English is not always English

Since we’ve moved to Australia, I’ve fully come to understand that even though a country may claim to be English speaking, their English is not always English.

Almost every country that has English as one of its official languages has its own variety of it. The most famous varieties are, of course, UK and American English. It’s not just the accents and the spelling that differ, but the variation in area-specific terms is staggering. This is what I’ll be focusing on in this post.

Some background

I’ve written a bit about American English and how I was confused about the term ‘drug store’. In Australia, there are some specific Aussie terms, but the same can be said of South Africa. I thought I’d share a few.

First of all, you have to note that Aussies love shortening words and phrases. It drives me crazy because I still have to get used to them, and I’m often confused. They also have a few other interesting proudly Aussie words.

Aussie words

Here are a few Aussie words I have come across:

Bogan: A bogan is an uncultured, low-class person (apparently).1

In South Africa, you just call these people ‘common’ or ‘kommin’ in Afrikaans—it pretty much means the same thing.

Fair dinkum: I have no idea what a ‘dinkum’ is, but fair dinkum means ‘true, real, or genuine’.1

Roo: Short for kangaroo.1

Servo: Short for ‘service station’. In South Africa, it’s a petrol station.

Tradie: short for tradesperson.1

Ute: Short for ‘utility vehicle’. In South Africa, we know it as a ‘bakkie’ but the rest of you may know it as a pickup truck.

Budgie smuggler: A speedo. Apparently, it’s because it looks like you have a tiny bird in your undies.2 (This would be so much funnier in Afrikaans). 

Deadset: Honestly or true.

Good on ya: This is one of my favourite Aussie sayings and it means ‘good work’.2

Heaps: Many or lots.2

South African words

Then there are also some South African words that are uniquely South African.

Babbelas [bub-ba-las]: An Afrikaans word for hangover. It can also be a verb: ‘babeleer’.

Bliksem [bluhk–sim]: An Afrikaans word that means to beat someone up, but it can be used as a term of surprise.

Braai [brr-rye]: It’s a barbecue, but so much better.3 We ‘braai’ steaks, lamb chops, and braaibroodjies (braai sandwiches) not patties.

Gatvol [ghut-foll]: It means you are sick and tired of something, or you’ve just had enough of a situation. Then you are gatvol. For example, at the moment I’m so gatvol of the rain that keeps pouring down here.

Jol: It means to party, have fun, or just to have a good time.3

Laaitie [light-ee]: It refers to a child, but usually a boy.3

Lekker [lack-err]: It means anything good if I’m honest.3 You can talk about ‘lekker’ food, ‘lekker’ weather, ‘lekker’ people. It’s a super versatile word.

Bra/bru: It means your friend, but it’s usually used by men. The closest English word I can think of is ‘bro’. The more gender-neutral word would be ‘chommie’.4

Gogga [ch-o-cha]: Used to refer to any kind of bug.4

Howzit: It’s a combination of ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ It’s silly, I know.4

Voetsek [foot-sak]: It means ‘go away, but you can also use it as a nice way to tell someone to fuck off.4

Tekkies: Training or running shoes.


So yeah, as I said, English is not always English.

What are some words or phrases specific to your country? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.



P.S. If you’d like to contact me, feel free to comment below, send an email to thatmichelleperson@gmail.com, or follow me on Twitter @M_ClutterBox.

I used these sources:

  1. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/61847/25-awesome-australian-slang-terms
  2. https://ielts.com.au/australia/prepare/article-australian-slang-words-phrases
  3. https://imagnaryhouse.com/blogs/news/south-african-slang-everyone-should-know
  4. https://pinkpangea.com/2016/02/travelers-guide-south-african-slang/