Without trying to sound patronizing, I think one can safely say that English is one of the most common languages in the world. As common as the English language is around the planet, it varies widely from one location to the next. Indeed, the English spoken in Poplar Bluff, Missouri at times seems completely unrelated to the tongue found in Alice Springs, Australia. I have asked some people from around the world to help compile this list of unique “English” words.
The Queen’s English, our Mother Tongue and the root of all derivations. Yet even British English has developed a number of words and phrases not found in other areas of the world and, at times, can be downright strange.
Gormless – Clueness. “That bloke is gormless,“ or “He’s a total gorm.“
Gutted – Very disappointed. “I didn’t get the job, I’m gutted over it.”
Bladdered – Descriptive way of saying drunk. “He was completely bladdered at the football match.“
Brassed off – Fed up or pissed off. “She can’t do anything right, I’m brassed off with her.“
Codswallop – Word referring to something as nonsense. “That’s a bunch of codswallop.”
Scrummy – Oddly enough, this refers to a particularly good meal or food. “We had a scrummy dinner last night.“
While they may share the same island, the Scottish not only have a very distinct culture, but way of speaking as well. A first time visitor may be a bit lost at times, but Keith Savage was good enough to provide a brief glossary of key terms.
Dunna Chuck Bruck: This is written on almost all of the public garbage cans throughout the Shetland Islands. It’s an anti-litter slogan that basically means “don’t throw rubbish.”
Haud Yer Wheesht: I saw this on the doorknob sign at the Skene House in Aberdeen. Instead of Do Not Disturb it said Haud Yer Wheesht, which means “be quiet” or “shut up.” Hilarious. ”Haud yer wheesht, laddie! I’m tryna ta pour this dram,” said Grandma.
Ginger: No, not a redhead. It means soft drink, usually in reference to the vice national drink: Irn-Bru. “Havin’ a lager?” “Nae, ginger for me.”
Oot Ma Nut: Totally inebriated/stoned. Worst possible drunkenness. “Granny’s drams and a wheen a lagers and I was oot ma nut man.”
Spangin’: To jump around wildly, such as at a concert. ”Last night was a spangin’ spree at the folk festival.”
A former British colony and current member of the Commonwealth, Singapore nonetheless is a melting pot of cultures, each one making their own unique imprint on the culture of Singapore. Among the most important is the Chinese influence on the city, and of course this has made its way into everyday language.
Chongster: Someone who clubs often
Atas: Someone with high standards
There’s a much broader pidgin language found in Singapore known as Singlish, which incorporates a mixture of languages into a creole style speech. This of course has generated entire dictionaries of new words.
Australian slang goes far beyond what one observes from ‘Crocodile Dundee’ as Australian bloggers Caz and Craig Makepeace illustrate for us. (the first two were my additions)
Chinwag – Meeting or conversation
Arvo – Afternoon, “I’ll be there this arvo.”
Dunny – toilet
Fair dinkum – very commonly used it can mean various things depending on context. Usually means speaking the truth or being real, Gee Whiz, or a friendly substitute for a cuss word.
Cobber – mate, friend “Good on ya cobber!”
Good on ya – Well done, used all the time
Rhyming slang – this is what can make what Australian’s are talking about barely unrecognizable to any outsiders. An American married a good Aussie friend of ours and she said “When y’all get together, I know y’all speaking English but I have no idea what you are saying.” Rhyming slang is when we take a word and replace it with a word that rhymes with it. Sometimes we may even then further shorten or reduce it which makes it even harder to decipher. In this instance:
dog’s eye = meat pie
dead horse= tomato sauce
“On your way back from the dunny, can you grab me a coldie and a dog’s eye with dead horse?”
[Loper Note: I would be very curious to know how rhyming slang came into existence. It seems so strange!]
South African English
South Africa has an extremely unique history, and the language and slang has been influenced by several languages as well as longtime geographic remoteness. Here are some of the unusual terms Spencer Spellman found on his travels in South Africa.
Hoezit– What’s up or How’s it going? “Hoezit today?”
Stiffy – Computer flash drive. “Do you have a stiffy in your pocket?”
How’s your mind? – Are you crazy? “No way! How‘s your mind?”
Zizith – Really?
New Zealand English
Given its proximity to Australia, one would expect some similarities in language, yet the citizens of these islands have certainly developed their own unique turns of phrase.
Chuddy – chewing gum. “Fancy another piece of chuddy?”
Down the gurgler – failed plan. “What a disaster, that one went down the gurgler.”
Drongo – stupid fool, idiot. “Did you see what he did to that sheep? What a drongo!”
Mad as a meat axe – very angry or crazy. “He’s a complete drongo, mad as a meat axe.”
Ropeable – very angry. I can’t believe what she did, I’m ropeable!”
Wop-wops – situated off the beaten track, out of the way location. “He wants to go where? But that’s in the wop-wops!”