Australian English has a famous tendency to abbreviate words, doing so frequently and in a variety of ways. Clipping comes first, then the stump may be suffixed with an –er, –o, -s, -ie or –y, etc. This can and does occur in any form of English, but Australians seem to have taken diminutives furthest: it’s an unmistakable feature of the dialect.
Peter Temple’s Truth is an Australian crime novel with an abundance of such terms, and as I read it I decided to note some of them. The book, incidentally, is outstanding: the generic phrase crime novel utterly fails to capture this eloquent and ambitious morality tale. Anyway: to begin with -o forms. Truth offers several, usually in dialogue:
‘…get someone to take down every rego in the parking garage’ (registration, i.e., car number plate)
‘…years ago, you rings the cops, the ambos, they come.’ (
‘If my old man had been a garbo, I’d be labouring on a building site.’ (garbage collector)
‘And have the Salvos take a walk around there,’ said Villani. (Salvation Army)
‘Told you at the servo then, you don’t fucken listen.’ (service station, i.e., gas station or petrol station)
People’s names commonly get the -o treatment: there’s a Tommo and a Stevo, Burgess becomes Burgo, Singleton Singo, Ribarics Ribbos. Myxomatosis is reduced to myxo, while boy as a form of address becomes boyo – not an abbreviation but worth including in this context.
The –ie/-y ending seems even more popular. Some examples used in Temple’s book, such as mozzies (mosquitoes), druggies (drug addicts) and vegies (vegetables) are more or less part of global English, but others are more restricted:
He took sunnies out of his denim jacket… (sunglasses)
‘Scare you, this shotty?’ (shotgun)
‘Stuff like this, the media blowies on you, bloody pollies pestering, the ordinary work goes to hell.’ (blowflies, politicians)
‘…associating with murdering bikie scum’ (biker)
They walked across the concrete yard, chatting side-on, could be tradies coming on site. (tradesmen, i.e., trade workers)
‘Across the road come and put a cushie under me head, held me hand.’ (cushion)
‘Lots of little buggers in there now,’ said Bob one day. ‘Echidnas, bandis, God knows where they come from.’ (bandicoots)
Searle’s the worry here, he’d like to see me buried. Whole Searle family’d have a wakey. (wake)
‘Yeah, a man said he was a relly.’ (relative)
‘Rose’s street was mostly pensioners, everything spent on rent, cigarettes, the pokies…’ (poker machines, i.e., fruit machines or slot machines)
Place names and proper names get similar treatment: Brisbane is Brissie, Tasmania Tassie, Crown beers are Crownies and Blundstone boots Blunnies. The police force’s Special Operations Group is acronymised to SOG (pronounced ‘sog’ at least sometimes: ‘better than a SOG move on Kidd’s premises’ [not an SOG]), and its members are occasionally, inescapably, soggies.
Finally there’s the delightful saddies, a nominalisation of sad:
‘Got the saddies, mate?’
Inveterate critics of slang and youthspeak would love to hate on teens for using such a trivial and seemingly unnecessary word, but saddies here is spoken by a seasoned officer. It’s no more trendy than got the morbs, which sounds like a novel clipping but in fact had currency in the late 19th century. To borrow from Buffy, it gives me a happy.
Additional such abbreviations can be found at the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s page on Australian English vocabulary. Why they have become such a characteristic part of the dialect is not clear, [edit:] but slang lexicographer Jonathon Green tells me it may all have started with the late-19thC rabbit-o ‘rabbit seller’.
An earlier novel by Temple, Bad Debts, contains a few more, e.g.: ute ‘utility vehicle’, dero ‘derelict’ (i.e., homeless person), smoko ‘smoke break’, mentioned in the comments below, and welfarey ‘welfare worker’, in this case a youth worker.
Bruce Moore, editor of the Australian National Dictionary, has a great post on this at the Ozwords blog: ‘The story of rello, rellie, and other Australian terms ending in “ie” and “o”‘.