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Although separated by only 1200 miles (2000 km) of the Tasman Sea, Australia and New Zealand, both former British colonies, have drifted poles apart in their choice of English words and the way they pronounce their vowels. When a New Zealander says "six" an Australian hears "sex" or "sux"; when an Aussie says "six" the Kiwi hears "seeks."

I was educated in New Zealand, but have spent most of my life in Australia, and have an Oz-born wife, children and grandchildren, and a dinki-di Australian accent. My sister lives in New Zealand, and her children and grandchildren are Kiwis, so they speak kinda funny.

Everyday Kiwi talk often puzzles Aussie visitors. Sydney Morning Herald readers last week (September 24 to 29) contributed these examples to that newspaper's "Column 8":

"Traffic calming devices are judder bars, and shopping trolleys are trundlers." (Phil Jones, Mosman).

"Their [trundlers] return point outside a supermarket is always signposted as Trundler Park. I spent ages wondering who this Mr or Mrs Trundler was, and why they had so many unappealing sites named after them." (David Howard, Killara).

"I have often gone to the corner store referred to in NZ as a dairy, and have never yet seen a cow in there." (David Bennetts, Bowral).

"When I moved to NZ a few years back I was given a detention for talking during an exam. My request? For liquid paper/white-out. No one knew what I was talking about, until someone told me it was twink. And what country was I from again?" Liz Christie (Narangba, Queensland).

Alex Mayo (Newtown) had heard of chillybin for Esky (a portable box to keep food or drink either cold or hot), and jandals for the footwear Aussies call thongs (which are something else again in U.S.). Ken Donelan (Paihia, Bay of Islands,NZ) said that in the South Island, using a vacuum cleaner is luxing (short for Electrolux). The coloring pen that Aussies call a Texta is a vivid pen. (Louise Thompson, Albury). Aussies hungering for sausages they know as frankfurts should ask for cheerios. (Max McKinnon, Forresters Beach). And Mavis McCall (Glenhaven) bought strawberries in pottles, instead of tubs.

Reviewing The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand Slang, David McGill wrote: "More than 30,000 entries cover the astonishing range of weird and wonderful communal sayings that give Kiwi speak its distinctive flavour. From the earliest days, the interaction of Maori and English has generated the most incontrovertibly Kiwi slang, from komaty and pissed as ten pigeons under a mockamock tree through the many variations of up the boohai shooting pukakas to recent contributions such as electric puha, Tegel pigeon, the kapaiburger and the kotanga aerial."

"Meet New Zealand", a Government booklet for American visitors, says "New Zealanders have been well trained by your movies, so we cotton (catch) on to most of your ordinary slang. We share ours with Australia, though we do have a little of our own. Some of our language also is just ordinary English which varies from yours."

Examples of this are:

  • ANZAC: Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or a member of that corps.
  • BENZINE: gasoline.
  • BISCUIT: cookie, cracker.
  • BLOKE: man.
  • CHEMIST'S SHOP: drugstore (but you don't get candy or drinks there).
  • COW: may just mean cow, but may also mean an unpleasant man, woman or situation. These things may also be called, progressively, a FAIR cow, and a FAIR ADJECTIVAL COW.
  • CROOK: ill, bad. To FEEL CROOK, to feel ill. A CROOK BOSS, a bad employer.

... and many others.

Here are five New Zealand words, with their meanings, and examples of their use, discovered thanks to that amazing new internet search facility, Google News.

KIWI. An endangered flightless bird with vestigial wings, stout legs and a long slender bill, native to New Zealand; a New Zealand soldier or sportsperson; any New Zealander; New Zealand dollar.

"A Clinton Toopi hat-trick helped the Kiwis to a memorable 30-16 victory against Australia in Auckland today in the 100th rugby league test between the two countries... The result went some way to wiping the memory of Australia's 48-6 win in Sydney three months ago. It also continued the Kiwis' good record at North Harbour Stadium, where they now have a 3-1 advantage over the Kangaroos."
- Rugby League: Kiwis win centenary test; Robert Lowe, New Zealand Herald (Auckland), October 18, 2003.

"Stephen Fleming may be seeing visions of making history by becoming the first New Zealand captain to win a Test series in India, but his batsmen have already created another bit of history at Mohali. When all-rounder Scott Styris completed his second Test century this afternoon, it was the first time ever in India that the top three batsmen of a side had scored a century in the same innings... And given the way the Kiwis batted through the first two days, a draw seems the most likely result."
- Kiwi batsmen create history; Harish Kotian, Rediff (India), Oct 17, 2003.

HAKA is a challenging chant and war dance now performed by New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team before international games.

"Former All Black lock Robin Brooke has spearheaded an internet campaign to take the haka to the world, as New Zealand's All Blacks take it to the World Cup. Tourism New Zealand has launched the history of the haka, including the most famous haka of all, Ka Mate, on its website, Brooke, who played 62 tests for the All Blacks, said that although recent tradition suggested the haka was the exclusive domain of men, legend and history reflected a different story, and Ka Mate told of the power of female sexuality. The website also said women not only participated in the haka, they led, dominated and danced in the front ranks and carried weapons, often to protect the haka party."
- Jumping up and down about the haka; NZPA report in New Zealand Herald (Auckland), Oct 14, 2003.

"Whitehaven's market place was brought to a standstill yesterday when the visiting New Zealand rugby league team performed their legendary Haka. Shoppers watched with delight as the Kiwis announced their colourful arrival with the traditional Maori war dance. 'It's very special to us. We don't treat it lightly and it's part of our culture,' said Kiwi coach Gerard Stokes."
- A Haka Hello!, Martin Morgan, Cumberland News and Star (Carlisle, UK), Oct 17, 2003.

MAORIS are members of a brown-skinned Polynesian people whose ancestors first arrived in New Zealand in canoes, from about 1150AD and in "a great fleet" in the 14th century, from Hawaiki, a mythical land usually believed to be Tahiti.

"At another level, many of the indigenous Maori people are concerned about the implication of the court for the Treaty of Waitangi, the 1840 agreement between the Maori chief and white settlers that allowed the settlers land while respecting the Maoris access to land and its resources. In recent years, the Maoris have increasingly sought to exercise such rights, but fear that the withdrawal from the Privy Council will mean a rapid move to Republican status. The upshot, they fear, will be the undermining of the Waitangi Treaty."
- New Zealand deciding on judges after dumping Privy Council; Jamaica Observer (Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies), Oct 19, 2003.

"Resplendent in red, yellow and black, the Maoris startled and mesmerised in the same breath....and the Puneri audience at the Namdeo Sabhagriha was spell-bound. You see, the dancers of the Kahurangi Maori Dance Theatre (KMDT) from Hastings, New Zealand, were in town to render a performance on Monday, as part of the exchange programme with the Centre of Performing Arts, Pune University. 'Depicting the Maori culture through song, dance and language is our aim,' says director Te Rangi Huata."
- Maori Magnificence; Nisha Nambiar, India Express, Oct 14, 2003.

MOA was a New Zealand flightless bird resembling an ostrich. Sadly, it's now extinct, although moa skeletons are displayed in museums.

"Throughout history, wherever people entered a virgin environment, they immediately set about wiping out species, starting with 'the big, the slow, and the tasty.' One of the most interesting examples is New Zealand, which [Edward O.] Wilson says was a 'vast biological wonderland' before the Maoris came ashore in the late thirteenth century. Because it is remote from Australia and other landmasses, the islands lacked native mammals. As a result, large, flightless birds called moas, with an eagle as their only known predator, evolved and radiated into niches that would otherwise have been filled by creatures such as woodchucks, rabbits, deer, and even rhinos. Upon the Maoris' arrival, however, they systematically butchered the moas, with the result that by the middle of the fourteenth century they were all gone."
- The Future of Life; Edward O. Wilson, reviewed by Walt Hays; Timeline, Sep/Oct 2002, Foundation for Global Community

"Curators at the nation's museums are preparing to cut their moa displays down to size. The largest moa species, Dinornis giganteus, will soon no longer feature in scientifically accurate exhibits at the museums. Cutting-edge research, using DNA extracted from moa bones at the Otago Museum and other institutions, shows the 'giant' moas were, in fact, huge females, but not members of a separate giant species."
- Curators rush to re-label giant moa - a separate species no more; NZPA report, Stuff Co. NZ National News, Oct 8, 2003.

Moa is also the name of a well-known singer (so is Australia's Christine ANU):

"Maori pop star Anika Moa has taken the New Zealand music scene by storm and already has a record deal with Atlantic Records. The deal came about after Warner Bros in NZ heard her song 'Flowers for You', which featured on a CD of the NZ secondary schools rock competition, the Smokefree Rockquest. Ron Shapiro, President of Atlantic Records in New York, signed her after hearing her play three songs live."
- 100% Pure New Zealand; Media Resources.

PAVLOVA is a meringue-like dessert with a concave crust made from egg whites, filled with whipped cream and fresh kiwifruit, strawberries etc.

Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have originated the term. It derives from Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), a famous Russian dancer credited with having made the ballet a form of entertainment popular world-wide.

Anna stayed at the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Western Australia during a 1929 tour of Australia. The hotel chef, Herbert (Bert) Sachse, served the now familiar dessert for afternoon tea. Legend has it that someone - the licensee, manager or chef - exclaimed, "It's as light as Pavlova!" Kiwis claim that a recipe for Meringue with Fruit Filling was published in a book, Home Cookery for New Zealand in 1929, which Australians used and termed Pavlova.

"We finished with the grand dessert platter, and I would have to conclude that the poor chef is a patissier who has lost his way; for this was truly fabulous. Pavlova, strawberry delice, sticky toffee pudding, two different crème brûlées and a chocolate mousse."
- Eyes down for a full plate; Gillian Glover, The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), Oct 18, 2003.

"ST. PETERSBURG -- A fire broke out at one of the country's most prestigious ballet schools on Monday, damaging 60 square meters inside the building and prompting authorities to evacuate its students. The fire erupted in a second-story room at the Vaganova Ballet Academy, the St. Petersburg fire department said... Founded in 1738, the academy in the former imperial capital is one of the oldest and most famous Russian ballet schools. Several of its graduates have gone on to star at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Anna Pavlova graduated from the academy in 1899, and the Mariinsky's current lead dancer, Ulyana Lopatkina, is also an alumna."
- Fire Breaks Out at Ballet School; AP report, Moscow Times (Russia), Sep. 30, 2003.

POSTSCRIPT. We've just discovered that in 1994, leading Australian playwright Alex Buzo wrote Kiwese - a guide, a ductionary, a shearing of unsights, a Strine-like Aussie view of NZ English. The 145-page book, published by Reed Books Australia, sold 15,000 copies.



Copyright © 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted November 2003

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