New Zealand — or should I say, Nu Zild — is a nation filled with humble, down-to-earth people who love nothing more than relaxing in our exquisite natural environment. And what makes us Kiwis, besides our deflated sense of self and our love of being outdoors, is reflected in some of the unique phrases you’ll hear if you visit our shores. New Zealand slang reveals a people eager to please others and keep our conversations casual.
Read on for some quintessential New Zealand English phrases that will help you understand the locals next time you find yourself at the bottom of the world enjoying a barbecue, a beach or a tramp (which is not as rude as it sounds, I promise!).
1. Sweet as
- Meaning: great, fantastic, that’s fine
If you tell a Kiwi friend you’ll meet him at the beach and he responds with “sweet as,” you might be left wondering, “sweet as what, exactly?”
But “sweet as” is actually the complete sentence (unless you want to tack a friendly “bro” or “mate” on the end, two of our favorite terms for our friends). That’s right — we Kiwis are fans of incomplete similes. Perhaps we’re too chilled out to bother quantifying, or maybe it’s just implied: Those beach plans are so fantastic, we’re lost for words.
- “I’m moving to New Zealand.” “Sweet as!”
- “I’m going to bed.” “Sweet as, see you in the morning.”
The key to nailing this Kiwi phrase is to appear to have no problem with the sentence ending right there. Keep your eyebrows in their natural position when you hear this phrase and you’ve basically earned yourself New Zealand citizenship.
- Meanings: great, thanks, hello, goodbye, general acknowledgement of the other person
Most likely a cut-down version of “cheers,” this term has spread from slang to the mainstream because of its versatility. It’s used as a way of thanking someone, as well as a simple acknowledgement that you have heard what the other person is saying and even occasionally a greeting. Here you can see that “chur” fits a wide variety of situations:
- “You can borrow my car.” “Chur bro.”
- “That movie was sweet as.” “Chur.”
- “Chur bro.” “Hey, what’s up?”
- “See you on Thursday night.” “Chur.”
Slip this New Zealand slang into almost any informal conversation and instantly endear yourself to your Kiwi hosts.
3. She’ll be right
- Meaning: Everything will be OK
New Zealanders (and Australians) use this phrase when we want to be reassuring, but in a cool, unemotional way. “She’ll be right” is somehow both optimistic (“everything will be OK”) and apathetic (“I’m going to quickly shut this conversation down to avoid looking like I care too much”).
We Kiwis are complicated creatures. But something that unites us is our wish for everything to be OK and for that to be possible without anyone making a fuss. “She’ll be right” nails all this concern in just three words.
- “It’s going to rain tomorrow.” “She’ll be right.”
- “The car needs a new tire.” “She’ll be right.”
- “It looks like you’ve broken your leg.” “She’ll be right.”
Note: This phrase does not refer solely to women, but can be used about virtually any negative situation.
- Meaning: damn, crap, *other expletives*
This is New Zealand’s socially acceptable, bendable, all-purpose swear word for when we really can’t keep that negative emotion inside.
- “It’s raining on the laundry.” “Bugger!”
- “Oh bugger, I forgot my wallet.”
You can also use “buggered” to describe something that’s broken or a person who is tired. For example: “I ran a marathon this morning and now I’m totally buggered.” Additionally, it’s possible to bugger something up, as in “I buggered up my maths test.”
Another variation is “bugger all,” meaning “nothing” or “nearly nothing.” For example: “What did you do this weekend?” “Bugger all, I had the flu.”
In the same vein as “She’ll be right,” “yeah-nah” is our attempt to convey a non-committal acknowledgement of what another person has just said. Desperate not to offend anyone, New Zealanders will use this when they are warming up to disagree — even slightly — with the other person, or when they want to downplay the severity of a situation.
- “You looked really ill on Friday.” “Yeah-nah I was fine.”
- “That netball team played really badly.” “Yeah-nah they weren’t playing their best. But I thought the goalkeeper did a good job.”
Pro-tip: “Yeah-nah” can also be flipped around to become “nah-yeah.” For example: “I think the All Blacks need a new coach.” “Nah-yeah you’re probably right.”
Good luck trying to get a clear yes or no out of the person who uses “yeah-nah” or “nah-yeah.” But if you’re looking for an indication of which side they might be leaning towards, pay attention to whichever part of the phrase comes last. For example, if they say “yeah-nah,” they’re probably about to disagree with you. Think about it as a transition from affirming what you have just said (“yeah”), to preparing to dissent (“nah”).
Inhabiting a tiny nation at the bottom of the globe that is regularly left off of world maps has given us New Zealanders a deflated sense of ourselves. That lack of confidence is vocalized in our use of this spoken tag particle, tacked on to the ends of pretty much any sentence we utter.
“Eh” is used to include the listener, but also to create a stronger group dynamic or seek confirmation. It’s quite similar to the way that Canadians use their own “eh” in conversation. Furthermore, using this one correctly will put you in the fast lane to achieving fluency in New Zealand English.
But the spelling of this phrase is up for debate: Kiwis use “eh,” “ay” and “aye” interchangeably when they need to spell it, although it is generally spoken much more often than it’s written.
Examples (with various meanings):
- “It’s pretty windy today, aye?” (“Right?”)
- “I’m really into Sarah.” “Ay?” (An expression of surprise)
- “Boy am I scared eh!” (The name of a painting by New Zealand artist Peter Robinson, where the “eh” means something like “Are you following my story?”)
Not all of these examples would require a response. Think of the “eh?” as a question that can usually be answered with a simple nod, or a “chur.” It’s to be confused with “aye” (pronounced like “eye”) which is what pirates and those voting in parliaments use. Also note that Āe in Māori means “yes.”
- Meaning: hiking, bushwalking
So many of the people who visit New Zealand come prepared to do some tramping. Tramping through our forests, tramping over our mountains, tramping all over the country.
But if you’ve ever been accused of “tramping” and not known what it meant, you’d be forgiven for being a little offended. After all, to the non-Kiwi ear, this New Zealand slang can sound more like a judgement on your sexual behavior than a description of organized recreational walking.
- “We’re going tramping in the Akatarawa Valley this weekend. Want to come?”
- “We picked up two tired trampers on our way home from the beach.”
- Meaning: flip-flops
The local term for flip-flops (or what Australians call “thongs”) is “jandals.” Originally a trademarked term used for marketing what were then called “Japanese sandals,” jandals have become not only a household name in New Zealand, but also our footwear of choice. Some say you can spot a Kiwi on the other side of the world because we’ll be the ones wearing jandals in the middle of winter. Jandals also probably wouldn’t be considered sensible shoes for tramping, but seriously, try us.
An excellent piece of five-star jandal-slang you should definitely try to slip into conversation is: “Give it some jandal,” which means “to accelerate a motor vehicle.” This is best used as an imperative, like when you’re riding on the back of a friend’s motorbike and he isn’t driving fast enough. Then you can tell him to “give it some jandal!”
- Meaning: trail mix
Our choice of footwear might be insensible, but something a New Zealander would never go tramping without is “scroggin”: that perfectly balanced mix of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and hopefully chocolate designed to keep you energized between stops on a long tramp.
Example: “Stop picking all the chocolate out of the scroggin!”
- Meaning: swimwear
Example: “After school we’ll go for a swim, so don’t forget your togs!”
Jandals, scroggin, togs and some tramping: essentially the making of a sweet as Kiwi day out, eh? Chur.