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Kiwi Terms That Still Crack (Or Trip) Me Up

May 16, 2012

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.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2012 10:31 pm

    “Bob’s your uncle” is said by someone in an infomercial that I see all the time. At first I had no idea what he said but I saw it so many times (it is for a blender) that I figured it out. On the other hand I am waiting for “suck the kumara” to fall into general usage here.

  2. May 16, 2012 10:43 pm

    Great list of words. As far as I know, chunder is a contraction of “watch under.” See, when people took the long voyage to Oz on certain types of multi-storied ships, they often got seasick and would lean over the railing for relief, screaming “Watch under!” to make sure no one else leaning over the railing on a lower deck would get struck by what was about to arrive from above.

    • May 17, 2012 8:36 am

      Thank you–even if that’s not true it’s too good not to believe!

      • May 17, 2012 10:37 am

        I heard it in a lecture series on the history of the English language. In his discussion on dialects and word origins, the lecturer used this particular example.

  3. May 16, 2012 11:17 pm

    So, if it’s my car that somebody got started, do I say: “He just hooked up the jumper cables, gave it a start, and Bob’s my uncle!”?

    I don’t want to mess this up.

  4. Snoring Dog Studio permalink
    May 17, 2012 12:00 am

    What if Bob IS my Uncle? This list was delightful. I get the sense that New Zealanders are a delightful bunch. Oh, I would love to visit!

  5. May 17, 2012 12:33 am

    I just remembered that New Zealanders call sprinkles on an ice cream cone “hundreds and thousands.” My kids were charmed.

  6. May 17, 2012 12:50 am

    I say “Bob’s your uncle” all the time — during my brief engagement to a Brit it grew on me — and in fact my gentleman friend does have an uncle named Bob, and he always twits me about it.

    But I, too, adore “suck the kumara.” And I wonder, did people originally think it was poisonous, the way tomatoes and other nightshades were originally believed to be when they were introduced to Europe?

    • May 17, 2012 10:06 pm

      I’ve heard that suck the kumara is related to being dead because they grow underground like potatoes and when you are underground presumably you would have access to them.

  7. May 17, 2012 1:59 am

    Bravo! But do you mean “knackered” and “cark it” aren’t used everywhere? ….

  8. May 17, 2012 9:33 am

    I work with some rather “urban” young men who will sometimes say “Dag, yo!” in amazement. I’ll have to try to keep a straight face the next time I hear it.

  9. May 17, 2012 5:48 pm

    This is too funny…I just got back from NZ. I totally loved it there but I really was lost in some of my conversations with the locals. I enjoyed reading your blog since it did bring a smile to my face and some fond memories of my trip.

  10. May 18, 2012 1:04 pm

    I don’t think you have the right take on “bugger all” Being a good Presbyterian I cannot say or write the F-word.

  11. May 21, 2012 2:24 am

    Love “throw a sickie”. I used to call it “a mental health day”.

  12. June 24, 2012 3:27 am

    Wow. People actually do say this. Check out time 2:40:

    Had it not been for your post, I’d have no idea why the guy would say a silly think like that after he put the mamba in the drum.

    • June 24, 2012 3:37 am

      Oh, and then he repeats it twice at 6:05 and 8:44!

      • June 24, 2012 10:29 am

        Now do you believe me??

        I’m so glad you posted this video because now I feel like I’m an expert at handling dangerous snakes. Do people really go to Youtube to learn this kind of stuff?

        BTW, his last word on the video is “sorted,” which is also another all purpose word that describes everything from finishing a task (as in the video) to new employee orientations (as in “Welcome aboard, we’ll get you sorted right away) to punching someone’s lights out (as in “You do that again and I’ll sort you out”).

        • June 24, 2012 11:32 pm

          Of course people go on YouTube to learn this kind of stuff. You think I just stumbled upon this clip by accident? You see, the other day, I encountered a huge snake in my backyard here in Austria (yes, that’s Austria NOT Australia). Upon researching reptiles native to my neck of the woods here and concluding it must have been an Aesculapian snake, I decided to catch the next one I find. Of course, I don’t want to get bitten, just in case it’s not an Aesculapean after all but some exotic reptile collector’s escaped pet mamba. That’s why I’d like to know how to handle snakes the proper way just in case. And now I know, thanks to YouTube.

          • June 25, 2012 3:47 pm

            Any snake with the Latin name ‘Longissimus’ deserves respect!

            But now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to learn how to wrestle alligators and tame lions–I’m sure YouTube won’t let me down.

  13. June 24, 2012 3:41 am

    Upon reread I see dag. Oh great. I sign my cartoons DAG so won’t be selling any your country.

    • June 26, 2012 8:45 pm

      Not to worry! Dag also means a funny story or person so I think you’ll qualify!

  14. Kiwi permalink
    March 9, 2013 3:23 pm

    hahaha I just stumbled across this page somehow. As a New Zealander it’s quite funny to read these sayings that I’ve used all my life and discover that other people haven’t heard of them.

    A couple of corrections though:
    A Panel Beater is not interchangeable with a Mechanic. A Panel Beater does not fix a car engine, he works on the body of the car if you are in a crash. A “Mechanic” is the one that fixes your car if it breaks down.

    Not all Kiwis call roads “metal roads”. Actually, I had to ask my husband what a “metal road” was. If it’s loose gravel, it’s called gravel. Otherwise it’s just a (tar) road.

    Also, that video that someone posted above isn’t a Kiwi – sounds like a South African. lol

    Otherwise, good job! 🙂

    • March 9, 2013 10:00 pm

      Thanks! I know what you mean about metal–it’s tricky. Some people stare at you if you say metal and others stare at you if you say gravel. Confusing!

  15. Leeann permalink
    August 27, 2013 10:40 pm

    As a nz’er I really enjoyed this post.
    I have 2 uncle Bobs and when I was young and anyone said Bob’s your uncle, I’d go ‘yes, so?’

    • September 1, 2013 1:04 pm

      Hi Leeann! Thanks for the comment and glad you enjoyed the post.

  16. Geoff permalink
    August 6, 2014 11:56 am

    As a Kiwi having a few suds (beers) with some Septics (septic tank – yank)some years ago I used the term Wanker about someone. I had to think quickly to try and explain it without offending anyone. Depending on your tone of voice it can have two very different meanings!

    • August 6, 2014 9:03 pm

      Yes, Geoff know what you mean. Thanks for reading and for sharing “septics!”

  17. justin permalink
    September 5, 2014 9:29 am

    daggy (of a person) a bit eccentric or socially awkward. uncool.
    “my cousin from the ‘naki came to school in this really daggy skivvie. What a egg.”

  18. Darren permalink
    October 1, 2014 6:04 am

    For gravel road, the term I have heard the most in NZ is ‘shingle road’. Another one to add to the list is ‘ta’ for thanks. Ta for the article!

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