It's rooted: Aussie terms that foreigners just won't get

Roots ... fine to wear in Canada.
Roots ... fine to wear in Canada. 

Australian travellers love heading offshore; and with our dollar still defying gravity, we're not about to stop. The only problem? Sometimes the locals, and other travellers from beyond this wide brown land, have trouble following what we're saying. So here's a guide to problematic Aussie-isms when you're going OS. In fact, let's start with "OS".

Problem Aussie-ism: Going OS.

There's nothing Australians like more than a good abbreviation, and this one is applied to our other great love: international travel. "Going OS" means, of course, going overseas. Actually saying it to the people who live OS, however, will lead to blank looks. If you're anywhere near Silicon Valley, they might think you want to see their operating system. Which sounds like a really bad chat-up line.

Solution: Try "going abroad". Or the exhausting slog through the entire three syllables of "overseas".

Problem Aussie-ism: Thongs.

This one causes no end of open-mouthed or sniggering reactions. If your hostel dorm-mates suggest heading down to that beautiful beach on the Gulf of Thailand, and you respond with "I'll just slip on my thongs," two thoughts will cross their minds. Firstly, they'll be impressed by your boldness in selecting the skimpiest of swimwear for your tropical dip. Secondly, they'll be wondering why you need more than one of them. Is the second one a back-up in case of wardrobe malfunction?

Solution: Try "flip-flops", it's self-explanatory. Or "jandals" in New Zealand.

Problem Aussie-ism: Root.

It may be on the fade in Australia, but this slang term for having sex still has the capacity to confuse and amuse. If an American tells you "Hi, I'm Randy and I root for the bears," it's going to be hard to stifle a snicker. Similarly, if you drop your phone in the hotel loo and tell the reception staff "It's rooted," they might start looking for vegetation sprouting from the seams. Either that, or they'll assume it's a customised Android device. And, if you're in Canada, it's entirely acceptable to wear clothing emblazoned with the word "Roots" (it's a major clothing chain).

Solution: "Screwed" hits the right level of meaning and acceptability in polite company.

Problem Aussie-ism: Toey.

As you're shuffling forward in the immigration queue upon arrival in a new country, suspecting you need a visa you forgot to organise before arrival, you might mutter to those around you: "I'm feeling a bit toey." Yes, you're nervous – but your fellow travellers might glance down at your feet, to see what's up with your extremities. Especially if you're wearing thongs.

Solution: Try "edgy", same number of syllables.

Problem Aussie-ism: CBD & GFC.

So you're explaining to a local why you and your mate decided to see the world: "Yeah no, my friend Davo was working in the CBD when the GFC hit, got the sack one arvo for taking too many sickies, and decided to go OS." This may need translation. Australians love abbreviations, especially TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations), and these may be too OTT for your audience.

Solution: For CBD, use "downtown" or "city centre". The GFC is commonly known in the USA as the distinctly less chirpy Great Recession. Of course, in Geelong GFC has a much more positive connotation.

Problem Aussie-ism: Pissed.

"Pissed off," as we all know, means very annoyed. The problem is, in North America this robust sentiment is shortened to merely "pissed". So saying "I'm really pissed" after one too many cheap beers in an LA dive bar will not get you sympathy, and might get you into a punch-up.  A more complicated sentence such as "I'm pissed off that I can't get pissed on this weak beer" will cause even more confusion.

Solution: Stick to "drunk". "Hammered" might be too hard to pronounce, in your condition.

Problem Aussie-ism: Long black and flat white.

The prime directive of any Aussie on reaching foreign shores is clear – the search for a decent coffee. To find quality coffee when OS is a difficult task at the best of times (see my 2013 article on surviving North American coffee), but even café language is a struggle. Flat whites are a Aussie-Kiwi phenomenon, though they're becoming more common in the UK, and "long black" will receive blank stares, or worse.

Solution: Choose a caffe latte instead of a flat white to make life easier, and have a stab at ordering the Italian espresso lungo, though it's shorter than the average long black.

Problem Aussie-ism: Lemon, lime & bitters.

On our first visit to London many years ago, my other half ordered a lemon, lime and bitters from a West End theatre at interval. There was a startled reaction, then the barman explained that a) he had no idea what she was asking for, and b) bitters can be poisonous. From memory, I think she settled for a fizzy orangeade.

Solution: Go for the trademark soft drink of the country you're in, be it papaya juice or freshly-squeezed lemonade.

Problem Aussie-ism: Gives me the s---s.

Here's another fine case of an expression which can be taken two ways. "The waiters at this cheap open-air restaurant give me the s---s" could be taken to refer to the dodgy food they keep bringing you, resulting in prolonged stays in the hostel bathroom. But you're probably just annoyed at them, and causing unnecessary alarm to the people who've already downed their meals.

Solution: Use "pisses me off" instead, keeping in mind the confusion around "pissed".

Problem Aussie-ism: Dag.

This is a particularly tricky word, as "dag" and "daggy" lack obvious neat translations into other varieties of English. "You're such a dag!" has an air of fondness intertwined with the suggestion of foolishness, so it might be a compliment to your daggy new foreign friends. One thing's for sure though, they'll have no idea how to take the remark.

Solution: I got nothing here. "Likeably foolish" isn't going to fly, is it? Whatever you do though, don't mention the literal meaning of dag and its relationship to a sheep's bum.

Have you found yourself using Aussie phrases and words overseas that have baffled the locals? Share your stories below.

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