Lost in Translation – Aussie English in the US Publishing Market


This is my hometown–Brisbane City, Australia.  Isn’t it beautiful?  Like a lot of cities, it has high rises and a river running through it.  However, despite our gorgeous, blue sky and general awesomeness, one thing about my city bothers me: how tough it is to get a book published if you’re living here, and well, anywhere in Australia, really.

It’s not just the time difference, the lack of local literary agents and publishers, or the expense of overseas postage, phone calls and currency transactions.  It’s the bloody language barrier.  Yep, English shmenglish.  As you all know already, English is not the same all over the world.

Now, I’m lucky to have an American critique partner who LOVES all my Aussie/British-isms [waves across the oceans at the fabulous, Heather Ashby] 🙂  But as an Aussie writer still trying my luck in North American contests and with US editors, I often wonder just how Americanised (yes, with an ‘s’) my English needs to be to succeed.  Like, if I used “boot”, would the reader realise I meant the “trunk” of a car?  Or, if I wrote the character “walked upstairs to the first floor”, would the reader know he/she was coming from the ground floor, and not the basement?

It’s a real question of authenticity versus our intended/actual audience.  Would books, written in Australian or British English, be misunderstood, or even thought of as having technical errors in the States?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve spent hours wondering how Australian to make my characters.  Most contests I’ve entered do not specify penalties for non-American spelling—some even instruct judges not to penalise them—but I have nevertheless lost points for using Australian English for characters and settings in Australia.

So here’s a little cheat sheet that’s hopefully a little bit more informative than watching Crocodile Dundee.   The following spelling/grammar/punctuation are also true for British English, but the slang is mainly Australian so they won’t all help the next time there’s a Downton Abbey marathon 🙂


  • ‘-ise’ vs ‘-ize’ (eg. realise, memorise)
  • ‘ou’ vs ‘o’ (eg. honour, mould, neighbour, favourite, colour, odour)
  • ‘ll’ vs ‘l’ (eg. travelling, signalled)
  • ‘-re’ vs ‘-er’ (eg. centre, metre, theatre)
  • The extra ‘o’ (eg. foetal, manoeuvre)
  • ‘-t’ vs ‘-ed’ (eg. dreamt, crept, learnt)
  • the extra -s (eg. towards, maths)
  • cheque = check (as in, the form of money)
  • programme = program
  • storey = story (the level of a house)
  • tyre = tire (the rubber part of the wheel)
  • catalogue/epilogue/dialogue = catalog/epilog/dialog
  • get/got/got = get/got/gotten
  • different from/to = different than
  • talk to = talk with
  • “the” + instrument (eg. I play the piano.)
  • clothes size = Australian and British sizes sound bigger than American sizes eg. an Australian Size 12 is the same as a Size 10 in the US and a Size 14 in the UK
  • no full-stop needed for Mrs/Mr/Ms/Dr

Now, try saying the words below with an Aussie accent.  If you can’t, no worries.  Even Meryl Streep couldn’t do it!  🙂

Aussie Terms and Slang

arvo = afternoon (we like putting an ‘o’ at the end of many shortened words)

Beauty! = Great!

bogan = an uncouth person

boot = trunk (of a car)

brekkie = breakfast

budgie smugglers = men’s swimming trunks

the bush = the countryside

car park = parking lot

champers = champagne

chockies = chocolate

chook = chicken

chuck a sickie = pretend to be sick to get a day off work/school

convo = conversation

cot = crib

daggy = unfashionable

dodgy = suspicious, not reliable

dunny = toilet

fair dinkum = real/genuine

Fair dinkum? = Really?/For Real?

fancy dress party = costume party

fringe = bangs

full-stop = period (punctuation mark)

grog = alcohol

ground floor = first floor (this means our first floor is the second floor in the US)

hoon = hooligan

How’s it going? = How are you doing?

jumper = sweater

lolly = candy

nappy = diaper

no worries = no problem (also used instead of saying, you’re welcome)

pissed = drunk

pissed off = angry

prawn = shrimp

rego = registration

serviette = paper napkin

singlet = tank top

shopping centre = mall

(shopping) trolley = (shopping) cart

sunnies = shades (sunglasses)

ta = thanks

tap = faucet

tick = check (√)

togs = swimwear (we also use “cozzie”)

torch = flashlight

unit = apartment

whinge (to complain) = whine

woop woop = the middle of nowhere, the country side, the sticks


I hope these help the next time you read a bit of Australian writing 🙂 Please feel free to add to the list in the comments below.  Maybe you’ve come across them in your travels or from reading?  Other forms of English are also welcome 🙂

20 thoughts on “Lost in Translation – Aussie English in the US Publishing Market”

  1. Just something I picked up in the last year or two, Nat! 🙂 It’s interesting converting to “Letter” size for competitions with limits on page numbers because it works out to be different! 🙂

  2. Ooh, I loved learning those regional differences in the US 🙂 Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Lauren!

    I’m also looking forward to reading them in your debut novel, “The Red Bikini” 🙂 I already have it on order for when it’s released in July! 🙂

  3. Hi, Catherine! Love this post! I can’t wait to read your books set in Australia, and the more authentic the better, as far as I’m concerned!

    Actually, even within the U.S. there are regional differences that we struggle with with editors, and sometimes they “correct” things that they think are wrong, but they’re simply regional. (For instance, in California, every athletic shoe is a “tennis shoe,” regardless of whether you’re wearing it to play tennis or not; we don’t put “the” in front of highway names but we DO put “the” in front of freeway names, etc.) So it can even be a strange struggle within the U.S.!

    But I love to read the authentic, using words and phrases set where the book is set. I feel like I’m learning new things from the experience.

    I really loved Rosalind James’ books set in New Zealand, ESPECIALLY all the authentic words — I felt like I was learning something new all the time. She even put “glossaries” of the terms on her website, which was really fun.

  4. Thanks, Karen 🙂 I agree, and thankfully, so does my American agent 🙂 Now, we just need to find an editor who thinks the same way 🙂

  5. Hi Catherine,

    I love to read the Harlequins set in Australia, so some of the words were familiar. Great post.

    And I love your website. I think that when you’re writing characters set in Australia, be true to your “English”. It adds richness and credibility to the story. An editor , agent or even a well-trained judge will know that and they are the ones you want to love your work.

  6. Thanks for checking out my blog, Robena! 🙂 I’m still so pleased to have won a copy of your book that’s set in Australia, “Gone Tropical” 🙂 That must have been a treat to write! 🙂

  7. Thanks for dropping by, Tammy! And nice use of those terms 🙂 I’ll add brekkie to the list 🙂

  8. I love the site, and the blog, Catherine.
    One expression I heard when visiting family was “going agro” which meant “getting aggravated.” I love how my fellow Aussies shorten everything, like afternoon becomes “arvo” my speech has become so mixed since living in the U.S. for so long, I never know how to pronounce or spell anything. Ha ha.

  9. Catherine, this blog post is BRILLIANT! I printed it out and will keep it for use with my British characters. Thanks for the shout out above, but know that YOU, dear, are the best critique partner in the world. And I mean that literally since you’re a half a world away from me! Love the blog and your website – and of course, your stories. I’m one of the few that has GOT to read them and I can tell everyone else you are in for a big treat as soon as Catherine’s books hit the press!!! And that’s FAIR DINKUM!!!

  10. LOVE that “budgie smugglers” has changed the way men dress for the pool, Natalie. I’m married to a competitive swimmer so I will share a terrific turn of a phrase.

  11. This list is great fun to read! My son just got back from spending a few months in the outback doing research and he still uses all the new words he learned while there. Unfortunately he didn’t get to chuck a sickie but he still loves to come home to his mum’s house for brekkie!
    Thanks for this wonderful post Catherine!!

  12. Thanks for visiting and for your comments, Natalie 🙂 I can’t wait till the BOOKS section of this website has the titles of my books instead of just the manuscript number 🙂

    My computer is still set to English (Australian) but I definitely change my Word doc to “Letter” size instead of the A4 we use here whenever I send something to America. Also, one time I tried to change -ise to -ize, I didn’t realise that Spell Check changed “memorise” to “memories” – the judges of that competition thought it was a grammatical mistake instead of a spelling one! oops! 🙂

  13. Hi Catherine

    We’re fellow travellers. Or is that travelers? My computer defaults to US spelling checks, however often I tell it to behave. I’ve gone through manuscripts I want to send into American competitions and changed ise to ize. We are all indebted to Australia for giving us ‘Budgie Smugglers.’ That phrase has single-handedly changed how men dress for the pool.

    Good to hear from you, and congratulations on a fabulous blogsite.

    xxx Natalie

  14. Thanks for visiting, Pintip 🙂 Yes to both of those 🙂 I didn’t even think of them, but now that you mention them, I’ll add those to the list as well 🙂

  15. Good one, Kerri 🙂 Thanks! I’ll edit the list and add that 🙂 We don’t use ‘fair dinkum’ so much anymore but when we do, it would be hard to guess what it means! haha

  16. Hi Catherine! Thanks for this list! One of my CPs and dear friends is also Australian, so I’m familiar with a lot of these but I learned some as well. You can add my favorite, “champers,” to the list. And is it “chockies”?

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