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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Slang and Colloquialisms

The colloquial idioms or slang of New Zealand may be divided into four main classes: traditional English, Australian, American, and indigenous. Some of the special vocabularies of certain occupations provide sub-classes in which it is not possible to draw a clear boundary line between technical usage and slang. A few examples of such groups must suffice; the field is very rich except, perhaps, in the indigenous class. Brought from England by the early settlers or flowing thence in later days are: quid for a pound sterling, larrikin and hooligan for roughs, getting the wind up, for donkey's years, and quod for prison. Australian importations include John Hop for a policeman (rhyming slang on cop), cobber for friend or mate, beaut and super, terms of approval, to shout, to pay for another's drink, plonk for wine, and bodgies and widgies for young male and female delinquents.

The United States gives us pop for father, getting people's goat, pulling legs, sheila, joint for a restaurant, and gimmick. Examples of slang and colloquial expressions of local origin are old identity, on which hangs a tale, Kathleen Mavourneen, a witty name for an indefinite sentence, Captain Cooker for a wild pig, kiwi for a New Zealand man, they're off Mr Cutts for “the performance is about to start”, up the boohai (and other forms) for “off in some unknown locality”, an Aucklander's idiom. English names of animals and plants are sometimes mistakenly applied. The native beech, Nothofagus, has been called birch since the early days and is still often so called by bushmen; the great buttercup of the alps, Ranunculus lyalli, is called the mountain lily; the indigenous black nightshade, Solanum nigrum is often called deadly nightshade which is a very different species. The field mouse of England is a vole, not a true mouse, but here the common house mouse is called a field mouse when it occurs out of doors. So also any rat occurring in streams is called a water rat but the English water rat is a vole, not a true rat. A term peculiar to early Canterbury is shagroon, for Australian squatters invading that province. The placer sheep is one spending its life in one spot. The bobby calf is a term of the stock trade. Dairy farmers are (or were) cowspankers. An English immigrant is choom. The west coast of the South Island is The Coast and residents there are Coasters. Many native plants have Maori names more or less mutilated such as matagowri, goai (kowhai), and biddy bid (piri piri). Bullocky has been used to describe the language supposed to be characteristic of bullock-drivers. Bach, known elsewhere as a verb, to live as a bachelor, here came into use as a noun, a hut or whare. A south-west storm is a southerly buster. Plunket for the Plunket Society has developed a verbal use “to plunket (or plunk) a baby”. The national game, rugby football, has given All Blacks and certain terms relating to the game itself such as lock and hooker. Slang is by its very nature ephemeral and many of these examples, chosen at random, will probably be obsolete in the not very distant future.

by Arnold Wall, C.B.E., B.A.(CAMB.), M.A.(LOND.), D.LITT(N.Z.), F.R.S.TAS. (1869–1966), Professor Emeritus, University of Canterbury, and Author.

Early English Pronunciation, Vol. V, Ellis, A. (1889) (containing): “Report on Australasian Speech”, McBurney, J.; Austral English, Morris, E. A., 1898; Slang Today and Yesterday, Partridge, E. (1959); New Zealand Slang, Baker, S. J. (1941); Early Canterbury Runs, Acland, L. G. D. (1946) (with glossary of sheep-station terms); Wool Away, Bowen, G. (1955) (with a glossary of shearing terms); New Zealand Speech, Wall, Arnold (1959); Popular Names of New Zealand Plants, Andersen, J. C. (1926); Nomenclature in New Zealand, Andersen, J. C. (1934); Colonial Experiences, Bathgate, A. (1874).