Australia, blogging

What Did You Say? Favourite Idioms

Language is so dynamic. It’s constantly shifting. It changes from nuance to nuance depending on generation, culture, population, political correctness and slang.

I’ve known of immigrants – Greek-Australians – who on retirement from work in Australia, decided to reverse-migrate, back to the old country of Greece, to live out their declining years. To their surprise and utter disappointment, they find they can no longer understand the native dialect or “lingo,” in their beloved former home villages.

Language, like progress, is never static.

Today, I learnt that Aussie youth refer to the act of lying as “capping.” Urban dictionary confirmed this – so hey, it must be true enough?

Yesterday, I posted the following pic of fairy floss, which goes by the pseudonym of cotton candy elsewhere. I can’t think of it as cotton candy. There is nothing cotton-like about it. – But come to think of it, there’s not much that is fairy-like about it either.

pink cotton candy held by two fingers

Blogger Elmo writes discussed someone at the side of the road yakking – where I live that would not raise an eyebrow. Many Australians will ‘yak to someone at the side of the road on a regular basis. It means having a casual discussion or even ‘talking someone’s ear off’. It turns out yakking is quite a different experience in some parts of America/Canada.

The M.o.t.h used to laugh and think I was inventing phrases, when I’d remind him, ” I didn’t “hang an albatross around his neck,” – a mental image of the Ancient Mariner I recalled from a Samuel Taylor Coleridge Poem I’d been force-fed at high school.

The Venomous Bead recently educated me in the best of Scottish vernacular and a useful means of getting rid of unwanted callers by telling them in your best Scottish brogue to:

Bile yer heid“…(go away) adding:
Erse oot the windae“…..(you are mistaken)

Norwegians have some realistic idioms in their language. A pushy, overly ambitious person is said to have, “Pointed Elbows,” and when I think of certain people I have encountered in my career, not only were their elbows pointed, but they used them to great effect to push their way through! Those elbows dug in!

The Danes however, “take the cake,” – if you get that meaning? They use a range of vegetables to depict people, traits and situations which you may have seen posted here before.

Just look at these turns of phrase:

It hilarious. Can you imagine reading this via a Danish-English translator:

That sour onion was too busy playing the King carrot to do the cabbage. We need someone to handle the peas and juggle that hot potato without stepping in the spinach.

I posted a sample of Aussie slang on this blog back in 2015. I wonder how much would be understood now:

Keep ya’ shirt on! You don’t want to get the raw prawn at the Barbie, this arvo. It’s a scorcher Straya Day, and every man and his dog will be heading to the beach, so it’s better to fill ya’ esky with a few tinnies, ditch the Reg Grundies and wear your budgie smugglers under ya’ boardies! Don’t forget your slip, slop, slap!  She’ll be right, mate! Fair Dinkum!
Translation: Hold your temper! It is not worth fighting about! You don’t want to end up in a compromising position at the outdoor meal prepared over a outdoor grill this afternoon. The weather is very sunny and extremely hot this Australia Day, and there will be a large group of people, of all kinds, visiting the beach. So it is wise to purchase an insulated portable picnic box, used for keeping food at a safe temperature, and fill it with ice and tins of cold beer, whilst dressing in the appropriate attire. That is: wearing ‘minimalist’ lycra swimming bathers underneath knee-length board-shorts, and leave the regular cotton underwear at home. Wear sunscreen, a hat and a thin cotton shirt to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun! This will be well accepted with the populace and everything will work out okay, without any harmful effects. You will have a fun time. That is the truth, friend!

Do you have an unusual idiom or turn of phrase, from a place or culture not your own that you like to use?

Is it easily understood?

60 thoughts on “What Did You Say? Favourite Idioms”

  1. Hi, Amanda – That’s so true about language, culture, turns of phrases and expressions. I previously worked at a large international school in Beijing where we enrolled students from 54 different countries, and our staff members were also culturally and linguistically diverse (the language of instruction was English). At a staff meeting, I once used the expression “From the get go…” Numerous people were stumped. Several wondered aloud what “From the Gecko” could possibly mean?! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    1. From the Gecko! That is funny! I imagine that you would have to take care not to use all this jargon with the students, which for me would be quite difficult. When we had exchange students come to stay in Australia, they came thinking they were quite competent in speaking and understanding English, but like your students, were stumped at the amount of slang that everyday Australians use. I remember one student being confused about the word, ‘yummy.’ The high school students thought it hilarious that she kept asking, “What is yummy?” – it even became her nickname I think, in a friendly affectionate way.

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  2. When we lived in France, our friends were vastly amused when we used – in French – the ultimate Yorkshire compliment: ‘I’ve ‘ad worse’, to say something was delicious. Oh, and we say ‘candy floss’ for that ‘orrible fairground treat.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is funny that candy floss is a mix of cotton candy and fairy floss! Not your favourite to eat, Margaret? That is okay. I can count the times I have eaten it on one hand.
      Speaking of Yorkshire way of using the negative to say something affirmative, perhaps we had plenty of Yorkshire lads immigrating to the new worlds, as Australians often use a negative to answer a question. In fact, I heard a comedian once observe that we don’t answer how we are, we answer how we aren’t. As in:
      How are you? A: Not bad
      What are you up to? A: Not Much
      How was it? Not good

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Talked to the billy lids on the dog and bone and decided to meet them in town. I was a bit whiffy under the warwicks so had a David Gower and needed a Dad ‘n’ Dave. Put on my clobber but didn’t need a bag of fruit. I hit the frog and toad. At lunch I had a dogs eye with dead horse but didn’t have a pigs ear as I was driving. There wasn’t any froth and bubble so it was a good day out. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You win the medal for rhyming slang which I don’t hear so much of unless I hang out with tradies. My favourite from your comment would have to be, “a bit whiffy under the warwicks.” Was that coined after a cricketer with severe B.O?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OK Sandy, just for you.
        Talked to the billy lids *kids on the dog and bone *phone and decided to meet them in town. I was a bit whiffy *smelly under the warwicks *arms so had a David Gower *shower and needed a Dad ‘n’ Dave *shave. Put on my clobber *clothes but didn’t need a bag of fruit *suit. I hit the frog and toad *road. At lunch I had a dogs eye *pie with dead horse *sauce but didn’t have a pigs ear *beer as I was driving. There wasn’t any froth and bubble *trouble so it was a good day out.
        Now you know 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you Brian. I appreciate letting me know. The phrase that really strikes me is eating dogs eye with dead horse and (no) pigs ear. It reminds me of a time I went into and old Hong Kong diner and I used my phone to Google translate a menu written in mandarin. Google did a fine job translating individual words but pulled together with idioms and slang? Not so much.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I think Sandy if you went into a Sydney Cafe and ordered using these words you would get laughed at.
            There is a time and place, and for this slang, you need to be in a country town and you would fit right in.

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  4. It’s the same as the Afrikaans I used 12 years ago before coming to NZ. Today a met some young Afrikaans-speaking young/ new migrants, and believe it or not but some things they said were strange to me, same with some of my own words I used.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. When I was back in Egypt in 2009, I discovered that the Arabic slang I used when I lived there in the 1970s was WAY-Y-Y out-of-date. The French call fairy floss something like ‘old woman’s hair’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have given two great examples of the dynamism of language, Peggy and it doesn’t take a lifteime to change, either.
      Old woman’s hair for fairy floss? It has so many names! It does resemble the look of greying locks on ladies, so I guess the French are spot on, there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I asked Luc and he says the French call cotton candy ‘barbe à papa’ or Papa’s beard.

        This reminds me of a Chinese sweet called “Dragon’s beard” which is similar to cotton candy but is hand pulled!! It tastes the same as cotton candy, but unlike the carnival version, the floss is folded into little pillows with ground peanuts in the center.

        This video shows it being made. It’s a long vid, but you can skip ahead

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        1. I get a video error and will try to view it later today Amazing that fairy floss has so many names depending on where you eat it. A universal food with different interpretations. It does look like an old man’s beard in some ways. Interesting that it is folded with peanuts. Amazing that it is so cross cultural! The word for pineapple on the other hand is ananas in French, Norwegian and one of the Indian languages! Possibly more!

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  6. Slang changes much more rapidly than idioms. If someone my age starts using slang of younger people, it’s probably already out of style. 😏 I’m a freelance test writer–one of “the hats I wear” –and since I write English for non-native speakers, I have to be careful not to use either in the tests.
    But it is funny how English is so different in various parts of the world–well, even different throughout the US!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. The development of language is so interesting. The odd thing is we have no dialects at all in Australia even though the land mass is large. I assume this is because most of the population has arrived in an age when we are very mobile. Dialects seem to evolve in areas of isolation. The indigenous language appears to have multiple dialects and very many individual languages.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Amanda, good post. I was watching a WWII movie called “War Bride” where two British women meet and marry two Canadian soldiers about to ship off. As the guys were leaving, one of the British women shouts to “Keep your pecker up.” Like me, the Canadian husband was confused. Here is what she meant:

    “Keep (your) pecker up! British, informal something that you say to someone in order to tell them to be happy when something unpleasant is happening to them.”

    The meaning in my continent is not quite the same. Keith

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    1. Haha, Keith! The pecker would be understood in both contexts here I think. Depending on the age of the people hearing and saying it. A consequence of our British origins and American Television influences, perhaps?

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      1. Amanda, too true on the age demographic distinction. As for geography, our British friends like to add “ou” to words that we leave with only one “o.” Colour vs. Color, eg. Or, since they were here first, we lopped off the “u.”

        Other differences are using “lift” to mean elevator in GB while it means a “ride” here more in the US. “Fag” is a cigarette in GB, but is a derogatory word here in the states. One word I hear a lot on British TV shows is not used in the states much at all – “knackered.”

        Good post, again. Keith

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        1. British English spelling is taught in schools here although I suspect in time American English will take over. We take the lift here more often than the elevator and there are many other words for cigarettes – a fag seems to have gone out of vogue for the reasons you alluded to. Durries, darts, ciggies, smokes and so many more are slang for cigarettes.
          Knackered is very much in use here to denote extreme fatigue!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thanks Amanda. We watch a lot of British, Australian and Canadian shows and movies, so it is always fun to hear a term we have not used or heard often. I have shared before that when Men at Work hit it big, we had no clue what a Veg-o-mite sandwich was. Keith

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  8. My husband is from north east England where they speak the Geordie dialect. I’ve picked pieces up over the years of frequent visits and it sometimes slips into my conversation, either by accident or design. Meanwhile having been away from the area for over forty years, sometimes he isn’t sure if a word he uses is Geordie or standard English! I wrote all about it some time ago (https://www.toonsarah-travels.blog/gallery-coming-home-newcastle-a-football-anthem/) but here are a few examples for you now. ‘Canny’ is an interesting word because it can mean a range of things including fairly/quite, nice and shrewd (a canny man could be either a nice guy to hang out with or a shrewd business man, depending on context). And a lot of their words are derived from Norse because of the history of Viking invasion on that coast, so they have a lot in common with the Scandinavian languages. A Norwegian friend who came to my Virtual Tourist meet in Newcastle was so interested in the similarities he compiled quite a list!

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    1. I was aware of the idiosyncrasies of the Geordie speaking style due to following a Geordie blogger who was very in touch with her Viking origins. People in the north of the Netherlands also have language and customs more similar to Norway than their own countrymen due to trading in Hanseatic times.
      Canny is a word Australians would most associate with Scottish people who have a reputation of being very careful in spending their money. It was used widely in that sense in advertising for financial institutions some years back.

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  9. Yes, I thought that yesterday’s picture was of fairy floss. I grew up in Perth, so I’m familiar with that name. Now, in USA, it’s “cotton candy” but “fairy floss” seems more colorful.

    And to the topic of your post — yes, I’ve been here in USA for long enough, that it is getting harder to make sense of Australian slang.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is surprising that you find it harder to make sense of Australian slang. The language is clearly on the move constantly, but I imagined the Australian slang would become more Americanized with the internet generation and the influence of TV, youtube and videos. Perhaps though there is still some ocker elements running through it.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for the mention!
    My husband spent his holidays in Flemish speaking Belgium as a child and picked up the patois of the town where they lived. Now his Belgian family find his old fashioned Flemish very amusing, but when he was in South Africa he found he could understand Afrikaans and make himself understood when using it.
    He had Castilian spanish from his time stdying in Madrid…but now in Costa Rica the language is quite another ball game! People call themselves Ticos, because of the habit of putting the suffix ‘tico’ on everything – thus diminishing it.

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    1. Ticos! Now I know something about Costa Rican language. The links between Afrikaans and the European languages are interesting. The original languages are more common in areas where they were isolated from their origins than in the home country today. I suppose it is a bit like the Greek Australian experience. Europe is a much more mobile population now than they were. I think it is important to hold on to language or dialects will die. There is a project here to try and save a lot of the indigenous languages and for young people to learn them as a way of saving them from extinction.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I remember hearing the term “fairy floss ” and I thought it so much more magical than cotton candy, but we are stuck with cotton candy. LOL!

    “Hit the hay”, means going to bed.
    “Hit the lights’ means turn them off.
    All ferhoodled, means all confused and flustered

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  12. This is such a fun post, I love it!! I tend to use a lot of British words/phrases because much of what I read, watch, and listen to is British – I’ve picked it up without even realising it! 😊 Would you mind if I shared this post on my blog (a short excerpt with a link to the original post)? I think my followers would love to read this! It certainly made me smile, laugh, and think about the intricacies of language.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ever changing language – such a fascinating post, Amanda … I read it with interest & delight! Maybe it is the desire to claim words and phrases as our own, that each generation comes up with new way & colourful ways of referring to things.

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  14. I love idioms. But they are the hardest thing to translate. I am only familiar with yakking in regard to talking to someone, mostly about inconsequential things. I walked into work in Wyoming once and commented that it was “raining like Billy Hell out there.” This had everyone else in stitches. One responded, “Well, for crying in a cow yard!” and I haven’t found a good explanation for that online. Looking for it was “like butting a stump.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So you are on board with yakking being talking, Zazzy! Good on you!
      Raining like Billy Hell is a new one I haven’t head. As for crying in the cow yard – that would be a desperate feeling I would not want. Visions of crying after standing in a big cowpat spring to mind! I wondered of the origin of that one. We used to have a radio program here years ago that explored exactly where those kinds of phrases originated. It sounds very American/Canadian though, more than British. Butting a stump has me perplexed. Would that be hitting your head on the stump – in anguish or frustration?

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  15. There are several notes in the Dictionary of American English referencing Biily Hell, essentially as Satan. Butting a stump I haven’t found anything really sure for. I think it implies beating your head upside something hard and pointless. Goats, I’m told, will butt a stump. I love all the colorful Danish idioms. And Australian. My friend from Queanybean often leaves me completely confused.

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