Australian slang

Australians have a habit of shortening a word, usually a noun, and then adding an ‘o’ or ‘ie’ to the end of it. Some of these words are offensive and are meant to be. Some are mildly amusing. Some have no implications. It tends to depend on the person and situation where they are used. What is an insult in one situation might be a friendly nudge in another.

To help visitors and English speaking people understand what is being said, I have listed a few fairly common ones below. Throw a few of them into your conversation down under and you will soon be accepted in Australia.

aggro = aggravation or aggressiveness, depending on usage. I cause aggravation, when I act with aggressiveness.
ambo = ambulance crew member, a paramedic.
arvo = afternoon. Australians pronounce the ‘a’ in afternoon, long, as ‘ar’.
barbie = barbecue. As in “Throw another snag (sausage) on the barbie.” or “Barbie Satdy arvo?” ( Shall we have a barbecue Saturday afternoon?).
bizzo = business. Any commercial or non-commercial activity that you might be involved in.
bottleo = the local bottle shop. Where you buy your beer to drink at home when you don’t want to go to the pub.
commie = communist.
dero = derelict. A down-and-out, homeless person, usually with implications of being an alcoholic and/or druggie.
devo = deviant. A person whose behaviour is outside the social norm, particularly sexually, as when applied to pederasts and gays.
druggie = drug user.
fisho – fishmonger. A shopkeeper who sells fish.
garbo = garbage collector, the type who used to come around the streets emptying rubbish bins into a garbage truck every week, but now don’t.
gyno = gynaecologist
journo = journalist
kero = kerosene, used in a kero heater to warm the house.
metho = methylated spirits, favoured drink of the ‘deros’.
milko = milkman, when they did home deliveries, which they don’t any more.
nasho = National Service, in the old days when people were drafted into the armed forces.
rego = car registration.
relo = relative, a member of one’s family.
salvo = The Salvation Army. Usually made a plural ‘salvos’ to refer to the people, thrift shops, the organisation, etc.
servo = service station, where you can fill your car with petrol, but don’t get any service, such as your tank filled and oil checked, as you used to.
smoko = smoking and tea break, now applied to any work break, even by non-smokers or where smoking is banned.
vinnies = The St Vincent de Paul Society. Also used as a possessive with an apostrophe before the ‘s’. There doesn’t seem to be a singular form.

There are undoubtedly many more than I have listed above. Some are old, some are new. For instance, ‘smoko’ has been around for more than fifty years that I know of, but ‘ambo’ is a fairly recent creation. Some no longer seem relevant, like ‘garbo’ or ‘milko’ because they don’t come around any more. Others have changed their meanings, like a ‘servo’ where you don’t get proper service now, and can only get petrol by self-service.

As well, people in different parts of the country use different forms of slang, so the words can vary from state to state and city to city. Sometimes people will invent their own words to suit their own purposes. Sometimes these words become popular and spread, other times they just die out.

Often the people referred to will use the slang word when talking about themselves. For instance, The Salvation Army use ‘salvos’ and St Vincent de Paul use ‘vinnies’ on their thrift shops and advertising, because people know of them under those names and will recognise who is meant. Ambulance crews call themselves ‘ambos’, perhaps because it sounds less official and intimidating to their customers.

There are some words that look like they should be on the lists but actually don’t fit. For instance, ‘decko’ (= look at) has the right form, but ‘deck’ isn’t the shortened form of any word. Words such as ‘ammo’, ‘afro’ ‘alkie’, while having the right form, are foreign imports not local creations. Words like ‘auto’ and ‘eco’ aren’t the right form as the ‘o’ is part of the parent word, not an addition. Where I have doubts I have left the word off the list, but some wrong ones have probably crept in. Sometimes it is difficult to know where a slang word originated.

Australians will shorten almost any word they can, even if it doesn’t make much sense or makes the sentence sound meaningless. They have been doing it for a very long time. It seems to be a habit more than anything, since much of it doesn’t help in understanding what they are talking about, unless you already happen to know the code.

Perhaps it’s intended to confuse or mystify strangers. Perhaps it’s just laziness and takes less effort to use a short word in place of a long one.

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