You said what?!

In the following blog Wendi Jo Vande Voort explains some notable differences between Australian and American English. Jo is a Fall 2016 ASC student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.


The English language is the most tripped on barrier between Australia and the United States (and Great Britain, but they are not a part of this discussion for the most part). How can that be possible if they both speak the same language one may ask? Simple. Words and phrases have very different meanings.

So be warned before you go on your study abroad experience to any country, but especially Australia in this case…

  1.     In the United States, the lovely little bag one straps around their waist is called a fanny pack because it tends to be associated with the older generations of people and they use the word fanny, at least that is what I was always lead to believe. Be warned if you go to Australia (or Great Britain) that lovely little pack is a bum bag. A fanny is a lady’s butt, like it ought to be, so fanny pack is not a thing to be said.
  2.     In the wonderful beach country of Australia, they call the footwear that has the fabric/plastic that goes between the big toe and your next “big toe”, thongs. Now thongs in the United States, these days, are primarily associated with a type of women’s undies that are not full coverage. If you are interested in fun facts, thongs started out as a thing for dancers and has turned into a normal style of undies a woman can buy. So what Australians call thongs, Americans call flip flops. Thongs simply sounds like a “dirty word” to an American.
  3.     Now we are off to our favorite sporting event and everything is in our team’s favor, the Americans are rooting for their team and the Australians are cheering. All of the sudden like the Australians are a bit shocked by the Americans use of the word root because the word ‘root’ is offensive Australian slang for sex.
  4.     In the United States, a period has a dual meaning, either another name for a menstrual cycle or the grammar element used to end a sentence. Australians use the word period only in association with a menstrual cycle. The grammar element of the United States is called a full stop in Australia. Do not mix them up in Australia.
  5.     So now for my favorite mental argument, the word napkin. If one would walk into your typical store and ask “where are the napkins?” in both Australia and the United States, you would get two very different responses. Walking into a Wal-mart in the United States, one would get directed to the aisle with disposable food serving products such as paper plates and plastic forks, but if you walk into a Reject Shop in Australia you would be directed to the feminine hygiene products. In Australia, a serviette is what Americans call a napkin, and what Australians call napkin is what Americans call a pad or panty liner. See the crucial difference?

If anything I hope this humored you, as either a born-sarcastic Australian or an American who is very confused in Australia.

And if you were wondering where this blog idea came from, a family dinner with my host family when I was speaking of grammar punctuation. Inspiration comes from such odd places. It’s also a good thing I handle most awkward situations well. Story for another time.

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