New Zealand’s version of English (both spoken and written) can be a weird and confusing mix of British English, American English and home-grown ‘Kiwi English’, with a good dose of Te Reo Māori (New Zealand’s official language) thrown in as well. Deciphering the slang and the two-language melting pot can be puzzling (though much of Kiwi slang is shared with Australian, British and Irish slang).
I’ve also written A beginners guide to Te Reo Māori, with pronunciation and commonly used words. The two posts tell you everything you need to know to get started conversing with Kiwis!
No, there is no noun missing to complete this simile. I spent the first few months of our time here waiting on the rest of the sentence and finding it unbearably irritating that no one finished their comparison. Honey? Sugar? Sweet as what?!?!
It will be ok
Don’t ask me who ‘she’ is. I can only assume the cat’s mother. This phrase pretty much sums up the Kiwi approach to life, work and, well, everything. Laid back to the core, nothing here happens in a hurry or with stress. Business deadlines are frequently ignored, even in the cities there’s no rush on the streets, and when things go wrong, instead of frantic problem solving and hurried attempts to fix mishaps, you’ll instead hear the collective mumble of “she’ll be right”.
This isn’t an indecisive split second change of mine. The ‘yeah’ is totally redundant and unnecessary. Kiwis just like to add an extra syllable in sometimes. Speaking of which…
Used at the end of a sentence, sometimes to turn it into a question (but usually a rhetorical one that requires no answer), sometimes to add emphasis, sometimes to give or request confirmation for a statement. My theory is that it comes from the Te Reo Māori word for ‘yes’ (‘ae’). More often than not, it’s used for no reason at all. Like I said, just an extra syllable to fill a bit of silence.
Both women’s costumes/bikinis and men’s trunks.
Not that everyone uses them, mind; you’ll see many a Kiwi, adults as much as kids, walking around barefoot, and not just at the beach!
Wellington boots (wellies)
Convenience store / newsagents / corner shop
Hike / Hiking
How are you?
This is used more as a greeting and doesn’t require a response about how you are (I made that mistake a few times when we first arrived, politely responding with “I’m well, thank you. How are you?” only to be met with confused expressions).
Pronounced like ‘veggies’ and ‘veg’, but spelled differently.
Can be used to refer to a person, animal or inanimate object (car, phone, etc).
Drunk / broken beyond repair
Payment by card
Short for Electronic Fund Transfer at Point of Sale. You’ll then get options for paying from by cheque, savings or credit. Which brings me to my next point…
Current / debit account
Sweet / candy
Refers to all sweets / candies, not just the ones on a stick! A lolly shop is a sweet / candy shop.
Ice lolly / popsicle
Kindergarten / nursery school / preschool
It refers to all schools for under 5s, not a particular chain. (Playcentre is different – it’s not considered a Kindy, as the philosophy, financing and level of parental involvement is wildly different to other early years education providers.)
In the middle of nowhere
This one will likely be known to Brits and Irish, but it may be new to those not so familiar with Scottish slang.
Again, familiar to the Brits and Irish, but perhaps not to others.
This one will be familiar to the Americans. As in American English, ‘pants’ refers to ‘trousers’ and underwear is ‘undies’ not ‘pants’. ‘Trousers’ is only used to refer to old-man-style trousers.
With two British parents, Theo has learnt that his underwear are pants and his trousers are trousers, but this has admittedly caused some confusion when others have commented on his ‘nice pants’!
Crisps or fries / french fries
Just to confuse you, again not the Americans, Kiwis call both crisps and fries ‘chips’. The former are often ‘potato chips’ to help distinguish the two (as if that really helps…they’re all potatoes!) but they do also use ‘crisps’, and the latter can be ‘hot chips’.
Weirdly, as you can see above, Kiwi’s have picked the American word for some things and the British word for others, but they typically (but not always!) spell like Brits (there’s a ‘u’ in colour and neighbour, for example).
Be aware that Kiwis use the British words ‘nappy’ not ‘diaper’, ‘flat’ not ‘apartment’, ‘rubbish’ not ‘trash’, ‘dustbin lorry’ not ‘garbage truck’, ‘petrol’ not ‘gas’, ‘fire engine’ not ‘fire truck’, ‘post code’ not ‘zip code’.
Your head hurting yet?
If the Kiwi slang wasn’t enough to get your head round, Te Reo Māori is very present in everyday language. You’ll notice it instantly in place names and the names of native birds and plants, but certain words and phrases are also used interchangeably with English by all New Zealanders.
You’ll want to familiarise yourself with the basics before a trip to New Zealand! Check out this post for A beginners guide to Te Reo Māori pronunciation and commonly used words.