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Australian Vernacular: or the Delightfully Unrestrained Use of Abbreviations

Source: Celeb Mafia

About a month ago I landed in Australia for the very first time. As I made my way around Sydney, struggling to make sense of my new environment, I gladly noticed one anticipated peculiarity: Australians use all kinds of quirky diminutives in their day-to-day chit-chat.

A faculty member presenting at the postgraduate welcome at my university began his speech with an attempted rationalisation of why Ozzies speak the way they do.

When asked whether we were all keen to become ‘journos’, I looked around, unsure. The term sounded slightly pornographic.

“It’s hot Down Under”, he explained. “We Australians want to keep our mouths open as little as possible, you see, to avoid the flies getting in”. He threw a few common expressions at us: “You right?” and “You good?”. It came to the customary greeting: “G’day!”. He made us all repeat it. My fellow internationals and I looked at each other perplexed, unsure whether we were being taught nonsense. Do Australians actually say “G’day”? Like really, in public?

Turns out they do. And it doesn’t stop there.

Abbreviations punctuate all aspects of Australian speech, from the informal ‘joggers’ and ‘bathers’ to established names of shops—‘Vinnies’ for St Vincent de Paul and ‘Salvos’ designating the Salvation Army.

This interesting trend stretches to academia as well. I was taken aback to discover I was unwittingly part of a university department called SLAM. Not a break-dancing club, just the good ol’ School of Letters, Arts and Media.

When asked whether we were all keen to become ‘journos’, I looked around, unsure. The term sounded slightly pornographic.

Faced with the quizzical expressions of my fellow foreign classmates the professors explained almost apologetically, “we do shorten everything here in Australia”. Yet it was hard to miss the hint of pride in their voices.

I’ve come to regard Australian slang as very much part of the national identity. It undeniably makes conversation with natives that much more entertaining. When a friend reminded me to bring my ‘sunnies’ and ’cozzies’ for our ‘arvo’ at the beach, images of sandcastle building, up-to-the-neck-in-sand burials, and other childlike beach activities popped to mind, making me that much more eager for our seaside outing.

And calling a mosquito a ‘mozzie’ certainly makes the troublesome insect sound much less threatening.

It seems the abundance of abbreviations in Ozzie speech mirrors the relaxed nature of Australians in general. When walking down the street I can’t help but slow down and adapt my usual stressed-Londoner pace to a more chilled Sydney-sider one, giving me time to breathe and enjoy the sites, take in the sun and observe the city’s odd wildlife.

Similarly I find myself adopting these abridged words. After getting over the initial amazement, you get drawn in, finding the casual diminutives somewhat endearing. They add a pleasantly candid tint to casual conversing.

Another peculiar idiosyncrasy: “how you goin’?”, prompted me when I first heard it to uncertainly respond gibberish: “err… on foot, I guess?” The expression is surely no less nonsensical than the American “how you doin’?” Yet the US counterpart was spread worldwide and popularised by TV-icon Joey from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Ultimately, we all forgot how absurd it really was, effectively normalised by ten years of hearing it on our favourite television show. “How you goin’?’ – It still makes me giggle.

Nonetheless, after a month in Australia, I’m now practically accustomed to most phrases. Every Monday morning, my Online Journalism professor looks up from his shirt and tie, smart glasses and briefcase, and drops an uncharacteristically relaxed “G’day!” It still catches me off guard. There will come a day where I’ll confidently answer back, “G’day!” I may even throw in a nonchalant ‘How you goin?’.

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