I’ve been in Australia for two weeks now, and all I can say is the people here must be extremely busy. Why else would they feel obliged to abbreviate so incredibly many words? I started to write down examples shortly after I arrived, and already my notebook is almost full.
A lot of the abbreviations are diminutives: Tasmania is Tassie, mosquitoes are mossies, politicians are pollies, Australian Rules Football is footy, motorcyclists are bikies, a machine on which you play poker is a pokie, a bathing suit (or costume) is a cossie, and you wear Wellies in the rain. I don’t know what a tradie van is, but I saw an ad for one.
Sometimes the Aussies (that’s another one, come to think of it) just chop off the end of a word: university is uni, afternoon is arvo, linoleum is lino, Mitsubishi is Mitsu, and a pickup truck (that is, a utility vehicle) is a ute.
It all comes together in food lingo. Chicken parmigiana is parmie (I saw a sign at the Palm Hotel proclaiming, “Have a Parmie at the Palmie”), avocado is avo, Woolworth’s (a grocery chain here) is Woollie’s, McDonald’s is Macca’s (Burger King is Hungry Jack’s, but that’s another story), a sandwich is a sanga, a grilled sanga is a toastie, breakfast is brekky, a bottle of beer is a stubbie, dim sim dumplings are dimmies, and we all know what you throw another shrimp on.
If you don’t believe me, here’s some photographic evidence of abbros (that’s not really a word, but it should be). Click on the pictures to see larger versions.
I also have official backup. An Australian government website confirms, “Australians also demonstrate a strong impulse to abbreviate and alter word endings.” One researcher has estimated that some 4,300 such words are in circulation.
The question remains, why? Hearing all the diminutives, you might be led to conclude that Australians are stuck in some preteen state of arrested development. It seemed that way the other night at the Australian Open, when supporters cheered on Nick Kyrgios with the chant “Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!” But in my dealings with the locals, they have seemed just as mature as the next nationality. And they do not rush about, as my facetious opening comment suggested; in fact, the opposite tendency is more noticeable among Australians, for whom the term “laid back” may have been invented. Part of the explanation is surely British influence, but abbreviationwise, the Aussies outdo the Brits, by a long chalk. I asked a distinguished Australian academic for her thoughts and she said, “We’re just lazy, I guess.” She pondered a minute and said, “Maybe it has to do with the fact that so many immigrants come here, and they need a simple way to communicate with each other.”
That makes sense. So does a link with the almost aggressively informal culture here. Nenagh Kemp, a psychologist specializing in language at the University of Tasmania, who has conducted research on the phenomenon, has been quoted as saying, “Australians who use these diminutives might be trying to sound less pretentious, more casual and more friendly than they would by using the full words.” So g’day, mate, and good on ya.
By the way, Australians are into anthimeria, too: I just saw a commercial for a railroad line with the tagline, “All aboard amazing.”Return to Top