Software Engineer
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Lingo lessons

Australian English is a funny little beast. Fused together from British dialects, Aboriginal languages, American English, and other things we could find under the kitchen sink, it's turned into something of a unique lingo. And every now and again, I say something that causes the Americans in the room to give me a blank look, and laugh at my funny Australian ways.

Today, I learnt that Americans find it odd when you ask to "hire" an inanimate object. I had inquired about a "tent hire", and got some laughs in return. It turns out that you "hire" taxis, gardeners, and landscape designers, but you "rent" tents, movies, and equipment. Left to my own devices, I would use the two words interchangeably, but that's not so over here.

Image by Matthew Martin, from

My pronunciation has also caused some problems. Just before I left Australia, I had to spend a long time on the phone to a US call centre (US telcos.... they're a whole new story... ). Part of the process required spelling out my name, and I was confused as to why the operator kept getting it wrong. "D... o... m..", I would say, and "D... r... m..." would be repeated back. This happened about five times in a row. It seems the Australian "o" (like in oh dear), said with a downward intonation, is practically indistinguishable from the American "r". Meanwhile, the American "o" is said with an upwards intonation, like I'm asking a question.

Finally, there are some terms which are just plain different between American and (Australian) English...

  • You fill cars with gas (petrol)
  • Wear flip-flops (thongs) on your feet - this one is really bad, since "thongs" are rather skinny bikini bottoms in America...
  • Mix peppers (capsicum), napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage), craisins (cranberries), raisins (sultanas), green onions (shallots), and arugula (rocket) to make a salad
  • Attend college/school (uni) as an freshman/sophmore/junior/senior (first/second/third/fourth year)
  • Consider life as a grad student (PhD candidate) after undergrad
  • Not to mention spelling color (colour), odor (odour), and humor (humour) in the right way

Given that my PhD work is in language, I find many of these quirks fascinating. It's amazing how you can speak structurally the same language, but with all gradients of accents, lexical choices, and morphological variations. I'm fully expecting to find even more of these as I go.

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