Why Do Australians Love Abbreviations?

Do you like hittin’ the bottle-o for a tallie before the footy? (If you can understand this sentence, you might be Australian.)

Australians are known for their love of beaches and barbecues, for their unusual accents and for their proximity to creatures that the rest of the world finds terrifying. What they’re not known for — at least as much as they should be — is their love of abbreviations. “Aussies” love abbreviations (and diminutives) so much that some shortened forms of words are almost heard more frequently than their originals: brekkie, arvo, ambo, avo are some popular examples. 

It’s been said Australians use abbreviations more than any other English-speaking country. And why wouldn’t they: They have 5,000 abbreviations choose from, as one linguistic expert estimated. What’s more difficult to pinpoint is why Australians love them so much, and why they use them so frequently in everyday language. 

Why Do Aussies Use So Many Abbreviations?

Nenagh Kemp, a psychologist at the University of Tasmania, told Australian Geographic her theories behind why Australians use these shortened words so often. Her theory is that Australians use them as a way of coming across as more friendly and less pretentious. For example, this theory would assume that someone who says “g’day” is perceived as more relaxed than someone who says “good day.”

She conducted research on the theory with psycholinguist Evan Kidd, where they confirmed that these abbreviations did have a positive impact on perceived likability — if you had an Australian accent. For people without an Australian accent, the use of abbreviations has no effect.

How Are New Abbreviations Formed?

Meanwhile, Australian linguists have worked on tabulating and categorizing all the ways Australians use their abbreviations in order to better understand their creation. They’ve stated that Australians often cut off the first syllable of a word and then add a diminutive suffix onto the end. For example: “Australian” becomes “Aus–ie.” 

The primary diminutive suffixes that she found were:

  1. The use of IE, e.g. “selfie” (that’s right, one of our favorite millennial terms originated in Australia)
  2. The use of O, e.g. “doggo” (dog), “spenno” (expensive)
  3. The use of S, e.g. “totes” (totally)
  4. The use of ER, e.g. “chocker” (chock full), “pregger” (pregnant)
  5. The use of Z, e.g. “appaz” (apparently)

Other linguists have also noticed that A is also used quite frequently as a diminutive, like with “cuppa” (cup of tea) or “sanga” (sandwich). 

A Long History Of Abbreviations

Aside from the friendliness factor, there are other theories that can explain the cultural love and modern use of abbreviations in Australian English. One can simply point to Australia’s long history with abbreviations, and how they’ve been using them as early settlements. In fact, one colonial author even wrote how slang was being used by the convicts (or “English thieves” as Edward Gibbon Wakefield called them):

“The base language of English thieves is becoming the established language of the colony … No doubt [terms of slang and flash] will be reckoned quite parliamentary, as soon as we obtain a parliament.”

Wakefield, like many other writers of the time condemned this modification — similar to how they condemned the “broad” Australian accent that emerged during the same period.

Looking at this, it seems there is no one reason why Australians love to abbreviate their words. It might be because it gives a sense of friendliness to modern speech, it might be because it’s a habit that’s been culturally carried since settlement, or it might simply be because it’s fun. Everything else aside, it’s indisputable that there’s more satisfaction in having a “bikkie in the arvo,” than a biscuit in the afternoon!

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