is presumed to arise from the word “tuck” as in “to tuck into food”.


Nigel No Friends/Loner/Neville Nobody/Scott no friends

Having no real historical basis, these varied terms for a social outcast are merely an example of the Australian aptitude for slang and good-natured ribbing.


Beer – pint/imperial pint/schooner/pot/middy/butcher  

Perhaps the most confusing of all language differences from state to state, this difference in pouring systems has improved in recent years, with growing standardisation of nomenclature.

The main difference is South Australia, where drink size is noticeably smaller than the rest of the country. This is often attributed to a history of short-pouring by pub owners in SA, which many believe was due to puritanism.


Click on The Advisor for a guide to the different servings of beer from state to state.

Potato cakes/scallops

The more unusual use of the term “scallop” to describe this fish and chip shop favourite is most likely a leftover phrase from the English settlers, as it is a popular term in the UK.

It may be a derivative of the popular dish scalloped potatoes, which earned its name from the placement of the potatoes in a pattern and shape resembling the edges of scallop shells.



Don’t bring this one up at your local pub as it can ignite a heated debate. The difference is just a matter of a difference in abbreviation preferences, although Parma does appear to be the dominant term.



The word “Breville” originated from the brand of machine used to make the popular toasted sandwich, an amalgamation of the creators surnames: O’Brien and Norville.

Jaffle is also taken from the apparatus used to make the sandwiches – the jaffle iron – which was an iron implement used to toast things over a fire. Toastie is merely an abbreviation of “toasted sandwich.”


Prep/Kindy/Reception/Grade one

This difference is mainly due to the education administration differences from state to state. Brisbane students tend to graduate at a younger age than the rest of country, skipping any kind of bridging year between preschool and primary school.



Togs is perhaps an abbreviation of the old-fashioned word for clothing, “toggery”. Bathers and swimmers appear to have fairly obvious origins based on the activity they are worn for. Cossie is a shortening of “costume” from “swimming costume”. Reasons for the variation from state to state are not known.



Devon is considered slightly different from the Strasburg variation of lunch meat because it is the blandest in both taste and texture. Fritz is presumably the popular term in Adelaide due to its German origins, as Adelaide has a German community in Hahndorf.

The variation in names from state to state may be due to the different ways in which they are prepared, calling for some kind of differentiation. Devon is usually made from meat including pork and is most closely related to the American spam. Fritz usually refers to a German sausage cooked in its natural casing, while polony (called Baloney in the US) is a finely ground Italian pork sausage, and Strasburg is a sausage from the Alsace region of Strasbourg on the border of France and Germany. It could just be that these similar, but slightly different, meats each found favour in different areas of the country.


Bubbler/Drinking fountain

The word “bubbler” is actually a trademarked brand name for drinking fountains in the US that has somehow migrated to specific parts of Australia.


Rhyming slang dictionary

• Dead horse = Tomato sauce
• Dog and bone = Phone
• Joe Blake = Snake
• Nails and screws = News
• Trouble and strife = Wife
• Frog and toad = Road
• Tin lids = Kids

Have we missed any regional variations? Let us know in the comments thread below.

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