1694. Mum’s not the word

Some time ago, 11 August 2017 to be exact,  I posted about how sometimes living in different countries with the same language we presume that every word and phrase means the same. Some found it interesting, so I’m going to dig up another handful. I’ve lived only in Quebec, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and New Zealand, so it’s not improbable that some words and phrases are also used in other places.

1. Quite
It took me thirty years to realize this, but when New Zealanders say “quite” we don’t quite mean the same as Americans. I realized this when I had an American friend visit and my sister invited us both to dinner. At the end of the meal my American friend thanked my sister and said the meal was “quite good”. My sister said to me later that he could at least have said the meal was nice.

As I understand now “quite good” in American means something is very good. In New Zealand, “quite good” means that really it could’ve been a lot better but I’m saying “quite good” to be polite. If something is “quite good” or “quite nice” then it’s struggling to be average.

2. Ta
“Ta” means “thank you” and is heard a lot more often than “thanks” or “thankyou”. It’s said like “tar” with a short A.

“Could you pass the sugar please.”
Henrietta passes the sugar.
“Ta.”

Speaking of sugar, I once said at table “Sugar please”, and the voluptuous blonde answered, “Is that a request or a term of endearment?”

Ta is not to be confused with “ta ta” which is a little kid’s way of saying goodbye.

“Say ta ta to grandma.”

3. Wop wops
Living in the wop wops means living beyond the black stump (as I think they say in Australia) or living in the boonies (as I think they say in America). I used to think that when Americans used “living in the boonies” they were saying “living in the bunnies” so naturally I took it to mean they were living a long long way out of town.

My Aunty Flo (hands up those who don’t have an Aunty Flo) was a raging extrovert and when she came to visit us from the city she would go on and on about how she was visiting the wop wops. As a little kid I was transfixed.

4. Bach
This word is pronounced “batch” – so it’s not the composer. I presume it comes from the phrase “Bachelor Pad”. A bach is a beach house (usually not very fancy) that a family (if they can afford it) lives in during weekends or holiday breaks. There is a difference between the term used in the North Island and what is used in the South Island (New Zealand is made up of two main islands). North Islanders call it a “bach” and South Islanders call it a “crib”. I have no idea what they call it anywhere else in the world, but if you know…

The only other trans-island difference in New Zealand English that I can think of is the word “couch” – that invasive grass that once you’ve got it in your garden it’s there to stay. North Islanders are inclined to call it “couch” and South Islanders are inclined to call it “twitch”. I have no idea what they call it anywhere else in the world, but if you know… Apparently both “couch” and “twitch” are variations of the Scottish word “quitch” for the wretched pest.

5. Jandals
Jandals are what Australians call “thongs” and some other countries call “flip flops”. I have not a great idea as to who calls what where. Jandals is short for Japanese sANDALS. Apart from Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom, Jandals are New Zealand’s sole contribution to Western Civilization. That and the automatic postal stamp vending machine – which has fast become obsolete because of email.

When I broke my ankle and had 4 pins screwed in, I was wearing jandals at the time. These days the foot is so deformed that I cannot fit into a shoe, but I do fit in when need be to a large pair of:

6. Gumboots
I think some other countries call them wellingtons, or galoshes – you’ll know what you call them from the picture. Galoshes for me are quite different; they are a rubber sheath that one pulls over the top of regular shoes when it’s rainy or muddy. So I’d be interested to know what you call both of these things in your country. When I was growing up on a dairy farm we lived in our gumboots. The back door would usually have a dozen or so pairs of gumboots of different heights and sizes all higgledy-piggledy so that mother would say nine times a day “Pick up those gumboots before someone trips on them.”

7. Dag
A dag is a bit of dried you-know-what hanging off the wool on a sheep’s bottom. When the sheep runs along the dags rattle. This gives rise to the common expression “Rattle your dags” which means “Get a hurry on”.

The other common use of the word dag is in such expressions as “What a dag!” or “She’s a dag”. It can refer to an amusing person or event. “She’s a dag!” would amount to the same as “What a character!” and “What a dag!” would amount to the same as “That’s very funny!”

8. Pack a sad
As far as I can see the expression “Pack a sad” is not universally used, but is common over here. If I’m wrong I’d be happy to be corrected. “Pack a sad” means “Throw a tantrum”.

And then the teacher packed a sad.
There’s no need to pack a sad just because I smashed up your car.

That’s enough for one day. Thanks for reading, and I hope you found the occasional thing a bit of a dag.

19 thoughts on “1694. Mum’s not the word

  1. disorderlyjottings

    We’re with you on quite. Adding it invariably produces a pejorative especially with good. We use both twitch and couch (pronounced coo or cow) in the north of England. My grandparents’ generation used gumboots. I still occasionally call them that but have always been anachronistic. Most call them wellingtons or wellies. A dag in the hanging below a sheep’s bottom sense (not only sheep) is often referred to as a dingleberry over here. Divided by a common language eh?!

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  2. Nitin Lalit

    I found this fascinating Bruce. I’d use these phrases when I write, but I’m afraid my prose wouldn’t sound fluent! I’d sound like a call centre employee who worked for a NZ based company! We have a few of our own phrases here in South India. Da for example means dude, although the cooler kids would rather say, “I’m coming dude!” Than, “See you later da!” It’s too colloquial, I guess lol. Another phrase is chumma which means lie. But it’s used differently. For example: “You’re chumma saying that.” There are others, but I can’t remember them now lol.

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    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      That;s fascinating, Nitin. There must be a website somewhere that says all this! One of the problems with “borrowing” expressions from another culture is that it never sounds quite right da. And of course India is so huge that there must be regional differences galore.

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  3. umashankar

    What an interesting post! In fact, it’s quite good.

    We owe our English to whom those from Down Under call Poms, but were they to return they would be horrified to find what has become of the tongue. Actually, what we have today quite qualifies as a new language: Hinglish.

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  4. Sarah Angleton

    Your gumboots are definitely my galoshes. Your galoshes would probably just be called slip-ons. I think your couch/twitch is maybe crab grass? Or that could be an actual species, but commonly refers to pretty much any weed grass. I’ve honestly never referred to the bit of dried you-know-what hanging off the back end of a sheep. I don’t know anyone who would, really.

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    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Thanks Sarah. Such a simple thing and I really didn’t have any idea. I THINK I’ve heard of crab grass before and I THINK it’s the same as couch. I can only conclude that if you don’t know what a dried you-know-what hanging off the back end of a sheep is, then you’ll never rattle your dags!

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  5. Itching for Hitching

    Having lived in both Oz and NZ, I’m intrigued with Bach and Crib as over here small weekenders and such are always Shacks. Why the intrigue? Well near to me on the Mornington Peninsula there is a once fishing town called Crib Point which has to have come Kiwi origins surely? Of course my mother always insisted that the name came from the high number of unexpected pregnancies.

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