Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Translating slang

One of the challenges of moving to a new country is learning to speak the language. I say this as someone who has lived only in countries where the primary language spoken is English.

For example. We shipped all our stuff direct from the UK to Australia 13 months ago, expecting to see it again in 6-8 weeks. As things turned out, we didn’t actually get here until nine months had passed. This meant that 1) Miss B had outgrown much of what we shipped for her and 2) I found myself unpacking other things and thinking, “Why the @#$& did I ship this halfway around the world?!” In other words, I had a lot to get rid of very shortly after my arrival.

In these circumstances, I generally pack up bags of stuff and take them to the nearest secondhand store for donation. Simple, right? Except for one thing: what do you call a secondhand store in Australia?

The American version is “thrift store;” the UK version is “charity shop.” It took a little detective work, but I am here to tell you that the Australian version is “op shop,” short for “opportunity shop.” As in, “Last week, I had the opportunity to dump a bunch of junk I don’t want anymore, and look what I found while I was there!” Then, with a little help from Zoe at Progressive Dinner Party (another Canberra blog), I found an op shop less than 10 minutes from my house.

Score! I’ve already dropped off a few bags of stuff.

And, of course, picked up some nice secondhand kitchenware. (Because it always comes back to food in the end.)


Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Wow, that's actually pretty interesting, I'd love to hear more about this as you discover other examples. Have you run into words that are okay in US English, offensive in Australian or vice versa? I always worry about that especially when I'm speaking Spanish that something that's a-okay for me is iffy for a Spanish speaker from another part of the world.

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi MRP! I'm sure there will be other examples to share. I haven't found any US words that aren't ok in Australian (yet), but here are a few that are likely to evoke giggles if you use them in the UK: 1) pants (in the US = what you cover your legs with, but in the UK = underpants); 2) fanny (in the US = a slightly goofy synonym for anyone's rear end, but in the UK = the female genitalia). Say "I wore a fanny pack over my blue pants" to a Brit and watch what happens!

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