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Flat Out Like a Lizard Drinking and other Australianisms

Mr. T in DC

Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches had a post about Australian lingo and last year I asked Sarah Mayberry if she and her Down Under pals would be interested in writing a post about what it’s like writing for an international audience. Sarah spearheaded this effort and I am greatly appreciative. You can visit Sarah at her site,, and read some of our reviews of her books here.

Update: Our winner is commenter Alex.  Congratulations Alex and thank you to all the contributing authors. 

If you’re writing romance, it’s a given that you want to be published in North America and have a North American readership. The UK readership is also very attractive! For Australian and New Zealand writers, reaching these readers means you have a shot at making a living from the words you put on the page. But there are decisions to be made once you go this route. Do you set your books in the US or the UK and try to “fake” it? Do you set them in your native country and Americanize or Anglicise them? Do you try a mix of the two – an Aussie in New York, a Brit in Sydney or vice versa? Fortunately for many Australian and New Zealand writers, Harlequin/Mills and Boon has long recognised that its readers like to visit far flung destinations when they read – something mainstream or single title is yet to cotton on to. Many a Down Under writer has been rejected by a New York publishing house because editors didn’t believe Americans would buy and read a story about an Australian or Kiwi set in Australia or New Zealand, or even an Australian or Kiwi character in a US setting. Personally, I think readers are a lot more adventurous than these editors think – but I don’t have access to their spreadsheets.

Often when an Antipodean romance is featured on Dear Author there are comments about “cultural editing”. Jane approached me to muse on the subject, and I recruited a few writing buddies to offer some different experiences and perspectives. Our joint thoughts follow, but I am sure that there are as many different experiences as there are writers.

1. If you write for more than one line, are there different considerations/sensibilities in regard to Aus/NZ content? Are some lines more relaxed or welcoming than others, in your experience?

Marion Lennox: Australia has a disproportionately large romance author base, and I believe in part it’s because our voice is relaxed and easy to read. And because a lot of our entertainment is sourced from the US and UK we have constant lessons in removing Aussie jargon and becoming more or less an international voice. Having said that, we do have problems. A reader likes comfort-reading about what she knows, so home and hearth stories based in Australia will obviously have a smaller market. Our Medical titles are notoriously difficult to sell in the US, and a major reason must be the fact that our health systems are so different.

Joan Kilby: My Superromance editors are concerned that my stories not sound ‘too foreign’ especially if there’s another Aus/NZ author’s book in the same month. My Carina editor’s attitude was more relaxed. If my Aussie heroine would use a certain word then that’s what she should say. The editor figured (rightly) it would be understandable in context even if unfamiliar to American readers.

Carol Marinelli: I write for Medical Romance and for Presents and MIRA. I think in the Medical line I would tend to use more Aus-isms than I would in Presents or MIRA. I have never really been told to tone down or tone up, it is something I am very conscious of though and I do a lot of work in that department myself before I send any work in to my editors.

Sarah Mayberry: I had the same editor when writing for both Blaze and Superromance and her concerns didn’t change from one line to the other. There was a request to change the setting of my Secret Lives of Daytime Divas Blaze trilogy from Melbourne to LA, however. My understanding is that there was a concern that readers wouldn’t find it as convincing as having the show set in LA, the home of TV. Apart from a novella and a continuity book, these are the only books I have set in the US.

2. Do you consciously self-edit for Aus/NZ-isms when writing or do you leave it up to your editor/the copy editor to suggest changes?

Marion Lennox:: I do self edit, not because I’m required to, but simply to make things easy on my readers. For instance, I use imperial measures, miles instead of kilometres, pounds instead of kilograms. That’s because readers still seem to have an easy visual of a mile, but maybe not of the metric equivalent. Saying my hero is one eighty centimetres could jerk a US reader out of the story and force her to do a quick conversion, whereas if he’s six foot tall, as far as I know, no one has a problem.

My bottom line is to make my story flow, to as many readers as possible.

There are some words I’ve learned to avoid – ie my farmers never drive utes, but I avoid pick-up trucks as well. Using pick-up trucks would haul my Aussie readers out of the story, so my guys just drive trucks.

Oaths are tricky – cultural nuances her are important. Australians have a rich history in swearing, but as far as I’m aware in no other country can a guy call a friend a bloody bastard as a term of deep, admiring affection. It’s true and we can. Leaving swearing out of an Aussie farmer’s vernacular might end up jarring the Aussie reader, making speech seem unnaturally stilted but again I don’t want to jar overseas readership. I get round it mostly by inference. For instance … What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ would become `What the… what do you think you’re doing?’ The way it’s written is as if he’s cut off the swear word. Or I’ll simply say “He swore”. The Aussie reader might read `hell’ into it – an overseas reader can insert whatever she likes.

Often when I’m writing I’ll include oaths simply because that’s the way my dialogue flows, but I’ll edit them out later and find they’re remarkably easy to take away. The dialogue’s strong enough on its own.

Joan Kilby: I definitely self-edit for spelling. Although I did go to the mat once for a book set in Canada. A scene took place at the Whistler Recreation ‘Centre.’ The copy editor changed the spelling to ‘Center.’ I insisted that since it was a real place that the spelling should be accurate. I won that battle! Then in an Aussie set book I referred to the Chadstone Shopping ‘Center’ and totally forgot about the correct spelling.

For words I self-edit sometimes. I know I won’t get ‘boot’ and ‘bonnet’ of a car past my Super editor so I don’t bother trying.

I also fought for ‘mum’ over ‘mom’ and won. Luckily my then-editor thought that particular usage was ‘charming.’

My situation is complicated by the fact that I’m originally from Canada where spelling and word usage is a mixture of Canadian and American. To use the previous example, Canadians pronounce the word ‘mum’ but write it ‘mom.’ We put the ‘u’ in colour, neighbour, labour, etc. But I don’t even try to get those spellings. Occasionally I’m not aware of the Australian word. For example, sectional versus modular furniture. If I haven’t encountered a term before then my default is what I grew up with.

For certain words I’ve rebelled in my personal life. For years I tried to be a correct Aussie and say ‘biscuits’ instead of ‘cookies.’ More recently I’ve said to hell with it and just say cookies. It’s easier and clearer than having to specify sweet biscuits as opposed to cracker biscuits.

Sometimes I forget what’s Aussie versus Canadian versus American so I just write the word that comes to my head and let my editor sort it out.

Karina Bliss: Aside from spelling (eg: labor/labour, empathize/empathise) I write what I want to write. Sometimes I’m not even conscious I’ve written a Kiwi phrase until it’s pointed out. Here’s a recent copy editor query: “What isn’t clear is what her mom means by “she lives on her nerves”: Is this a New Zealand turn of phrase?” Um…is it?

Do you Aussies have it? I’ve worked with the same Canadian editor for ten books now. Her rule of thumb is that as long as she can interpret meaning from context a colloquialism stays, otherwise I reword it.

As a reader I love the ‘otherness’ of foreign locations but I also think there’s a fine line between giving Americans the flavor of my culture and constantly dragging them out of the story with benches, torches, boots, gib board, jandals, car parks, longdrops and jam. (Respectively counters, flashlights, trunks, drywall, flip flops, parking lots, outhouses and jelly). I don’t sweat the small stuff because ultimately my culture/world view is an inherent component of my voice. I believe it will flavor my writing regardless of whether I spell Mum with an ‘o’ or a ‘u’.

Carol Marinelli: I am very conscious of it – I am English and though I have lived in Australia for 20 years I am sometimes hauled out of a romance if it has too many Australian-isms in – and I don’t want to do that to my readers. I also don’t understand things that are said here at times, so I don’t want the same confusion for readers. One example – there is a saying here that “he lives out past Whoop Whoop” – it actually means he lives miles away, or in the middle of nowhere – ( I didn’t know that) and about five years ago, chatting to a friend who, in our conversation, used that saying, I said “Where is Whoop Whoop?’ She laughed so much and, when I found out what I had done, so did I, but it is another thing that has made me aware of how something that is normal to us might confuse a reader.

Sarah Mayberry: There are a bunch of things I change automatically now because I know they will be changed by my editor in the line-edit – words like “kitchen counter” instead of “kitchen bench” and “hood” for “bonnet” etc. There are others words I try on for size, to see how my ed responds. Mostly her rule, I believe, is if the word or phrase is understandable in context, then it can stay. But if it’s too jarring and throws the reader out of the emotion of the scene, then it goes. And to answer Karina, yes, we have that saying in Australia. At least, I certainly understand what it means.

3. Have you ever been surprised by something you were asked to change or that the editors changed on your behalf?

Marion Lennox:: I do get some strange changes, often out of left field. Early on I refused to allow editorial to change Tim Tams to Oreos. That was my line in the sand – a girl has some cultural pride. And Outback is the big Aussie compulsive inclusion. According to many editors, Australia has a ten mile radius around Sydney and Melbourne, and the rest is Outback. I’ve set stories on the very soggy dairy farm where I grew up – and yep, it’s become Outback.

It works the other way as well. Because my voice has become international I’ve been asked to write books set in the States. In Tell No One my hero and heroine parked under oaks. Back came the correction – they parked under live oaks. Huh? What other kind are there? So I’m learning all the time.

Joan Kilby: Can’t think of anything.

Karina Bliss: My favorite query asked why I’d described a color as ‘cowpat green.’ Don’t you mean brown, said my editor. Here in NZ our cattle graze year round on grass and their pats have an olive-green tinge. In the States, mixed feed (particularly over winter) makes them brown. Hey, you asked. We didn’t want rural readers puzzling over the color of cowshit when they should be worrying about the heroine’s breaking heart so we changed it.(Hey, I just noticed I Americanized my spelling for this article. Now I’m going back to check whether anyone else did).

Carol Marinelli: No.

Sarah Mayberry: The one that stands out in my mind was when I was working with a different editor for a continuity story and they queried the term “sticky beak”. In Australia (and I suspect NZ) this means a busy body, someone who is sticking their nose into someone else’s business. I had no idea that this was only an Australian term. Ditto for the term “shout someone a beer”, generally used as “It’s my shout.” This means you’re treating them to a beer – ie paying. I thought that was universal, too, and was really surprised when I learned it wasn’t. I think there are quite a few little idiosyncratic sayings we have that we tend to pepper our stories with that are unique to Down Under but that we don’t realise are unique. If you know what I mean.

4. Has there ever been something you really didn’t want to change because you felt it altered the sense of the scene/story too much?

Marion Lennox:: Tim Tams have been my only major cultural battle, and I believe I won for us all : )

Joan Kilby: No. Maybe because I consciously try to write scenes/stories that have a universal appeal. This isn’t about appealing to a particular market but appealing to what it means to be human.

Karina Bliss: Only tongue in cheek. In my next release the heroine drives a BMW stationwagon and my editor queried: “Do station wagons even exist?” Excuse me, I drive one! We laughed about it and the car stayed in the book. It’s a great example of a subtle cultural difference. At the bottom of the world we pay ridiculous prices for imports so we keep our cars way longer than most Americans. Anyone in the US want to pay $15,000 for a 2002 station wagon? It’ll only cost you $120 to fill the tank with diesel (propane I think it’s called in N. Am)

Carol Marinelli: No.

Sarah Mayberry: Not that I can think of. I still get a little toe-curl when I see the word “biscuit” changed to “cookie”, however. Especially when it’s referring to a brand item, like a Tim Tam as mentioned by Marion above. I understand that in the US a biscuit is a Southern thing, a very specific food. For Australians, cookies are very specific things – round, with chocolate chips. Everything else is a biscuit, and that covers both sweet and savoury (although sometimes savoury can be called a “cracker”). It jars for me to see a Tim Tam biscuit referred to as a cookie. The pictures just don’t match in my mind! (As you can see, if this is my biggest concern, it’s not enough to lose sleep over. Also, couldn’t help noticing a minor biscuit/cookie obsession amongst many of us….)

5. Have you ever had letters from readers complaining about this sort of “cultural editing”?

Marion Lennox:: If I did I wouldn’t have done my job. I need to give my readers a seamless love story, and if my readers are made aware of my Australian accent or lack of it, or jarred by my jargon or lack of it, then I’ve failed. I set most of my books in Australia, but the Australian background should be the setting for the romance, not something that interferes with the flow.

Joan Kilby: Yes, and I don’t blame them. I’m an Australian author writing Australian characters and settings. I think we disrespect and underestimate our readers on both sides of the pond if we change too many Australianisms to Americanisms. It’s a kind of dumbing down. However, it’s a fine line we have to walk. I also don’t want a reader to throw my book against the wall because something I’ve written is completely outside their experience. I once had a very frustrating telephone conversation with a hotel employee in Saint Louis when I was booking a room for an RWA conference and had to give my contact details. She flatly refused to believe that my 8 digit telephone number was real.

Karina Bliss: Not directly, but I’ve seen blog comments where readers express disapproval of ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ editing, which makes me feel bad for my editor because it’s a decision we usually take together. Everything that drags the reader out of the story must go and that includes colloquialisms. Obviously, there’s some subjectivity in the call but it’s a fluid process and cultural cross-pollination works both ways. I notice she’s started answering email queries with ‘No worries,’ (a Kiwi colloquialism for ‘No sweat.’)

Carol Marinelli: No – I do try to keep the feel in there and some words – often my characters are English, so, say I am writing a Medical I might get the patient etc to explain to the heroine a particular *ism* so that the reader can understand. There is another side to the coin though – I am currently writing a book now that is set in England and the heroine is English and I will ring my sister in the UK, several times through the writing of this book to check that I am not saying something she would consider Australian :-)

Sarah Mayberry: Yes. It’s probably hard for North American readers to understand exactly how saturated Australian culture is with US product. So many of our TV shows, the majority of our movies, the music we listen to… It’s everywhere. So when readers buy something labelled as “Australian author”, I understand how there might be a frustrating element to finding that inside there is a mix of Australian and US English, and that some uniquely Australian things have been Americanised. (See Marion’s comment about “ute” for “truck”. A “ute” is short for “utility vehicle”, by the way, and is exactly the same as a pick-up truck. Australians love to give things nick-names or abbreviations.) I’ve also seen complaints from readers about my US set books – someone complained that I had used the word “soda” and the book was set in California, where the term would be “pop”. Or I might have that the other way round. One of the many reasons I will always feel nervous setting a book in the US. And I understand that down south, soft drinks (Aussie term) are called colas, even if they’re not Cokes. It’s a potential minefield…

Sarah asked the writers if there was anything they specifically wanted to add. Their comments are below:

Joan Kilby: Over the years I’ve been living in Australia, Australian speech has become more Americanized. I think that’s sad as our language reflects culture and it’s important to keep individual cultures alive and thriving. That said, I notice some Aussie-isms creeping into American speech on the Internet loops. Such as ‘lovely man’ or ‘cheers’ to sign off on a letter or email. So maybe with the advent of internet we’re all getting more universal. Not sure that’s a good thing. Growing up in Canada I read a lot of books by British authors and although many words were unfamiliar I figured out what was meant in context. Same with some American regional words and phrases. Reading those books expanded my horizons and made me realize there elsewhere in the world people wrote, thought and did things differently. (Hah! I just now wrote ‘center’ automatically.)

I can’t speak for other lines but when I first began writing for Superromance virtually all the books were set in the U.S. or Canada. When I wanted to set a story in Australia the only way my senior editor would allow it was if I wrote an ‘outback’ book with a cowboy hero because that would appeal to American readers and make up for the foreign setting. Well, we don’t call them cowboys here but I wrote that book and paved the way for more Australian settings. Now, of course, we have half a dozen Australian and New Zealand Superromance authors who set all or most of their stories in their home country. I think as long as the story is about universal themes readers don’t have a problem with ‘exotic’ settings.

Karina Bliss: I do think Aussie/Kiwis authors veer toward writing competent heroines, which I think is a marker of DownUnder women. Even the ditzy heroines have a strong streak of pragmatism. I’ve also learned to study my heroines carefully because what I see as direct and frank can come across as strident and shrill to an American reader. (Their stroppiness is overlaid with a veneer of politeness). It took me a while – and many “unsympathetic heroine” comments as an unpubbed – to get the difference. Now I channel ‘steel magnolias.’

A quick glossary of terms and phrases to (hopefully) amuse you:

Speed hump – A speed trap. Called a judder bar in NZ.

Esky – A cooler. In NZ, a chilly bin

Thongs – Flip-Flops, in NZ jandals (conversely, in NZ, a thong is underwear…nice footwear!)

Stubby holder – neoprene sleeve for keep beer bottles cold. Named after the individual sized bottle, known as a stubby (short for stubby bottle!)

Mad – crazy

Feeling a bit crook – feeling sick

Ankle biter – a small child

Bludger – a lazy person, often used as “dole bludger”, to suggest they take a Government pension under false pretext to watch Oprah all day.

Flat out like a lizard drinking – very busy

Kangaroo loose in the top paddock – mentally deranged

No worries/No drama – everything’s cool, not a problem

Up at sparrow’s fart – awake at the crack of dawn

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Marg
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 04:23:32

    Thanks so much for this post! It is always fantastic to see Aussie authors (and Kiwis too) doing well and still maintaining our cultural identities!

    Keep up the great work people!

  2. Nicole
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 04:45:16

    This was a fascinating glimpse into the dilemmas faced by antipodean authors. I’m Australian, and I agree that while we are so surrounded here by American cultural influences we have no difficulty in understanding American terms and expressions, sometimes we don’t realise that a certain word or phrase might be uniquely Australian.

    I have to say that for me, part of the pleasure of reading books set in other times and places is the little things you learn along the way. I remember being puzzled as a child by certain words in Enid Blyton’s books (was she popular in the US?) and even as a teenager wondering about unfamiliar expressions in Agatha Christie books that were peculiarly English and 1930s. But I eventually learned what they all meant, sometimes much later. It’s a bit depressing to think that non-US cultural nuances are being erased from popular fiction to suit an international market. .

    Personally, the most important aspect of a romance novel for me is the quality of the romance. If I’m involved enough in the characters and their emotions, the odd word or phrase, even if I don’t understand its meaning, is not going to stop me reading and enjoying the story.

  3. Bronte
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 05:04:37

    Good on you Marion for not allowing Tim Tams to be changed to Oreo’s. I think that comes under the heading of sacrilege and you could get your passport torn up for it. As an Australian reader there are several things that will make the book hit the wall for me 1) inappropriate use of outback. Unless there’s red earth or its a cattle/sheep station you’re going to have a hard time convincing me 2) signs in miles. You can reference a distance in miles but if there is signage the book hits the wall.

  4. Maili
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 05:33:22

    What an enjoyable article! I find it much easier to read an Australian novel filled with Australian lingo than an American (and British-set American) novel filled with American lingo, I admit. I know no worries (we use it here also), bloke, biscuits (I understand Joan Kilby’s comments about ‘cookies’! We do have savoury and sweet biscuits, but cookies are a specific thing – round with chocolate chips) and so on.

    There’s one word that constantly trips me up: Smart. In US usage, it’s ‘clever’ or ‘educated'(?) but in British usage, unless there’s ‘alec’ or ‘arse’ attached, ‘smart’ is ‘well dressed’. Australian authors tend to switch between those – often in the same books – when using ‘smart’, which often thrown me into Confusion Town. :D

    @Marion Lennox

    as far as I’m aware in no other country can a guy call a friend a bloody bastard as a term of deep, admiring affection.

    Welcome to Britain! British men address their close friends and good male acquaintances that way, too. There are variants, too. You git (when a friend makes a mistake), You clever bastard (when admiring something a friend did) and on it goes. The latest is two days ago when a middle-aged bloke called out to his friend who’d just entered a shop: “Over here, you fat c*nt!” As his friend arrived at his side they laughed, then shook hands enthusiastically, making it clear they hadn’t seen each other for some time and that they were very good friends.

  5. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 05:46:38

    Years ago, Jane and I began reading books by Elizabeth Young (anyone know if she’s still writing?) that had been recommended by an English friend of ours. At the time, Young still wasn’t published in the US so we paid to get the UK imports and then puzzled through a lot of the English references, liberally relying on our friend for translations. (And no, Enid Blyton – one of the references – isn’t well known in the US) Anywho, we had a great time learning all of them and those books served as a intro for us, or me at least, to a whole new delightful cultural world. So as for me, I love to see unique regional/country references. Bring ’em on. The more the better.

    But what does “She lives on her nerves” mean?

    Thanks ladies! Very fun and informative post.

  6. Maili
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 05:56:02

    @Jayne: It may be different in Australia, but we use that here as well. Live on her nerves – depending on context: moody, twitchy, highly strung, unpredictable (one moment, she’s happy and cheerful, and next, she’s miserable and weepy – often within ten minutes) or highly sensitive (people’s moods around her affect her mood and behaviour).

  7. Anita
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 05:57:50

    It amazes me how many ‘Australianisms’ we have. I remember being in the US and asking in a fast food restaurant for chips with my burger. They kept insisting they didn’t sell them, but I could see them. The server and I stood there getting more and more frustrated until I realised everyone around me was asking for fries.

    Another fun moment was when I asked for the loo in a shopping centre. Blank looks so I changed it to toilet. Followed the directions and found myself in the plumbing section. By then my legs were very crossed!

    I wonder how much is slipping into my writing without me knowing?

  8. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 06:01:02

    In Tell No One my hero and heroine parked under oaks. Back came the correction – they parked under live oaks. Huh? What other kind are there? So I’m learning all the time.

    This really surprises me unless your book was set in the South. “Live Oak trees are typically associated with the southern feel of the “Old South”, often depicted with Spanish moss hanging on its branches.” Perhaps your editor was a Southerner?

  9. Julie @ Manga Maniac Cafe
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 06:06:47

    Great post! If not for Kelly Hunter, I never would have learned that a chook is a chicken. So take that, mean 8th grade English teacher who mocked me for reading Harlequins many, many years ago. You can learn new things from reading them, and guess what! I probably still read more in one month than all of your other students, combined, read in a year. (I really wish they had ereaders back then)

  10. LisaCharlotte
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:23:00

    So. California=soda, although I grew up in LA and we always called it soda pop.
    Midwest=pop I live in Nebraska and I still call it soda. We have a lot of west coast transplants in Omaha so I hear it from others also.
    South=coke not cola, however the south is a large area and it’s not universal. Georgia is home to Coke. NC is home to Pepsi. Also, tea is almost always understood to be sweet in the deep south, but that is changing. However, tea in Texas is not sweet.
    The US is a huge country. Things are not as universal as you would think. I’ve lived all over this country and just when you think you found the perfect word, you find out they call it something else in this area.

  11. Jane
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:26:39

    @Jayne – I loved those E Young books. The little egg carton dinosaurs. I felt that Young’s work, when Americanized, lost a lot of its charm, as if the “translation” lost the rhythm and quirkiness of the British published books. I wish that books were not Americanized. The biggest stumbling block that I have for foreign colloquial terms is jumper which is sweater in the UK but in the US describes a shirt + pants combination. Whenever the men are described as wearing jumpers, I have an internal giggle before my mind does a translation.

  12. Michelle
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:28:44

    I love the different phrases, I do hate it when editors insist on “dumbing” it down. Love the lizard drinking one.

  13. DS
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:34:39

    I’ve read far more Australian mystery writers than romance writers but I remember that there was a glut of romances (not just Harlequins) set in Australia and New Zealand published in the US in the 60’s and early 70’s. Lucy Walker is the one I remember specifically and I still occasionally run into stacks of her books in thrift stores so they must have been very popular.

    I don’t know when publishers decided that people in the US only wanted to read reflections of themselves but I don’t think it was ever right.

    I learned what chooks were from an unauthorized level of Doom where the shooter’s gun fired chickens at the baddies instead of bullets. They would fly off squacking.

  14. Merrian
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:37:48

    Keri Arthur’s werewolf books were Melbourne, Victoria, Australia based stories and I was always distressed by the ‘jam’ on her toast being turned to ‘jelly’ and the ‘creek’ being a ‘stream’ especially since Americans have creeks too.

    ‘You’ve got Buckley’s’ meaning ‘you don’t have a chance’ is in common use and I notice that no one has gone near the Australian use of ‘bugger’ e.g. ‘bugger me/ I’ll be buggered’ [I am stunned and amazed] or the wonderful use of ‘blood oath’ for ‘I agree/expressing affirmation’. There is ‘don’t be a dag’ or ‘that’s daggy’ [don’t be nerdy/that’s unfashionable]. My other favourite country colloquialism is the calling of someone a ‘mongrel dog’ when you think they/their actions are pretty despicable.

  15. MarieC
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:45:29

    I love this post! However, if someone breaks out a “Crikey!”…!

    I can’t even imagine trying to edit something for an international audience when I can barely understand some of the regional idioms, like ‘fo shizzle’. (On a side note, there is a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant in Cambridge, Ontario called ‘Pho Shizzle’!)

  16. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:45:30

    @Jane: LOL to me a jumper is a sleeveless, pullover dress usually worn over a turtleneck.

    I live in NC and to us it’s usually a soft drink. Way out there can be “the back of beyond” or “out in/past bumfuck Egypt” though that can be shortened to just “bumfuck.”

  17. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:50:04

    @Merrian: I would think more Americans wouldn’t know what curd is than jam.

  18. Merrian
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 07:58:09

    @Jayne: Lemon curd tart is one of the most sublime things in the world!

  19. Merrian
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 08:00:03

    @Jayne: and we would call that a shift or pinafore dress because our jumpers are knitted to keep us warm

  20. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 08:05:13

    @Merrian: Raspberry curd is divine though lime isn’t bad either. I just recently bought a jar of banana but I haven’t tried it yet.

  21. trude
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 08:33:47

    ”Saying my hero is one eighty centimetres could jerk a US reader out of the story and force her to do a quick conversion, whereas if he’s six foot tall, as far as I know, no one has a problem.”

    Well… I have given up on guessing the height of people or distances in books that uses imperial measures, so for us from Europe (Norway) it would be great to have metric measures. When I get to descriptions in imperial measures I just block it out. But I usually never get jarred by other lingo from either UK, US or Australia.

  22. MD
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 08:57:26

    Such an interesting article. I am one of those readers who would like to see more Australianisms. Some things confused me: I have always thought that “mad” and “crazy” were the same, how could anyone think “mad” is peculiar? But then I am not a native English speaker, and have lived both in the US and in the UK, so I probably have a different vocabulary from the native American English speakers ;-)

  23. Eileen
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 09:34:27

    I really enjoyed reading this article. In the early 80’s when I was a teenager and first started reading romance, my grandmother (of all people!) gave me bags and bags of old 1970’s Harlequin Presents and Romances. A lot of those had words like boot for a car trunk and biscuits for cookies, and petrol for fuel. I used to love that about those books. A phrase that I’ve never heard here in the U.S. that I remember reading was “knocked for six” meaning confused or maybe surprised by someething.

    I wish more of the foreign words/sayings were included in books today. It was fun to read.

  24. Kristal
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 09:41:05

    Some usages can be so subtle. In the US, mad can mean either angry or crazy. If someone said, “You’re making me mad!” They would mean angry. But if they said, “You’re driving me mad!” They would mean crazy.

  25. Sunita
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 09:46:48

    @Eileen: That’s because it’s a cricket phrase. Six is the number of runs you get when you hit a ball (fly ball in US terms) over the fence (AKA beyond the boundary).

    Fantastic article, thanks! I spent my childhood in India reading British English books, then came to the US and had to learn (im)proper American English. I still spend a fair amount of time with non-US English speakers, so my colloquialisms are from all over the place.

    Diesel and propane are different fuels over here. Diesel is the same as in UK/Oz/NZ.

    I agree with LisaCharlotte on the soda/pop/soft drink thing. I’ve heard both used all over the US in the last few decades; migration and the spread of shared media have played havoc with whatever regional specificity there was originally.

  26. SHZ
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 09:59:29

    My dream would be that the US would finally adopt the metric system like the rest of the world. That one change would make SUCH a difference to the feel of authenticity in books. I’m so sick of characters from Australia, Asia, Germany, France (who invented the thing more than 200 years ago!) speaking about pounds and yards – and also temperatures in Fahrenheit. It’s ridiculous. Surely confused American readers could use Google, like we do when we read American books!

    I just don’t get it – the way non-American books are Americanised for Americans, but American books are never changed for people in other countries. It breeds ignorance.

  27. Merrian
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:00:44

    @MD: Mad also means angry – e.g. ‘I am so mad at you right now’

  28. Estara
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:03:49

    When I read Andrea K. Höst’s Touchstone Trilogy (link to my review), which is YA sf with some romance and an Australian heroine, I fell over stickybeak and a few other phrases, too (which were fun to explore if I didn’t get them right away, but mostly I could understand them from the context) – but then I’m German so with all the mixed reading I’ve been doing in English over the years, I hardly know which phrase I use comes from what particular culture any-more.

  29. Isobel Carr
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:09:36

    Maybe it’s from all the surfers bringing back the lingo, but a large part of the Aussie/Kiwi language is right at home in my California vocab (and thongs are underwear here too; we call ’em flipflops or zories).

  30. Barb in Maryland
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:10:15

    Great article–thanks to all. I lived in Melbourne in the early 1980’s and had a fun time adjusting my American hearing to Aussie speaking. One that tripped me up, that you haven’t mentioned yet is the Brit-ism “pissed”. In Brit/Aussie speak that means drunk, in US-speak it means angry/upset.
    @Karina Bliss–diesel fuel is universal. Propane,generally, is a form of natural gas, stored in tanks, and used in those areas with no natural gas service.
    @MD –welcome to the joys of the English language! “Mad” has so many different meanings–insane, angry, peculiar and so on; as does “crazy”–insane, wild, unsettled,etc.
    @Jayne–yep, another one here for ‘jumper’ equals sleeveless dress worn over a blouse or turtleneck. ‘Pinafore dress’ on the other hand, has a bib front and two straps, crossed in back, as the top, with a gathered skirt.

  31. Lynnd
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:11:11

    I love books set in Australia and New Zealand which use the wonderfully colourful language of those countries. I’m from Canada and we have a lot of the same words (we all miss stubby, we use the metric system and we call it jam too). So much of our regional language differences are being eliminated by “big media” and that’s a shame. I understand that this is also happening in England where a lot of the local “dialects” are being lost to BBC English (or as my Aunt from Yorkshire would say – Mrs. Pennifold’s accent).

    I wish more books set in Canada (and I wish there were more romances set in Canada) would use our Canadianisms too.

    I also agree with @Merrian that lemon curd tart is one of the most sublime things in the world.

  32. Darlene Marshall
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:25:48

    Love this post! After two trips to Oz (my 3rd will be this autumn/spring) I found that “no worries” has crept into my vocabulary like it was born there, and I have a craving for Anzac biscuits that no baker in the States can satisfy–I think it’s the lack of wattle seed.

    Thanks for the fun post, and thank you, Antipodean ladies, for sharing your expertise.

  33. Jia
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:33:57

    @MarieC: Oh dear. Pho is not actually pronounced like “fo” though!

  34. Helen
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:53:55

    What a great post!
    I noticed one of the authors mentioned a complaint about the word “soda” and mentioned that she was told in California it is pop….well yes but in Vermont and pretty much the entire Eastern seaboard it is …soda, in parts of the mid west and south all soda or pop is referred to as coke…
    I can’t imagine how hard it is for any author to get the colloquialisms right (or choose to leave them out!) because there are so many different dialects and language differences in the US. I grew up mainly on the east coast but have lived in the west, south and center of the of the US and I can tell you there are some parts of this country where it seems like the people speak an entirely different language! In Pittsburgh they leave out the verb to be when speaking which drives me nuts! After correcting I don’t know how many people (and students when I was a teacher) I gave up, but I still wince when I hear “the car needs washed”, or “the book needs read”. It took me years to realize when someone said “the carpet needs swept” they meant the carpet needs to be vacuumed…and what the heck is a gum band anyway, and younz, gommed, jaggers and worsh are NOT real words.

  35. erinf1
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:08:30

    Thanks for the fun post! As a reader, I guess I take it for granted that the authors have to work so hard to be universally appealing and understood. I haven’t read much set outside of the US and England and what I have read, I have had to look up a few words. But that is fun to me and doesn’t necessarily jar me out of the story. It’s just nice to understand what they’re saying. Using local colloquies and slang gives the characters more depth and authenticity.

  36. Darlynne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:15:07

    What a great topic. Thank you all for participating.

    I’m disappointed when books from and set outside the US are dumbed down for the US audience. I read a lot of Irish and Scottish crime fiction and one of the things I enjoy is the voice, the colloquialisms, the words that make me think and research if need be. Why do editors (and some readers, apparently) want everything spoon-fed? Aren’t these wondrous and real differences what make the world go round?

    Merrian Russell said, “Our Medical titles are notoriously difficult to sell in the US, and a major reason must be the fact that our health systems are so different.”

    OT rant: If I don my Cynical Woman hat, I’d say no one wants us to know about successful health care systems. Imagine, my American sisters, that even as a visitor to New Zealand, you could look on-line for a price for, say, an MRI at a hospital in Christchurch (250 USD), that you could call for and get a specific appointment time for that MRI, that you’ll be handed a CD with the images and results on it, which will also be emailed to your doctor? Yes, I’ll say the health care systems are radically different. /rant

  37. Darlynne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:24:09

    @Darlynne: Marion Lennox, not Merrian Russell. Can I just die right now, please?

  38. Angela
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:33:02

    @LisaCharlotte: My friend (from South Carolina) always gets double looks when she asks for a Coke at a restaurant – especially when they’ve just told her they have Pepsi products LOL. And “tea” always means Sweet Tea (yes, I have to capitalize) to her – and now me.

    This is absolutely true:

    The US is a huge country. Things are not as universal as you would think

    My own experience – where I live, for the longest time, ATMs (automated *bank* teller machines) were called Tyme machines – the company that made them I think? Anyways, I remember going down to North Carolina to visit the university and I needed cash. I stopped at the information desk and asked for a Tyme machine – I swear she thought I was looking for a Delorean. We laughed over it though. Now I make a conscious effort to remember they’re ATMs. But I still find myself saying Tyme machine occasionally.

    It’s definitely different all over the US. What’s a water fountain to most of the country (maybe the world) is a bubbler here in my area. So many differences.

    I really wish the publishers/editors wouldn’t edit so much out. If something confuses me, and I can’t figure it out by context, then I would either let it go or look it up. Usually I’d end up learning a lot more than it would frustrate me.

  39. Ros
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:42:03

    @LisaCharlotte: Exactly. Which is why the insistence on Americanising everything is even more ridiculous. People are perfectly capable of working out what unfamiliar terms mean. And if not, there is google.

  40. Ros
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:45:55

    @SHZ: We use imperial measures in the UK too, despite the best efforts of the EU to tell us not to.

  41. LisaCharlotte
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:46:26

    The thong/flip flop debate cracks me up. I think it’s more a generational thing. I grew up in LA in the 60/70s and thongs/zories were for your feet. Buttless panties were called g-strings. To this day I call the sandals “thongs”.

  42. MarieC
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:57:41

    @Jia: LOL! I know! my friends and I crack up when we hear the various pronounciations! though inaccurate, I still think the name was clever.

  43. RebeLovesBooks
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:02:03

    I laughed at the “cowpat” story – too funny! I prefer the Aussie-isms, to be honest. When a book is set there I expect certain language to be used. Also, years of reading Georgette Heyer have made it less jarring to read different spellings of certain words.

  44. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:32:59

    There is one house in my particular ZIP code in the Midwest US where the pop/soda war is fought on an almost daily basis. Fortunately, the invader (ironically, from California), while not assimilating, is at least not being able to actively brainwash the children in the house as to the superiority of saying “soda” over “pop.” The children want to stay on mommy’s good side, so “pop” it is.

    Also, “thong” will always be a sandal to me, but I’ve had to start using the more laborious “flip-flop” because the only “thong” my children’s friends know is the underwear (and yes, that used to be a G-string to me, too).

  45. Kim
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:33:05

    This was a fascinating blog post. I’m from the northeast(US)and we call our carbonated beverages pop. We also use the term soft drinks. Instead of kangaroo loose in the top paddock, we say someone has a screw loose. I like biscuits and cookies. If your cookies are biscuits, what do you call biscuits? To you even serve this morning staple?

    @Maili, we do use the word “smart” interchangeably: to mean either intelligent or a smart dresser.

  46. Julia
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:42:11

    I’m also all for leaving the Aussie-isms in. If I don’t understand something I’ll look it up and I love learning new phrases. If something is set in Australia or NZ I’d much rather have the language match the setting. I didn’t know “no worries” wasn’t an American thing, I say it all the time and have no idea where I picked it up.
    Also, Tim Tams… never heard of them and now want some. I wonder if I can get them in the US?

  47. Kate Pearce
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:43:30

    As a Brit living in touchy feely California I’m always trying to explain to my kids that when I lovingly insult them it is a ‘compliment’ displaying how much they mean to me, much as it is in Australia. Having grown up on Neighbours in the 80’s I have a fairly decent understanding of Australian lingo and love reading books with those references.
    Thanks for an excellent post!

  48. Kate Pearce
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:44:07

    Target have Tim Tams! :)

  49. azteclady
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:46:53

    I love language, and found the different experiences and perspectives so interesting, but I confess that what will stay with me for a long good while is the last item in the glossary.

    From now on, every time I have to get up to open the store (which means being at work at 4AM, every one will know that we are up before the sparrows fart)

  50. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:51:33

    As a side note: I don’t know when publishers decided we needed to be treated like the special snowflakes that we aren’t, which applies to more than linguistic/regional differences, but I’m effing sick of it.

  51. iferlohmann
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 13:49:37

    I love it when the books include regionalisms that reflect where they are actually set. Should a book ever be set in Salt Lake City, I would expect no one to go to a thrift store, but only ever to the DI (Desert Industries). Little things like language ground a book in its setting. If I don’t know what it is, I can figure it out from context or look it up. If it’s something like biscuits/cookies/crackers, it doesn’t really matter to me (the reader) what someone’s eating and I can breeze through that.

    The only book set in Australia or New Zealand that ever had a phrase which caused me to blink was Her Best Friend, by Sarah Mayberry. There is a scene where they talk about bases (I hope I’ve got the right book–I’ll feel terrible if it’s another book or, God forbid, a different author) and getting to first base. That felt like an intrusive edit for the American audience until I asked a New Zealander if she used the phrase. She said she didn’t, but her kids did and she wouldn’t blink if she heard it. Satisfied, I kept on happily reading.

    But I didn’t like the idea of the language being change for me. Part of the fun of the English language is that my husband (from Mass) and I (from Idaho) call those colorful sprinkles on ice cream different things.

  52. Maria.Maria
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:13:33

    I think “he lives out past Whoop Whoop” is the best thing I’ve ever heard. It made complete sense to me.

  53. Chicklet
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:17:35

    I don’t want anything to be changed when publishing, say, an Australian book in the US. I read books because I’m curious, and I want to learn new phrases or words or metaphors. Stop dumbing things down for me, publishers.

  54. Kristal
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:30:33

    @Julia: Julia, Pepperidge Farm makes Tim Tams – Target usually carries them, but they are somewhat seasonal.

  55. Kristal
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:33:12

    Oh, can someone explain ‘slice’ to me. I’ve often read on blogs that they’ve made a slice, but I’m not at all sure that I really grasp just what kind of dessert (?) it is.

  56. Isobel Carr
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:42:10

    @Helen: And who knows where they’re getting the advice. “Pop” is utterly wrong to me and I’m a native Californian. It’s always been soda everywhere I’ve lived in the state (which admittedly is only in the northern half). There are strange little things too. “Take the 101” is SoCal. “Take 101” is NorCal. Not big enough that anyone but a few would ever even notice, but that “the” is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

    But I’m all for letting regional and international flavor stand it books. That’s part of what makes me what to read them! I’m reading a great paranormal mystery right now that’s filled with English slang, but someone changed torch to flashlight. Totally stopped me dead in my tracks while I was reading (and I thought, damn you editor!).

  57. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:46:57


    In Pittsburgh they leave out the verb to be when speaking which drives me nuts! After correcting I don’t know how many people (and students when I was a teacher) I gave up, but I still wince when I hear “the car needs washed”, or “the book needs read”.

    This construction is odd, but not incorrect. “Need/want/like” plus the past participle is a holdover from Scots/Irish Gaelic. I compare it to “have gotten,” which is improper British English, but proper American English. It was in use during the colonial period and survived here, but became deprecated in Britain after the Revolutionary War.

  58. Ridley
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:55:37

    Mark me down as another American who wishes editors wouldn’t try for some silly sort of “universal” language. Slang is where personality lives. Books should aim for more of it, not less. I want to read about two people eating Tim Tams while sitting in his ute as much as I do two people splitting an ice cream with jimmies then grabbing a drink from a water bubbler. Shoot, in the US alone, there are three major terms for “soft drink” based on where you are – soda, pop, and coke – and then there are still other regional terms like tonic in the Boston area. Local color is what makes characters unique and interesting to read about.

    Besides, if American readers can make sense of the Black Dagger Brotherhood books’ dialog, Australian/New Zealand slang should be no sweat.

  59. Karina Bliss
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:01:24

    8.47am in NZ; 6.47am in Australia. Clearly those Aussie authors don’t get up at a sparrow’s fart. I’ve the comments fascinating as a resource. Thanks.
    Query for @barb who explained: “Diesel fuel is universal. Propane, generally, is a form of natural gas, stored in tanks, and used in those areas with no natural gas service.”
    Juts to be clear. You can go to the gas station and fill up on diesel if that’s what your car takes?
    Also in NZ we use ‘pissed’ to mean drunk; ‘pissed off’ to mean angry.

    @Krystal. A ‘slice’ is a sweet treat baked in a square tin, (you can make fridge-set ones too). Then sliced into squares. Basically they’re cookies/biscuits made as one, then cut and often iced (ie: frosting added).

    @kim. ” If your cookies are biscuits, what do you call biscuits? To you even serve this morning staple?”
    We don’t have these in NZ. Probably a good thing, as I adored them when I tried them in the States.

    ‘Jumper’ to me is a sweater, the sleeveless variety is a ‘vest.’
    @Jane. ‘jumper’ as you refer to it, (the all-in-one) would be a ‘jumpsuit’ (fashion crime of the seventies/eighties) or ‘romper’ if on kids.

    Note: This is all NZ, not sure if it applies in Oz.

  60. library addict
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:07:07

    I wish publishers would leave the spelling alone and not Americanize books. Readers actually do have brains and we can figure it out.

  61. Stacie Mc
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:15:54

    I enjoy regional flavor and sayings in books. Usually I can deduce the meaning from the context. But I am firmly attached to the US measurement system and metrics will jerk me out of the story. Used once or twice in a book, I’ll keep going. But I prefer light reading and if I have to guess at conversions too often I’ll toss the book and find another. So describe to me how hot it is instead of saying it was 35 c. Or how long it took to drive instead of how many kilometers. Same thing for height and weight.

  62. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:25:09

    @Karina Bliss:“Diesel fuel is universal. Propane, generally, is a form of natural gas, stored in tanks, and used in those areas with no natural gas service.”
    Juts to be clear. You can go to the gas station and fill up on diesel if that’s what your car takes?
    Most gas stations, depending on size and number of pumps they have, will have at least one diesel pump if not a few more.

  63. Amy Talbot
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:30:55

    Very interesting post. I would like to sit in on a panel discussion centred (centered!) around this topic.

    There was no mention made of the inspiratational market, currently dominated by mid-western writers and the portrayal of American cultural Christianty. This is a difficult imprint for an ‘outsider’ to break into, I suspect because of cultural differences and that the readers are predominantly from the mid-western states. What a pity this market is so insular. American Christians are well-known for their missionary zeal and incredible generosity when it comes to supporting causes such as World Vision, Save the Children, medical missions and the Peace Corps. Surely editors understand that faith-based stories from other nations would enrich the Christian message?

  64. Karina Bliss
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:34:47

    Thanks, Jayne.

    There’s also a lot of comic potential to be mined in cultural differences. One of my most embarrassing moments was trying to buy a rubber (eraser) at Stanford University’s bookstore.

  65. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:46:31

    @Karina Bliss: Similar and almost as good is misunderstanding the phrase “to knock someone up.”

  66. sarah mayberry
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:54:55

    @Karina Bliss: Yep, all the same for Oz. I think perhaps the best visual for what a slice is in Australia would be brownies,made in a wide, flat tin and then sliced into portions. My favourite is caramel slice. It is too good. I would be curious to know what US readers call this kind of decadence. We don’t have biscuits in the way US has biscuits, either. The closest we’d get is scones, I think, and they are generally eaten with jam and cream, not gravy. I keep meaning to have my US friend send me a pack of biscuit mix so I can try some. I also want to try grits and chicken fried steak (I wonder if this is the same as schnitzel, a piece of veal/pork/chicken that has been pounded thin then breadcrumbed and panfried?)

  67. Darlene Marshall
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:56:15

    My favorite was learning that “rooting for the team” has a very different meaning in Australia than in the US.

  68. sarah mayberry
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 15:59:07

    @iferlohmann: While baseball has never been huge down here, we all played rounders at school, a sort-of kids version with a large paddle-like bat, and that had bases. We also play softball, like baseball with a larger, softer ball. (have no idea if the rules are different, but they have the basic diamond thing going on). The whole “first base, second base” thing probably originated in the US, but I’ve heard it used since my childhood when shows like Happy Days etc were popular. To be honest, I’ve never been very sure what the bases represented… kissing, upper body groping, lower body groping and full sex as a home run? Anyone care to elucidate?

  69. sarah mayberry
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:07:18

    @Darlene Marshall: As Jane has a giggle about jumper, I always giggle over rooting for someone. In Australia, rooting is a slang term for having sex. Not a particularly charming one, I grant you, and probably more used by teen boys as in “yeah, I got a root out of her”. If we were talking about someone supporting their team or being on someone’s side, we’d say they were barracking for them. But we wouldn’t use it in the same way that US can use root – ie I’ll be rooting for you. You wouldn’t say “I’ll be barracking for you”. At least, I wouldn’t. Barracking, for me, feels very sports related. I’m not actually sure what the substitute would be in other contexts…. hmmm…

  70. Darlene Marshall
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:10:28

    @sarah mayberry: When Australia was bidding for the 2010 World Science Fiction Convention fans would come up to their table and say, “We’re rooting for you!” The Aussies appeared bemused by this, and one said, “That’s not really necessary.”

  71. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:15:55

    @sarah mayberry: I’ve most often seen that type of dessert called “bars.”

  72. sarah mayberry
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:27:06

    @Darlene Marshall: Yes, it could be seen as going beyond the call of duty. Even for an ardent fan.

  73. Ridley
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:28:51

    @sarah mayberry:

    I would be curious to know what US readers call this kind of decadence.

    I’d call it a delicious breakfast.

    (Also, what @Jayne said.)

  74. sarah mayberry
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:29:00

    @Jayne: I now require one portion of every recipe on that page. YUM.

  75. Maree Anderson
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:29:46

    Hey @Karina Bliss! *waves* Thought I’d pop on over and support the Kiwi contingent :) This is a great topic, BTW, and some of the comments are (unintentionally!) hilarious. I’ll never be able to reader “jumper” again without imagining a guy in some weird kind of jumpsuit *g*

    My favourite comment from a reviewer on one of my published books is that I wrote “Valley Girl verbiage” — had to go look that one up *g*. And she commented on my use of “fortnight” as being overly formal. I was like, huh? What’s wrong with fortnight? Doesn’t it just mean a two-week period and doesn’t everyone use it? Live and learn. And I love learning about this stuff. Some of the loop conversations we’ve had about regional slang have been awesome.

    But the Americanism that really cracks me up is “fanny”. When I first read “he patted her on the fanny” I just about choked on my coffee. If you patted a woman on the fanny in public in New Zealand you’d probably get punched in the nose, because here, “fanny” means your girly-bits, not your bum. I figured it out when a few pages later the term “fanny pack” was used–here it’s a “bum bag”.

    When I recently published a book set in Auckland around where I grew up, with mainly Kiwi characters (except for the hero), even though I tried to make sure readers could infer the meaning from the context, I included a glossary of Kiwi terms and phrases at the back. I figured it’d be best to cover all my bases, and I thought readers might enjoy learning some Kiwi-isms :)

    @Darlene Marshall — oh yeah! Rooting is a good one! The number of times I’ve backspaced over “rooting” , as in cheering for someone, in my manuscripts, coz here, “rooting” also means “screwing” or “f*cking”. Hence those t-shirts: “I’m a genuine Kiwi who eats, roots, and leaves.” As writers all know, punctuation is everything ;-)

    (Kiwi) Maree

  76. Maree Anderson
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:31:16

    Ooops! See what happens when you type out a reeeeally long comment? Someone explains the term for you. Thanks @sarah mayberry!

  77. Katherine
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:43:07

    What a fabulous post! Collecting colloquiallisms is an hobby of mine. I am Canadian, with an American mother, an Irish Da, British stepmum and Italian stepfather. And one of my best friends is Australian. So yeah, I know a few.

    Hubby and I spent our honeymoon in Oz and some of our favourite phrases are:
    Dummy spit = throw a tantrum , like a baby spitting out its pacifier
    Chook = roast chicken
    Wellies = rain boots

    And the all purpose “add -y to anything to sound like a native”:
    Vacay = vacation
    Brekkie = breakfast

  78. Delia
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 17:06:21

    @ Sarah Mayberry: “I keep meaning to have my US friend send me a pack of biscuit mix so I can try some. I also want to try grits and chicken fried steak (I wonder if this is the same as schnitzel, a piece of veal/pork/chicken that has been pounded thin then breadcrumbed and panfried?)”

    My heart almost stopped with the phrase “a pack of biscuit mix.” Any kind of biscuit mix is sacrilegious in this Southern household. The ingredients are common in most kitchens around the world: flour, salt, baking soda, butter, shortening (not sure what it’s called elsewhere) and milk (although my family uses buttermilk in place of regular milk; a better flavor IMHO). The hardest part about making biscuits is not to over roll the dough. This is one of the better biscuit recipes I’ve found if you’re interested.

    Chicken fried chicken and chicken fried steak are prepared in a similar method to schniztel but the flavor/texture are different. Grits are made from corn which some people eat with salt/pepper/butter while others eat it with sugar.

    @Amy Talbotson I don’t know what part of the world you’re from but the region most closely associated with religion/religious beliefs in the US is the South. It’s known as the Bible Belt. Not that people in other areas of the country, including the Midwest, aren’t religious, the South is just the area that got stuck with the name. I wonder if part of the issue of an ‘outsider’ breaking in is that many of the areas where inspirationals sell well here are predominantly Protestant? It’s rare that I see an inspirational with Catholic or Mormon characters. I would love to read an inspirational with a different cultural view or from a different part of the world though.

  79. Nicki Davidson
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 17:09:17

    LOL @ Karina re the rubber/eraser thing – I also got caught out with that one! I’m a NZer, and years ago I taught (American) English in Taiwan. Was a massive learning curve with the spelling (bye bye u’s and re’s) and hello words like trunk. Main word I struggled with pronunciation wise was during. (Doo-ring). We always said ‘jur-ing. Don’t know why. But had to watch ‘see ya’, ‘no worries’ and ‘sweet as’. Also got kinda blank looks when I said “now, what should we have for tea?” (Meaning dinner, not the drink!) Language, bless it.

  80. Sherry Thomas
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 17:11:05

    @Darlene Marshall: This had me ROTFL.

    I’m totally geeking out to this thread.

  81. Karina Bliss
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 17:31:35

    @Amy Talbotson. Copied to an inspirational author friend, hopefully she’ll come and comment (she’s on deadline). I don’t know what the requirements are there, would be interested to hear.

  82. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 17:48:10


    It’s rare that I see an inspirational with Catholic or Mormon characters.

    The Bible belt does not suffer Catholics well and Mormons not at all.

  83. iferlohmann
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:05:55

    @sarah mayberry:

    I think the base rules depend entirely on who’s defining them. I remember childhood conversations trying to figure out what base had been hit.

    Also, if you try to make biscuits, don’t use a biscuit mix! It’s flour, baking powder, butter, milk, and salt. Plus, you aren’t supposed to mix them that much because you overwork the dough. (I just noticed someone else said the same thing).

  84. iferlohmann
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:08:32

    Oh, and I have a similar story to rubber/eraser, being the embarrassed American party. I was visiting a friend of mine in Sheffield, England and walking on a busy street crowded with people telling a story. At the climax of the story (I’ve even forgotten what the story was about), I said “And then I fell on my fanny.”

    I said it very loudly, in quite a crowd. Many people turned to stare at me in wonder. After remembering fanny changes meaning somewhere over the Atlantic, I understood why.

  85. Tracie
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:23:13

    I loved this article. I started reading Harlequin books back in the 80’s. I loved local dialogue. If I wasn’t familiar with a phrase or word I’d look it up. It is even easier now that we have Google.

    I’m originally from Pittsburgh now living in NJ. Pittsburgh definitely has its own unique set of words that now that I’m not living there I find quite charming and reminds me of home. I’ve been away long enough that some of my words have evolved like pop is now soda. The husband has corrected me enough times about adding “to be” to my verbs which irritates me beyond belief. There are still some holdovers. All athletic shoes are tennis shoes regardless of what sport they are going to be used for.

    This reminded me of a conversation I had with an Irish friend of mine a few years ago. He commented that he was “taking the piss”. After a few embarrassing moments I realized that he was teasing me instead of using the bathroom.

    I prefer that the books I read actually sound like the location they are set in.

  86. Darlene Marshall
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:25:54

    @Maree Anderson–I laughed out loud at “Eats, roots, and leaves.” I’d never thought about it quite that way but I will on my next visit to Healesville Sanctuary or Kangaroo Island.

  87. cleo
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:28:05

    @Maree Anderson: I was going to mention fanny too – I love that one. I’m American and I spent a semester abroad in England – that was one of the terms we were specifically warned about in our orientation (I believe what they said was, don’t use the term “fanny pack”).

    One of the other things we were warned about was that Americans were not quite as cool as Australians – this was when Neighbors was all the rage in England. I still don’t understand why Australian pop culture doesn’t have the same following as British pop culture here in the US. I’ve recently started reading more Australian set romances and it’s fun.

  88. Ros
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:42:12

    @sarah mayberry: In the UK, that’s Millionaire’s Shortbread. Yum.

  89. Delia
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:42:55

    @Moriah Jovan: True…although I would argue that attitude is slowly starting to change with the influx of people from other parts of the country/world into the South and the influence of the media. Yes, I know molasses moves faster than these changing opinions but at least it’s moving *g.*

    I’ve spent most of my adult life living outside of the South and overseas, and even in those places, I still haven’t seen many inspirationals that are non-Protestant. The Love Inspired line by Harlequin, which is sold in many big box stores and is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of inspirationals, is mostly Protestant. Even my reader friends who are Catholic read Protestant or non-denominational inspirationals because of they are easier to find at local stores. It would be nice to find more diversity of beliefs in the stories I read (and I’m not talking about just Christian beliefs either *g*).

  90. Kim
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:49:36

    Biscuits and gravy are more a southern dish. Up north, we bake the biscuits,then put jam and butter on them. If we drop them in a beef stew, then they’re called dumplings.

  91. Ros
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:50:32

    @Delia: I’ve thought about the localisation of the inspirational fiction market quite a lot. The historical inspy line that Harlequin do has a more global feel (though that’s problematic in other ways). I think there are two huge problems preventing it from expanding: first, the culturalisation of religion, and second, the potential readership. The culturalisation of religion in the American South is very different from anything I’ve experienced in the UK, or in my time on the East Coast of the US. There are very strict expectations for behaviour and language which just wouldn’t ring true if you were writing about Christians elsewhere, but the guidelines for the publishers are fixed according to those expectations. And that’s because, second, the vast majority of the readership comes from that kind of culture. I just don’t know that there would be the same kind of market for specifically inspirational romance anywhere else. Of course you can have characters who are Christians (or of other religions) and have that be part of the conflict, but that doesn’t make it an inspirational romance.

  92. Barbara Elness
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:55:54

    I loved the post, it was fascinating. I always enjoy running across expressions I haven’t heard before and learning what they mean. Usually in a book I can figure them out, but they always a lot of fun.

  93. Maree Anderson
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:02:53


    OMG, that’s hilarious! What a great visual — thanks sooo much for sharing that one :)

  94. Maree Anderson
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:05:31

    @Darlene Marshall:

    I seem to remember those t-shirts were popular during the 80s–my dad was given one *g*

  95. sami lee
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:05:47

    Thanks for this post. It makes me so glad my Samhain editor has allowed me to keep most of my Aus-isms in tact. I never even had to fight over tim tams! Are e publishers in general more accepting i wonder?

  96. Merrian
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:06:56

    @Kim: I’ve always thought American biscuits were scones (plain & self raising flour rubbed with butter and bound with milk, lightly kneaded and into the oven?

    I think I would call American hotcake a pikelet and my mobile phone is your cell phone

  97. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:07:28

    @Ros: Carla Kelly has begun writing historical books with Mormons in them.

  98. Maree Anderson
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:10:28


    So are these “biscuits” what we in NZ would call scones? i.e. flour, salt, baking power, milk and butter. We sometimes substitute the butter for grated cheese to bake savory scones, or we add sultanas, or we have plain with jam and whipped cream.

  99. Maree Anderson
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:14:21

    What @Merrian said! Though for me, pikelets are little biscuit/cookie-sized things, whereas hotcakes are stakes of thick poofed-up pancakes like you get in MacDonald’s that are served with whipped butter and maple syrup…. nom nom nom.

  100. Kaetrin
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:16:08

    Great article ladies! As a fellow antipoedean, I can relate. :)

    It’s funny to realise that things we say all the time aren’t common elsewhere.

    I travelled to the US in 1994 for a holiday and had a great deal of trouble asking for “lemonade”. Over here, it’s a soft drink – it’s actually called lemonade, but Sprite and 7-Up are also versions of it. In the US, it’s a lemon cordial thingy and not fizzy at all. It took me a while but I learned to ask for Sprite and save everyone a headache :D

  101. Maree Anderson
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:16:43


    They specifically warned you about using the term fanny-pack??? Priceless. I’m sure you would all have been forgiven and people would have understood what you meant :)

  102. Merrian
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:19:09

    @Jayne: I would add that slice. especially ones that need to set are often a layered thing. The quintessential Australian slice recipe is for Hedgehog:
    125g butter
    1 cup icing sugar, sifted
    2 tablespoons Cocoa
    3 tablespoons coconut
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    250g Marie biscuits (sweet biscuit like a Tea Biscuit with a vanilla flavour), broken into large pieces (sometimes nuts like walnuts or pecans are added)

    Chocolate Icing

    1 cup icing sugar
    1 tablespoon Cocoa
    1-2 tablespoons hot water

    Melt butter in large saucepan. Remove from the heat. Add the icing sugar, cocoa and coconut, mix well, Stir in the beaten egg. Stir over a gentle heat until boiling. Fold in broken biscuits, taking care not to crush them to much more. Press the mixture into a lined/greased slab tray. Chill for 1 hour.

    Make the icing. Sift the icing sugar and the cocoa into a bowl. Add the hot water and mix to a smooth paste. Cover the chilled mixture with the icing and sprinkle with extra coconut, chopped nuts.

  103. Alex
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:23:11

    I love reading books full of local colour and the author’s choice of language is so important to that. It’s very, very rare that I read a word or phrase that I don’t recognise and can’t even make a guess at from the context. Even if that does happen, it’s not exactly hard to go and Google it. Maybe in the pre-internet days when things might have been too colloquial to be found in a dictionary, but I don’t see how it’s an issue now.

    As regards the metric/imperial issue, I was quite surprised when beta reading for an American friend that she thought we (in the UK) were all strictly metric now. I’m 29 so am of the generation who *should* have been brought up using only metric but it really hasn’t worked out that way. We use centimetres for smaller measurements (and for the heights of showjumping fences, curiously enough) but things like height and long distances are always measured in feet and inches. I still personally work in pounds and ounces for baking but that’s a bit less common – we just have oldfashioned scales in our house!

    The Skype chats that have taken place since I got to know a couple of American friends have been hilarious – I think they just like to wind me up so that I let loose with all sorts of English swearing. And yup, we’ve had the biscuit discussion. I need to try making them now but I’m not expecting good results as I don’t have the knack with scones.

    Just to chime in with the pop/soda discussion – I’d tend to refer them overall as soft drinks or if ordering in a cafe or something, as lemonade or coke. If it’s brown and fizzy (and not dandelion & burdock) then everyone just calls it coke, regardless of the actual brand. Pop always makes me think of luridly coloured fizzy drinks in tiny little bottles.

  104. Joan Kilby
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:23:49

    Hi all, I’m really enjoying everyone’s comments. It’s so encouraging to hear people say they like Aussie/Kiwi phrases in our books. It’s ammunition to defend my choices to my editor! Re the pop/soda debate, here in Oz we call it ‘fizzy water’ or ‘lolly water.’

    As a transplanted Canadian I find some Down Under-isms still fascinating even after many years here. For instance, a hamburger with the lot (ie, everything on it) includes a fried egg and a slice of beetroot (canned beet) as well as the usual onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato. They even put beetroot in cold sandwiches! It turns the bread a lovely pink colour. I say ‘they’ because this is one custom, like Vegemite, that I have never been able to adopt. Some tastes you have to grow up with to appreciate.

  105. Joan Kilby
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:27:31

    @Merrian I love Hedgehogs! Even better than Tim Tams.

  106. Delia
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 20:38:54

    @Kaetrin: I spent a year at university in the UK. My British flatmates were absolutely in love with drink made from lemonade mixed with peach schnapps. They urged me to try it for awhile (I loathe peach flavored drinks)before I finally consented. When I finally tried it, I choked. It went up my nose and I spit it out before I could stop myself. No one told me that the lemonade was a carbonated beverage so I was complete unprepared. The only lemonade I had ever had was made from lemons, sugar, and plain water. The flatmates thought it was absolutely hilarious. After my nose stopped burning, I had a good laugh, too. I also had a similar experience when someone gave me water with gas…had no clue it was carbonated mineral water. I learned rather quickly to ask what someone if there was a word that I didn’t understand. I still laugh when I think about them schooling me in “Brit Words 101” and how I was never to use the word fanny in public if I didn’t want people to stare at me.

  107. Kate
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 21:33:10

    I really enjoyed the article and love the comments. Add me to the group who enjoys reading the different slang words/phrases from other places- I’d much rather have the dialect be related to the locale. As someone mentioned upthread, if I don’t understand a phrase, I can always look it up, and will probably learn some other tidbits of information when I do (which is a good thing!)

  108. Limecello
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 22:32:04

    Really cute post! Gotta say though…

    #3 actually made me recoil – for Marion’s. Can’t believe the editor wanted to make “Tim Tam” “oreo” *shudders* that is so many worlds of wrong. Also – the US Tim Tams sold by pepperidge farms taste different than Arnott’s. Did you know? (Glad you won that “battle!”)
    I didn’t know cookies down under were only chocolate chip cookies.
    Biscuits are savory to me. Although *maybe* sometimes – like shortbreads or wafers can pass as “biscuits” – unlikely though.
    For some of the things you guys mentioned – I wouldn’t say they’re only “Australianisms”/NZ-sayings. Meaning I’ve seen certain words bandied about long before the internet saturation and additional globalization.

    And Sarah – on the soda/pop thing… even those of us in the states can’t “agree” on it. There’s the soda/pop/coke map. And that’s more a general guideline.

    People here call flip flops thongs too… but personally I think of thongs as the underwear – but if/when underwear, it’s singular and plural. I’m always weirded out when I see in a book “she was wearing a thongs” or “she revealed her thongs…” O_o – sooo…. she was wearing… two pairs of underwear? Because that makes her Extra sexy?

  109. e_bookpushers
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 23:06:53

    This was a really fun post to read. I have read several of the participating authors and enjoyed their work. Usually if I can figure out what a term or phrase means via context I don’t worry about it. I did read one the other week that threw me for a while. The heroine was former military and things just weren’t quite right, differently so then I am used to reading. Then I looked at the blurb again and had a headdesk moment when I realized it was set in Australia not the US so of course things would be different. Once I realized the setting location I sat back and enjoyed the story without being thrown by those differences.

  110. Keziah Hill
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 00:07:47

    Not to mention Aussie rhyming slang (which is very British in orign). I was born in Steak and Kidney where Noah’s caused some froth and bubble.
    Scones here are pronounced like on while in the US like own.
    I also love “mad as a cut snake” as meaning crazy.
    On the whole Aussies are an irreligious lot and do much more swearing than Americans. My sister had to be told to tone down her language when she migrated to the US 20 years ago.

  111. sarah mayberry
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 00:40:23

    @Keziah Hill: I would be in *so* much trouble if we relocated to the US. Swearing it like breathing for me. I’m sure I was a sailor in a past life…

  112. Phe
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 01:32:37

    I’m Australian, and I had an American housemate for a while. We had a lot of conversations about the different ways we say things, and agreed on some compromises so we could understand each other, like we said flip flops instead thongs (because I didn’t want to misinterpreted on that, and lollies instead of candy (because he thought it sounded hilarious). But there were a lot of things that really took me by surprise because I’d never realised they were Australianisms, so he was extremely confused when I offered to shout him a beer, and I couldn’t understand why he kept saying I was his roommate when we slept in separate rooms.
    And then every time I cooked spaghetti there were arguments about the pronunciations of the “‘erbs”, as he called them, like basil and oregano (in the end I conceded that o-REG-ano is much more fun to say that o-reh-GAH-no).

    I think it’s a shame that editors and publishers want to homogenise the language, because I think a lot of people who read a lot are, like myself, really interested in learning new words and phrases, and if everything’s Americanised then they’ll miss out on so many great words.
    If things were reversed, and American words were changed for Australian audiences it would be really weird, I don’t want to read a story set in Montana about a stockman, I want to read about cowboys! And it took me a long time to work out why Sookie Stackhouse was always eating biscuits for breakfast, sure I thought it was strange, but if it had been changed to scones or something that would have been much more jarring.

  113. CHH
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 01:55:44

    The Tim Tams sold in the US are not worthy of the name. They look like the ones from Australia but they taste different and are nowhere as good.

    Which reminds me, I need to ask my aunt to bring me packages of Tim Tams when she comes to visit in May.

  114. Jacqueline Cook
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 01:56:17

    Great post! I love the mix of authors, too. Some of my favorite HP and Super Romance authors are Aussies so it’s wonderful to get their perspective on things. When reading their books, I always find myself wondering how authentic the language is and what exactly has been altered for the US audience.

  115. Nicola Marsh
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 03:24:49

    Fantastic post!

    Always brings a smile to my face when I receive emails from readers asking me what my Aussie-isms mean.

    One of my favourites is ‘hen’s night’ (in the US = bachelorette party.)
    I’ve been asked about sculling (from a reader who couldn’t find it in the American Dictionary, not in relation to boats.) In OZ it means drinking really fast!

    Another that surprised me is fortnight. We use that in OZ a lot but apparently not in the US, it’s 2 weeks.


  116. Phe
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 03:43:01

    @Nicola Marsh: Fortnight really surprised me too. We say it just as comfortably as we say ‘week’, how strange that they don’t use it all.

  117. Jayne
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 04:21:22

    @Phe: It’s definitely a term I learned from reading romance novels. Does anyone still use sennight?

  118. Phe
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 04:24:11

    @Jayne: I’ve never heard sennight, does that mean two weeks?

  119. Jayne
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 06:05:01

    @Phe: One week – seven nights.

  120. Maili
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 06:44:17

    I’m surprised to see how many Australianisms are also Britishisms. Hen’s night, fortnight, bugger, slice (vanilla slice (mille feuille), yum yum) and so on. And um, the ‘swearing too much’ bit. Slight different: fizzy water (‘fizzy drink’ here). It does explain why I enjoy Australian novels and films so easily.

    @Jayne and @Phe: ‘Seven days/one week’ and no, we don’t use it. It’s usually used as part of an event title nowadays, e.g. The Sennight Flower & Garden Festival (a week-long event). We still use ‘fortnight’ a lot, but not as often as we did before. So less often that I really do think it’ll die out in a decade’s time. I think this calls for a ‘Save Our Fortnight!’ campaign. :D

  121. Angela
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 07:08:01

    I’ve always liked the word fortnight – now that I know it’s used elsewhere in the world, I’m going to start using it here.

    My friend, in Australia, sends me Tim Tams every Christmas because she told me the US ones aren’t even close to what they should be. I look forward to them every year.

    I really love all the comments here. These kind of discussions are always so much fun.

  122. Jayne
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 07:34:57

    Okay, y’all have convinced me I need to try some Tim Tams but … which flavor? They all sound yummy.

  123. Ashley J
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 09:21:16

    I grew up in the eastern area of North Carolina and there is a type of dance called the Shag (a modified swing dance style popularlized in the 50’s and 60’s). One of the British exchange students at school was highly amused that the school offered Shag lessons as an extracurricular activity.

  124. iferlohmann
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 10:31:25

    @Maree Anderson:

    Hard to say–American biscuits to scones. Americans eat scones and I consider them a sweeter, denser quick bread than biscuits, but in the same family. Also scones are triangular and biscuits are round (except at TimeOut!, home of the square biscuit). I’d eat scones from breakfast or with coffee, but biscuits can be a bread to go at breakfast, lunch, or dinner (especially in the South). Occasionally you can find sweet potato biscuits, but I wouldn’t add anything to biscuit dough and especially not raisins. Any extras (butter, gravy, jam, ham, bacon, eggs, etc) go on the biscuit.

    I don’t know if that helped. Should it not be blocked and you have the patience, Alton Brown had a good show on biscuits ( You can also learn about Southern flour, should you care. And I would never use shortening.

    Oh, and then there is the very Southern beaten biscuit, should you want to eat anything related to hardtack ( Alton skips over the beaten biscuit.

  125. iferlohmann
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 10:36:59

    @Maree Anderson:

    I missed that there was a second part of the Alton Brown biscuit show

    Honestly, now I’ve oversold the whole thing. Ask a question, get way more answer than you want.

  126. Ridley
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 13:43:18

    @sarah mayberry: I’d say that depended on where in the US you landed. I think you’d do fine in Boston. My father’s introduced more than one friend to me as “this ugly son-of-a-bitch” or “this drunk asshole.”

  127. Jinni
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 14:49:12

    I always wondered by those Mayberry Blaze books were set in LA. As someone who lives in LA it was totally unnecessarily for me. I would rather have read about Australia – something different is always more interesting than LA and West Hollywood traffic.

  128. Tracey Alvrez
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 14:52:08

    Fascinating article, I really enjoyed it. I’ve set both my books (unpubbed at moment) in New Zealand, but I’ve been trying to make sure I use the American word substitutes where I can. I’ve travelled extensively in the U.S and it really is amazing how the words they use from State to State differ – had a chuckle about the ‘Pop’ versus ‘Soda’ – this is also apparent when in Canada. Thanks for the great read.


  129. Jo Fereday
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 15:00:15

    Now I feel stupid. I’ve just been writing an Aussie set book and putting all these Australianisms in so the characters won’t sound English (like I am). Better go back and take them all out!

    I did have a comment on a London-set story that the Kiwi heroine sounded American. Is this globalising our language too much?

  130. Estara
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 16:23:45

    Another reason why I am so happy with my Sony Reader is the lovely way that the abridged OED which is my dictionary of choice seems to be able to give me most of the NZ and Aussie dialect expressions – with examples at that.

    But if not, there’s always the Internet these days. For American slang, I quite like the Urban Dictionary.

    All this to say: I prefer people to use their own dialect if they set their books in their country.

  131. Variel
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 16:33:56

    Just a quick note on some of the words I’ve seems mentioned. As an Australian my family and a lot of the people I grew up with call soda pop “fizzy” or “fizzy drink”, it could be a dialectual difference. To me pissed means you are either drunk or annoyed with someone depending on context. Some of the phrases that were mentioned I’ve never heard of myself , up a sparrows fart for example, that’d have me scratching me head. Cordial is one that confuses Americans, usually I have to change it to Kool Aid, Cordial here comes in liquid form in plastic bottles. I’ve not seen powdered mixer sold on the shelf in Australia to date.

    For the record I grew up in a small town along the coast of New South Wales and while that may be considered outback to many the culture was definitely not.

  132. Phe
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 17:01:52

    @iferlohmann: Are you sure those are scones you’ve been eating? Because scones are not sweet (we sweeten them by putting jam/jelly on them, but the scones themselves are unsweetened), and I’ve never heard of triangular ones, only round.
    I’m so curious to try American biscuits, I think I’ll try making some. What’s the difference between butter and shortening?

  133. Phe
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 17:08:00

    @Jo Fereday: Be careful about having your characters say too many Australianisms, if they’re like “Bloody oath, stone the crows” every other page then it will sound very fake to Australians, because we don’t really talk like that. British English and Australian English are pretty similar, so don’t worry about it much.

  134. iferlohmann
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 17:26:44


    It’s so hard to define an un-agreed-upon term with another un-agreed-upon term! This ( to me is a scone, but you’re thinking something very different. I think what you call a scone is closer to a what I call a biscuit. The scones I had in England were still sweeter than a biscuit to me.

    Vegetable shortening in biscuits (Crisco in the US, I think Cookeen and Copha are overseas brands) will make a more tender biscuit. Butter will make it flakier. I’d rather sacrifice texture to get the butter flavor, and I do the same with my pies. I’m anti-shortening in pie crust. If you can fine well-rendered lard . . . well then, now you’re cookin’ with gas!

    Should you ever end up in North Carolina,

  135. sarah mayberry
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 18:53:17

    @Jayne: The original Tim-Tams are the best. The new-fangled ones are fine, but they’re not *really* Tim-Tams. The double chocolate ones are acceptable as an alternative, but only just. Others may disagree with me on this, but all the added bits and other flavours are pleasant, but not part of the Tim-Tam experience.

  136. Susan
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 18:54:13

    This was a great post. So much fun. Thank you, ladies…and other posters.

    A few thoughts:

    A biscuit is not the same as a scone. Close, but not the same texture or flavor. Some biscuits are more flaky than others, but they should be relatively soft. If they’re as dense as a scone you’ve made them wrong.

    Who the heck puts sugar/sweetener on their grits?!? I’m horrified.

    I knew about the fanny thing from when my family lived in Britain years ago, but I never could figure out how it got to be a “dirty” word when it was still (at that time) a not uncommon women’s name.

    I have to admit that my earliest exposure to Ozisms was from watching Prisoner: Cell Block H and reading stuff like A Town Like Alice and My Brilliant Career. :-) I’ve expanded my horizons a bit since then.

    Publishers don’t need to dumb things down for the lowest common denominator. I think a lot of people would like to read more books of all kinds with authentic non-US characters, settings, and language. Like other posters have said, I grew up reading books from other countries and (eventually) figured out what most of those strange expressions and words meant. And that was before the internet. How hard would it be now to Google that stuff—and learn something new in the process? (That said, I confess that I’m grateful when imperial measurements are used so I don’t have to do the conversion from metric. I’m even thrown by the British “stone” and almost always have to go to an online conversion chart. But I am getting better.)

    At the same time, I’d also like to see more authentic regional US books, with the emphasis on authentic. Few things piss me off (ha) more than when someone writes a book set in the Southern US and their only real knowledge of the region is from watching The Dukes of Hazzard or listening to that idiot on The Closer talk. Keep the uniqueness of the various regions and dialects alive. Homogenization is only good for dairy products,

  137. Maree Anderson
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 20:01:14


    Very helpful — thanks! Of course to really understand it all I so need to take a trip to the US and sample everything personally :)

  138. Jayne
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 20:17:22

    @iferlohmann: OMG, a fellow Tarheel! I’ve had many late evening – or should I say early – morning meals at Time Out.

  139. Jayne
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 20:19:41

    @sarah mayberry: Gotcha. I’ll go for authentic. Thanks!

  140. Jacki
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 05:38:23

    As an Australian myself I’m used to reading US or UK set books and just checking unfamiliar usage. In Oz we’ve had the metric system since the early 70s so I can’t remember what temperatures mean in anything other than Celsius. That said I’m still more likely to use feet and inches to describe someone’s height but kilograms for weight (if someone in a US book describes a character as being 220lb I can quick-correct that in my head to 100kg but otherwise I have to use a calculator!). What throws me out of a story set in Oz is if the character uses any Americanisms that aren’t current usage – makes me think the author is USian and hasn’t bothered to do their research properly, not that the editor has made them do it. Add another voice to the clamour for writers to be able to write their own stories set properly in their own countries!

    I remember being highly amused with a Loveswept where the Australian hero grew up in Willoughby – supposedly some mean little outback town beyond the black stump (same as woop woop). Willoughby NSW is a pleasantly affluent suburb of Sydney and Willoughby SA is a very small hamlet on the eastern tip of Kangaropo Island – neither of which would allow the hero to be a jackaroo (which actually means an inexperienced newbie on a sheep station – it certainly wouldn’t have qualified him to work on a cattle ranch in the US!).

  141. readinrobin
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 11:16:30

    What an fascinating post! I love reading stories set outside the US, and coming across an unfamiliar word doesn’t bother me in the least. Some of the authors mentioned not wanting to jerk American readers out of the story, but when I come across an unknown slang or colloquial word, I love googling it, looking it up, discovering the meaning of it, and then going back to the story with a little bit of a new understanding! I then often share the new word or phrase with my daughters later and we sometimes start using that word or phrase in our own conversations. To me, it just adds some local flavor to what I’m reading.

  142. Janine
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 16:57:37

    Just caught up to this wonderful thread which oddly brought back memories from my childhood in Israel, where we ate chips (fries), drank water with gas (carbonation), and read Enid Blyton novels (albeit in translation to Hebrew).

    Also memories of moving around the US while trying to learn English, and being driven mad/crazy thanks to regionalisms like pop/soda/ soda pop and sneakers / tennis shoes/ gym shoes.

    In upstate New York, where I lived for many years, “Out past Whoop Whoop” is “Out in the boonies” or “in East Bumfuck.”

    @MarieC &@Jia: Once when my husband and I were in Tel-Aviv, we spotted a Thai restaurant called Thai Me Up!

  143. Amy Andrews
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 17:35:27

    Am late to the party as well but just wanted to agree with Sarah that the original Tim Tams are the best. And also to say I’ve tried for the last 5 or 6 books to get pash ( deep open mouthed kiss) in and have finally succeeded.
    Nothing quite like a good pash!

  144. Beth Matthews
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 02:27:48

    I’ve lived in California all my life and I have NEVER called it pop. It’s soda or, more usually, a coke. I thought “pop” was a midwest thing…

  145. cecilia
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 08:03:01

    It’s depressing that people are actually (or only perceived to be) so unwilling to learn new terms. I read a whack of romances set in the Outback when I was 12-13ish by (I think) Lucy Walker, and there was a ton of idiom that I had to figure out. It turns out it was ok to use my brain.

    And @Joan Kilby for protecting the spelling of a place – you’re awesome. It’s amazing how US writers/editors will impose their spellings on proper names from other countries. The New York Times, for example, used to drive me crazy (before I finally stopped reading their site) for spelling the UK party “Labor.” It just seems so deeply disrespectful.

    But I’ve seen people all around the interwebs completely oblivious to the fact that US spellings are not universal to all English-speaking countries, so I guess they’re just protecting themselves from a barrage of criticism.

  146. Patricia Eimer
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 08:20:41

    What a really interesting and fun article! And I think I’m stealing the sparrows fart line. That fits on my 5 am weekday mornings before coffee.

  147. Susan
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 11:40:10

    @Isobel Carr:

    Isobel, My guess about “the” 101 and “the” 405 in SCAL (Southern California) speak is the way everyone has heard the traffic news for years. The traffic newscasters lists all the freeways with a “the” to connect them in the listing. Seems like those listening now think “the” is part of the freeway name.

  148. Susan
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 11:42:45

    Also, love, love, love “up at sparrow’s fart”!

  149. Susan
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 11:53:41

    @Karina Bliss:

    Karina, Hahahahaha! One of mine was buying actual condoms at a drugstore (pharmacy). Either story, very funny!

  150. Heather Greye
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 12:32:29

    I think pop is pretty much a midwest thing in the states. I used to work for the University of Michigan, which has a high percentage of east coast students. At one event, the recycling bins said “Pop cans here (soda cans too)” Still makes me laugh.

    Like everyone else, I love hearing/reading the different regionalisms. I traveled in NZ/Australia for several months, so several of the phrases slipped into my vocabularly. Coming back to the states, though, I had to change back from toilet to restroom. :)

  151. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 12:44:51

    @Susan: My husband is a SoCal transplant and the “the 70” and “the 291” just drove me bonkers. I finally broke him of it. But then his dad came…and moved here…and he was simply tone deaf. I would say, “I-70,” and he’d look at me funny. My husband would translate, “THE 70.” And the lightbulb came on. Why? Dear heavens, WHY? Soda was bad enough…

    And how come this post got bumped up all of a sudden with today’s date on it?

  152. Sunita
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 13:00:30

    @ Moriah: I think because the giveaway winner was announced.

  153. Jane
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 13:01:37

    @Moriah Jovan: Yes, because the giveaway winner was announced.

  154. Susan
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 13:10:17

    @Moriah Jovan:
    Hi Moriah, Maybe the date is because I’m so late to this party? I’m from Oregon, that’s Oregun BTW, and had to have words like “Safeways” (Safeway, is a food market)and “worsh” (wash) mocked out of me. So, I try not to be too harsh towards anyone’s weird lingo, but my husband and I have a good time with a lot of it. “the” 101 and the like drive him bat shit crazy (there’s a good one).

  155. Jane Lovering
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 13:50:45

    I did get pulled up once about using the Brit phrase (I am a Brit, btw) ‘going around Will’s mother’s’, meaning ‘going round the long way. I guess this might have been a Britishism too far…

  156. Jez Morrow
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 14:54:16

    Love the post. I’m thinking “speed hump” is actually what’s called a “speed bump” in the US (or a “tope” in Mexico, where they’re frikkin’ huge). A “speed trap” is where the police wait around curves or under bridges with a radar gun waiting for your BMW.

  157. Merrian
    Apr 09, 2012 @ 21:35:56

    @cecilia: Sharing the Lucy Walker love – they were formative reading for me in my teenage years

    Also thought of another fading Australianism; instead of ‘you’re in my way’ we would say ‘you’re in my road’

  158. BlueRose
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 01:56:09

    Coming late to the party, I have a slightly different experience of cultural exchange, mine was via the internet. Internet didnt hit NZ til 1996/7 which is when I joined, and got into newsgroups (as thats where it was happening back in the day) and I stumbled across all sorts of interesting situations with my use of slang and colloquialisms unknown to the majority of my US intwebs pals (the highlight was being advised to use a silicone buttplug when I commented that something hurt like bloody buggery!)

    I now hang out in quite a multicultural email group where we talk about food a lot, so here are my thoughts from a Kiwi POV:

    Biscuits are scones without any sugar – there is a lot of talk about flakyness which is bollocks AFAIAC. I have eaten them in Hawaii and they tasted and looked like scone to me. I even went so far as to make a comparison batch with butter and crisco and got friends to taste, and they couldnt tell (I have pix online if anyones interested).

    Slice = traybake

    Fizzy drink is what we call unbranded soda/pop. Now everyone is all about the brand, so its Coke x or Pepsi whatever. Lemonade and cider in Downunder are all fizzy/carbonated (and better for it if you ask me!)

    American coyness about using the loo (ie bathroom) annoys me. And for those who dont know, their toilets fill nearly to the top with water and then flush away (not washing down out of the cistern when you flush like here) which totally freaked me out in Waikiki airport at 1am on arrival. I went round half of the 20 odd loos before I decided they werent all blocked!

    And light/power switches are also the wrong way round as well. Entree in the US = Main here which made for some awkward meals until I figured that one out.

    Tim Tams are dead easy to come by here in NZ but I CAN”T get my fave american candy bars – I adore Hersheys Heath bars and Milky Way Midnight Darks and we cannot get them here – happy to do a cultural swap any time, just email me :)

  159. Lorenda Christensen
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 03:28:47


    This made me laugh, because I’m an American currently living in India, and there are so many signs here that cause me a double-take. The one that comes to mind right now is the “beauty saloon”. To an American born and raised in Oklahoma, this made me think wooden bars, gunslingers, and a lot of whiskey.

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