You Say Tomato, And I Say Something Completely Different…

Since becoming a member of the group Dad Bloggers on Facebook almost two years ago, I have spent many hours conversing directly with people overseas than I have ever done before. Sometimes we have real-time conversations which means when someone from a country other than your own makes a comment, it can be easier to ask them to explain what they mean rather than doing the obvious thing you can do when you’re not in the middle of a real-time conversation and you want to know what that localised idiom means; you google it.

Recently a bunch of fellow dad bloggers participated in a Twitter chat to promote the #AmazonFamilyUS hashtag and cause (click the link to read about that) and they asked if I would like to join in. Unfortunately it was not only being held during my work day (damn you International time zones), but it was during a day when I was particularly busy and was unable to take a late lunch break to participate. So I responded in kind with;

I might not be able to join in because I’m flat chat today

Which was greeted with this as the very next comment from one of my American buddies.

“What does flat chat mean?

According to Urban Dictionary, a sometimes well trusted website for deciphering localised slang, flat chat has several meanings, but all are of Australian origin. I do love that the second one, which was actually the original posting for flat chat on Urban Dictionary also introduces other examples of Australian slang just to screw with those non-Australians who are looking the word up.

  1. An Australian slang word meaning to go at the maximum speed possible. To push yourself or your vehicle to the extreme of velocity. – “Wow, that car is going flat-chat! It’s out of control!’
  2. At full speed, going as fast as you possibly can. (Australian) – “We were fully gunning this old HQ Kingswood totally FLATCHAT downhill with a tailwind, and we still couldn’t get away from the copper on his pushie.”
  3. When someone is extremely busy. – “He is flat chat on other work today and will get back to you tomorrow.”

As an Australian who has English parents, I grew up watching many of the British sitcoms from the 1970s and 1980s which meant that I was accustomed to my British ancestry well before I actually set foot in England. The British based shows were generally those from Thames Television or BBC Productions that were often shown exclusively on the publicly owned, government run BBC stations in England and shown in Australia on the (prior to 2001) only publicly owned, government run ABC station, with a few of the higher rating shows being sold to the privately owned, commercial station the Seven Network.

Although it was as far back as the 1960s that 80% of Australian television programming was sourced from America and were the highest rated shows on Australian television, it was during the 1980s with the NBC sourced “Must See TV” shows such as Cheers, The Cosby Show, Fame, Family Ties, and Seinfeld and the US station ABC’s TGIF line-up including Full House, Just the Ten of Us, Mr. Belvedere, Perfect Strangers and other ABC shows such as The Golden Girls, Who’s the Boss?, Growing Pains that meant that me and many of my school friends found themselves being addicted to television, and becoming accustomed to not only the American way of life, but the American vernacular.

When it comes to us Australians talking to the rest of the world, we rarely would have to reach for the US English to AUS (or UK) English translation book. This mostly has to do with Australia being bombarded with American culture. When I started writing this a few weeks back, in that week our ARIA Top 50 Singles had 14% Australian Artists, 8% other foreign artists and a whopping 68% American artists’ music gracing our national charts. Looking at the top 50 grossing films of all time in Australian cinemas, 6% are Australian (with Crocodile Dundee coming in 8th position), 2% is from the UK, and 92% are Hollywood produced American films.

So when it comes to the language barriers, we get American. We really do.

And it goes beyond that whole -our versus -or (as in colour versus color), the -re versus -er (as in centre versus center), the -ise versus -ize or -isation versus -ization (as in organise versus organize), the -yse versus -yze (as in paralyse versus paralyze), or the -ogue versus -og (as in catalogue versus catalog) word endings. Of course these words only become differences when they are written because, excluding regional accents, the words are pronounced the same.

Where the differences lie are in the words we use to describe actual items. Over the last few months I have been keeping record in my fellow Dad Bloggers’ blog post of those terms they use that differ from what we say here in Australia. And since becoming a dad blogger, conversing not only with my dad blogging peers, but also the bloggers that are mothers, this is where the first and most obvious difference smacks you in the face…

1. A woman who inhabits or performs the role of bearing some relation to her children is a…

mother mum mom mommy mummy
Photo courtesy of

Australia: Mum, Mummy, Mother

America: Mom, Mommy, Mother

Other English: Mama

Comments: One might suggest that this falls into the American drop the “u” but mum and mom are pronounced slightly different with there being a short u sound as in gum when saying mum, and a short o sound when saying mom as in nom, nom, nom, nom, nom (which is apparently the sound that small animal such as a chipmunk makes when eating). Stewie from Family Guy give are great example of the different terms for mother in this clip below where he uses the American “mom” and “mommy” towards the beginning of his annoying rant and finishes with the UK English “mum” and “mummy” towards the end.

It would seem though that us Australians who will write “mum” are quite happy to embrace the “mom” spelling, especially when it comes to sharing those ever so seemingly sexist funny memes about parenthood motherhood that I wrote about in my ever popular Dear Mums, Please Talk to Your Husbands and What’s The Definition of Parenting? Has The Dictionary Has Got It Wrong? posts. Out of the twenty memes I embedded in those stories, exactly half of them use mom or mommy (and one uses mombie). The rest use the title of mother and only one uses mum, but it was a recreated version of a mom one.

2. A rubber, plastic, or silicone nipple given to an infant or other young child to suck upon is a…

Pacifier Dummy Binky Soother
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Australia: Dummy

America: Pacifier or Binky

Other English: Soother

Comments: I can’t call this anything but a dummy having been brought up with that word. And for the most part, when talking to other Australian parents, the word dummy is used for this item. Having said that, both pacifier and soother is making their way onto the packets of the products and the category names for Australian retailers selling baby products. And on those occasions that I see someone write binky, that really grinds my gears (because I haven’t used enough Family Guy references on my blog, I thought I’d cover two in this one). I was pleased when my fellow Dad Blogger from the Rock Father shared this post with me called Parents: Don’t call your child’s pacifier a “Binky” unless, of course, it’s a BINKY…

3. A small bed specifically for infants and very young children is a…

Cot or Crib
Photo courtesy of IKEA.

Australia: Cot

America: Crib

Other English: Infant Bed, Cradle, Stock

Comments: I can’t call this a crib. When I hear the word crib is reminds me of the North American informal meaning which is a person’s apartment or house as in “you hook up with a girl and take her back to your crib”. <<< That meaning and example is thanks to Google’s dictionary. According to that source, crib has another meaning in Australia and New Zealand; a light meal; a snack. I have to say, I’ve never heard that. But I will be sticking with cot for this product.

4. A piece of folded cloth or other absorbent material worn as underpants by a baby not yet toilet-trained is a…

Photo courtesy of Huggies

Australia: Nappy

America: Diaper

Other English: unknown

Comments: I actually don’t mind the word diaper and wouldn’t be against using that, but as someone who has tweeted a funny nappy tweet once or twice, I know that the five lettered nappy is more favourable than the six lettered diaper (although one might suggest “favorable” is also favourable for the same reason).

I remember hearing the word diaper long before becoming a parent myself. It was used in many American televisions shows (and I expect in scenes where idiotic fathers were trying unsuccessfully to change one, much to the horror of the mothers, but providing many laughs to the studio audience). I also remember hearing diaper mentioned on a cartoon from 1966 called The Mighty Heroes which is based on a group of clumsy superheroes who come together, much like the Justice League or the Avengers to fight against evil villains. One of the characters was Diaper Man. You might remember this…

5. A fictional childhood disease caught through close contact from a person of the opposite sex of the same age is called…

SImpsons Cooties
Photo courtesy of someone who stole it from someone else off the internet

Australia: Boy Germs or Girl Germs

America: Cooties

Other English: Dreaded Lurgi

Comments: Being a Simpsons fan for many years, cooties has been a word I’m well familiar with even though I grew up with the school yard taunt from other boys sung in unison;

“You’ve got girl germs, you’ve got girl germs…”

Pffft, you could get worse things than a fictional childhood disease from being in close contact with a person of the opposite sex these days. Not that I feared catching “it” back then.

Speaking of school yards…

 6. The first seven or eight years of formal schooling are called…

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

Australia: Primary School (K-6 which is seven years)

America: Elementary School (1-8 which is eight years)

Other English: unknown

Comments: Elementary school is another term that gets used on American television shows, especially those set in schools such as Saved By The Bell or Clueless. Wikipedia defines elementary school in the United States as;

“…the main point of delivery of primary education in the United States, for children between the ages of 5-6 and 10-12 years old coming between Pre-Kindergarten and secondary education.”

Seeing that they are already calling it primary education, surely primary school is the better term for this one.

7. A beverage that typically contains carbonated water, a sweetener and a flavouring is a…

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Australia: Soft Drink, Fizzy Drink

America: Soda, Pop, Soda Pop, Pop

Other English: unknown

Comments: To us Australians, soda water is merely a carbonated plain water which is known in the US as seltzer water (you know, the stuff that Krusty the Clown likes to spray on his unsuspecting guests?), and although we’ve had the SodaStream home fizzy drink machines in this country forever, the term soda or soda pop has never taken over our use of the term soft drink.

8. A complex of shops (including department stores and a food court) comprising of one or more buildings is a…

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Australia: Shopping Centre, Arcade, Shopping Arcade

America: Shopping Mall, Mall

Other English: unknown

Comments: Where do ALL American teens hang out? The mall. I know this because popular culture tells me so. From Mallrats to The Simpsons, The Brady Bunch to Clueless, and every teen based drama or sitcom in between, especially when the show or movie is aimed at the teenage girl market, and starring teenage girls (that is, female actresses in their twenties?!?!?!?), the mall is a feature in both the locations and the script. For me, a mall is more like the old English open aired paved alley, much like you’d expect to see in a Dickens era film. It’s precursor to the shopping centre, but once old mate Gruen designed his first enclosed complex, for me, that is a shopping centre, and nothing else.

9. A specific trip or journey, usually for the purpose of recreation or tourism is called a…

Photo courtesy of

Australia: Holiday

America: Vacation

Other English: unknown

Comments: Whether we are staying at home and having time off work or school for a period of time, or whether it a state based or national observed day off for a celebration of religious or national significance, we use the word holiday. In America however, time off from work or school whether you are travelling to a destination or simply staying home is known as a vacation. A non-working day that is sanctioned by a state government in the United States is referred to as a public holiday, national holiday or legal holiday. It is interesting to note, that unlike Australia where we have seven* or eight* nationally recognised public holidays sanctioned by our Federal Government for all employees, public** and private**, in the US, only government employees are guaranteed the day off with full pay, although on New Years Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day most private businesses will close and give their employees the day off with full benefits.

*ANZAC day is only a national public holiday if it falls on a weekday, and as we are experiencing this year, because the day falls on a Saturday, we are not given the Monday off in lieu.

** Exemptions are in place in most tourist areas where businesses who would benefit from being open in tourist locations such as souvenir shops, restaurants, pubs and clubs and casual dining, and public transport either privately owned or publicly owned is always running and manned by workers, often at heavy penalty rates.

10. Two or more males who have a platonic relationship of mutual affection with each other refer to that person/those people as…

Photo courtesy of

Australia: Mate, Mates

America: Buddy, Buddies

Other English: unknown

Comments: Whether it’s a bromance, a best friend, a colleague or comrade, in Australia, these guys to the common man are mates. For us, the use of the word buddy is in “formal” settings such as a study-buddy who you might get teamed up with at school, the “buddy program” which sees students starting in kindergarten buddied up with a student in their last year of primary school, or the “buddy system” which teams up students with a partner on excursions or field-trips.

Now, I could add excursion versus field trip as its own point in this post, but in my research I cannot find that excursion is exclusive to Australia and not to the US even though my head tells me that the term field-trip is generally the term used when talking about a trip taken by school students to a place of interest. But my only real source is The Simpsons for that.

11. Confectionery that features sugar as a principal ingredient is called…

candy lolly sweets candies lollies
Photo courtesy of

Australia: A Lolly, Lollies

America: Candy

Other English: Sweets (mainly UK)

Comments: We are familiar with the term candy from the various mentions of it within popular culture such as the American television shows’ Halloween specials or popular songs songs such as  Candy by Mandy Moore, Candy by LL Cool J, Candy Girl by New Edition, and Sex and Candy by Marcy Playground. But I grew up with the sugar filled confectionery being known as lollies. My British parents referred to them as sweets, but I was never going to fall into the trap of calling them something that sounds like I’m a street urchin living in the days of Charles Dickens. One thing that we can all agree on however, put a stick in the bottom of the sugary piece of goodness, and it’s called a lollipop. Just like the Chupa Chups, you know that lollipop that is so darn hard to open, like I wrote about in my piece the Antipredator Adaptation of Confectionery.

Now unlike my first comparison words, where you say it’s mommy and I say it’s mummy, the other ten words are not minor spelling variations or different pronunciations, they are full blown differences in the words we use. But…

“If you say it’s mommy, and I say it’s mummy,

To you pacifier, to me it’s a dummy,

It’s candy, no lolly

It’s diaper, no nappy,

Let’s call the whole thing off…”

Now I based this on a bunch of words I have been collecting during conversations with my fellow Dad Bloggers and most are therefore related to things to do with our children. But there are plenty more differences between Australian English and American English just as there are between US English and UK English. If you want to give me examples of differences you have, please feel free to leave a comment below…

5 thoughts on “You Say Tomato, And I Say Something Completely Different…

  1. I was lucky enough to date a couple of Aussie gals (Sheilas?) back in high school (secondary school?) which makes this a nice refresher. Also, I’d forgotten about the Mighty Heroes so thanks for that.

  2. Good list, but we can add to it.

    I’m not sure about Australia, but the British stuff I’m pretty sure about.

    USA: Elevator UK: Lift AU: ?
    USA: Bathroom, restroom CAN: washroom UK: Loo AU: ?
    USA: can of food. UK: tin of FOOD AU: ?
    USA: bus UK: lorry AU: ?

    Oh and Harry Potter had a Philosopher’s Stone in Britain, but a Sorceror’s Stone in the USA.
    In Australia he had a brick? :O)

    But you forgot the most important one.
    In the USA, Tim Tams are cookies.
    In Australia, Tim Tams are biscuits.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I was going to add the cookie versus biscuit one but we’re happy to use cookie when saying “choc-chip cookie” and The Cookie Monster is definitely not The Biscuit Monster here so, yes, while you’ll find that we have a biscuit aisle in our grocery stores, you will find things labelled cookies in there.

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