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10 Australian Expressions I Can’t Live Without

10 Australian Expressions I Can't Live Without

I love it when I find a word or phrase that fills a need and says something that nothing else in the language does. I adore the Southernism, “y’all” for this very reason. It may be a bit of a joke on Southern dialect to people outside the region, but there’s no other word in English that means “you” in the plural, so I love it and will continue to use it with no apologies.

Recently, I’ve noticed that there are a few Australian terms (some of them are British/Aussie) that have become essential in my vocabulary. They fill a linguistic void for me. I’ve been keeping notes when one pops out of my mouth, and this is a list of 10 Australian expressions that slip off my tongue with ease.10 Australian Expressions I Can't Live Without


1. Cheeky

This is such a favorite, especially now that I have a kid. I use it all the time regarding mine and other people’s children. It describes something that’s a little bit naughty, kind of sly, but in a good natured or funny way. I use it a lot for children, but it can be used in many different scenarios. One I hear a lot is, “do you want to go get a cheeky coffee?,” meaning “do you want to slip away for a bit for a coffee and a quick chat, even if there might be other things we should/could be doing.”

2. It’s a dog’s breakfast

I love this one for how descriptive it is. It means that a situation is a mess. For instance, you might call a project at work “a dog’s breakfast” if it goes completely off the rails, maybe due to someone’s incompetence or extenuating circumstances. I’ve also heard it used to refer to something visual like a piece of art that’s particularly ugly.

3. Budgie smugglers

…speaking of things that are descriptive. Maybe it’s a little juvenile, but I get such a kick out of this phrase. First thing you need to know, if you aren’t familiar with the term, is that “budgies” are a little bird that we in the States would call a parakeet. Budgie smugglers are men’s Speedo style swim trunks. I’ve created a visual, just in case any further explanation is required, with the help of our former Prime Minister, who loves his short shorts.

Also, can I just mention how much I love that this is the first result that comes up when you put in “Tony Abbott b…”

4. Feral children

This is another one that’s become useful since having a baby. It’s just what it sounds like – wild, untamed kids, particularly yours or those you encounter out and about. “My kid is feral today. I need a drink.”

5. Chuffed

This is an awesome way of saying that you’re really happy about something. It’s almost onomatopoeic, such a round and puffy word, you can’t help but get a little grin when you say it.

6. Spit the dummy

I actually never knew what this mean until I had Hushpuppy. A dummy is what we Americans call a pacifier, and during Hushpuppy’s short-lived interest in paccies/binkies/dummies, I saw first-hand where the expression came from. If she didn’t want it, she’d spit it out in a fit of disgust. So, the expression “spit the dummy” is just that – a fit of anger or annoyance, losing your temper. “Randall spit the dummy when he heard they were thinking about pay cuts.”

7. Fortnight

Before moving here, a fortnight was something I’d only encountered in Jane Austen novels, as in “we’ll be in the country visiting the Collingsworth estate for a fortnight.” Everyone was always going visiting for a fortnight. Turns out that a fortnight is fourteen “nights,” or more succinctly, two weeks. It’s common here to be billed for something forthnightly or to set up an appointment for a fortnight from now.

8. Just quietly

Between you and me. “Just quietly, I didn’t think the wine they served was as good as they kept saying it was.”

9. Keen

Keen means that you really want to do something. At first I mostly used it when talking to Aussies, but I find it very useful and notice it slipping in all the time. “Can we invite Marsha to the movie? She’s really keen to see it.”

10. Losing the plot

I use this phrase all the time. It’s so great. It means that you or someone has gone a bit nutty or lost track of what’s important in a situation. “Why did he do that? Has he lost the plot?”  The first page of a Google search for “lost the plot” comes up with articles  titled “Has Paula Abdul completely lost the plot?” and the one to the right. The idea of Angela Merkel actually saying “lost the plot” seriously slays me.

All these phrases have become natural to me, and I find them endlessly useful. American friends, next time we talk, you’ll no doubt hear at least one of these gems sneak into our conversation.