So You Think You Can Slang?

Does a pretty pass describe the beautiful toss of a football, or a bad situation? And is this “football” a round ball or the oblong ball used in American football—or would that be the sport called gridiron in Australia? The English language is filled with creative phrases that simultaneously delight and confuse both native and non-native speakers.  From the Queen’s English of Great Britain, across the pond to the multicultural melting pot of the United States, and further still to the Pacific island/country/continent of Australia, our language has evolved over time and distances, often in creative and humorous ways:

“I’d like some hundreds and thousands, please.” If you’re British, your mouth might begin to water, but Americans might joyfully anticipate receiving loads and loads of money. Alas, the Brits are referring to what Americans would call “sprinkles”, tiny colorful candies to spoon over ice cream. In Australia, those same yummy bits are called “jimmies.” The Brits and Aussies take the win here for creativity, but candy undoubtedly tastes better than money or someone named Jim sitting on your ice cream cone.

“Bish-bash-bosh, the job was finished.” In both Australia and Great Britain, this onomatopoeic idiom refers to a series of steps completed successfully to achieve a goal. In the United States, the phrase that most resembles bish-bash-bosh hails from New York City, “Bada-bing, bada-boom.” Don’t forget to use your hands here for extra emphasis.

“Charles has moved to Woop Woop!” Hats off to the Aussies again for devising a clever way to describe a remote location. In the United States and Great Britain, this lonely spot would be called “the middle of nowhere.

“He got the rough end of a pineapple.”  In Australia, this describes unfair or inequitable treatment, and provides a perfect visual, as well. In the United States as well as in Britain, this sad situation is referred to as a “raw deal”—not quite as exciting, but equally descriptive. Americans might also call this “the fuzzy end of a lollipop.” Not terribly tasty.

“I don’t know if I’m Arthur or Martha.” This phrase hearkens from Australia, and is a colorful way of expressing a state of confusion. In Great Britain and in the United States, one “does not know whether one is coming or going.” Decidedly less exciting, but easy to understand.

“Miranda woke up at stupid o’clock for her international flight.” Aussies and Brits know this idiom means a time of day that is ridiculously early or late. In the United States, a comparable expression would be “zero dark thirty,” which has its origins as a military term. Neither sound very appealing, do they?

One initial language, three different countries, and a few hundred years of time reflect the wonderfully strange and quirky ways the English language continues to grow and change.  So if you find yourself in a pretty pass, or a can of worms, or a pickle, ask for help.  You might avoid a significant social gaffe, find a phrase you’d like to incorporate into your own vocabulary, and make a new friend—because at the end of the day, clear communication leads to connection.

About the Author

Stephanie Konat

Stephanie Konat is a copywriter, marketing manager, and yoga instructor living in Seattle, Washington.

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