Aussie/American English

Apr 4th, 2005, 01:42 PM
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Aussie/American English

I sort of hijacked another thread with the question below (sorry Richard.) So here it is - in it's own thread...

It's amazing to me that Aussies, Poms & Yanks all speak English, yet at times, each variant of English can sound so utterly foreign!

Many Aussie phrases and sayings are confusing to Americans (steak & kidney, she'll be apples, gaol, on ya, back of bourke, etc. etc.) I'm curious, are there any American words or phrases that are confusing to Australians?

JohnInMiami is offline  
Apr 4th, 2005, 02:57 PM
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Not the phrases John - only the Americans themselves :0)
lizF is offline  
Apr 4th, 2005, 03:02 PM
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Probably not as many as you might think, John. But I guess that's true not only of Australia but anywhere in the world. I recall that in the 1960s, even the kids in Yokohama knew American slang. Out in the Jaisalmer desert last year, the kids knew only a couple of words of English, but "okay" and "Coca-Cola" fell easily from their lips.

I think Hollywood, and now TV, has done a very good job of educating us all into the idiosyncracies of American speech. Most kids in Australia would know American slang better than the Aussie examples you've quoted above.
Alan is offline  
Apr 4th, 2005, 04:19 PM
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Fortunately, John, you won't come across a lot of the usages that make their way into supposed guides to "Aussie slang". I've read of "steak and kidney" as rhyming slang for "Sydney", for instance, but never once heard it used. In any event, true rhyming slang uses only the first word, as in "Noah's" for "shark", and I don't think anyone's ever talked about going to Steak for the weekend.

I suspect that a lot of this stuff is promoted by insecure Australians desperately trying to hang on to our individuality, travel guides trying to convince tourists that their destination is truly exotic, or just mischievous buggers taking the piss out of visitors.

As for Americana, Liz is closest to the mark, I think. While a few local terms might escape us, it's more likely to be American customs that confuse - one example being the ceremonies and traditions surrounding high school, with caps and gowns for "graduation" (we don't graduate, we just leave, or possibly piss off) and use of terms like "sophomore" and "valedictorian". Even more puzzling is to see a film in which a high school senior is addressed as "Mr" by his teacher, or a father as "sir" by his offspring.

Or am I taking too much from Hollywood depictions, just as many Americans expect the average Australian to live in the Outback and talk like Paul Hogan? Compare and discuss.

PS: "jail" is the preferred spelling in most Australian publications.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Apr 4th, 2005, 08:48 PM
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My boyfriend definitely throws me more for a loop by slang than I do him, but not by much. What we're finding out as we start to meld our lives more and more, is that there is a difference in a lot of lifestyle jargon. Things like when we were talking retirement he was mentioned superannuation. I just went "huh?" Likewise, I don't think he knew what a 401K was.

I do manage to stump him once in a while, but can't remember which words they were. I do remember the first time he goofed and used the American term for just slipped out naturally and freaked him out. He said something like "Where's the parking lot?" His eyes grew big and he retracted and exclaimed "Car park! I meant car park!" I laughed and said "No, you said parking lot! You're becoming American!!!"

I think the poor boy was a bit traumatized after that.
crazymina is offline  
Apr 4th, 2005, 11:12 PM
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Just thought of the friend back from a stint in Washington DC who was convinced that he hadn't taken on board any Americanisms, and in the next breath said "cellphone" instead of "mobile".

Then there's "skip" vs. "dumpster". But that's the sort of thing we hear all the time on TV, where the main function of a dumpster is to accommodate corpses and body parts.

Reminds me of recently spending some time hanging around the local hospital's emergency department, where I got talking to a recently arrived nurse from New Orleans. She was still coming to terms with the fact that in a whole month she hadn't seen a single gunshot wound. I had to tell her that most of her Canberra Hospital colleagues probably hadn't ever seen one. Well, we all know that N. O. is a lively town.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Apr 5th, 2005, 12:04 AM
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John, Yes, there are plenty of words and phrases which are used by Americans frequently, but which confuse Aussies, e.g.
-Pissed: to an Aussie, how you feel after a night on the turps, not 'angry'.
-first floor: an Aussie will go up one flight of stairs every time, only to find the second floor.
-gas: not petrol, rather something that gives relief after a night on the turps.
-Lite beer; to an Aussie, a beer that is low in alchol, not calories.
jackact is offline  
Apr 5th, 2005, 04:18 AM
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I think we're pretty aware of above examples and there are a couple of US words which could be considered somewhat vulgar, namely "root" and "fanny", especially as in "fanny pack". The word "quite" as used by Americans seems to cause some confusion, if an Australian is told that his kids, clothes, house, car, etc are "quite nice" he/she won't necessarily be impressed, it just means verging on the OK.
pat_woolford is offline  
Apr 5th, 2005, 09:51 AM
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Neil, children addressing the father as "sir" (and the mother as "maam") was common prior to the 1960's, rare in the 70's & 80's and practically non-existent today, except in the South (southeastern states.) I was raised by my grandparents and if I did not respond to them with a "yes sir" or "no maam", there would be hell to pay! Using sir or maam was seen as a sign of courtesy and respect, something my country is sorely lacking today.

As for high school graduation, the ceremony is meant as a celebration for finishing school and as a "rite of passage" from childhood to adulthood. It is usually (and hopefully in my case) the time when children leave home to go off to university or to work and start their own life. Recently, elementary schools (grades 1 to 5) and middle schools (grades 6 through 8) have held "graduation" ceremonies to make the kids feel all warm and fuzzy. I think that's a load of crap.

Jack, if you go up one set of stairs to get to the first floor, where are you if you go down one set of stairs?

Pat, it's amazing to me that "root" is considered vulgar but calling someone a "d***head" is not! We were surprised to hear that term on Aussie television, along with many others that wouldn't be allowed in the U.S. American media allows incredibly violent images to be seen but if someone utters the F word, everyone gets offended and the station is fined by the government. Australia and much of the rest of the world seem to be more restrictive on the violence, but as for language, anything goes.
JohnInMiami is offline  
Apr 5th, 2005, 05:22 PM
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Hollywood confuses me too, it certainly doesn't represent life in rural America. Listening to someone from the deep south or New York can sound pretty strange to a Farmer from western Colorado.

I had a boss a few years ago that was a Kiwi, My wife told him his English was improving after a couple of years here!

We all sound a bit different to other people.

Vive la Differance

BeanMan is offline  
Apr 5th, 2005, 06:51 PM
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You go up one flight of stairs to the first floor from the ground floor.

maryk is offline  
Apr 5th, 2005, 07:32 PM
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I remember an Aussie friend getting really offended when I jokingly said something about 'pigging out' I also remember that even the Aussies and the Brits had a hard time with the concept of 'having tea' which meant different things to each of them.

Oh, and never, ever, ever say that The Man From Snowy River is an Austrailian cowboy movie. It is (;-)), but they don't think so!
rapunzll is offline  
Apr 5th, 2005, 10:07 PM
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Speaking of American vocabulary, I remember years ago when I installed 'Wordperfect' you could choose between two English languages: English and British English. I thought that was rather amusing - like the British use some quaint version of English that's not quite the real English that Americans use.

As an interseting point, I was watching an old episode of the Simpsons last night, the one where Lisa wins the spelling bee, and I'm sure that I heard Bart say to Principal Skinner that the first day of school is meant to be a wank and then Pincipal Skinner says something like "If you mean wanking as in full of educational rewards then yes it's going to be a wank" (or something like that anyway).

Now, I don't know what that means in the US, but given the attitudes towards 'cussing' on US TV, it couldn't possibly be the same thing as it does in the UK and in Australia if I heard correctly.
guykb is offline  
Apr 5th, 2005, 10:15 PM
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Actually, I just found the exact quote at this address: and I heard right!

Bart: Come on, man, everyone knows the first day of school is a total wank.
Seymour: Well, if by "wank" you mean educational fun, then stand back it's wanking time!

Can anyone comment on this apparent lapse in the usually prudish American censorship?
guykb is offline  
Apr 6th, 2005, 03:06 AM
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Rapunzll, I can't understand why an Australian would be offended if accused of "pigging out". Jeez, we pig out all the time. And I'm happy to have "The Man from Snowy River" described as a cowboy movie, even if we do call them drovers. It wasn't a very good flick anyway.

John, I understand what you're saying, and my good wife has reminded me that in contrast with my own furtive departure from high school (here today, gone tomorrow, as it were, and bloody good riddance according to several of my teachers) our own offspring did have a graduation night, albeit minus caps and gowns. Then they went off to get pissed, if memory serves.

My youngest daughter spent a couple of weeks at a San Diego HS and reported that, although most aspects were familiar, she'd been startled if not horrified to be taken to no less than TWO sporting events, exactly two more than she'd managed in four years at her Canberra secondary college. She further reported that her "preppy" classmates seemed unfamiliar with her preferred clothing style, modified Goth, leading to some vigorous but amiable style disputes. Despite (or because of) a steady diet of "Beverly Hills 90210", the importance of sporting contests in US schools was something she hadn't anticipated.

BTW, another piece of Americana that's unknown here (unless someone's been holding out on me) is the college fraternity.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Apr 6th, 2005, 04:52 AM
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I too, was astonished that anyone could take umbrage at the expression "pigging out". And if I remember correctly the 80's "Man from Snowy River" was a fairly dreadful movie starring Kirk Douglas - if Australians have any allegiance to the story it would be based on Banjo Patterson's ballad of the same name. Patterson also penned the words to "Waltzing Matilda" which at one stage threatened to be Australia's national anthem. I think he did a far better job on "The Man from Snowy River". "Cowboys" wouldn't be used in Australia much, usually "stockmen" or "drovers".

pat_woolford is offline  
Apr 6th, 2005, 07:43 PM
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Guykb's comment about American English and British English struck home. I once had a job in Saudi Arabia where my main job function was to "edit" (read "rewrite") reports written by Saudis, whose second language was English. They were taught English by the British so they spelled (or is it spelt?) and used words as they'd been taught. You know, litre instead of liter, "the team were" instead of "the team was", etc.

There I was, an American trying to decide which English I was supposed to use. My American boss didn't seem to understand the subtle differences between the two and the Saudis were completely confused as to how there could possibly be two forms of the same language. It was an odd situation to say the least.

BTW - My favorite Aussie expression is #@$% me drunk. It just has a certain ring to it!
Melnq8 is offline  
Apr 6th, 2005, 07:55 PM
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Ah Melnq8, but the thing is, it wasn't a choice between 'American English' and 'British English'. I was asked to choose between 'English' and 'British English'. As for 'Australian English', well, we don't get a look in!
guykb is offline  
Apr 6th, 2005, 08:28 PM
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I think that most if not all English-speaking pedants would prefer "the team was", on the grounds that "team" is a singular noun - but in reality either is acceptable.

Which reminds me of a grammarian whose last words were reputed to be "I am going to - or I am about to - die. Either usage is acceptable."

One interesting Americanism is that "I could care less" means exactly the same thing as "I couldn't care less". I've also been intrigued to see some differences in verb forms - for instance an American "dove" into the pool, an Australian (or Brit) "dived". An Australian "spat" on the ground (past tense) while an American "spit". Some American usages are actually old English usages that remained current in the US but became obsolete in the UK - such as "fall" for autumn.

Neil_Oz is offline  
Apr 6th, 2005, 09:45 PM
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"Right on" Neil, and then there is the use of the word 'gotten' which is old English and is only or was only used in the US until TV addicts had 'gotten' hold of it. Now I hear it used every day.
I think that a lot of Australianisms are just lazyness really. Each and every day I say to myself that if "that b....y TV reporter says 'pitcher' for picture one more time I will write to the Channel. Another irritating thing too is the use of ' different to ' how on earth can you be different to something - when it should be different from. We all make mistakes but once upon a time it was not done by anyone hired by the ABC. Now they can say whatever they like or look like something that came out of a "Jack in the Box" box or is that the SBS?
Getting back to Graduating from High School though, I have to say that anything is better than the "rights of passage" which is common in Australia and is inflicted on the Gold Coast and elsewhere each year by the name of 'Schoolies'. If the parents of these children saw what went on they may have a different opinion of their little darlings but I just wonder what kind of people they are to let their children run amock like that - give me some sort of gentle, feel good, graduation any day.
My husband who is a "to and from" reckons that we Aussies are English lazy with our 'on ya' g'day, awyagoinawrite, etc but it is more a mark of the era than anything else. Next year we may find that the usage of French is in and the use of Americanisms is out.
lizF is offline  

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