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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kiwi-English Dictionary 5: TOP SECRET

Attn: Home Office

From: Linguistic Agent Brooksie

I have now reached Day 929 in deep Down Undercover here in the land of the Kiwis. I apologise for the delay in this latest dispatch but as it is now the New Zealand summer I have had increased pressure to maintain my cover. While day after day of barbies, bachs and lazing by the pool have been nothing short of stellar, it has left me very little time in which to compose my intelligence reports lest I attract too much unwanted attention. While these Kiwis certainly know how to work hard and play hard, it would look mighty suspicious were I to be caught using my satellite phone in the middle of a paddock while all the other guys are crowded round the barbie.

As it is, I nearly blew it when I said I couldn’t find my ‘flip flops’ earlier. It was quite an awkward pause, let me tell you, as the entire room seemed to stop and hold its breath. At first I was unaware of my verbal transgression until Hamish corrected me by saying, “You mean you’ve lost your jandals, mate?”

Only years of top-notch dialect training and acting lessons let yours truly off the hook. I cannot afford any more such slip-ups or they will be on to me. The less said about the time I neglected to serve out chocolate fish with everybody’s flat whites that one Sunday morning, the better!

My time is short, the kebabs are nearly done, and it’s a long sprint back to the bach (in jandals no less), so it is without further delay that I give you my latest insights into that addictive, quirky linguistic curiosity that is


This time given with more context clues from actual conversations so as to better define the terms or phrases. Wherein the author must hazard a guess as to the true origins of a phrase or even as to its true meaning, he maintains a full sense of plausible deniability in the modern parlance of our times. Nothing but denials will be given by the author even under the duress of torture, yada yada and all the other standard boilerplate disclaimer language you can think of applies here as well.

1. “We’re all out of blue top.” (Blue top milk is whole milk, while green top is skim).

“Who wants to run to the dairy to get some more?”

Bags not!” This phrase was uttered by everyone at morning tea save for me, and was accompanied by the touching of an index finger to the nose.

Whereupon they all realised I was the only one not to say this phrase (and/or touch my nose in a similar manner), I played off my mystification as simple surprise and realised I had just failed at a common Kiwi ritual in getting out of doing something. Proclaiming 'bags not' is akin to the universal practice of ‘calling it’, under which the well-known ‘shotgun’ rule applies when setting off for a trip in the car with multiple passengers.

Needless to say, yours truly went to get the blue top, only all too happily as another valuable phrase can now be added to the Home Office’s ever-growing lexicon. Cover was maintained in this instance, and only just.

2. “My, you look as if you’ve been in the wars, chap!”

Spoken by a Kiwi pet owner as they regarded a cat in a cage neighbouring their own cat’s in the hospital. The ‘in the wars’ cat had been in hospital for two weeks and had just finished fighting off an upper respiratory infection as well as a blocked bladder. His skinny demeanour, two shaved front legs and snotty nose attested to his ‘war-torn’ look.

3. "Nah, you can just biff all your old tax records, mate. No need to keep so many dusty boxes around, ay?"

To 'biff', in any other country, means to hit someone or something. Which makes sense, as I can just see it now, appearing inside a word balloon that pops up during one of those fight scenes in the old Batman TV episodes. But here and only here in New Zealand, 'biffing' something means throwing it away or, as we might say in the States, 'chucking it out'.

4. “I’m really exhausted, ay? Think I’m just going to blob out on the couch tonight and watch a movie.”

Rather self-explanatory. Heard when someone was asked if they wanted to go out for coffees with the group after class. Was tempted to offer up an observation as to how similar this was to the American expression to ‘sack out’, which also usually takes place on the couch, but did not want to draw undue attention.

In this report, however, such comparisons can be drawn without fear of breaking cover.

5. I am still working on this one, but after repeated observation and listening, I have started to form a clearer picture of what is regarded as a true Kiwi ‘bloke’.

It’s a man who is a bit rough around the edges and mostly hangs out with his mates. He will often engage in DIY projects, has a local pub at which he downs pints with the boys, and he goes for sport. Possesses a rugged charm and works hard for the money. Would give the shirt off his back to his mates and probably to those he doesn't even know, if they are in a bind. Is equally at home discussing economics as well as the virtues of heavy machinery. Not so much into the arts or café culture. To be referred to as 'a good bloke' is high praise indeed.

As bloke is not in the American vocabulary, might I suggest someone at Mission Control look into finding the equivalent descriptive term, if such a thing exists?

6. “He’s not going to just cark it when he goes under anaesthesia, is he?”

Asked of me by a very concerned owner at the undercover job regarding a Boxer who needed an eye operation. Had to stifle a laugh as it is one of the more wonderfully descriptive, if not grim, phrases this agent has yet encountered.

And no, the Boxer in question did not, in fact, cark it.

7. Speaking of the animals, a chook refers to an adult chicken. Make room for this one right now in the Home Dictionary. What a great farm word. Also seems to double as a term of endearment, although so far only heard when referring to pets.

8. There are no specific recollections of this next phrase turning up in conversation (read: my Sony Memory Stick was full), so it will just be mentioned that to ‘come a cropper’ means to die. To snuff it. Shuffle off this mortal coil, and so on.

Suspiciously British in origin. I don’t know why I write that. But it is suspected that to be a ‘cropper’ means one’s corpse is now nothing more than mere compost for the gardens.

Here is a sample sentence to illustrate:

“If you don’t stop eating pies and cut out the smoking, you’re going to come a cropper, mate.”

9. “So I really don’t need to tip in any of the restaurants, then?”

Dead right, mate. Dead right.”

From a conversation with a fellow linguistics agent from Zimbabwe upon first entering the country. ‘Dead right’ is, as Americans might say, ‘Exactly.’

10. “I was visiting one of my girlfriends in Noosa, and I ran into Ang there. I hadn’t seen her in donkey’s years!”

Spoken by a female co-worker. It is assumed that donkeys must live very long lives but as livestock are not this agent’s expertise, it is left to Mission Control to corroborate or further elucidate the origins of this phrase.

11. “Simon! We don’t have time to go up Ngauruhoe today. Let’s just skip it and move on.”

Don’t stress. We’ll be fine.”

Obvious meaning, however a phrase that is exclusive to the Kiwis as compared to the Americans. Our equivalent might be ‘chill out’ or similar.

Stress was averted and the mountain was climbed, incidentally.

12. “Egg.”


“You’re an egg.”

“Ah, I’m not familiar with that one!”

Was free to admit ignorance on this one, as was speaking with one of our Kiwi liaisons in the Secret Linguistic Service, so cover was not an issue.

‘Egg’ refers to someone who is a bit of a geek with regards to their sense of humour, if not a little obnoxious. Being called an egg is a mild if not affectionate type of insult.

I am one, apparently.

13. “Yeah we’ve been going flat tack since last month.”

Used to describe how busy things have become at work this summer. Probably has origins in sailing terminology as maritime recreation has a strong history here in New Zealand.

14. “But $1800 includes everything involved with the trip, full stop. Registration, airfare, hotel. The lot.”

Heard when discussing the prospect of an advanced learning course with a co-worker. Probably also nautical in origin.

15. “So how’s he doing these days?”

“Oh, he’s as happy as Larry since we brought him inside! Spends his days curled up beside the fire. Sleeps on his bed. No problems.”

Spoken by a client when asked how their older, arthritic dog was coping with a recent blast of cold weather. Unclear as to who the original Larry was, but must have been one happy bloke.

16. “Yeah, we’ve got to bring him in for his jabs. What’ll that cost, you reckon?”

Asked of me by friends (real ones, not ones provided by the Agency) when discussing their dog and not, as it may sound, a boxer in training.

(And by boxer I mean professional fighter, not the dog breed.)

(God, this job can get confusing!)

17. "Do you want to come have a look at his bandage? Where his paw is sticking out looks all manky."

Another word that just sounds so much like what it describes, when something is said to be 'manky' it is usually a combination of greasy, smelly and general nastiness. Have also heard this used to describe another person's hair, on more than one occasion (not mine).



See also!

Kiwi-English Dictionary the First

Kiwi-English Dictionary, Collegiate Edition

Kiwi-English Dictionary 3: In 3-D!

Kiwi-English Dictionary 4: The Final Chapter of The Return of the Dream Master


Blogger Sandjoy said...

These are so great. I love language.


4:51 PM  
Blogger Iain said...

Brandon, honestly. How long have you been here now? You should know that a full stop is a period. Nothing nautical in that...

5:08 PM  
Blogger Brooksie said...

Thanks for that, Iain! I should know that, or at least should've asked as to its origins, especially since I know a couple of people in the Navy here haha.

And Mom, glad you are enjoying these, but take all my interpretations with a grain of salt!

6:01 PM  

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