To the rest of the world, the differences between New Zealand and Australia may seem small. I admit there are many similarities – both were settled by Great Britain, both countries love a BBQ on a sunny summer day (of which there are many!) both have great beaches and laid-back people. And of course, both countries speak English.
However, in the same way that there are differences between British English and American English, there are some interesting differences between New Zealand and Australian English. Even the accents are noticeably different, although most people aside from Kiwis or Aussies struggle to tell the difference – even other native English speakers find it difficult to tell them apart. Ask any Kiwi or Aussie to identify the accents and they will have no trouble at all, but ask almost any British or American person and they would probably have a hard time!
Aside from accents, there are also certain words and phrases that not only set NZ and Australia apart, but may even be completely incomprehensible to any other native English speaker. To highlight some of the differences, here is an imaginary dialog that may be taking place anywhere in NZ or Australia right this minute…
Kiwi guy, to a friend:
“Hey bro, wanna go for a walk to the dairy and get an iceblock? It’s hot as, so I’m just going to wear my stubbies and jandals, and I’ll bring the chilly-bin so the ice-blocks don’t melt on the way back to the bach. I’m feeling like a box of birds today, but bloody hell – I was off my face at that bun-fight last night!”
Aussie guy, to a friend:
“G’day mate, wanna go for a walk to the milk bar and get an icy pole? It’s mad hot so I’m just going to wear my stubbies and thongs, and I’ll bring the esky so the icy poles don’t melt on the way back to the weekender. I’m feeling beauty today, but strewth – I felt like a two-pot screamer last night!”
You may have noticed that “stubbies” appear in both conversations. For some reason, this item of clothing (most females consider them a heinous crime of fashion) is widely popular across both countries… here is an ad from NZ television for a fizzy drink/soda (called L&P) that explains the Stubbie phenomenon in more detail…
So, between the two of conversations above you probably figured out what’s going on, but just in case you are still confused – let me explain here in some very plain English…
“Hello, would you like to go for a walk to the nearest convenience store and buy a sweet, cooling, icy treat on a stick? It is very hot outside, so I shall just wear my short shorts and open footwear, and bring a portable cooler-box so the sweet, cooling, icy treats on sticks don’t melt on the way back to my small house where I spend my weekends (generally near the beach). I am feeling really great today, but my goodness, I had far too much to drink last night!”
One major similarity between NZ and Australian English however, is our use of understatement. In general, particularly amongst the male population, if it is possible to only use one word to describe something, then that’s what they’ll do. The word that best encompasses this concept is “Bugger”. Not used in the British sense of the word (in British English “bugger” can relate to gay sexual acts…) rather it is used as an expression of annoyance, regret, sadness, anger or as a “who cares” kind of expression. So, you dropped your can of beer? “Bugger”. Someone ran over your cat/favourite hat/Grandma? “Bugger”. You have an exam today, but you haven’t studied for it? “Bugger it”.
A New Zealand commercial showing our love for understatement, and the word “bugger”.