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Aussie English 101: A few “need to know” Aboriginal phrases

Aussie English 101: A few “need to know” Aboriginal phrases
on June, 12 2013

There are 80 Aboriginal languages in the Australian continent and Aussies regularly use over 400 words derived from them in everyday life. Most of the words are used to describe plants, animals, and certain things, although Aboriginal slang has caught on in the vernacular of the general population.

The inclusion of Aboriginal words is probably one reason why Aussie English terms may sound foreign to other native English speakers. Sometimes, the word is familiar but the meaning is completely different. So, we’ll just give you a few interesting examples here. This list might help you out of a number of otherwise confusing situations on your next trip to Australia.

Aussies often use the term “bung” to refer to  a state of exhaustion or to mean that something is broken or out of action. The word “bung” has a rather long history. Back in 1841, it was first recorded and the record explicitly said that “bang” meant “dead” in the Yagara Aboriginal lexicon. The current usage was established towards the end of the 19th century. When you hear someone in Australia say that the TV is bung, then you won’t have to Google the word anymore. You can react accordingly.

Here’s the interesting thing. When you hear the word “deadly” used by Aboriginal people down under, you’d better hold off that mournful visage. For one, everyone else will be smiling because “deadly” is slang for “awesome” and “great.” At least, that’s how Aboriginal people consider the word.

Here’s one more tip: when someone says “mob,” do not immediately go into a fight-or-flight” mode. They are only talking about their kin or family. For sure most of them are peaceful and kindly folks.

When you are referred to as “gubba,” relax and let it pass because this is not 1850 anymore. That’s the word Aboriginal people use when referring to non-Aboriginal people.

But there’s a lot more to “gubba” than meets the eye. In the 1850s, Aboriginal men in New South Wales could be heard crying “Gubbamen” or “Gubba Man” with real fear in their hearts. The cries meant that government people were coming to do their community harm. “Gubbamen” or “Gubba Man” were mispronunciations of “government” and in latter times, Aboriginal people used “Gubba” to refer to all people of the white race. Those were hard times and more hardships came after, but times have changed and white men ceased to be the object of fear. But evidently, some words remain even when the connotation is not the same anymore.

“Charge up”
Here is one more useful phrase to keep in mind. Being invited to “charge up” is not a vague suggestion to liven up or a general encouragement to increase your energy level. It is actually very specific invitation to drink alcohol, and usually copious amounts of it. If you can’t hold your liquor or if you do not drink at all, then you had better learn the Aussie way to decline politely.

Now, if the wonderful people you are going out with “barrack for” you then it’s not the same as in Britain where “barrack” is another word for “jeer.” In Aussie English, “barrack for” means to encourage, to support, and to cheer on. No worries mate.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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