Every country has its slang, those silly little words and phrases that make absolutely no sense to outsiders. New Zealand is no exception. Here’s a list of ten silly things that Kiwis say – things I hastily had to make sense of when we emigrated from England. You might find this stuff useful to know if you’re planning to hire a campervan in New Zealand:
1) Sweet as
Kiwis have a disconcerting habit of not finishing similes. Though ‘sweet as’ is the most common, practically any adjective can be placed before the ‘as’ – such as ‘dark as’, as in, ‘It’s dark as in here’. (Which means ‘It’s really dark in here’.) When I first moved to New Zealand, it was hard to get used to saying something like ‘I’m just going to the toilet’ and hearing ‘Sweet as’ in response – I mean sweet as what, for goodness’ sake? The act of going to the toilet is hardly sweet! The problem is that ‘sweet as’ can mean many things, from a simple ‘okay’ to ‘really awesome’, as in ‘This beach is sweet as’. ‘Sweet as’ is often used interchangeably with ‘awesome’ – ‘I got some milk.’ / ‘Awesome, put it in the fridge.’ (I should add that Kiwis tend to use the word ‘awesome’ to describe things that are in actual fact quite unremarkable. And now, as a result of living in New Zealand since I was ten years old, I overuse the word ‘awesome’.)
Another word Kiwis use interchangeably with ‘awesome’ is ‘choice’ – ‘I’m going to the beach.’ / ‘Choice.’ At primary school, we sang a song that included the line ‘New Zealand is choice.’ After a certain amount of confusion as to why and how a word that means ‘decision’ could come to be used in the place of ‘awesome’, I realised that you can also have ‘choice’ cuts of meat – ‘choice’ as in ‘the best’, or, perhaps, ‘the ones that would be chosen first’ or ‘a good choice’. Maybe if you say ‘I’m going to the beach’ and a Kiwi replies ‘Choice’, what they mean is ‘That’s a great choice for you to have made’. Another word that Kiwis sometimes use in the place of ‘choice’ is ‘chur’, but not when it’s an adjective – you couldn’t say ‘New Zealand is a chur place to live’; that makes no sense, but ‘chur’ can be used appreciatively, as in ‘That’s awesome’. ‘Chur’ can also be used as an informal ‘thank you’, which means it might derive from the word ‘cheers’.
‘Not even’ means ‘no’, but not a simple ‘no’ – more an indignant emphasis of how untrue something is. ‘You like Justin Bieber.’ / ‘Not even.’ Maybe it comes from ‘not even that’ – Kiwis, like Australians, tend to shorten everything. For example, ‘afternoon’ becomes ‘arvo’, ‘cousin’ become ‘cuz’, and ‘brother’ becomes ‘bro’. It should be noted that Kiwis, especially young male Kiwis, call every male they come into contact with ‘bro’ regardless of whether or not they are brothers or even, in fact, related. (Although, come to think of it, lots of nationalities do this.)
The word ‘ow’ – well it’s more of a noise than a word and has a few different spellings – certainly doesn’t mean ‘I’m in pain’. It’s something Kiwis – Maori in particular – add to the end of random sentences that are addressed to a particular person. ‘Where are you going, ow?’ ‘Chuck me a beer, ow.’ ‘Not even, ow.’ It adds emphasis. When I first moved to New Zealand, I remember thinking that people seemed to say ‘oi’ a lot more than I was used to – ‘What’s up, oi?’ – and ‘ow’ seemed to serve the same function. Later, ‘Not even, ow’ was used as the catchphrase of a New Zealand cartoon character, which meant people quoted it a lot. I didn’t have much luck researching where ‘ow’ came from, but when this article became popular, I got quite a few emails from people offering different theories. (Some of them were a bit out there!) Thank you to everyone who pointed out that the Maori for ‘friend’ is ‘e hoa’ – it all makes sense now.
What a pointless contradiction! ‘Is it raining out there?’ / ‘Yeah-nah.’ ‘Do you want a drink?’ / ‘Oh, yeah-nah, not really, eh.’ Kiwis aren’t very decisive people. ‘Yeah-nah’ seems to mean ‘kind of’. You say it when you agree with someone, but also don’t, or if you get what someone’s saying, but don’t agree. ‘Yeah-nah’ means ‘no’, but perhaps in a way that you don’t want to offend people. It also means ‘yes’. Yeah-nah, not really, eh. ‘I get what you’re saying, but no.’
6) Good on ya, mate
The phrase ‘Good on ya, mate’ was popularised by a series of commercials for the New Zealand beer Speight’s. It means ‘well done’ or ‘I approve’. The word ‘mate’ is like ‘bro’ in that it is used mostly by males to describe other males even if they’ve never met them before, except ‘mate’ is more used by white guys. ‘Good on ya’ can be shortened to ‘on ya’, as in ‘I won the race.’ / ‘On ya, Kevin.’ This is really Aussie as well.
7) Bring a plate
‘Bring a plate’ is an instruction that has tripped up many a new immigrant to New Zealand, including my mum. If you get invited to a party and the host tells you to ‘Bring a plate’, they don’t mean ‘We don’t have enough plates for so many people, so bring one of your own’, they mean ‘Bring a portion of food for everyone to share, such as a bowl of potato salad, or a cake, or, if you’re lazy, a packet of corn chips and dip’. You don’t want to see the look on the host’s face when you show up with an empty plate expecting them to put food on it for you.
Being an English person, a Kiwi word that personally annoys me is ‘lollies’. In England, ‘lolly’ is a short form of ‘lollipop’, but in New Zealand ‘lollies’ means ‘all sweets in general’. (If you’re American, ‘sweets’ is the English word for ‘candy’.)
If you’re not from New Zealand, if you hear the word ‘dairy’ you probably think of ‘milk products’ or ‘a farm with cows on it’. In New Zealand, as well as being those things, ‘dairy’ means ‘convenience store’. When I once told my English friends that I was ‘popping down the road to the dairy to get some milk’, they looked at me very strangely and thought that if you need milk in New Zealand you walk down the road and get it directly from a farm, probably milking the cow yourself. No. A ‘dairy’ is a miniature (and very expensive) supermarket, usually in a residential area.
10) She’ll be ’right
The saying ‘she’ll be ’right’ neatly sums up the entire Kiwi attitude to life. It means ‘don’t worry, the chances of something bad happening aren’t that high, and even if something bad does happen, it’s nothing we can’t handle; it’ll all turn out all right in the end’. It means ‘don’t stress’; ‘that’s good enough’ – ‘Reckon we’ve put enough mortar between those bricks?’ / ‘She’ll be ’right.’ Some criticise the complacency this phrase implies, but others embrace it as a healthy outlook. Kiwis don’t sweat about the little things and lead generally happier lives for it.
Article by Abigail Simpson, author of POMS AWAY! A British Immigrant’s View of New Zealand