Tag Archives: Language

Kiwi Terms That Still Crack (Or Trip) Me Up

I’ve lived in New Zealand for over ten years now and I’m still learning the language.  Shortly after moving here I actually went to get my hearing tested.  I told the technician that I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me. 

My hearing checked out fine—I just needed time to adjust to the accent and pacing of the way the locals spoke.  I’ve since gotten used to that but I’m still learning some of the more interesting phrases and terms in use down here.  I’m providing a sampling, with translations.

Bach, n. – Not the composer.  The word is pronounced batch and it means a small holiday home.  I’m told that the term is short for “bachelor” because originally baches were places just the men would go to fish and party, as in “Fancy a trip to the bach this weekend?”

Bring a Plate – You might see this on an invitation and it doesn’t mean that the host is short of crockery. It means that it’s a potluck and you are supposed to bring some food along.  I’ve heard believable accounts of some literal minded people actually just bringing a plate.

Bob’s Your UncleYes, people actually say this.  It is used to denote completion or wrapping up of a (generally) complicated task.  So if your car won’t start, the panelbeater (see below) might say, “We’ll just hook up the jumper cables, give it a start and Bob’s Your Uncle.

Bugger all – Surprisingly a n. and not a v.  It means not much or nothing.  “What did you do today?” “Bugger all.”

Caravan, n. – Not a group of wandering gypsies but rather a house trailer or mobile home.  When not at home, you stop at the caravan park.

Cark it, vt. – Go on, take a guess.  It means to die and I apologize but I always laugh when someone uses it.  As in, “How’s Grannie?” “She carked it.”

Chock-a-block, adj. – Completely full and overflowing.  Often shortened to chockers, as in “I couldn’t find a park, the car park was chockers.”

Chuffed, vt. – Happy or thrilled.  “I was really chuffed when the neighbor’s dog carked it.”

Chunder, vt. – To vomit.  I’d love to know the origin of this term.  But I don’t.

Crikey dick, int. – I really have heard people say this. It is a term of amazement.  So a spectacular feat of chundering might elicit an awed Crikey dick.

Crook, n. – Ill or under the weather. As in “I had the flu.  I was crook for a week.”

Dag, n. – An essential part of your vocabulary.  Know that “dags” refers to the soiled wool surrounding the back end of a sheep.  “Rattle your dags,” means to move faster because presumably the dags on a running sheep rattle.  Use your imagination. So anything daggy is basically undesirable.  However, for some reason dag can also mean a funny story or person.  So be careful.

Dodgy, adj. – Dubious or questionable.  “Did you buy that used car?” “No, there was something dodgy about the salesman.”

Dummy, n. – Not what you think. A dummy is a baby’s pacifier.  I don’t expect most readers of this blog to have use for such a term, but it’s important to know that this word forms part of an important Kiwi phrase.  When a baby has a tantrum, the pacifier flies out of their mouth, so the term to denote an immature loss of control is “spit the dummy.”  In fact, in the debates before the national elections last year, one politician said that his opponent “spat the dummy,” over something.

Flannel, n. – Not your pajamas (which are called pyjamas down here, by the way).  A flannel is a wash cloth.  “The dog was so filthy I took a flannel to him.”

Flash, adj. – Upmarket or in good shape.  This word is important because it can be used to describe anything under just about any circumstances.  For example, “I wasn’t too chuffed about driving my flash car over this daggy road. It’s not too flash.”

Ice block, n. – Not a block of ice.  Well, maybe, technically.  An ice block is a popsicle.  What’s your favorite flavor?

Jandals, n. – Flip-flops in the rest of the world.  Standard Kiwi footgear.  The name is a contraction of “Japanese sandals,” which flip flops supposedly resemble.

Knackered, adj. – I love this word, partly because it has a funny sound and partly because, like flash it has amazing utility.  It primarily means no longer useful, broken or tired out with a connotation of beyond repair.  As in, “my hard drive crashed and my computer is knackered.” But it also is a term that you say when you don’t intend to exert further effort as in “Forget about it, I’m knackered.” Where does the word come from, you ask? Farm animals past their prime but not suitable to be slaughtered for meat are sent to the knacker yard.  I don’t know about you, but that’s as much as I want to know.

Legless, adj. – Extremely drunk.  Often associated with chundering.

Metal road, n. – A road paved with gravel.  It’s called a metal road because gravel is called metal.  But if you don’t know that you wonder, don’t you?  By the way, if you are driving on a metal road and the car in front of you throws up a piece of metal and it dings your windshield, you have what is referred to as a puckered screen. 

Munted, adj. – Broken or damaged.  “I dropped my phone. It’s like totally munted.”

No worriesA term of agreement.  When your teenaged son asks “Can I borrow the car?” You might say “No worries,” to mean yes, even though you have lots of worries about the proposition.

Panel beater, n. – Originally a body shop.  Fenders are referred to as panels down here, so when you have a prang, and your panel is dented, the panel beater pounds it back into shape, I guess.  Generic term for mechanic.

Serviette, n. – A napkin.  Don’t ask for a napkin in a restaurant because napkin means face towel and you don’t want that, unless you’ve spilled something.  And if you are in the kitchen, you don’t use a dish towel—it’s a tea towel.

Squiz, vi. – To check out or observe.  So if your car is making a funny noise, you might ask the panel beater to “have a squiz” at it. 

Suck the kumara, vt. – A kumara (pronounced koom ra) is a cross between a yam and a potato.  To suck the kumara is the same as to cark.  Don’t ask me why. Someone once told me that their Air New Zealand flight was cancelled because, in the words of the pilot, “One of the engines has sucked the kumara.”

Sweet asA universal term denoting approval or quality.  As in, “How’s the weather?” Sweet as.  Incidentally, it is common to append as to just about any adjective to intensify it.  As in, “Look at that spider.  It’s big as.”  Or.  “Turn on the heat. It’s cold as.” Or. “Have you had a squiz at John’s new car? It’s flash as.”

Shout, n./vt.  – To pick up the tab.  You say “my shout,” or “I’m shouting,” and everyone loves you.

She’ll be right – An all purpose phrase meaning everything will be OK.  “John, there’s water leaking into the boat.” “I’ve got the pump going.  She’ll be right.”

Tea, n. – Another simple term that can trip you up because of its multiple meanings.  Yes, it means the drink (black, green, iced, etc.).  But it also means a coffee break.  A break in the morning is “Morning tea,” and one in the afternoon is “Afternoon tea.” But wait, there’s more.  It also means the evening meal.  So if someone invites you to tea, you might want to clarify what’s going to happen because you could get tea and biscuits or a whole meal.

Throw a sickie, vt. – To call in sick when you aren’t

Turn to custardRefers to plans that don’t quite work out.  I wanted to throw a sickie but it was raining so that turned to custard.

Zed, n. – The last letter of the alphabet.  Don’t say “zee.” No one will know what you are talking about.  Really.

Now I hope you won’t have any trouble when you come down here and hire a caravan and go out to the bach, put on your jandals and do bugger all.  Go easy on the piss because you don’t want to get legless and chunder. 

Also, don’t hire a car from a dodgy dealer, because it might be munted and you’ll have to take it to the panelbeater if it decides to suck the kumara.  Don’t worry about driving on metal roads—she’ll be right. 

If some locals invite you for tea, be sure to ask what time to come and ask if it’s their shout or if you should bring a plate. If you stay at a flash hotel, they’ll have a flannel in the loo and tea towels and serviettes in the kitchen.  But it’s more fun to stay in a caravan park.  If it’s not peak summer they usually aren’t chock a block, but sometimes the facilities are a little knackered.  And don’t spit the dummy if all you can get at the shop is an ice block. 

I’m sure you’ll be chuffed when you have a squiz at all the beautiful sights down here.  But it’s so far away that you will definitely be knackered from the flight back.  But it will be sweet as if you can throw a sickie, but make sure your boss doesn’t figure it out or it will turn to custard on you.  Crikey dick, I think I’ve covered it A to Zed.  And Bob’s your uncle.

New Buzzwords For The New Year

Happy New Year!

This time of year we get inundated with lists.  In the past few days I’ve seen lists of the top ten best and worst of just about everything in 2011.

My theory is that we like lists because (1) they are easy to read and (2) they give us a sense of community when we find that we share similar likes and dislikes as other people.

But I managed to find a list that is neither easy to read nor conducive to a feeling of belonging to the mainstream.  It is a list of the top twenty-five up and coming business buzzwords from Business News Daily.

These are terms that we are likely to hear in 2012 as people attempt to make simple things sound esoteric and complicated.  For some reason, business people like to do that.

Sometimes this is desirable, at least for people delivering bad news.  For example, if a company’s sales are down, why would they want to say something as prosaic as “sales and profits are down” and run the risk of having to explain why when they could say, “the Y axis of the revenue curve continues to sustain sub optimal impetus over time with a concomitant microeconomic entropic impact on earnings.”

When giving a presentation, it is infinitely preferable to bore and confuse your audience, rather than to simply bore them.  And when you make people think that things are really complex and difficult, they like you.  Because then they don’t feel so bad about not being able to figure out what’s going on.

Let’s have a look at some of these terms that you are likely to hear this year to see how simple ideas can be complicated with fancy terminology.

Crowdsource.  Not a term you could reasonably work out from the context.  I thought it referred to the source of a crowd as in “The Justin Bieber concert proved to be a real crowdsource.”  But no.  It means outsourcing your work to the crowd.  It originally referred to diverse groups developing software and this was supposed to be Good because theoretically everyone would contribute their own personal cool feature or idea and the solution would be all things to all people.  This is why your smart phone is smarter than you (i.e., you can’t figure out how it works).

Another more disturbing application of crowdsourcing was when the company that makes Doritos had customers off the street design the Doritos Superbowl ad.  A lot of people in the marketing/PR world were breathless over the idea because the theory is that the most effective advertising would be designed by the very people who were supposed to be targeted by the advertising.  But it sounds to me like making a prisoner plug in the electric chair before they strap him in.

Fremium.  A really stupid word to describe something we all dislike.  It is a combination of the words “free” and “premium” and refers to a product offering in which you get part for free and then pay a premium for other (indispensable) parts.  So you might get a phone for free but pay through the nose for a calling plan.  So basically you should ignore the “free” in fremium.

Digital nomad.  Someone who can work anywhere because of technology.  Big deal.  Why do we need a term to describe that phenomenon?  When was the last time you were at a party and someone came up to you and introduced themselves saying, “Hi, I’m Waldo Poindexter, digital nomad.”  But it sounds better than saying, “My job doesn’t require me to interact with other people and I like it that way.  So does my boss.”

Big data.  Wow, this one’s really esoteric.  It refers to giant databases of stuff that are hard to manage with traditional database management systems.  Things like weather patterns, population trends and the list of Paris Hilton’s Twitter followers are big data.  For some reason, no one seems to be talking about little data.

Knowledge economy.  Another economy that we like to talk about because it’s doing better than the real economy.  The problem is that you can be rich in knowledge and still be broke.  And worse, there are a lot of really wealthy people out there who are fairly bankrupt when it comes to the knowledge economy.

Skills transfer.  Just what you think it means.  But doesn’t your resume sound better if you say, “I am looking for an opportunity for a mutually beneficial skills transfer,” instead of, “I’m hoping to put my years of fast food service experience to good use”?

Cross platform. A fancy term to describe why iTunes from Apple runs on your Windows computer.

Social looping.  Getting in the loop, e.g., by joining a Facebook group.  Now you know.

Gamification.  I don’t know what’s worse—the word or the concept.  The idea is that everyone likes playing games, especially video games, so if we make everything look and feel like a game, life will be better.  Already widespread in schools, someone is trying to do this for tax return preparation.  How will you win that one?

Although a lot of fancy new terms are IT related, not surprisingly the best ones come from the world of marketing.  Here’s a sample of some new names given to old ideas.

Authority marketing.  Remember those TV ads where the guy in the white coat says “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV?”  That’s authority marketing.  The idea is that people will listen to (and buy stuff on the recommendation of) experts.

Osmosis marketing.  A fancy term for a horrible concept that is employed by marketers who can’t find an authority to advertise their product.  The idea is that if we are exposed to enough advertising about a product, eventually we will break down and buy it.  When used in a military context, the term is “saturation bombing.”

Retail curation.  Gird thy loins for this one.  A curator in a museum is the person who organizes the exhibits and makes them tell a meaningful story.  A retail curator organizes products in a retail setting and, according to trendwatching.com, pre-selects “what to buy, what to experience, what to wear, what to read, what to drink and so on.”  So basically this is outsourcing your life to someone else.  I don’t like this concept because (1) I believe we should exercise our free will and (2) it is responsible for things like Crocs and the overabundance of vampire and zombie books and movies.

I’m not sure you will find many opportunities to use these words in casual conversation in the New Year, but at least the next time you are exposed to some osmosis marketing, do some social looping or are victimized by a fremium scheme, you will know what to call it.  And if you see a retail curator–run!