Cossies or togs? A guide to how Australian slang words differ across the states

It's funny: when you write a column about Japanese tentacle porn, you expect a few comments. Mostly, you expect feedback on the cephalopod fetish, rather than your offhand use of slang to describe the 7Eleven that sells it.

Just pop down to the "Sevvie", I wrote. To which the world replied, "The what?"

The Traveller editors asked where I got this term from. They'd never heard it in Melbourne; had no idea about it in Sydney. Maybe, I suggested, it's only Queenslanders who call the corner store the "Sevvie"? Maybe it's something I picked up during childhood?

No, Twitter informed me: it's not a Queensland thing. Apparently, it's purely my own.

Still, this did kick off a conversation about regional slang in Australia, about how you assume our culture and our language is so homogenous, and yet when you start to explore different corners of this country you realise the differences. Slang changes from state to state, sometimes city to city.

The cossies you wear in Melbourne are the togs you throw on in Brisbane. The deli you visit in South Australia is the milk bar in Victoria. And so on…

(And before anyone asks: all the things I say are right, and the words other people use are wrong.)

Cossies v togs v bathers v swimmers

Where I grew up, in central Queensland, you'd always "chuck on ya togs" before you went swimming. That would have been a confusing notion to Victorians and West Australians, who'd be more familiar with their bathers, and those from NSW, who would be more likely to wear cossies or swimmers.

Potato scallops v potato cakes v potato fritters

Potato cakes or potato scallops?

Potato cakes or potato scallops? Photo: Chris Hopkins


Obviously, no one term is more "right" than the others when it comes to regional slang. They're just different. However, just as obviously, fried, battered slices of potato sold at fish-and-chip shops are called potato scallops. They're not, as Victorians would say, potato cakes. And they're definitely not potato fritters, you weird South Australians.

Choc-top v choc-bomb

Choc top at Thornbury Picture House.

Choc top or choc-bomb?

What's a "choc-bomb"? Go ask your friends from WA. To the rest of us, this delicious cinema snack of an ice-cream cone covered with a Kevlar-like chocolate shell is known as a choc-top. To those out west, however, it's a choc-bomb.

School bag v port

I think pretty much the entire country refers to the thing they lug their books to school in as a school bag. In Queensland though – and parts of regional NSW – we fancy. We shorten "portmanteau", an archaic and obscure word for a large travel bag, into "port". I spent 12 years packing my port for school. Never seemed strange back then.

Deli v milk bar v corner store

Daisy's Milk Bar in Sydney's Petersham.

A Sydney milk bar. 

While helping out with research for this story, one of the Traveller team mentioned that in South Australia they use the term "deli" instead of "milk bar". And that got me thinking: What's a milk bar? Apparently, that's what Victorians call a corner store. Strange.

Frankfurts v cheerios

There are a few discrepancies across the country when it comes to processed meats – and I'll get to all of them. The first applies to the small, red mystery sausages that you eat a lot as a kid. In Victoria they're apparently called cocktail sausages. In NSW they're frankfurts. And in Queensland they're correctly called cheerios.

Pots v middies v schooners

Young Queensland males are turning their backs on binge drinking,

What do you call this then?

I could devote an entire column to the bizarre differences that have evolved in Australia when it comes to ordering a beer. Let's just talk about the small glass that holds 285ml of liquid. In NSW, ACT and WA you'd call that a middy; in Queensland and Victoria it would be a pot; and in South Australia, which is so often the bizarre outlier in the regional slang world, it's a schooner. (It should also be pointed out that the glass the rest of us refer to as a schooner – which holds 425ml of liquid – is called a "pint" in Adelaide, even though an actual pint is 570ml. *shakes head*)

Cantaloupe v rockmelon

Several people in the ACT have been struck down with salmonella linked to a brand of rockmelons.

Rockmelon or canteloupe?

Here's an interesting one. I'd just assumed all Australians refer to the hard, beige fruit we all know and love, as a rockmelon. Turns out, however, Victorians use the same term as Americans: cantaloupe. Weird.

Primas v poppers v fruit boxes

I grew up taking poppers to school in my lunch box (which went in my port). Throughout the rest of the country, however, Victorian school kids were taking primas, and the South Australians were sipping from fruit boxes.

Devon v polony v fritz

Devon, fritz, lunchon meat with sauce on fresh white bread - whatever you called it, it was a favourite in most kids lunchboxes.

Devon, fritz, lunchon meat with sauce on fresh white bread - whatever you called it, it was a favourite in most kids lunchboxes.

Back to the grand processed-meat debate. You know that weird, pale mystery sausage that everyone used to eat sliced on sandwiches, sometimes with tomato sauce? Where I grew up it was devon, as it was in much of the country. However, the same thing in Western Australia was (and probably still is) called polony, and it's referred to in South Australia – thanks to its beginnings as a "German sausage" – as fritz. (That seems a little tasteless to me, though I suppose that's appropriate.)

Bogan v bevan v westie

Kath and Kim: Bogan royalty. Photo: ABC TV

The term "bogan" is pretty much universal in Australia now. However, you also have "bevans", who are the Queensland version of the same thing. And then you have "westies" – slang for those from the west of Sydney. I once asked someone from Perth if bogans in her city were referred to as "easties" and she said no.

Cabana v cabanossi

One final processed meat entry, for good luck. The highly questionable sausage most often called a cabanossi is also known in some parts of Australia – South Australia, it seems, as well as Tasmania, and parts of Queensland – as a cabana. Whatever you call it, however, you can't deny its greatness when stuck on a toothpick with a cube of tasty cheese.

What are the regional language differences you've noticed in Australia? Are there more than people expect? Why is "potato cake" so obviously wrong?



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