Because I’m from New Zealand some of my international visitors might not always understand the lingo on this blog, so I’ve tried to include a glossary of some common sayings and phrases you might encounter:

‘Marmite’s mighty, it’s delicious…’
  • Across the ditch – Australia.
  • Aotearoa – the Maori name for New Zealand. (Ah-tay-ah-roh-ah – with a slight roll on the r).
  • All Blacks – our national rugby team.
  • Arvo – afternoon.
  • As full as a tick – when you’ve over-eaten.
  • A heap – a lot.
  • Aussies – those people who live across the ditch.
  • Bach – a modest holiday home. Colloquial use in the North Island (pr. batch)
  • Bash – Or to give the bash – to beat someone up; alternative – to try something out – to give it a go / give it a bash.
  • Bikkie – More informal term for a biscuit.
  • Biscuit – Differs from the American meaning. A biscuit is a cookie.
  • Bonnet (of a car) – what Americans call the hood…
  • Boot (of a car) – what Americans call the trunk…
  • Booze – alcohol.
  • Bottle it – shush up, stop talking.
  • Bring a plate – this means bring some food to share (a shared meal). I’ve been to a few functions where foreigners have brought the empty plate, wondering what a strange custom it is…
  • Bugger all – to do not much at all. eg. What is he doing? Bugger all.
  • Cark it – to die.
  • Cattle stop – a wooden or metal grid over a shallow pit usually dug across the front entrance of a farm house to stop the cattle wandering into the house section. (When I was a child, we used to rescue hedgehogs that would fall in…).
  • Chilly bin – A thermal carrier for taking cold drinks / food out.
  • Chips – what English folk call crisps.
  • Crib – a modest holiday home. Colloquial use in the South Island.
  • Dig in – an invitation to help yourself to food and/or start eating.
  • Down under – refers to Australia or NZ (referring to our position on the lower hemisphere on the globe). The Australian reference was also made famous in the Men at Work song of the same name.
  • Glad Wrap – a brand name for cling film (took me ages and some dodgy descriptions before I could find this overseas).
  • God’s Own – a colloquial term for New Zealand.
  • Good as gold – everything is fine.
  • Gumboots – waterproof rubber boots farmers or gardeners wear. Wellington boots in the UK.
  • Gutted – devastated, disappointed.
  • Flannel – a cloth you wash your face with. (A wash cloth?).
  • Full on – it’s all happening, a lot going on, busy.
  • Fulla – slang for fellow. Usually an old man – an old fulla.
  • Handle the jandal – a saying that means how you cope with or manage a situation. (Not sure how this saying came about..?).
  • Hang on – what you say when you don’t agree with someone just before you correct them, alternative: wait for me.
  • Hardcore – staunch.
  • Hoo-ha – a bit of a fuss or a minor argument. He caused a bit of a hoo-ha when he turned up wearing his grandmother’s wig… (I understand this has other more colourful meanings in different cultures…).
  • Holiday – is a specific public holiday, or a generic vacation. I’m going on holiday.
  • Hot chips – fries, as opposed to chips (crisps).
  • In good nick – in good shape.
  • Jandal – footwear you wear during the summer. Overseas also known as a flip flop, or in Australia – a thong?
  • Kick the bucket – to die.
  • Kip – a sleep. ‘I’m off for a kip.’ NB It’s always a kip. You don’t have multiple kips and you wouldn’t say he’s kipping either…
  • Kiwi – a New Zealander. ‘I’m proud to be a kiwi.” (It’s also a brown, flightless, nocturnal bird…).
  • Knackered – tired. I’m knackered.’ alt. broken or in bad condition – ‘I knackered my knee playing rugby.’ alt 2. colloquial reference to castration. A german friend once confused this with a word naked and was surprised when everyone started to laugh.
  • Knackers (the) – the meatworks. alt. colloquial reference to testicles. ‘He was kicked in the knackers.’
  • Knock back – (a few drinks) – to drink alcohol.
  • Knock off – (verb) to kill. They knocked him off. Alt. (noun) a copy of a branded item (clothing, watches etc).
  • Kumara – a native sweet potato.
  • Lashings – a generous amount.
  • Laughing Gear – your mouth. Wrap your laughing gear around that! (An offer to eat something. Is usually only used in this context. You wouldn’t say someone has exceptionally beautiful laughing gear. In fact be careful when using the word gear – it can refer to a man’s genitalia).
  • Lingo – language.
  • Lollies – sweets, candy.
  • Marmite –Β a black condiment – spread on toast or sandwiches. Hugely yummy – the factory that makes it was destroyed during the Christchurch earthquake and there has been a ‘marmite crisis’ in NZ. Note: After more than a year the factory is up and running and you can buy it in the shops!!!
  • Maori – the indigenous people of NZ.
  • Metal Road – an unsealed road, usually of gravel.
  • Mince – ground beef in the USA?
  • Nick – to steal.
  • No joy – no luck.
  • Over the moon – overjoyed.
  • Plaster – something you stick over a graze / cut (band aid)
  • Plaster cast – the hard cast you wear when you have a broken bone
  • Put the boot in – the act of kicking a person when they are down, or attacking a person (verbally) when they’re already having a hard time of it.
  • Race – (a race) farming term meaning a narrow, private road used for moving livestock from paddock to paddock.
  • Rugby – our national sport, a type of football played with an oval ball (you can kick or pick up and run).
  • Squiz – to look at.
  • Sweet / Sweet as – good, all is well.
  • Shove a cork in it – stop talking.
  • Sucked the kumara – when you’ve missed the mark / failed spectacularly.
  • Taranaki Gate –Β a makeshift gate made out of fence batons and wire. In order to shut it you loop the top and bottom of the end post into two loops of wire.
  • The Land of the Long White Cloud – a colloquial name for New Zealand.
  • This arvo – this afternoon
  • Togs – swimsuits
  • Tutto – usually when you’re trying to figure something out or get it to work without an instruction manual. ‘I’ll just have a tutto
  • Useless as tits on a bull – A farming phrase, which basically means of no use at all. (I got into trouble saying this once in the UK).

Sometimes we don’t know we’re using colloquialisms so feel free to ask for translation in the comments below. Or if you’re wondering if you’re using the kiwi lingo correctly feel free to ask! I’ll add to the list as I think of things.

16 thoughts on “Kiwisms

  1. It’s often hard to recognise your own colloquialisms – so a big thank you to V.O. Blum, who I met at a recent SpecFicNZ meeting. An American writer who has shared his list of kiwi sayings collected for a NZ character in his up and coming novella DownMind. He has inspired me to keep an ear open for more of those little down under nuggets.

    1. I’m part-Maori too, and my son comes home from school and says Mum I can count to four in Spanish…’Tahi, rua, toru, wha (far)…’

      *failed to teach son own culture facepalm*

      Right up there with the day he asked me if we knew any Maoris… ‘try the mirror son…’ (A lot of his friends at school were also of Maori heritage with names like Neihana, Wiremu, Rangiora. I like to think he was culturally inclusive – although probably just 5…)

      I’ve heard the name Hoi Polloi, but haven’t heard much of their music. (I’m a bit musically backward).

  2. Apparently I spelled their name wrong anyway. It’s Hoi Polloi. We found them in the 90’s. The lead singer had an unusual quality to her voice that made their music distinctive.

    I had a similar *failed to teach culture facepalm* πŸ˜› After the kids watched the old Peter Pan, one of them made a really silly remark about “Indians”. “Umm… Sweetie, you know how your skin is darker than Mommy’s?”

  3. LOL – you’ve caught the Make. A. Point. Fullstops. Too. I’m glad you like it my friend. Just so’s you ‘member how to speak our lil ole lingo when you head back to the U.S. of A. (hmm that sounded a big southern drawl… let me mull over and rephrase…) How about – Che bro, keep it real and don’t go forgettin us aye… *hides face in hands*

  4. Love it! Newfoundland (where I live, but sadly not where I’m from) is a confusing conglomeration of outport lingo and muddled accents. I just bought a children’s book called “Moocher in the Lun” that’s full of these words/phrases, and I adore it. Reading lists like this makes me very happy- it’s fun to see how people in other places use language.

    So… what exactly is in Marmite, anyway?

    1. If you only knew what a jar of sticky blackness you’re opening up with that question. It’s black and it’s a yeasty salty sort of spread that you really have to taste to understand. Most kiwi kids grew up eating it on sandwiches or toast. My Mum used to make me marmite and lettuce sandwiches (which did not last well in the lunchbox – especially in summer) and for a treat we’d make marmite and chip (crisp) sandwiches. It’s good on crackers too.

      The closest things to it (but NOT the same at all) are Vegemite (big in Australia) and Promite (UK – which I thought was disgusting). I’ve added a photo of my gold-plated jar of Marmite.

      When the factory was destroyed in the big Christchurch earthquake in February the country went into a marmite crisis (there were a lot of other earthquake related tragedies – but this was a weirdly NZ one). Marmite sold out and there was a bit of a black market going. And they even had an advertising campaign saying we’d get through it…

      Fortunately just before the earthquake my Mum had bought quite a few jars to post overseas to my sister – so was able to keep us stocked. The factory has only just got back into production and the first new batches have been delivered to stores this week…

      Hope you’re not sorry you asked!

      1. No, it’s interesting! We don’t have anything like that. I’d heard of Marmite before (and Vegemite), but didn’t know what it was. Thanks!

    1. Hello!!!! – I must have missed the notification that you had been here… You must have known somehow that my spirit was being stirred to write write write and write again. Hope you are doing well and I will be back to visit on your blog soon. Hugs back πŸ™‚

      1. Yes hoping to be back with the WIPpeteers soon.:) Sorry for late reply – I have been having issues seeing the comments – due to wordpress changes since I last used the blog. How the world has moved on…

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