AskDefine | Define dinkum

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  1. In the context of "Australian English|slang": Genuine, usually in the phrase fair dinkum (or straight dinkum).

Extensive Definition

Spoken Australian English is thought to be highly colloquial, possibly more so than other spoken variants. Whether this idea is true or not, a substantial number of publications aimed at giving an overview of Australian English have been published.
Many books about Australian lore have been published, beginning with Karl Lentzner's Dictionary of the Slang-English of Australia and of Some Mixed Languages in 1892 . The first dictionary of based on historical principles that covered Australian English was E. E. Morris's Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases and Usages (1898).
After a long period of uninterest and/or antipathy, the first synchronic dictionaries of Australian English began to appear. In 1976 , the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary was published, the first dictionary edited and published in Australia. In 1981, the more comprehensive Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English was published, after 10 years of research and planning. Updated editions have been published since and the Macquarie Dictionary is widely regarded as authoritative. Oxford University Press also publishes a range of dictionaries of Australian English, including the Oxford Dictionary of Australian English.
Various publishers have also produced "phrase books" to assist visitors. These books reflect a highly exaggerated and often outdated style of Australian colloquialisms and they should partially be regarded as amusements rather than accurate usage guides.

History and origins

Australian English incorporates many terms that Australians consider to be unique to their country. One of the best-known of these is outback which means a "remote, sparsely-populated area". Many such words, phrases or usages originated with British and Irish convicts transported to Australia in 1788-1868. And many words which are still used frequently by rural Australians are also used in all or part of England, with variations in meaning. For example: a creek in Australia (as in North America), is any "stream or small river", whereas in England it is a small watercourse flowing into the sea; paddock is the Australian word for "field", while in England it is a small enclosure for livestock, and bush (as in North America) or scrub mean "wooded areas" or "country areas in general" in Australia, while in England, they are commonly used only in proper names (such as Shepherd's Bush and Wormwood Scrubs). Australian English and several British English dialects (eg. Cockney, Scouse, Geordie) use the word mate to mean a close friend of the same gender (or sometimes a platonic friend of the opposite sex), rather than the conventional meaning of "a spouse", although this usage has also become common in some other varieties of English.
The origins of other terms are not as clear, or are disputed. Dinkum or fair dinkum means "true", "the truth", "speaking the truth", and related meanings, depending on context and inflection. It is often claimed that dinkum was derived from the Cantonese (or Hokkien) ding kam, meaning "top gold", during the Australian goldrushes of the 1850s. This, however, is chronologically improbable since dinkum is first recorded in the 1890s. Scholars give greater credence to the notion that it originated with a now-extinct dialect word from the East Midlands in England, where dinkum (or dincum) meant "hard work" or "fair work", which was also the original meaning in Australian English. The derivation dinky-di means a 'true' or devoted Australian. The words dinkum or dinky-di and phrases like true blue are widely purported to be typical Australian sayings, however these sayings are more commonly used in jest or parody rather than as an authentic way of speaking.
Similarly, g'day, a stereotypical Australian greeting, is no longer synonymous with "good day" in other varieties of English (it can be used at night time) and is never used as an expression for "farewell", as "good day" is in other countries.
Sheila, Australian slang for "woman", is derived from the Irish girls name Síle (IPA: /ʃiːlʲə/, anglicized Sheila).

Words of Australian Aboriginal origin

Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been incorporated into Australian English, mainly as names for places, flora and fauna (for example dingo, kangaroo). Beyond that, few terms have been adopted into the wider language, except for some localised terms, or slang. Some examples are cooee and Hard yakka. The former is a high-pitched call (pronounced /kʉː.iː/) which travels long distances and is used to attract attention. Cooee has also become a notional distance: if he's within cooee, we'll spot him. Hard yakka means hard work and is derived from yakka, from the Yagara/Jagara language once spoken in the Brisbane region. Also from the Brisbane region comes the word bung meaning broken. A failed piece of equipment might be described as having bunged up or referred to as "on the bung" or "gone bung". Bung is also used to describe an individual who is pretending to be hurt; such individual is said to be "bunging it on".
Though often thought of as an Aboriginal word, didgeridoo (a well known wooden ceremonial musical instrument) is probably an onomatopaoeic word of Western invention. It has also been suggested that it may have an Irish derivation.

Terms for people

Australians use a variety of terms to refer to people. These terms may indicate such things as the person's ethnicity, the place where the person resides, the social status of the person, the person's behaviour, etc. Many of these words occur in other English dialects, especially New Zealand English, whilst others are unique to Australian English.

Proper nouns

It is also common amongst Australians to shorten the names of places, people, companies, etc. Some of these terms are regional others are in relatively widespread use. Many terms derive from company or brand names others derive from rhyming slang or the use of diminutives.


Australians use many unique terms to relate to items of clothing. Some of these terms are regional. Many derive from company or brand names others derive from rhyming slang.

Food and drink

Where foodstuffs are concerned, Australian English tends to be more closely related to the British vocabulary, for example the term biscuit is the traditional and common term rather than the American terms cookie and cracker. As had been the case with many terms, cookie is recognised and understood by Australians, and occasionally used, especially among younger generations.
In Australia the term chips is used for what Americans call French Fries, as with British English. In Australia chips is also used for what are called crisps in the UK, this second usage also being the American English term for crisps. The distinction is sometimes made through the adjective hot. The term French Fries is understood and sometimes used by Australians. US restaurants such as McDonalds continue to use the term French Fries in Australia.
In a few cases such as zucchini, snow pea and eggplant, Australian English uses the same terms as American English, whereas the British use the equivalent French terms courgette, mangetout and aubergine. This is possibly due to a fashion that emerged in mid-19th Century Britain of adopting French nouns for foodstuffs, and hence the usage changed in Britain while the original terms were preserved in the (ex-)colonies.
There are also occasions when Australians use words or terms which are not common in other forms of English. For example, Australia uses the botanical name capsicum for what the Americans would call (red or green) bell peppers and the British (red or green) peppers. Perhaps this is in order to contrast table pepper (berries of genus Piper) from so-called "hot peppers" (larger fruits of genus Capsicum).
Australians use the term rockmelon where North Americans would use the term cantaloupe, although in Victoria and Tasmania both terms are used.
In Australian English, dried fruits are given different names according to their variety, and generally raisins (grapes) are largest, sultanas (grapes) are intermediate, while currants are smallest.
In Australian English tomato sauce (Often known simply as 'Sauce') is the name given to what is known as ketchup in other dialects. However, Ketchup with its slightly sweeter taste, is still sold in many grocery stores and is common in fast food outlets such as McDonalds. Other sauces made from tomatoes are generally referred to by names related to their uses, such as barbecue and pasta sauce.
Served coffee beverages are given unique descriptive names such as flat white, for an espresso with milk. Other terms include short black, (espresso) and long black, (espresso diluted with water, similar to an Americano in the U.S.). Since the mid-1980s other varieties of coffee have also become popular, although these have generally been known by names used in North America and/or Europe.
As in British English, the colourless, slightly lemon-flavoured, carbonated drink known in North America and elsewhere under brand names such as Sprite and 7 Up is called lemonade, while the more strongly-flavoured drink known as lemonade in North America that is typically made of lemon juice and sugar is sometimes referred to as lemon squash, or sometimes traditional lemonade or club lemon, particularly in carbonated form.
The carbonated drink commonly called sarsaparilla in Australia is a type of root beer, named after the sarsarparilla root from which root beer is made. However, the taste is quite different, to the point that they may be considered two completely different products. This may be due to a difference in the production process.
Australians also often refer to McDonald's restaurants as Maccas. The corporation itself sometimes refers to itself informally as Maccas in advertising.
Cheap, unbranded Australian wine is called "cleanskin" wine, after the term for unbranded cattle. Cheap cask wine is often referred to as goon (diminutive slang for flagon), and the plastic cask is referred to as a "goon sack", "goon bag" or "goony".
A portable cooler; usually made of metal, plastic and/or polystyrene foam; is called an esky. This is a genericised trademark from the trade name Esky.

Processed pork

A common foodstuff known in some countries as Baloney or as pork luncheon meat is known by different names in different regions of Australia .

Beer glasses

Not only have there been a wide variety of measures in which beer is served in pubs in Australia, the names of these glasses differ from one area to another. However, the range of glasses has declined greatly in recent years.


To barrack, invariably a sporting team (typically rugby league or Australian rules football), for example, in Australian English means to hoot or cheer in support of something. Identical to the US "root". (Note that the word "root" in Australia is coarse slang for sexual intercourse.) For example: "who do you barrack for?" Almost the exact opposite of the (now rare) British usage of barrack, that is to denigrate: to jeer or hoot against something, such as a sporting team.
In Australia a table grouping teams according to their position in a league is called a ladder.


The game of cricket is immensely popular in Australia and has contributed slang terms to Australian English. Some of this is shared with rival cricketing nations, like the English and the New Zealanders.
Australians can be bowled over (taken by surprise), stumped (nonplussed) or clean bowled or alternatively hit for six (completely defeated). When answering questions, one can play a straight bat (or a dead bat) (give a non-committal answer) or let that one through to the keeper or shoulder arms (dodge the question), particularly if they are on a sticky wicket (in a tight situation). The questioner in turn can send down a bouncer, a googly, a flipper or a yorker (difficult questions to varying degrees). Alternatively, the question could be a long hop or a dolly — an easy question that person being questioned can use to his or her advantage. The expression "to bat for the other side" is commonly used in respect of gay men or lesbians, and is not necessarily a pejorative.


The word football or its shortened form footy is used by Australians for several different codes of football or the ball used to play any of them. Australians generally fall into four camps when it comes to the use of the word.
  • In the states of Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, the word "football" (or more commonly, "footy") usually refers to Australian rules football (also known simply as Australian football or "Aussie Rules"). In these states there is little or no popular differentiation between the two kinds of rugby football.
  • In the states of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland, most people refer to rugby league simply as "football" or "footy" for short, or "League" (after the National Rugby League governing body). Rugby union is known as "rugby", "union" or "rahrah". Australian rules is often known in these areas as "AFL" (a name which, strictly speaking, refers to the main governing body, the Australian Football League).
  • In areas in which all three codes are popular, especially the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and the Riverina (south-western NSW), the word "football" is ambiguous, and the names "league", "rugby" and "AFL" (or just "rules") are used, to avoid confusion.
  • Association football is generally known as soccer in Australia. In 2005 , the governing body changed its name to Football Federation Australia. Other media sources (especially in New South Wales and Queensland) now also refer to the game as "football".
  • In Australia, American football, which has a small following, is known as gridiron.
  • Players, officials and followers of Australian rules football, have devised many unique concepts, terms, slang and nicknames. Some of these, such as footy, Grand Final and State of Origin have entered wider Australian usage, even among followers of other codes of football.


Work vehicles

In Australian English the term ute, short for utility vehicle, refers to a passenger car-like vehicle with a tray back, possibly with sides, a rear gate and/or a removable cover or any small truck. Australian-made Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon utes are based on family car chassis, and are normally much smaller than current North American pickup trucks. The term is generally consistent with pickup in most countries. However, all imported pickups are also known as utes in Australia.
Truck (rather than lorry) has been the only term for heavy goods vehicles in Australia since World War II. Four-wheel drive, which is often abbreviated in writing as 4WD, is the usual name for the class of vehicles known elsewhere as SUVs, as well as utes with 4WD capability. In contrast to American English, neither utes nor passenger 4WD vehicles are usually regarded as being trucks in Australia. Four-wheel drives that are used only in the city and never for off-road driving are commonly given derogatory nicknames based on the names of wealthier suburbs of Australia's various state capital cities, the most common of these is Toorak Tractors, referring to the Melbourne suburb of Toorak.
There are a variety of terms for large and/or articulated trucks, depending on the type of cargo area, size/length, number of axles/wheels and so on. A single trailer articulated truck (typically with 32 wheels in Australia) is known as a semi-trailer or semi ( not /'se.mɑe/ as in the USA), an articulated truck with two trailers (typically with 50 tyres) is known as a B-Double (the lead trailer has a fifth wheel supporting the second trailer), or Double Semi. The largest of all articulated trucks are road trains, common on outback highways, which have at least three trailers and often more. In all articulated truck configurations, the powered vehicle at the front is invariably known as a prime mover.

Police vehicles

The panel vans used by police forces are known in most parts of Australia as paddywagons or as black marias (although this term is also used to refer to the vans used to transport prisoners between prison and courts), in accordance with international usage. However, in Melbourne as in other parts of Victoria they are often also called divvy vans, an abbreviation of the archaic Victoria Police jargon divisional van. The staccato chant of "You're going home in the back of a divvy van" (followed by clapping) can occasionally be heard when a crowd is nearby one of these vehicles, or when a person is led away by the police at a sporting or other large event. In Sydney, some people refer to similar vehicles as bull wagons and in the Riverina they are known as bundy wagons.
Large special purpose police vans, generally on truck chassis, which have facilities to test the blood alcohol levels of suspected drunk drivers, are known as booze buses.

Military slang

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is made up of the Australian Army, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Each have their own distinct traditions but share a defence force culture. This culture includes Australian military slang. Some words, such as digger, meaning a soldier, have become widely used by Australians in general. However, most slang used in the ADF is restricted to its personnel, or is widely understood outside Australia.

Old, declining or expired slang

Many distinctive Australian words have been driven to or near to extinction in recent decades under the homogenising influence of mass media and imported culture, because of changes in fashion, or have fallen into disuse as society changes. Those who like or use these words regret their passing but informal vocabulary is by nature ephemeral. Others who use these words do so ironically.

Rhyming slang

A common feature of traditional Australian English was rhyming slang, based on Cockney rhyming slang and imported by migrants from London in the 19th century. For example "Captain Cook" rhymes with "look", so to "have a captain cook" or to "have a captain" means to "have a look".
Some Australian rhyming slang is very localised, for example, a reference to the Sydney racetrack "Warwick Farm" (arm), or a former Melbourne radio station "3KZ" (head).
Rhyming slang was often used to create euphemistic terms for obscene words. In recent years this feature of Australian English has declined, once again due in part to the Americanisation of popular culture, as well as the passage of time and the impermanent nature of slang.


Further reading

  • Hornadge, Bill.(1989) The Australian slanguage : a look at what we say and how we say it (foreword by Spike Milligan}. Richmond, Vic: Mandarin ISBN 1-86330-010-4
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