Nine Slang Terms That Divide The Nation

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The Nation
Image: McCain

Chuck on your bathers, we’re going down to the beach. We’ve packed some fritz for lunch, we’ll hit the fish’n’chip shop to grab some potato fritters and afterwards we’re going to head to the playground and jump on the slippery dip. Don’t forget to top up your water bottle at the drinking fountain.

Does that paragraph make any sense to you? If not, it’s probably because it’s filled with words specific to my South Aussie lexicon.

About once a year, Aussie Twitter flares up when someone throws out the idea that they’re going to go buy some potato scallops. Sure enough, as soon as the hungry tweeter has pressed ‘send tweet‘, a torrent of angry replies bombard their feed.

Scallops? What… don’t you mean potato cakes?
Well this is embarrassing, but what’s a potato scallop… surely you mean a fritter?
Hahahahahahaha scallops are ocean life you imbecile!!!!

Fortunately, everyone is right – even though everyone else seems so wrong. As you’re probably aware, it’s all about where you grew up. The lexicon we learn as kids gets embedded in our brains and then when we come across some new word for a thing we’ve only ever known by a one name, it blows our minds.

Nick Evershed at The Guardian unearthed some of these mind-blowing differences when he examined and reproduced maps present in a PhD thesis by Pauline Bryant submitted in 2011. In the thesis, Bryant examined the ‘regional variations’ in the Aussie English lexicons and laid out a huge number of words that differed across the country. It’s one of the most comprehensive sources of the differences and a super fun way to put those Twitter discussions to bed.

Here’s a few we’ve plucked out – let play “What Do You Call This?”

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Australian food history timeline

If you’re from NSW and QLD, you’re likely thinking “that’s a tasty scallop” and some may even call it a potato “scallop”, but SA readers will know this as a “potato fritter”. Victorians are all about calling it a potato cake – which means this food item has three different titles. If we had to say one was wrong, sorry NSW and QLD but scallops are already a thing and you can’t just be confusing everyone like that. You’re out.

This is the big one that divides Aussies like nothing else. So we’re giving it the poll treatment. Cast your vote below!

[polldaddy poll=10017852]

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Getty Images

Growing up, I loved nothing more than a nice, cheeky, completely free slice of Smiley Fritz from the supermarket deli. You knew you were going to have a good day if your folks could score you one of those. However, I later came to learn that this is also known as Smiley Devon? I don’t know if they call it Smiley Polony in WA, but I would hope they do. It’s still called German sausage and Belgium in certain places, too. My personal favourite for this one is “bung”, which is a term they use in parts of Tasmania (and a word that creeped into SA, too). On top of that, slap fritz on the end and you have yourself a great insult. “There goes old mate Charlie again, the bung fritz“.

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Getty Images

For 28 years of my life, I did not know that a drinking fountain or simply a ‘tap’ went by any other name. Having been born and raised in South Australia, it was pretty clear to me that a metal device that pumps water out of a hole and into your mouth is a drinking fountain. When it was revealed to me that the term ‘bubbler’ was how it was known in NSW, I did laugh — then I realised that maybe it makes a bit of sense. The water does seem to be ‘bubbling’? Perhaps? I mean, I can see where you’re coming from but why confuse things. Call it as you see it. English is already hard enough.

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Getty Images

Here’s one that riled a few Twitter feathers earlier this month. The idea of getting out of class or the office a few minutes early – for most of Australia – seems to be known as ‘an early minute’. However, as has been pointed out to me by Lifehacker Editor Chris Jager, NSW does things slightly differently, opting for the term ‘early mark’. The word mark, to me, makes no sense in that situation, so once again – sorry NSW – you’re wrong. An early mark should only be used if and when Eddie Betts has taken a screamer in the forward pocket in the first minute of an AFL game.

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Getty Images

Confession: I can’t ride a bike. I can get on and go on a little cycle, but not for long. I usually bugger it up somehow. So it was good that I could get a dinky from my mates in primary school, jump on the back of their bike and be carried to where I needed to go. But a ‘dinky’ isn’t what everybody calls it. In some places it’s known as a ‘double bank’ and in others just a ‘dink’.. scarily enough, in some parts of South Australia apparently it was even known as a ‘donkey’.

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Twitter

Ever get one of these stuck in your foot? Boy oh boy, wowee. No laughing matter. I was told to look our for ‘three-corner jacks’ when I was wandering through scrub as a kid, but others might have been told to make sure they’ve got shoes on so they don’t step on a ‘double gee’. It’s also gone by the name’s Cat’s Eye, Cat Head, Bindi-Eye and a Bull Head. I don’t know what any of those things mean or how they relate to the Emex australis, but here we are.

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Getty Images

Ahh, the hallowed Stobie Pole, one of South Australia’s great linguistic exports. In most other parts of the country, the power pole, telegraph pole or power line pole has a pretty descriptive name, but in SA, they call it a Stobie Pole. What is a Stobie? None other than the last name of James Cyril Stobie, who invented a power pole with two steel joists connected by a slab of concrete. If you call it a Stobie pole anywhere outside of South Australia, you’re likely going to get some weird side-eyes, but it’s as deeply entrenched in their vernacular as Farmers Union Iced Coffee.

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Getty Images

When you head down to the beach, what do you chuck on? If you’re in SA, likely your bathers, but if you’re in NSW you’re gonna get into your swimmers or your cozzie. Some even call it a swimming costume, which I must say seems to be very vaudeville to me. If you call it a swimming costume, please let me know. I need to know this. I’ve also got a soft spot for ‘togs’ but I think that slang is all over the place and more popularised by journalists searching for synonyms for Tony Abbott’s budgie smugglers than anything else.

Nine Slang Terms That Divide The NationImage: Getty Images

That early morning tea time break after a couple of hours of school work was officially known as ‘recess’ where I grew up, though many places in the north-east and in NSW have a range of words for it. I cannot abide by the use of ‘little lunch’ and ‘play lunch’, but I am happy to concede ground on ‘playtime’, should you want to take that word for your own. Recess is where it’s at though.


  • Play lunch is what you eat a recess
    Swimmers are people in the water wearing bathers
    Normally I would just abbreviate it to Bindi
    I almost called you out when I saw you write dinky on twitter, it’s like an infantile version of the correct term dink

  • Ah not this again. They’re all correct. I hate it when someone tries to imperially dictate that only their version is the right one, when its clearly a regional thing.

    Every area has their own referencing, as you point out in the story. Its only because of social media, and the world now being smaller, that the comparisons are made at all.

    As an adult, I know potato scallops are also known as potato cakes, and potato fritters, but as a kid, it was so ingrained in me they were scallops that the name is never going to change. Ditto for everything else.

    So why be an arse and argue about it? Just accept that things can be called by more than one name. Nobody is wrong, except those that refuse to accept that.

    • Personally, I hate it when someone tries to imperially dictate what readers may find interesting or amusing, when it’s clearly in the name of entertainment.

      Everybody has their own opinion, as you point out in your comment. It’s only because of the internet that such a wide variety of articles are made available at all.

      As an adult, I know that what I like, someone else might not like, and another person might not care about at all. But as a kid, I thought what I liked was right and everyone else was wrong. Ditto to everything else.

      So why be an arse and argue about it? Just because people can have different opinions to yours. No article is bad, it’s only those who refuse to accept that who are.

    • Agreed. Though to be pedantic the reason the potato scallops are called that is because of the cooking term not the seafood.

      I do find it interesting some of the words that people use for different things. It’s easy to see where swimmers, bathers, togs, etc come from. But where does the term “Dink” come from? It obviously has some logical origin, be interested to know just what it is.

  • Just to be that guy. Scalloping is to thinly slice.
    Potato scallops are made from a slice of potato, potato cakes use mashed potato, fritters are grated potato.

    • Scalloping is also to create a u-shape cutout, like on a fretboard, mimicking the shell of a Pectinidae family member. Basically, it’s use as ‘thinly sliced’ is some bullshit I won’t adhere to.

      Tl;dr — English sucks, let’s party!

  • pretty clear you have no one from WA in your office.

    Bindi = prickle.

    And one other you’ve missed is what on the east coast is called a nature strip (bit of grass between your house boundary and the road) in WA it’s called the verge.

    • Ah yes. Originally from SA. Moved to Vic. Trying to get my new verge landscaped was a nightmare. No one had any idea what I was talking about.

    • I don’t think the things in the article are bindi’s they’re more like a fairly small prickle that you’d find in suburbia and they’re annoying. I think the ones in the article are ones you’d find in the outback and are commonly known as “Oh fuck! OH FUCK MYFOOTOHFUCK!”

    • A prickle is the small ball of spikes that usually come in on the dog’s coat or your Felt jacket. They grow on a plant that looks like clover.
      The ones in the article are double gees. They grow on something that looks like a string has gotten tangled up on the ground.
      Bathers are generic, boardies for board shorts, speedos for racing bathers.

  • I have a bone to pick with the image of the bindis actually.

    The sue of the word “Legos”.

    FFS “Legos” is not a word. The plural of Lego is Lego. Not Legos.

  • No once, in 30-something years of being able to speak and listen as an Australian born and living human being, have I heard either of the terms “early minute” or “early mark”

  • It’s not early lunch, it’s Coffee Break (for the school teachers).
    Depending where you work, it can also be called Smoko – even if nobody smokes.

  • That nasty piece of work pictured above that you call a Three Corner Jack is not a Bindii.
    In Qld a bindii will not go through your rubber thong like the Jack. A Bindii has lots of fine little spikes that are a bitch to pull out of your instep.

  • I’m a NSW girl, and for me its always been:

    Potato Scallop – my local take away sells both potato scallops and potato cakes, because they are different things. The one with batter is a Potato Scallop.
    Bubbler The only time I have heard it called a drinking fountain is on American TV shows.
    Early Mark I asked my son about this one and he said when he was at school it was just called “leaving early”.

    The bike thing has never had a term/word at all in my experience. You get on someone’s bike and you just hop on someone’s bike. They give you a ride. There is no actual slang for that. [email protected]

    Telegraph Pole
    Swimmers or Swim Suit but when I was a kid it was cozzie and some people
    did call male swim wear Togs but it wasn’t very common.
    When I was a kid in infants school in the 70s, it was Little Lunch and Big Lunch. In high school in the 80s it was Recess and Lunch. When my kid was in school in the 90s/00s it was Recess and still is to my knowledge. I asked him if he ever heard of Little Lunch and he just looked at me like I was crazy.

  • ex-Croweater here. I still buy Fritz (even though it’s labelled “Devon” for some reason) and I reckon “bung” is the package, not an alternative name. i.e. a “bung of fritz”, like a “packet of Fruchocs”

    Anyone else say “lay-go” rather than “leg-go” for those bricks? Leg-go to me was a tomato paste, made by Leggos. And Lego (however you pronounce it) is the collective noun. Each piece isn’t “a Lego”, it’s “a Lego brick”

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