Togs or swimmers? Why Australians use different words to describe the same things

Is Australia about to descend into civil war over whether a deep-fried potato snack is rightfully called a “potato cake”

Is Australia about to descend into civil war over whether a deep-fried potato snack is rightfully called a “potato cake” or a “potato scallop”? From some recent headlines, you might be forgiven for thinking so.

A series of maps showing differences in words used across Australia sparked fierce debates online over the virtues of calling a barbecued sausage served in a single slice of bread a “sausage in bread” or a “sausage sandwich”.

Given that these maps were put together as part of an educational activity for students participating in the Linguistics Roadshow, the huge interest in the way Australian English is used across the country took us by surprise. But, perhaps it shouldn’t have.

It’s often said that Australian English doesn’t vary much geographically – and it’s true that we don’t find the same striking linguistic differences across the country as in some other corners of the English-speaking world.

However, past and ongoing research has shown that there are some regional differences. Among the most obvious are the words people use for the same thing, such as swimwear – preferences for “togs”, “swimmers”, “cossie” or “bathers” vary markedly across the states and territories.

Words for swimwear around Australia
Rosey Billington, Lauren Gawne, Kathleen Jepson, and Jill Vaughan ‘Mapping words around Australia’ (

Where do these linguistic differences stem from?

Australian English developed from the speech of colonists from various parts of the British Isles, so sometimes the word used in a particular Australian region is the result of one option winning out among people from different British backgrounds.

Others might be derived from the names of people or brands, or borrowed from local Indigenous languages.

Each word has its own history, but many words across the country have a shared history – that’s what makes these exceptions stand out.

What’s fascinating is just how neatly some of this variation lines up with state lines, which suggests that there is something more than just the historical choices made by colonists or the distance between different locations contributing to these differences.

Striking examples of this phenomenon can be seen for border towns such as Albury-Wodonga, where a short walk across the bridge means you’ll hear a majority of people using a different word for swimwear.

More ‘bathers’ on the Victorian side of the border, more ‘swimmers’ on the New South Wales side.
Rosey Billington, Lauren Gawne, Kathleen Jepson, and Jill Vaughan ‘Mapping words around Australia’ (

This is because certain words become strongly associated with a regional identity.

When there is more than one option to choose from, individuals might use a particular word because it’s the most common term in their community, but also because that word indexes a broader group identity, such as Victorian versus New South Wales.

Words are particularly good at doing this kind of work: they very easily become identity markers that people orient to.

Pronunciation differences can also function in this way: does “dance” rhyme with “aunts” or “pants” for you?

Other kinds of variation can fly under the radar because they’re more subtle, or part of a change in progress.

Many Australians are not aware, for example, that in parts of Victoria “celery” is pronounced more like “salary” – listen out for it next time you’re in “Malbourne”!

When we communicate we tend to use the words, pronunciations and linguistic patterns that we hear most often in the communities we live in.

Identity is a dynamic and ongoing process that we all actively participate in, and we use the variation inherent in language to express who we are at any given moment.

What is Australian English?

Australian English is really a broad cover term for different types of English used across the country, including the varieties used by different Indigenous and ethnocultural groups.

This is cross-cut by the linguistic preferences of people representing different age groups, gender identities, and social and cultural backgrounds, with different vocations, interests and networks.

We are part of many communities simultaneously and can express our belonging in varied ways.

Someone can be an Australian, a Thai descendent, a soccer player, a woman, a student of medicine, and a Tumblr user, and be very adept at gauging the different spaces they participate in and choosing how they want to identify within them.

This is an important part of what languages do – they allow us to communicate not just information, but something about who we are.

‘Sausage sandwiches’ are preferred in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
Rosey Billington, Lauren Gawne, Kathleen Jepson, and Jill Vaughan ‘Mapping words around Australia’

So, next time you find yourself arguing about sausage sandwiches versus sausages in bread, remember that whichever term you use, you’re contributing to the dynamic linguistic diversity of Australia.

The Conversation

Jill Vaughan, Research Fellow in Linguistics, University of Melbourne; Katie Jepson, PhD student, ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Research Unit for Indigenous Language, School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne, and Rosey Billington, Affiliate, ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Postgraduate researcher, School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    • Yes as kids going to the butcher you’d always get a slice. I left SA for Canberra and missed fritz, the luncheon sausage just wasn’t as good, back in SA but apart from occasionally fried I don’t often eat fritz now.

    • Christina Smith I lived in Melbourne for a while and was married there. I never found Devon or boloney as nice as fritz, though, sorry Christina.

    • Christina Smith not in my view. Fritz has a taste all of its own and I loved it. Can’t buy it where I am now and haven’t been back to SA since mum passed away.

    • Peanut paste or is it peanut butter.. some of my supposively sth aus czns bcome furious with me cos i speak a mixture of nsw vic act wa qld.. i talk 2 fast n misprounonce my words.. omg in my hood we rulti cultural.. no person speaks proper english but we can communicate without the rage

    • Elaine King I am a Peanut Butter girl. I knew someone once who used to get very upset when someone said ‘veggies’ instead of vegetables. She was from Melbourne, I don’t know whether that had anything to do with it.

    • Double cut rolls too, does anywhere else do them. Cut a bread roll horizontally three times making four slices of bread roll. Fritz and sauce double cut rolls. I’d forgotten about them and how my Dad used to complain at the highway robbery of some cafe or other who charged so much and DIDN’T EVEN DOUBLE CUT THE ROLL.

  1. but no matter what each area calls it, we always know what the other person is talking about.

  2. I was brought up in SA, and used to say rock melon, but I think people from Melbourne – and I could be wrong here – say cantaloupe. Also, in SA I used to ask for a sandwich but when I went to Queensland they say rounds. Trombone in SA, pumpkin elsewhere.

    • I’m from SA., & trombone is a type of pumpkin. We generally don’t just say pumpkin, but name it (eg Queensland blue, trombone or butternut)

    • I am from Queensland and I was quite old before I knew what a Cantaloupe was. I thought it was some kind of exotic vegetable. lol

    • Owen Gustafson Maybe it isn’t Queensland then, but it is one of the places I have visited. Maybe it is Melbourne. Perhaps someone can enlighten me on who calls a sandwich a round.

    • Owen Gustafson, I have done a lot of ‘sandwich’ catering and we plan numbers on how many ’rounds’ of sandwiches are to be made and thus how many ‘points’ will be cut. Depending on the face on the other side of the counter, I may ask for a ’round of tomato sandwiches’ or simply a ‘tomato sandwich’. PS – am a Queenslander through and through, though well travelled to boot.

    • Owen Gustafson – Too many years ago we used to call it “a round of sandwiches” when ordering from our tuck-shop

    • Rhonda O’Keefe, I think a major change is that so many ‘sandwiches’ are done without a top in the commercial world. Or alternately are done on a roll or ‘sub’. Gotta go with the flow though!

    • In Tasmania we eat cantaloupe, carry our clothes … including our bathers, in a suitcase when we go on holidays, if we plan to walk a lot on those holidays we take our sandshoes to walk in unless it is rough terrain in which case we will need out walking boots. We put belgium or german sausage in our lunchtime sandwiches, unless we plan to have a BBQ, in which case we may well have a sausage in bread. On the way home from our day out we may call in to the pub for a beer which will be ordered by the fluid ounce. However I did have two rounds of toast and Promite for breakfast.

    • Helen Joan Harmon they called it rounds in Perth. was very confusing as i had come from sydney.

    • Maureen Hogan it must have been mum liked trombone then, because when I would go shopping for her I would always ask for trombone.

    • From Sydney to Cairns in 1968 & like being in another country. Cozzies /togs – peanut butter/peanut paste – cocktail frankfurts/cheerios- Devon/Windsor sausage- suitcase/port – tip/dump- recess/little lunch- tea break/smoko – more that I can’t recall after 48 years a Queenslander. Lol.

    • Helen Joan Harmon Trombone has a firm flesh, & a sweeter taste than some other pumpkins, and a softer skin, so is easier to cut. My mum always preferred it too

    • Helen Joan Harmon in England we say a round of bread meaning one slice, or two makes a sandwich (because something is put between each slice of bread). Sometime my husband says “three rounds please” meaning one and a half sandwiches.

  3. Well, for me and family a sausage sandwich is two pieces of bread with a sausage cut to fit in between. It may or may not have sauce of some sort. The single sausage laid diagonally across a single piece of bread, with/out onions/sauce bought at the Rotary Club sausage sizzle is a sausage sanga.

    • no, sanga is slang for sandwich. Just talk to any navy person. sausage sizzle is just that and we all know we are getting a sausage in one slice of bread or a bread roll.

    • Lyn Pride – nah, not at our house. Hubby is retired RAAN and the best sausage sizzler and onion fryer in the whole world.

  4. Seeing we are talking about words, what are the little uprights at the corner of gutters called. Our roofer didn’t know he called them the “thingamebobs” and I called them the “doflingies” I am sure they actually have a name. Anyone know.

    • Judith aren’t finials the little ornate pieces at roof ridge level. Off to the dictionary on this one.

    • Judith I think from reading the definition these doflingies aren’t finials as the are not at the top or the end. The have a functional purpose and aren’t purely decorative, they give extra height at the corner of gutters where water collecting on both joining sides may spill over at the corner if it runs together.

    • Barbara, the plumber was just here, so I asked him and he didn’t know either. But then, he didn’t know what finial was either. I still like dolfingies though.

    • Judith Leeming you sent me back to the dictionary and I don’t think they can be corbels. Corbels are defined as giving support and these don’t support anything.

    • Barbara Easthope & Judith Leeming. Well, we may never find the answer, but I at least have had an interesting afternoon. Still working on it.

    • I may just have found it. A “baffle”. I had the link but it disappeared into the highupasphere. Google “gutter baffles” and see if that describes your dolfingies

    • It could well be Anne Mitchell I had a hunt about on Google and the only illustration of a gutter baffle I could find was something that fitted internally in the gutter and acted like a dam slowing water flow. However baffle describes what they do, and that’s deflect water. I didn’t see anything quite as elaborate or decorative as ours but a few guards were shown just not described as baffles. I will look further Thankyou.

    • Barbara Easthope No problem. I am a bit sorry though. I had fun. Am still looking to see if I can find something that looks like yours. As Judith said, a lovely cottage (with its dolfingies).

    • My late lamented mother in law was second generation Scot. Towards the end of her life she could hear a Scottish doctor speaking in the next room. “That sounds like my Grandfather”.

  5. Internationally swimsuits are called ‘suits’ if you’re a Synchronised Swimmer!!!

  6. What about the INCORRECT pronunciation of maroon? There’s no such word as MARONE which is the way some people pronounce the colour dark brownish red.

    • “Maroon” is pronounced “marone” in Australia and pronounced “maroon” in UK and USA, see Wikepedia !!

    • Owen Gustafson you can’t catagorically state it’s pronounced MARONE in Australia that’s generalising too much. I’m Australian and I don’t know of any of my friends (academics or otherwise) that use the wrong pronunciation. And most people know that Wikipedia (correct spelling–check it out) can’t be relied on to be accurate.

    • I wore a “marone” hat and blazer to school in Tasmania in the 1970s… but my Qld neighbours call their favourite rugby team the “maroons”.

    • Just checked the dictionary and the pron. maroan, for maroon is peculiar to Australia so i guess we all grew up with that pronunciation

    • What about “scone”? Some say “scon” which to me sounds silly. Oh well, what’s in a name….or pronunciation?

    • It is maroan – and rhymes with my own name . Never heard a TV broadcaster call the Qld team the Maroons

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