What are Some Common Australian Slang Terms?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Australian slang is a large set of colorful and descriptive terms used by Aussie natives. Although incomprehensible to many outsiders, fans of Australian slang love hunting down new phrases dreamed up by our friends down under. If you are planning a trip to Australia or have a group of Aussie friends who rarely make any sense to you, here are a few basic terms to help you fit in, or at least be able find your hotel.

Australia natives have colorful slang terms for many common objects.
Australia natives have colorful slang terms for many common objects.

If you have ever sat through an Australian film or and episode of The Crocodile Hunter, you will likely have heard the greeting "G'day," short for "good day." Less often heard is an interesting word for goodbye: "Hooroo." Basic terms for men and women include "bloke" and "Sheila." These terms should help you get through the average day, but Aussie slang then becomes much more confusing and amusing.

If someone tells you they are "flat out" they are not lying down. Instead, it means they are going full speed, as hard as possible. Expansions on the term include the colorful "flat out like a lizard drinking," which gives fantastic mental pictures without necessarily being logical. People going flat out are rarely duffers, galahs or galoots, which are all Aussie terms for foolish or lazy people.

Ordering coffee may completely perplex the visitor unfamiliar with Australian slang. For a single shot of espresso to get you going, ask for a short black. A long black is similar to an Americano, espresso with a shot or two of hot water. For a café au lait, try asking for a long black with a side of milk. A unique Australian drink is the flat white, an espresso with a double quantity of steamed milk. Similar but not identical to a latte, the drink is rarely sold outside of Australia, and is a great treat.

Some popular Australian slang terms describe someone's mood or state of mind. "Agro" is short for aggressive or angry, and is also the name of a famous crocodile. "Airy Fairy" is used to describe a vague or vapid person. "Derro" is slang for derelict, and means a stupid or lazy bloke, while someone who is jelly-kneed is weak or nervous.

Many people, on first hearing the lyrics to the beloved Australian ballad "Waltzing Matilda" may come to the conclusion that Australians are crazy, because it seems to be made of Lewis Caroll-esque words. The Australian slang in the first verse is roughly explained as follows: A swagman is an itinerant traveler or hitchhiker, a billabong is a watering hole, a billy is a water can used to boil liquid over fires, and a Matilda is slang for a backpack. Essentially, the verse is about a hitchhiker camping and boiling water wondering who wants to dance with his backpack. Understanding the lyrics may not make you feel less confused about Australian character, but at least you'll understand why they are so confusing, especially when the song speaks about shoving a jumbuck, or sheep, in his bag and dancing with it.

Clearly, Australian slang is a fascinating subject which may leave you more dazed the more you study it. The creative words and phrases are a consistent source of fun and entertainment to any who love languages, and add great vibrancy to Australian English.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


Don't think they had 'hitchhikers' when Waltzing Matilda was written. A 'swagman' is basically a Hobo in your language.


In the time the song Waltzing Matilda was written, a "matilda" was not a backpack as we know them, but a bedroll - blanket rolled up with clothes and other items inside and tied at each end with cord that could be worn across the back over a shoulder. The tucker bag and billy would be suspended from the bedroll. To "waltz your matilda" was to walk around the country looking for casual work with your belongings on your back.


'crikey' basically means holy crap or however you yanks say it, in that case.


What does 'crikey' mean?


Waltzing Matilda is actually about a man who steals a sheep and when is confronted by the police drowns himself.


Waltzing Matilda is not our national anthem. The actual national anthem is Advance Australia Fair.

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