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 Uncle – Yes, 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 worries – A 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 as – A 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 custard – Refers 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.