Australian English is a fickle thing. It slurs here, it abbreviates there, and it takes words from American and British English with barely a thank you in return. Many Australians believe the “correct” use of English is to follow the British example — but this is becoming less and less the case with Australian English. So what version of English (British vs. American) is Australian English closer to? (And if it’s so close to British English, why do Aussies love American words so much?)
What Is Up With Australian English, Anyway?
British English has dictated Australian English since colonial times, determining and adjusting the vocabulary, accent and grammatical rules of our island home. The majority of our words, terms and phrases are still shared with our friends across the pond (Britain), thus giving the impression the “correct” form of English is the British form.
This impression of “correctness” is further amplified by how Australians continue to use British spelling rules, and openly reject those used in America. For example, words with French roots retain a –tre ending in Australian and British English, like “centre,” “theatre” and “metre” (while in American English, these same words would be spelled “center,” “theater,” “meter” and so on). The same can be said about keeping extra an extra U in words like “favourite” and preferring an S over a Z for words like “realise.”
Some notable exceptions include the standard (Americanized) spelling of “program” instead of “programme,” and “fetus” instead of “foetus.” Australians are also more likely to use American keyboards instead of British keyboards since they include the dollar sign instead of the pound sterling symbol. That said, Aussie vocabularies do not share the same levels of British fidelity.
Vocabulary: Where Australia And Britain Part Ways
Modern Australians — and especially younger generations, who were arguably raised in equal parts by their parents as they were by Marge and Homer Simpson — have been so exposed to American culture that certain ideas of food (burgers), recreation (bowling) and even cultural days (Halloween) are almost impossible to think of without American imagery. And while many older Australians reject holidays like Halloween as a rejection of the “Americanization” of Australian culture, it continues to be embraced by younger generations.
The result of such exposure has lead to many American English words and phrases being used instead of their British English counterpart. A case in point is with the word “truck” — its proliferation in Australian popular culture has made it the norm in Australian speech, even though this vehicle is known as a “lorry” in Britain.
A Confusing Mix Of English
Anyone who’s worked alongside an Australian or had an Aussie mate has probably noticed that Australians often mix British English and American English together. For instance, Aussies frequently describe a “lift” (UK) or “elevator” (US) using both terms. The same cultural phenomenon applies to the use of “restroom” (US) and “toilet” (UK). Many Australians will use these terms interchangeably and throw in “bathroom” (US) for good measure.
Finally, Australians have managed to come up with unique vocabulary all their own. For example, what’s known as “candy” in America is known as “sweets” in the UK goes by “lollies” in Australia. Generally speaking, though, most unique Aussie words are only shortened versions of standard vocabulary. Australian slang has been highly popularized through the amusing nature of words like “servo” (service or gas station), “drongo” (loser) and “bottle-o” (bottle shop or liquor store), just to name a few.
Australian phrases are similarly confusing to foreign ears: Someone describing themselves as hungover would say they’re “a bit dusty” or if they’re describing someone else shouting, they might say they’re “going off like a pork chop.”
A Language All Their Own
It may seem unusual to Brits or Americans how comparatively easily foreign words wiggle their way into Australian life. It could be because Australians are just more exposed to words in American culture, or perhaps because they’re more open-minded to small changes. Or maybe Australians simply love American words in the same way they love American burgers, American music and American Presidents.
Well, that last one might be fake news.