Understanding Nu Zillind English
I’ve been living in London for nearly a year and a half. Coming from New Zealand I expected little culture shock and for the most part that has been the case. However one of the things that took me by surprise (and continues to) is how many kiwi colloquialisms are utterly lost in translation.
For the most part, it’s not too hard to connect the dots and I’m yet to offend anyone too seriously. However, the few phrases I’ve noted below are the ones that haven’t passed without comment, along with a few words that have caused alarm which can simply be put down to error by accent.
OE: Arriving in the UK having just done an “overseas experience” I was using the term quite a lot to describe my trip. As it turns out this is not a term over here and the best interpretation of it was that I was saying “I did my owie” which was taken to mean I had done a trip that had cost me a lot of money and I was now in debt to pay it back.
Deck: This was fun. I believe it was my first week at Topshop when I learned just how easily misinterpreted this one can be. What’s ironic is I would normally refer to a ‘deck’ as a ‘presentation’ but I had noticed it was the former most British people went for, so I thought I’d try assimilate. If my memory serves me correctly I said, “where is the deck saved?”. It wasn’t until a few days later that someone told me they’d had to debrief after the meeting to understand why the new girl was asking where the cock was.
Decade: I’m finding it hard to remember why I would have been referring to a decade at work, but what’s not hard to remember is the look of shock that followed on from my announcing it so casually. To the English ear, this sounds identical to ‘dickhead’. I now refer to ten year periods as exactly that, ten year periods.
How are you going?: You know, I’m still not sure if I fully know how to answer the British equivalent of this question. Where a kiwi would say “how are you going?” a British person would say “you alrigh’?”. I mean, what is the standard answer here? “Yes, I’m alright. Why? Do I look ill?” or is it just “good thanks” because that is ultimately what you’re being asked? Either way, the kiwi version of asking “how are you?” also appears to cause some confusion. The best response I had to “how are you going?” was “uh, the tube?”.
Togs: Working in fashion I quickly learnt “swimwear” is the correct term here. But I still think togs is better.
Not a hundy: I was pretty surprised this wasn’t a thing because it clearly means ‘not a hundred percent’. However, the first time I said it it was met with a question mark and when I ran it past a friend they said they weren’t sure why but it sounded a bit racist.
Bend my rubber arm: I think it’s weird this one doesn’t translate well. In the UK people would say ‘twist my arm’ as a way of saying ‘convince me of something’. To refer to a rubber arm is just an extension of this. Rubber is easy to bend, therefore, convincing someone who has a rubber arm would be easily done etc. But evidentially you do have to spell it out. I mean come on. A little imagination, people.
Dairy: In NZ a ‘dairy’ is what we call a ‘convenience store’. This came about because back in the day they primarily sold dairy product. I mean yeah, the shop as a whole is ‘convenient’ but ‘dairy’ is far more creative. Either way, it’s apparently far too abstract for the Poms and saying “I’m just popping out to the dairy” can be wildly misinterpreted. In the fine words of Charlotte Kool you may find yourself needing to follow it up with “I’m not going to milk cows, you nobs”.
Bach: I think a big part of this is because people in the UK don’t really have baches. However, if they did it would be a holiday home. “Bach” doesn’t even sound like anything either so you generally just get looks of confusion if you say it.
Full tit: Again, with a little imagination I think the UK folk could get on board with this. Doing something ‘half arse’ is to not do it properly, so ‘full tit’ is obviously when you’re committing fully. Duh.
<edit> ok fine, I suppose it’s worth noting this term actually is an iteration of ‘full tilt’ from Sailing — meaning the same thing. But origins smorigins, full tit has totally become a thing.
Lollies: Here I refuse to comply. For Brits, lollipops are called lollies, ice-blocks are ice lollies and what we’d called lollies are sweets. It’s a good thing I don’t eat much junk food, so it doesn’t come up all that often. However it’s one of the conversations that if it does start, look for an exit. They’re surprisingly stubborn about the illogical naming of confectionary.
Not here to F – spiders: Oh the things you wish you could take back. I was shopping with a pal in Topman for a few bits and because he wasn’t trying anything on, we were making record time. One of the assistants said to me at the end “that was quick!” to which I said “yeah! Not here to fuck spiders”. The man deserves an award for professionalism because despite a momentary flutter of confusion he just smiled and carried on. It wasn’t until explaining this to my friend that he kindly noted “yeah, that’s not a thing here”.
Looking into it, I can’t be sure where this originally came from but be it American, Australian or New Zealand – it sure as shag isn’t British.
Rattle your dags: Do you know what’s quite amusing? Using this phrase, having no one understand it and then having to explain (and only realising mid explanation how seriously weird it is) that this refers to the poopy wool on a sheep’s rear end shaking while it runs. In this instance I’m happy to let this kiwism go. I now just say “hurry up”.
Wop-wops: The UK equivalent here would be ‘the sticks’ but I still think saying ‘they live in the wop-wops’ is better.
Gumboots: This was like the inception of misunderstanding. I learned that ‘gumboots’ are simply not a thing in the UK when I asked “can you get me a gumboot tea, please?”. The looks of confusion resulted in me trotting down the linguistics rabbit hole again. This time explaining that gumboots (Wellingtons) were something that tradesmen back home wore, and therefore the type of tea preferred (“normal” – how unimaginative!) was known as ‘gumboot’ tea. (Oddly, when I was searching for an image for this post I looked up ‘gumboots’ and was met with a picture of a Beef Wellington. Go figure).
Chilly Bin: So, I’m going to stick up for NZ here because in the same way that ‘gumboot’ is a far more logical name for a boot that’s made of gummy stuff, a chilly bin is a much better representation of a place to chill food than a ‘cool box’.
Lastly, it’s best to learn that pants here are underwear, ‘Kumara’ categorically do not exist, and if you pronounce data “darta” you’ll get funny looks. It’s “dayta”, darling.
Now, I’m not claiming to have what it takes to be the next child genius cleaning up at Cannes, but there’s got to be a creative campaign in there somewhere. A “how to speak English for the English” guide or something. In fact if Air NZ hasn’t done it yet surely that could be the next safety video.
There you go fellas, you can have that one.