The Culture Clash: Slang

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The difference in slang and general word use between Americans and Australians opens up a whole world of fun and confusion. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said England and America are “two nations divided by a common language.”  I feel this also applies to America and Australia.

If our respective versions of English have us divided at first, the resulting amusement in each other’s lingo certainly soon brings us together.

I currently live with another Australian and two Americans, the perfect environment for language-fuelled uncertainty.

We call fries “chips” — why did someone just offer me chips in their dorm room?

We call trucks “utes” — why does my roommate claim to drive a semi-trailer?

We call flip-flops “thongs” — why does that lady at Wal-Mart always look at me strangely when I ask where the thongs are?

“Taking the piss,” in other words is “pulling your leg,” an Australian term that never fails to puzzle. This phrase is undoubtedly in my Australian roommate’s top-five favorite things to say. He said it consistently for weeks before I noticed the confusion among my American roommates and set the record straight, much to everyone’s amusement.

Australians also love to say “legend,” and it often catches Americans off guard, especially in the context in which we often use it. People do not have to do anything major to be labeled a legend. Everyone is a legend in our mind. The Chipotle worker who put extra beans in my burrito? Bloody legend.

I have also seen Aussies unintentionally baffle Americans with the following expressions: good on ya, she’ll be right, ripper and bloke. That’s just a taste of an endless list, and I’m sure any American could return serve and confuse the life out Australians.

One of these days, when the time is right, I plan to unleash a preposterously Aussie sentence on an innocent, unsuspecting American. Something like:

“You copped some ripping banter tonight mate; she’ll be right though he’s only taking the piss, good on ya for being a good bloke about it.”

Angie Nava, a junior social work major from California, is no stranger to Australian-caused perplexity.

“My roommate said, ‘He wasn’t pissed.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? Was somebody mad or something?’ But no, she was meaning, ‘He wasn’t drunk,” Nava said.

She also pointed out that many of the Australians she knows take every opportunity to say “sick” and “epic,” putting Australia approximately one decade behind America.

“Yeah, I haven’t heard those in a while,” Nava said.

When it comes to sports, we almost never call Australian football, “football.” It’s “footy.”

“My roommate said she went to a footy game,” Nava said. “I didn’t think anything of it; I kind of assumed she meant football, but I’d never actually heard anybody say footy before.”

I have also noticed a few oddities in the American language. When Americans speak, often everything is “right here” and “right now.”

“Oh, this pen right here?”

“I’m so hungry right now.”

Not just now, but RIGHT now.

Like all the international students at Northern Arizona University (NAU), I am discovering new American slang all time. In fact even as I write this, one of my American neighbors just mentioned buying “pop.” Wait, what? Turns out he was talking about purchasing a soft drink. It also turns out, judging by his word use, he’s visiting us from 1975.

At this rate, I’ll be trilingual by the end of the semester: fluent in English, Australian and American. Oh, and I can also count to ten in Italian, sorry to brag.



Coconino Community College
Student Housing at NAU