When I meet foreigners abroad I often get asked about the languages of New Zealand. Aside from the painfully cringeworthy “what language do you speak in New Zealand?” and compliments on how well I speak English (!), people often want to know if the way we talk in New Zealand is very different to other English-speaking countries. And the truth is, it is – kiwi slang is unique.
I can understand the curiosity. We generally only ever hear about American English and British English as the two standard forms of English. But did you know there are 54 countries which use English as an official language. What about all these other varieties of English? How do we speak?
Today I’m only going to educate you on kiwi slang, as it is obviously what I am most familiar with. Maybe you’re coming to New Zealand for a trip and want to get along with the locals, maybe you’re already here and struggling to understand kiwi speak. Or maybe you are just curious about how we talk in New Zealand, this tiny little corner of the world.
Either way, by the end of this article you can be sure you’ll be up to speed about all the kiwi slang, and you’ll be talking like a New Zealander in no time.
Disclaimer: I don’t claim to know all the slang and make no guarantees that it is used in the same way throughout the whole country. There might be some really obvious ones which I’ve missed because I don’t always know what’s slang and what’s not (I usually figure it out when I’m talking to a native English speaker from another country and get weird looks). The words I’ve included in this article are mostly words I would use, but I’m in no way representative of the whole country.
First thing’s first – what is a kiwi?
First and foremost, kiwi is a Maori word which means “flightless bird”.
The main definition in English of the kiwi is as New Zealand’s national bird. It is at threat by predators because like most land birds native to New Zealand, it is flightless (source). It is critically endangered and nocturnal, so it is actually very rare to see one in real life. In fact, I’ve lived in New Zealand practically my whole life and I’ve only ever seen one!
Secondly, a kiwi is a colloquial term for New Zealander (thank goodness for that, because “New Zealander” really is a bit of a mouthful!). This might be because in a worldwide context, kiwi people are almost as elusive as kiwi birds.
- It can be used as a noun: Melbourne is full of kiwis. (Translation: Melbourne is full of New Zealanders.)
- It can be used as an adjective: Those are kiwi feijoas. (Translation: Those feijoas are from New Zealand.)
- It can be used as an adverb: He speaks really kiwi. (Translation: He has a strong New Zealand accent/uses a lot of kiwi slang.)
What a kiwi is not:
In the “standard” English speaking world, a kiwi is mainly known as a type of fruit. In New Zealand (to clear ambiguity with all these other uses for ‘kiwi’ floating around), we call that fruit a kiwifruit.
A kiwi is not necessarily a Maori. A Maori is a descendant of an indigenous ethnic group native to New Zealand, but they may not necessarily be a kiwi themselves (if, for example, they were not born and do not live in New Zealand). The term ‘kiwi’ is inclusive of all those who consider themselves New Zealanders, including Maoris and settlers.
Now that you know what kiwi means, let’s get down to learning some kiwi slang!
Common kiwi slang
Kiwi slang words for everyday items:
meaning: cooler/ice box
meaning: band aids
meaning: plastic film wrap
meaning: convenience store
meaning: flip flops
NB: you’ll almost never hear a kiwi using the “standard” word for the above items.
What you call a friend in kiwi slang:
Bro, cuz/cuzzy, man
Bro, cuz (short for cousin) and man can all be used to address both males and females. The word “sis” is reserved for addressing close girl friends.
The word “skux” is more of a compliment than a term of endearment, but it can be used as well. Skux has a lot of meanings, but is generally used to describe a person who is popular with the opposite sex.
Finally, “g” and “au” (pronounced “ow”) are very common informal nicknames.
How you insult someone in kiwi slang:
meaning: basically, stupid idiot (I usually use this affectionately with my friends, so don’t get offended if I’ve called you this in real life).
e.g: “She’s such an egg she couldn’t even find her way here without a GPS.”
sad guy/stink guy
meaning: mean or rude person
e.g: “He just walked past without saying “hi”, what a sad guy/what a stink guy.”
meaning: person of lower class, drug-user or hippie
e.g: “I don’t wanna live in Hamilton, it’s full of bogans.”
Kiwi slang to mean everything is good:
She’ll be right
meaning: everything is going to be okay
meaning: awesome or okay
Kiwi slang to mean “you’re welcome”:
no worries/no problem
Kiwi slang to mean “I agree”:
Kiwi slang to mean “I disagree”:
Kiwi slang to express sympathy:
Kiwi slang to mean “cool”:
Kiwi slang to mean “to be angry”:
to pack a sad
e.g: “My mate’s girlfriend packed a sad because she wasn’t invited on the holiday.”
to have a spaz
e.g: “Mum had a spaz when she got home and saw I still hadn’t cleaned my room.”
to have had a guts full
e.g: “I’ve had a guts full of my little brother bossing me around.”
Common interjectors to start (OR END) sentences in kiwi slang:
aye, au (pronounced “ow”), oi
- “Aye, what a rude guy.”
- “Au, give me your number, bro.”
- “Oi, what’s the name of this street?”
These interjectors can all be swapped to the end of the sentence, as in: “what’s the name of this street, oi?”, etc. Sometimes it might be even used twice for extra emphasis, for example: “au, give me your number, au.”
Common emphasisers in kiwi slang:
“as” to emphasise an adjective
“funny as”, “mean as”, “hard as”, “nice as”
The best way to describe this phenomenon is a quote from How to DAD: “It’s like we’re about to start a mean as simile but then we just get tired and stop.”
“real” to emphasise an adjective
e.g: “The gig last night was real fun.”; “My sister is real sweet, you’ll like her.”
“heaps” to emphasise an adjective
e.g: “My friend’s Dad is heaps interesting.”
“like, actually” to emphasise an emphasiser
e.g: “The gig last night was like, actually real fun.”; “The weather is like, actually so good today.”
“aye” to emphasise a sentence
“aye” or “eh” is commonly accepted in standard English as a tag question, such as: “You really love that girl, aye?” but in New Zealand we can say “aye” at the end of pretty much any sentence just to emphasise our point.
e.g: “That chick was real weird, aye.”
“Hard out, bro.”
Other common kiwi slang words:
to reckon (verb)
meaning: to think/to be of the opinion that
e.g: “I reckon New Zealand needs a new flag.”
to gap it (verb)
meaning: to run fast/escape
e.g: “He gapped it down the field with the rugby ball.”
far out (interjection)
meaning: that’s too much/wow
e.g: “Far out, got enough tomato sauce?”
wop wops (noun)
meaning: in the middle of nowhere
e.g: “I don’t see my uncle much because he lives out in the wop wops.”
crack up (noun/verb)
meaning: very funny OR to laugh very hard
e.g: “That movie was a crack up aye.”; “I saw how he was dressed and I just cracked up.”
meaning: opposite of crack up, very unfunny or lame
e.g: (common reply to an unfunny joke) “dry, bro”
e.g: “I’m keen to try that new Giapo ice-cream flavour.”
meaning: extremely tired
e.g: “He was so knackered after that 12 hour shift.”
meaning: a person who eats too much
e.g: “I can’t believe he ate the whole pack of biscuits, what a hungus.”
to stuff up (verb)
meaning: to mess up, to screw up
e.g: “I just stuffed up the lasagne I was making so now I’m ordering pizza.”
meaning: a lot
e.g: “There’s heaps of leftover sausages from yesterday’s barbecue.”
nek minnit (adverbial)
meaning: next minute. (For context, his was basically a long-running joke from a popular meme which has now integrated itself into regular speech. Sort of your NZ equivalent of “ain’t nobody got time for that”.)
e.g: “I ordered a burger and nek minit Mum called me to say she was bringing dinner.”
Maori words you might hear in everyday conversation
meaning: well done
meaning: white kiwi
meaning: New Zealand
meaning: traditional Maori meeting place/place of worship
meaning: traditional Maori chant and dance
meaning: traditional Maori feast cooked underground
meaning: traditional Maori kiss (nose-to-nose)
Now you know kiwi slang, but what about our pronunciation? How we talk in New Zealand is very different to any other dialect of English. The closest variety is Australian English, but there are still some very important distinctions between the way we talk and the way they talk.
The main differences between other varieties of English are how we pronounce our short vowels, especially:
A as in “cat”
E as in “bet”
I as in “stick”
Speakers of other dialects of English often hear us saying these words and to them it sounds like “ket”, “bit” and “stuck”, respectively.
In the words of Air New Zealand, “A’s are E’s, E’s are I’s, I’s are U’s, and O’s are O’s. O’s are always O’s, and U’s are usually U’s, but U’s could also be like “all of youse”. Like, how come youse don’t understand what I’m saying?”
We also tend to drag out the long “o” as in “moan” or “so”, so it might sound like “moyen” or “soe”.
There are many other more subtle differences, but these are the main things which I think foreigners would notice.
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