Australian Slang

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The slang in Australia developed from two situations from its past. The first is the discovery of gold in 1851: this led to a change in social status and therefore a change in the nature of popular speech. For instance, the word “digger” was used to represent someone who searched for gold. Then, it was transferred to the Australian soldier in the First World War. Now, it has been shortened to “Dig” and it still retains a military application today. Another ‘gold digging’ word is “fossick” which was used to represent something when we searched for it. It too has gone through many changes and has been used in the phrase “fossick it up” or “we fossick around” and “fossicking” is still a common, useful term to represent searching. There were many other influences on Australian slang including: the Boer War, the Second World War, the convict days, and the nomad life. In general, the country of Australia has always been a working-class nation and its slang has expanded particularly at times when men were thrown together in large numbers to complete a task or job. As a result, Australian slang tends to be very masculine with ironic humor. (Rickard 111).

Here are other gold digging phrases that have lasted into present-day Australia:

Joe = police officer (came from Joe LaTrobe, the governor of the state of Victoria in 1851)

Have a single short = to be silly

Splitter =a timber cutter

Steamer =a dish of stewed kangaroo flavored with pork

Cocky = a farmer (derived from cockatoo- a small farmer who “was just picking up the grains livelihood like cockatoos do maiz


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Humor in Australia seems to be very contained within the country and is also very difficult to illustrate. Many of the jokes have words that are “unprintable.” As Thomas Wood, author of Cobbers (1934) puts it: “The native born joke is…worth hearing. It comes pat, faintly mocking, hiding a sting in its tail. The best stories will never be published. Too vigorous. Too full of words you must not print” (


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  February 16, 2001