Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"She Spat the Dummy" - When English is like Trying to Understand a Different Language

When I first started as a writer writing primarily for the U.S. market, I assumed that because both New Zealand and the United States speak English, words and phrases that I use every day are ingrained in the American vernacular. I mean, how could America not embrace the awesomeness that is someone "spitting the dummy". Until I lost count of the number of times American friends and critique partners were bewildered by something I said or wrote that had nothing to do with my accent!
For a start apparently a dummy isn't a dummy in America - it's a pacifier!
So here are ten of my favourite “Kiwi-isms” that I think need to go international and be adopted by the rest of the world :) 
Short for bachelor pad, "baches" (pronounced batches) refer to family holiday homes usually near a beach or a lake. It used to be specifically for something that was quite small and basic but now people it’s often just a house that isn’t their primary residence – even if it’s a weekend McMansion.
Something being full or overflowing. For example, "my bookcase is chocka."
If something is "dodgy" it could mean either that it is out of date or stale, or it can refer to a person who looks suspicious or unreliable. For example, “I think I ate a dodgy curry last night” or "The people outside the bar look dodgy."
The word "jandal" is an abbreviation of "Japanese sandal" or known to millions of Americans as the “flip-flop” or Australians as  a “thong” (which is New Zealand is an item of lingerie).
Definition: broken or ruined. "Munted" it became an official word when Mayor Bob Parker (of Christchurch, in reference to damage caused by the Canterbury Earthquake of February 2011) told journalists “Our main sewer trunk is seriously munted. I believe that is the technical term.”
Something that is gross. For example, “My hair is really manky today.”
Spat the dummy
Refers to someone either losing their temper or having some sort of emotional meltdown. For example, “She spat the dummy when her husband had to work late again.” Also known as “lost the plot” or “the wheels fell off”.

Very pleased or excited. For example, "I was so stoked to final in the contest."
Tiki tour
To go on a journey with no specific destination in mind, or to take a long way/scenic route to reach a destination. For example, "Let's take a tiki tour around the North Island."
Something in the middle of nowhere. For example, "She lives in the wop wops".
What about you? What are some of your favourite words or phrases that you use all the time but discover when you travel no one else knows what they are? Or some you've heard when traveling and not been able to unravel?
Kara Isaac lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Ordinarily she loves to write romantic comedy but six weeks ago a new little person arrived in Casa de Isaac so right now she is sleep deprived and struggling to string together coherent sentences, let alone a plot. Turns out, as much as she wishes otherwise, she's not the kind of person who can type a novel with one hand while doing a 2am feeding with the other.
You can also find her on Twitter @KaraIsaac or on Facebook at Kara Isaac - Writer


  1. Wonderful, Kara! Can't you fit a wonky Kiwi character into a book for US audiences? I can imagine lots of humor in the misunderstandings. My English of course, is perfectly normal, but I did once have a Brit say she would stop by to pick up a flask. I wondered if she had a drinking problem because to me a flask was a small flat bottle for keeping a secret stash of whiskey. To her it was a thermoflask to keep her tea hot. In moving from Brazil to Mozambique we had to quickly change some of our vocabulary since a common expression in Brazilian Portuguese had shocking meaning to Mozambicans.

    1. Leanne, I would've shared your interpretation of "flask". In New Zealand most people call that a thermos :)

  2. Colloquialisms can get us into trouble. I remember a newly arrived English lady complaining that the milkman had "knocked her up" early. There was a stunned silence in the room, before we realized she meant the milkman had knocked on the door early in the morning and woken her from sleep! In Canada that term means the milkman had gotten her pregnant.
    I always do a double take on "jumper." In Canada, we call that garment a sweater. What about the rest of you? Is jumper a knitted shirt or a horse that leaps fences?

    1. Oh dear - there would be stunned silence in New Zealand as well at that! In New Zealand we usually refer to a sweater or a jersey but in context would understand jumper too :)

  3. Oh That post killed me! Kara, for the middle of nowhere, Aussies say woop-woop or "beyond the black stump." And if a car wants to make a U-turn, we say "to chuck a Uey." But I love jandals, manky and munted. Never heard of them before and to think you're just "over the pond"!

  4. Hi Kara,
    This is really interesting. We Aussies share some of those with you Kiwis, but not all of them. I think some of them are even restricted to particular states, because in South Australia, we call that place in the middle of nowhere, 'Oodnawoopwoop.'
    I'd never heard of baches or tiki tours.
    We do spit our dummies though. I can imagine how confusing that must sound to other international friends. Spitting your pacifier doesn't have the same ring.

    1. It's definitely not the same is it! Not to mention the whole two extra syllables pacifier involves :)

  5. I love this! I remember when we first moved to South Africa I was totally unprepared for the differences between SA and USA English. For example, my son brought home a list of school supplies he needed and I didn't even know what half of them were! Now, I have to laugh when I visit the US and people look at me funny because I've used the 'wrong' English word.

  6. My main male character in my WIP (the main female character's best mate and often her lifeline) is a Kiwi boy transplanted to Texas ... they meet as 10-11 year old kids, and yep, there are definitely language differences! I LOVE Kiwi-isms, and Kiwi accents. Heck, I love New Zealand, just wish I could live there someday. Anyway, I knew most of these, but learned a couple, and they will probably show up at some point in my book. My FAVORITE Kiwi-ism is "sweet as". But jandal should abso-flamin'-lutely become the official word worldwide for "flip-flop".

    1. Yes, it should. Let's do it - one jandal convert at a time! :)

  7. Im an aussie and didn't know Jangle, Bach, munted, manky. Tiki tour I would think of contiki tour.

    Jumper must be more an aussie term. Oh the one I said in america on the plane was that friends were going to shout me lunch and had to explain if someone shouts you it means they are paying. Buckleys or none is another one we use (meaning you have 2 chances of winning buckleys or none or inother words no chance)

  8. Kara, fun post! I've learned that a jumper is a dress (not a sweater) and my characters are not allowed to take off their thongs (flip flops) at the beach! I think I was able to keep the word 'dodgy' in one of my books, although one of my Aussie beta-readers questioned if it would fly in the US. I haven't heard the word 'stoked' used in a long time. It was popular when I was younger. Spitting the dummy is a classic expression :)