Words I never realized were Australianisms until I left Australia

Advertising Tomato Sauce
“Advertising Tomato Sauce” by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I’m not surprised that some Italians have trouble with my accent — after all, Italian is all about the beautiful distinct vowels, and I’m not sure vowels even exist in Australian English. (Is a vague “uh” noise a vowel? Because in Australia, it is EVERY VOWEL.)

What throws me off is when I’m talking to another English speaker and they look at me oddly and I realize… pretty speccy (meaning, “quite impressive”) isn’t actually a standard English idiom.

So here’s a list of some other I-never-knew-they-were-Australianisms. With the disclaimer that probably a lot of these are also used in New Zealand… (But then, it’s my patriotic duty as an Australian to claim all of NZ’s best stuff as coming from Australia.)

  • Doona for duvet
  • Yummo! which is what you say to small children when trying to convince them they really do like the food they’ve been given
  • Op shop for charity shop/thrift store
  • Bottle shop is where you buy alcohol — what do other countries even call this? I’m guessing not “bottle shop” and definitely not the standard abbreviation, bottle-o.
  • Maccas for McDonalds
  • Gumboots for Wellington boots/rain boots
  • CBD for city centre/downtown
  • Arvo for afternoon — IN MY DEFENCE… I did realize it wasn’t standard English, but I had this idea that at least some British English dialects used it
  • Glad Wrap for clingfilm/Saran Wrap
  • Heaps for lots (“Thanks, that’s heaps” to the person dishing up your dinner)/very (“That’s heaps good”)
  • Classic! an exclamation meaning that something is particularly amusing
  • Tomato sauce for ketchup. To this day, I can never remember how to ask in Italian for tomato sauce on my burger because I know the Italian word is the same as the English but then I blank on what the word is in everyone else’s English
  • Bring-a-plate for bring-and-share/potluck
  • Rockmelon for cantaloupe
  • Singlet for… a sleeveless undershirt but I just remembered having a massive discussion recently about what those things are called in other Englishes and now I’m not brave enough to offer a translation
  • Texta for felt-tip pen
  • Milo is a chocolate malt drink. It isn’t actually an Australianism: it also exists in (I’ve been told) Ghana and Malaysia, but not Britain or America, oddly enough.
  • Cheers big ears… Honestly I’m not sure anyone really says this in Australia either

5 thoughts on “Words I never realized were Australianisms until I left Australia

  1. Confuzzled Bev

    A place to buy alcohol is an off licence in Britsh English (as in they don’t have a licence to let people drink on the premises – they only sell alcohol to take away).

    We always called Ketchup “tomato sauce” when I was a kid!

    I thought “heaps” meant lots everywhere? maybe I wouldn’t say “Thanks, that’s heaps!” but I can definitely imagine someone saying “I have heaps of food” or something.

    My sister actually says “cheers, big ears” and she’s never been to Australia (or New Zealand) in her life! She’s clearly just weird ;-)


    1. Where's Zoe Now? Post author

      Haha, I don’t think I’ve ever actually said “cheers big ears” out loud, I just remember hearing it some time in the past couple of years and thinking, “wait, that’s gotta be an Australianism”. Glad to hear “tomato sauce” is more universal than I thought! And yeah, it’s specifically phrases like “thanks heaps” and “love you heaps” that people have laughed at me for being Australian for… :)


  2. KWadsworth

    In the US, it gets even more byzantine, because the names we have for some things depend on the exact region of the country. In one part of the country, the generic word for a fizzy soft drink is “soda”. in another, it’s “pop”. In one state, it’s “tonic”. And in some places, it’s “coke”, as in “Coca-cola”. (“Can I have a coke please?” “Sure, what kind?” “A Fanta, please.”)

    Then there are those tiny multi-colored bits of candy you sprinkle onto baked goods or ice cream as a decoration. In some parts of the country, they’re called “sprinkles”, and in others, they’re called “Jimmies”. My grandparents lived one state over from us when I was small, and apparently the dividing line between “sprinkles” and “jimmies” was that state line, because there were several confusing conversations had when my grandfather was getting my brother and I ice cream and he offered us “Jimmies” and we would say “no, but can we have sprinkles?”

    And then there is a sandwich that comes on a crusy long roll. Depending on where in the country you are, that is either a “hoagie”, a “grinder”, a “sub sandwich”, a “hero”, or a “po’ boy”.

    As for stores that sell liquor – I grew up in a part of the country that calls it a “package store”. I’ve been living in New York City for my entire adult life, and only just a few years ago stopped calling them by that name.


    1. Where's Zoe Now? Post author

      Yeah, Australia is fairly uniform throughout the country — there are only a few words that are regional, eg, when you go swimming, whether you wear “bathers” or “togs” will identify where you grew up.


  3. CatherineRose

    I love Australianisms! My Australian friends in Lyon taught me “heaps” and “arvo” but all the rest are new. I particularly like “rockmelon.” (My autocorrect doesn’t even recognize argo and rock melon. See?) I have heard Glad Wrap before but I call it Saran Wrap. I would be SO CONFUSED by the tomato sauce ketchup thing. Once some British friends asked about American words and expressions, but I honestly have no idea which expressions are particularly American apart from the obvious vocabulary differences (although “trash can” got some giggles). I guess we just don’t have cool fun expressions like you do!



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