Lost in Translation: Differences Between Aussie English & American English

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As an English teacher and a habitual dater of American girls, I sometimes forget that there are many (often amusing) differences between the way those who learn English in Australia and those who learn English in the USA speak. It’s more than just the horrendous misspellings of aluminium or the way the letter ‘h’ is so coolly ignored at the start of the word ‘herb’, too.

I’m ashamed to say, my Aussie accent has slowly made way for an American one after constant exposure to pretty American girls and the general demand abroad for students to learn American English rather than the so pompously named ‘Queen’s English’. Hell, I don’t even spell color colour right any more! If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been accused of being a nationality other than Australian, I could probably afford two Subway meals right about now.

So, what are these differences? I’ve highlighted the five that tickle, confuse, or infuriate me the most.

Pronunciation

It’s no secret that any nation is going to have quirks and tones that make their accent sound unique. We pronounce ‘Aussie’ with a ‘z’ sound, while Americans tend to say it more like ‘Ossie’. Our ‘can’t’ sounds suspiciously like a nasty swear word, while America’s sounds like ‘can’ with a ‘t’ on the end.

There’s the aforementioned silent ‘h’ on ‘herb’ and the way ‘albino’ is said ‘albeeno’ in Australia, but ‘Al-buy-no’ in the US of A. Forehead vs. for-ed, aluminum vs. aluminium, and Coasta Rica vs. Cost-a Rica further muddy the waters.

Do these ones bother me? Not at all! Although if another American corrects my pronunciation of an English word, there may just be hell to pay.

Differences in Vernacular

Let’s be honest, pronunciation doesn’t cause a great deal of confusion when an Aussie (or Kiwi or Pom) bumps into an American. But some of the differences in our language certainly do.

None amuse and shock more than the use of the word ‘thong’ – a relatively harmless bit of footwear (flip flop) in Australia, but a much racier (and almost exclusively female) bit of attire in the United States. It still makes me chuckle every time I walk into a room asking if anybody’s seen my thongs and have a group of Americans alternate between shock and amusement.

I’ve highlighted a few others below:

  • Cookie (US) vs. Biscuit (Australia)
  • Trash/Garbage vs. Rubbish
  • Bathroom/Restroom vs. Toilet
  • Soda/Pop vs. Fizzy Drink/Soft Drink
  • Liquor vs. Spirits
  • Bar vs. Pub
  • Cuss vs. Swear
  • Ass vs. Arse
  • Candy vs. Lollies
  • Sweater/Hoodie vs. Jumper
  • Root (to cheer) vs. root (to fuck)
  • Chicken Sandwich/Fish Sandwich vs. Chicken Burger/Fish Burger
  • Rubber (Condom) vs. Rubber (Eraser)
  • Marker vs. Texta

The list is pretty much inexhaustible, but I’d love to hear any from you that I might have forgotten.

Aussie Lingo

While we ostensibly speak the same tongue, we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that there are some pretty big differences between Aussie English and that of America. Heck, you could argue that American English varies quite considerably in both pronunciation and content based on which part of the country you’re in. Thankfully, the differences from state to state aren’t so extreme in Australia.

I’ve compiled a pretty exhaustive list of Aussie slang you can take a look at, but suffice to say – there’s a helluva lot of odd words and expressions in Australian English that just don’t adequately translate into American English. And thanks to our exposure to American media through television, film, and movies – we Aussies are usually a bit more savvy when it comes to understanding our neighbors from across the Pacific/Indian (depending on which way you do it.

What’s Appropriate

Another big difference between the way Australians and Americans use the language is in what can and cannot be said. Both countries do enjoy relatively similar cultures, but where America is perhaps one of the world’s more politically correct nations – Australia still languishes behind with a much more irreverant view of things.

Whether or not this is a good thing is open to debate, but where dropping the C-Bomb (c***) is relatively commonplace among friends in Australia, it will draw you looks of horror or scandalized outrage if uttered in the company of many Americans. I’ve even had groups of drunken guys stop in shock when I’ve dropped a few choice swear words.

There’s also an often inappropriate view towards sexism, racism, and religion in Australia. For better or worse, very little is sacred. So while the average Aussie will probably flinch away from the ‘N-Word’, they won’t blanch at the prospect of telling a racist joke or muttering some choice words about the smell of the Indian bloke in front of them in line.

Abbreviations

Australian English is one littered with abbreviations. Arvo instead of afternoon, brekkie instead of breakfast, sanger instead of sandwich… the list goes on. We’re a lazy people except when it comes to giving our mates nicknames – in which case we typically extend the first name or surname by adding an ‘o’ or a ‘y’ at its end. I never said we were imaginative!

I, for example, typically become Bushy on Australian soil. My brother Dominik becomes ‘Dombo’. Truth be told, I much prefer my nicknames of CWB, Quib, New Age Man, or Richard to the rather dull ones I’ve drawn in my time on Aussie soil.

And More!

I’m no expert in linguistics, so I’m sure I’ve barely scraped the surface in my brief analysis. But I’d be fascinated to learn about any other differences you find between Aussie and American English.

Share your own experiences with communication and miscommunication between the men (and women) from the land down-under and the Yanks I’ve come to love so much.

 

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7 comments

  1. Aussies totally ignore the r”ion words ending in that letter. Like DEAR, REAR, HEAR, WATER………..just isn’t there. I often mistake what they say, and have to make myself tune in to “Ozzie” english so I don’t get left behind wondering what they said

    • It definitely takes some adjusting to. I’m sad to say I don’t often get accused of being Aussie anymore, as my years of dating American girls and teaching US English have bastardised my accent into something not quite from either country.

  2. You forgot the biggest ones – while it’s perfectly safe to slap someone’s fanny in the States, you try slapping someone’s fanny in Australia, you’re likely to end up with a black eye! And while the Yanks have no problem naming their son Dick, most Aussie parents are way too find for that kind of vulgarity, knowing the beating he’ll cop in the school ground for it.

    • I can’t believe I left out fanny! Dick I can almost forgive myself for since Americans use that as a sledge as well, but fanny? I’m ashamed at myself 😮

      • Don’t worry about it – when I blog, I’ll often remember a dozen things I wanted to say AFTER I’ve posted it.

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