Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Mangling language

Mangling language

It's that time again: I have enough lists of weird words and phrases in my notebooks of the last couple of years to put together another words blog (see also, It's only words, December 2011, and I know it's only words, but, August 2012). There are still frequent occasions when my friend and I turn to each other and say, 'Eh? What does he mean?' We may laugh, but we still can't speak Strine.

A few months ago, our rental agency, in an email informing us that we had a new property manager, explained that this was 'following the termination of…' the previous one. Poor soul. I hope they farewelled her well. A couple of weeks ago, in the Senate, the Speaker announced the defeat of the bill to repeal the carbon price: it 'has been negatived,' he said.

Using verbs where no verb has gone before is common here. A friend in Sydney sent me this a while back. She is not a native English speaker, but her English is excellent. She couldn't find examples of trespass used like this in any English dictionary. Neither could I.

You can't trespass something or someone: you need a preposition with an object – he was trespassing on private land. Neither can you protest a bauxite mine; but you can protest about it, to someone. Ever heard of an intransitive verb? Thought not. Australians do seem to suffer from preposition dyslexia: so they'll say 'to the moment' rather than 'at the moment'; and 'caught up to a friend' rather than 'with a friend'. 

During a child abduction case last year, the accused was said to have deployed the 'inducement of mateship', which is a rather quaint usage of a uniquely Australian concept that is believed to occur nowhere else on earth. When my friend's pepper grinder spilled all its contents over his bacon and eggs, the breakfast was removed to be 're-plated'. A fire in a Victorian mine that displaced nearby residents and took weeks to be brought under control was described as a 'brown coal opencut event'. Understatement or euphemism, this was a gem. And, good people of Beaudesert, there is no such verb as to interest free.

Over-complication is a common feature of the Australian way of doing things, anything. So it's no surprise to find it in the use of language. Why use four words when you can use 14? 'Printed in Australia on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper using vegetable based inks'. 'He has a series of injuries on his person' (to be said in a police voice). Complication is often linked to repetition…

Food is a particularly complicated area. Last weekend my friend fancied some toast for breakfast in a cafe in Torquay on the Great Ocean Road. On offer was Zeally Bay seed and sprout toast – the waitress could not explain exactly what the sprout bit was – with a choice of jams including rhubarb and cinnamon, mango and saffron, peppered plum, or apricot and cardamom. In a famous chocolate bar, we ordered plain croissants that arrived with unannounced strawberries and cream on the side. In my favourite coffee shop there is a daily muffin menu. The combinations of fruits, different coloured chocolate bits, nuts and ingredients I normally associate with savoury dishes are limitless. I'm not a muffin fan otherwise this list would be a source of constant awesomeness. Menus often list ingredients we've never heard of… and trendy delis, too.


Tautology is another consequence of over-elaboration, whether goat chèvre on a menu, or Waters Creek in the Bush.

Signage in Australia is a big issue. Often there are forests of signs where a couple would have been perfectly adequate or several signs could have shared one post. The barrage of signs on the approach to Brisbane Airport's domestic terminal has to be seen to be believed; and a serious challenge to a photographer. After four and a half years, I still find it hard to decide which of the six lanes I should be in by the traffic lights. Often – especially when following a route – signs just discontinue, leaving you high and dry and disconcerted. They are often too close to junctions so you can't react fast enough without risking life and limb. And some roads have multiple names and numbers which seem to be randomly interchangeable. That's always fun.

I don't understand some signs at all.


I understand the small print, but I don't get the name of the toilet. Who is changing places with whom?


Totally baffled about the above; and fairly clueless about the following:

42-metres-long port container vehicles are innocent

Stick figures don't always provide clarification.

There are fine examples of overkill, inducing disregard or even rejection of the advice, or they give you ideas you would never have thought of otherwise.

Over-elaborateness often manifests itself in signage. This list of rules applies to a pocket-handkerchief-sized patch of green in Sydney's Darlinghurst. I was sorely tempted to get my tent.

In Far North Queensland, the vegetation will probably have regenerated by the time people have finished reading this sign, which also doubles as an eye test.

And then there are the signs that are very Aussie, and make up with humour what they lose in clarity.

There are lots of rules signs about alcohol, some of them strangely worded or over-complicated.

This post may have morphed into one about signage telling us what and what not to do. There are as many if not more signs about behaviour than alcohol…

 The above is a tad optimistic for a venue where the Ashes are played (The Gabba in Brisbane).

I suppose there'll always be new shortforms to learn – maggies (magpies), wharfies, truckies, vollies (volunteers), shockies (shock absorbers) – and new words and phrases: 

drug dogs – sniffer dogs

hard yakka – strenuous labour

middies – half pints, or thereabouts

pool noodle – a foam flotation aid

open slather – a free rein

geoblocked – prevented from watching European tv clips in Australasia

sledger – a layabout, often inebriated, with limited social skills

bludger – a lazy or idle person; a scrounger

reverse garbage – waste industrial materials 'upcycled' into handmade crafts

(cow) cocky – a (one-man) dairy farmer

ramping – describing patients who aren't transferred quickly enough from ambulance to A&E

witlof – a salad leaf vegetable aka chicory, endive or radicchio

wowser – one who tries to impose their own morality on others

furphy – a rumour or improbable story

On the pronunciation front, if you don't pronounce the letter H properly then the AHA (Australian Hotels Association) is really difficult to say, and takes longer. I may be repeating myself, but there really is no H at the beginning of aitch. I know, I know: language evolves, and I don't mind that, but there are two things that I will never accept. This is from the BBC Pronunciation Unit and disturbs me greatly.

British English dictionaries give aytch as the standard pronunciation for the letter H. However, the pronunciation haytch is also attested as a legitimate variant. We also do not ask broadcasters who naturally say haytch to change their pronunciation but if a broadcaster contacted to ask us, we would tell them that aytch is regarded as the standard pronunciation in British English, people can feel very strongly about this and this pronunciation is less likely to attract audience complaints.
Haytch is a standard pronunciation in Irish English and is increasingly being used by native English-speaking people all across the country, irrespective of geographical provenance or social standing. Polls have shown that the uptake of haytch by younger native speakers is on the rise. Schoolchildren repeatedly being told not to drop Hs may cause them to hyper-correct and insert them where they don't exist.

And the other thing? Myself instead of me. I myself prefer cats to dogs, is correct. Please call myself if you want to discuss cats versus dogs. Noooooo. Please call me.

The insertion of an extra syllable is usually the result of Australian non-rhoticity (see the first 'Words' blog), as in awe-wah (or), law-ah (law), see-queue-ah (secure), and loo-ah (lure). Knowan instead of known and sewan instead of sewn and blowan instead of blown I can't explain.

Bad grammar, bloodymindedness and spelling mistakes are fairly common: you are advised to 'drive safe' on the Gateway Bridge over the Brisbane River. I tell bare-faced lies; you tell bald-faced lies. 

I think we'll do people's names, too. It's all very well creating something unique for your precious offspring, but a lifetime of spelling it for others is a tiresome sentence. Unsurprisingly, there's a bogan element to some of these: others just don't sound quite right, as if you've used the wrong vowel. Abbey Leigh, Jahde, Haleenna, Kristeen, Schapelle, Sharelle, Mikayla, Mikhalyn, Petrina, Indiana, Narelle, Lurline, Lorelle, Liahona, Adriania, Merinda, Ashlynne, Robynne, Evalina (& Dean, seen across the top of a windscreen).

And let's sneak in a place-name winner, which is Koombooloomba in Far North Queensland. It's a dam – that's a lake, or reservoir, to anyone outside Australia. Runner-up was Ugly Gully (near Rathdowney). And my favourite saying of late: when describing someone's character, he was lower than a snake's armpit.

Finally, here are some signs that may or may not fit into a category, but made me smile.

This post was last edited on 8 November 2016

Outback 2 coming soon

Outback 2 coming soon

Australia's loss

Australia's loss