10 Silly Things Kiwis Say

Kiwi BirdEvery 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’. Kiwi Fruit‘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’.)

2) Choice

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’.

Sheep with Alcohol3) Not even

‘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.)

4) Ow

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, BeerI 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.

5) Yeah-nah

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.

yyycatch-people-biz-male-sad7) 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.

8) Lollies

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’.)

Cow9) Dairy

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

36 thoughts on “10 Silly Things Kiwis Say

  1. I’m a kiwi and you had me laughing out loud. But saying ‘New Zealand is a chur place to live’ is totally fine. Chur or chrr (some even spell it cher, which is wrong for obvious reasons) is a substitute for words like cool, awesome, sweet… it can even be used to substitute works like thanks, hello/goodbye. But its always positive.

  2. Hello. So I’m Kiwi but a southern one, so you’ve probably heard this one before. We don’t say ‘Not even’ down here, (sounds a wee bit of an annoying phrase 🙂 ) and I’ve never heard it before, ever. And ‘Ow’ and ‘Arvo’. Northern too I reckon. So I’ve learned something. ‘Arvo’ sounds very Australian. We do shorten things though but not as bad as those lazy Aussies. University we shorten to ‘Varsity’ but they can barely be bothered to use 3 letters and go for ‘Uni’. Bloody Australians!!
    Sounds like you’re gettin the hang of it though. Good luck!

    1. Lol – I lived in this country since I was 10 years old – I should have the hang of it by now! Yes, I’ve noticed people from down south say ‘varsity’, but most people up here definitely say ‘uni’ like the Aussies – I was surrounded by people saying it AT uni for years!

    2. I’m from Auckland and I’ve never heard ‘Ow’ although ‘Arvo’ gets used a lot. I also say ‘Uni’ and have never heard of ‘Varsity.’ I say ‘Not even’ a lot too.

  3. What the hell what the heak do you think your doing. I’m a Kiwi and I’m doing homework about how kiwis are special!Because they really are and if you ain’t got anything nice to say about people’s culture then keep it to yourself!!😡😡😡😡😬😬😱😱😟😟😟😰😰😰😢😢Imagine someone doing a website of 10 silly thing that your culture does or days I’m really offended by this so whoever did this man your ugs which means ugly got that from my cousin! Anyway please keep it to yourself because NZ is the best country in the universe!!!😇😇😇😇😇😄😄😄😄😄

  4. There been a lot of changes in Kiwi-speak over the years, and there are regional differences and various overseas influences … In my adult life time I’ve spent half my time in Oz (I refuse to say “Aussie”: that’s an adjective and as a noun it’s one kiwi-ism I will never adopt) and I’m married to a South African so I know a few outside influences! (Actually I came here when I was 7, so I guess my British whakapapa influences me too).

    So of your observations: “sweet as” wasn’t around in the ’70s when I was a kid, “choice” was if I recall just emerging. “Not even” I first began to hear in Australia, mainly Melbourne, and only about ten years ago. I’ve never heard “ow”, but the terminal “eh” was universal (and is in parts of Queensland, as is [swimming] “togs” … go figure. On the other hand QLD has a peculiar terminal “but” confusingly used the same way, dwindling now to rural regions (and a little bit of rural NSW). “Yeah-Nah” is hugely South African, and I think has come to NZ with the post-apartheid white diaspora (very strong in Perth, too, with its South African population) from 1990 on. The rest were all very much a part of my childhood – as a pommy kid I hated “lollies” and strangely, 50+ years later, rarely use it. “She’ll be right” crosses the Tasman but, yes, in Oz tends to contract to “She’s right.” I never heard “arvo” before I went to Australia in the 1980s, and though I hear it here in NZ it still raises some eye brows (like “you beaut” as a synonym for “fancy”).

    Given that there are significant interstate differences in OZ I think our two islands operate linguistically like two more states of Australasia (that too is a word i rarely heard in OZ, except when they want to claim something kiwi to boost their sense of self-worth!). The Oz interstate differences were blurring from the 1980s on with increasing interstate migration, and to some extent that was true of trans-Tasman cross pollination. The Māori contribution, particular since the Māori Renaissance in post-Muldoon years, has been enormous, and while discernible in Oz through migration is gloriously inescapable here, “bro” and “cuzz” and derivatives being the most obvious.

    Great article though!

  5. It was very helpful for me. Specially for those who are planning to go NZ.. Thanks for posting this article I would like to here many new things from you…if u want to share but NZ is a awesome country specially the word Chur!! I loved it😊

    1. I was born in Zimbabwe Africa but have lived in England for 20 years, many of the slang words mentioned have been in common usage in Zimbabwe. You’ll probably find as New Zealand has many South African and Zimbabwean migrants, these words were brought with them and spread in New Zealand. In fact, many English people have mistaken me for a New Zealander as even our English accents are very similar.

  6. Nice list! Like others mentioned, some are definitely regional and depending on dempgraphic; there is a few I’ve never heard before here in the South Island (working at the uni! :-)) and I’ve been here for 17+ years. Personal bug bear though: The plural of Maori is still Maori and not Maoris…

  7. I laughed so much, this is brilliantly written, I’m kiwi born and bred and my experience is that you are spot on 😉
    I never really noticed how ridiculous some of our lingo actually is lol

  8. I’d like to add that inviting someone over for tea is not in fact a cuppa. It is dinner. This has left me very embarrassed and confused before. And supper is also not dinner. But an evening snack/treat/bikkie…..

  9. And just btw, all these quirks are what make NZ very special and lovely. And once we “get” them it makes us feel very part of the beautiful nz. Kiwis are also the friendliest nation I’ve ever encountered. Train trips were never this interesting. Everyone chats.

  10. I’m a kiwi and this was funny because all these things I thought were just normal until I traveled abroad and realised how layed back we are in NZ.

  11. Regarding the ‘…as’ usage, this has its origins, as does much of our slang, in the uneducated criminal fraternity, not being able to complete the simile. At the time of 9/11, a small boy on television said “There were some tall as buildings”. Sweet as, hot as, fast as, ad nauseam.

  12. I”m unsure really what it is that annoys me about the word “lollies” when referring to sweets or candy. It’s just one of those child like banal and stupid things uneducated kiwis say, and there’s lots of them believe me…

  13. Cute!

    I must confess to using all of the above at one point or another. The “yeah nah” I think stems from the non-ability of the super kind Kiwi folk to be direct when giving a negative response. The can’t stand to hurt your feelings so by saying a positive “yeah” before a negative “no”, sort of softens the blow.

  14. Hi, the word/phrase isn’t ‘ow’ although it often sounds like it. It’s actually ‘e hoa’ which is Maori and translates roughly as ‘hey friend’ or just ‘friend’ or to put it more Kiwi, ‘hey mate’ or just ‘mate’.

  15. Great read. Perfect explanations Ow!!
    Chur..sweet as ..choice alright
    Good on ya mate love ya work
    Better go gotta take a plate to my mums now running late she”ll be right though might just stop at the dairy and take some lollies instead…. Massive!!!! (One of my Kiwi favourites)

    Kia Ora Bronwyn Warren

  16. I’m a kiwi, I’d have to say that the yeah, nah, slang means both yes, no, and sometimes maybe. This is depending on the relevant conversation. Most kiwis should know which it is. Also of you haven’t noticed, we really like to call our friends cunts, and people we think less of mate… “have you meet Jeff, he’s a good cunt!”. “Hey…, watch your step Mate!”

  17. Another favourite: “There’s no crying in rugby unless you’re an Australian” 🙂
    (A joke obviously because The Wallabies are awesome; … the All Blacks are infinitely better tho)

  18. The first time I visited NZ from California, and heard “sweet as”, I thought they were saying “sweet ass”, which made it even more confusing. But after realizing, I figured it was local slang and enjoyed it. A couple of things that were different to me was when at a coffee shop, I was asked if it was for here or take-away. In the US, it’s, “ Is that for here or to go”. Also, the food on display was “cabinet food”. I thought that was funny. And you can find just about any food in a pie.

    I love NZ. Awesome place, awesome people.

  19. I was born in Zimbabwe Africa but have lived in England for 20 years, many of the slang words mentioned have been in common usage in Zimbabwe. You’ll probably find as New Zealand has many South African and Zimbabwean migrants, these words were brought with them and spread in New Zealand. In fact, many English people have mistaken me for a New Zealander as even our English accents are very similar.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.