Story: English language in New Zealand

Page 5. New words

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The main domains or sources which contribute the most new words to New Zealand English, in addition to te reo Māori, are politics, sport, crime, farming and the environment.

Nek minnit

In 2011 a short clip posted to the video-sharing website YouTube propelled the New Zealand slang term ‘nek minnit’ (next minute) into linguistic stardom as the clip went viral. Dunedin skateboarder Levi Hawken appeared in the video, in which he says, ‘Left my scooter outside the dairy. Nek minnit …’ before the camera pans down to record a destroyed scooter.1 The clip was all pretence, but that did not stop the term, which is used when something unexpected happens, entering New Zealand English and becoming the sixth-biggest rising search on in 2011.


There is a distinctive New Zealand vocabulary based on political parties, and the policies and legislation of various governments. New Zealand First (a political party), Rogernomics (nickname for the economic philosophy and policies of the fourth Labour government, named after Minister of Finance Roger Douglas), ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation), fiscal envelope (unsuccessful government proposal to limit the monetary value of Treaty of Waitangi claim settlements), Think Big (former prime minister Robert Muldoon’s heavy-industry programme) and Working for Families (income support for families in paid employment) are all common terms distinctive to New Zealand English.


New Zealand’s traditional adventure tourism contributes many terms, including black-water rafting, cave-tubing and dam-dropping, to the national vocabulary. Yikebikes, zorbs and zorbing have generated global use, while fitness programmes such as Sport New Zealand’s Push Play are better known locally. Rugby’s Ranfurly Shield is commonly known as the log o’ wood, the old log, or simply The Shield.


Criminals, needing to create a code that will not be understood by eavesdroppers and law-enforcers, develop inventive forms of slang and alternative nouns. A 2001 study found that Māori terms and names of animals are commonly used to generate prison slang (known as boobslang). A kupenga (net) is code for a solitary-confinement cell, while someone who borrows money and goods without repaying is a hyena.

Many names associated with illegal drugs have a distinctive New Zealand use. Coromandel green and electric puha are cannabis, while a tinny is cannabis wrapped in tinfoil and a tinny house is a place where cannabis is purchased. New Zealand also has its own name for methamphetamine, P, which is manufactured in P labs (laboratories), known elsewhere as clan labs and meth labs.


With increased awareness of the need for nature conservation comes an expanded vocabulary with intriguing local terms, such as bush corridor (linked stands of native forest which allow birds and other fauna to travel) kiwi crèche (predator-free nursery for young kiwi), mainland island (mainland wildlife sanctuary) and tuatarium (tuatara enclosure). Geographic tags function to identify specific native fauna and flora. Examples are the Banks Peninsula jewelled gecko, Castlepoint daisy and Wellington barking gecko.

Weather words

Terms to describe particular weather conditions or their effects have come into general use from the tramping, climbing and farming domains. Terms for weather include barber, blizz or blizzy, blue duck, buckley, buffy-guffy, clag in, clag up, cockatoo’s weather, crud, a day for the king or queen, derision, dirty weather, earthquake weather, ECW (extremely cold weather), Elingamite weather, gym-shoe lambing, heatwave knot, hogback or hogsback, Hughie, Māori summer, Nelson weather, nor’west arch, open winter, salube or salubrium, southerly buster, Taieri pet, Taranaki sunshine, Uenuku, Wahine storm or weather, Wanganella weather and wharfie’s sunshine.


In the rural world, new processes, new technology and new plant and animal breeds generate new terms, such as calfetaria or lambitaria (artificial feeding systems for calves and lambs), hoof and tooth (pasture management) and the Cormo (sheep), Carpetmaster (sheep) and Kiko (goat). Only in New Zealand is the annual move to new dairy farms known as gypsy day, while earlier in the dairying season, staff attend drying-off parties.

Canterbury earthquakes

The Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 have focused national attention on words that relate to certain events. New Zealanders connected the existing terms munted (broken) and muntage (destruction) with the devastation of the quakes. Liquefaction as a process became better known as liquefaction the product, the silty deposit that was unearthed. The Farmy Army and the SVA (Student Volunteer Army) became known everywhere, the landmark Shag Rock became Shag Pile after it collapsed, and the heavy snow of 2011 was called the icing on the quake. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority was known nationally as CERA.

  1. ‘Nek Minnit skater video goes viral on YouTube.’ New Zealand Herald, 25 September 2011, (last accessed 10 December 2012). Back
How to cite this page:

Dianne Bardsley, 'English language in New Zealand - New words', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 July 2024)

Story by Dianne Bardsley, published 5 Sep 2013