New Zealand and American Phrases

Time and Numbers

There are a few differences between the way Americans and New Zealanders talk about time and numbers.   There's the obvious example that Americans say "Fall" where British Commonwealth people say "Autumn", but there are less obvious differences, too.   For instance, "quarter of six" means "quarter to six", and "momentarily" means "in a moment" rather than "for a moment", so when a waitress tells you she'll be with you momentarily it's a good sign, not a bad one!  The British term "fortnight" isn't used at all here, so you'll have to get used to saying "two weeks".   And Americans usually talk about "a fourth" of something instead of "a quarter".   The phone number 399 8884 in America is three nine nine eight eight eight four, so Americans find it funny when a Commonwealth person says "three double nine", and even funnier when they say "three double nine triple eight four".   Americans understand what "twice" means, but people from the Indian sub-continent should forget about "thrice", because no-one will understand you in America or even in New Zealand!


In New Zealand, to "piss off" can mean to leave or depart and there isn't necessarily any anger implied, but in America it always means to make someone angry.   Sensibly enough when Americans say that someone is pissed they mean that they're angry, but in New Zealand if someone is pissed then they're drunk.   A New Zealander might mock a friend by "taking the piss out of" him, but an American certainly wouldn't do such a thing - instead, he'd "rag" his friend.   In New Zealand if you don't care at all about something you say, "I couldn't care less", but in America by some totally irrational piece of logic they say "I could care less"!

Naughty Words and Phrases

If you're someone's maiden aunt then it's probably time to retreat to a safer page, because this is where I  list some of the differences between how Americans and other English speakers speak the unspeakable.   Let's start with a bodily function and a couple of body parts:  in America the word "whizz" means to "piss", "ass" means "arse", "snatch" and "beaver" both refer to a woman's naughty bits, and a g-string is a "thong" rather than one of a pair of flip-flops (i.e., jandals).   There, that's better now that we've cleared the air, isn't it?  Just don't ask me to explain why there are 13 towns in America called Beaver.   Worst of all, the official nickname for Oregon is "The Beaver State".

In the British commonwealth it would be perfectly acceptable for a teacher to give rubbers to her ten year olds, but in America it would be grounds for firing, because here "rubber" means "condom".   This particular difference is nicely illustrated on a sign I saw in Tobago,  and I can only imagine the reactions which Americans would have seeing it.   Similarly, it would be acceptable to ask a waitress in New Zealand if you could see her pasties, but not such a good idea in America - in New Zealand, pasties are pies consisting of meat inside a pastry wrapping, but in America pasties are adhesive nipple covers used by strippers.   They're very necessary, since it would clearly be totally obscene if you could see a stripper's nipples!

This thing works in the other direction, too.   Americans have a disarming way of using the word "backside" a lot, mostly by weather announcers in phrases like "there will be a lot of warm air coming up the backside of this front".   This is amusing for a New Zealander, because for us "backside" means "ass"; on this topic, in New Zealand "ass" is spelled "arse" and is pronounced with a long 'a' not a short 'a'.   In America, if you want to encourage some friends to do a "brown eye" then you need to tell them to "moon".

I lived in America for six years before realizing that the word "wanker" carries no meaning over here.   In the British commonwealth it means someone who masturbates, so even though I know it's meaningless and inoffensive here I still find it very difficult to say the word in public, even just to explain it.

Finally, here's a true story which illustrates the potential for international confusion.   Some years ago, an American high school sent a football team to New Zealand, complete with the team's cheerleaders.   After only a few days in the country, the New Zealand hosts called aside the team's chaperones and told them that they'd better have a talk to the girls.   The cheerleaders were called together and told that from now on they would have to be more careful about what they said to people.   In particular, they would have to stop telling people that they were here to "root for the team", because in New Zealand "to root" means "to have sex"!   As far as I know there weren't any American boys called Randy on the team, which is lucky, since "randy" means "horny" in New Zealand.   While we're in this general area, in New Zealand the word "bonk" means to "have to sex", which is equivalent to the somewhat uncommon American term "boink".