‘Hoo-roo’ and other Aussie phrases that baffle the rest of the world

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Australia often comes under the spotlight for its unique turns of phrase, and while our use of ‘barbie’ and ‘thongs’ are the most commonly queried, there are lesser-known phrases that continue to baffle our poor international visitors.

Though some of our colloquialisms have roots in British English, Australian English has evolved over time and now includes a host of words and phrases unique to our great land. Here are nine of the best.


Comparable to the British ‘cherio’, ‘hoo-roo’ is used by Australians to say goodbye. The origin of the word seems to date back to 1700s Britain, when it’s thought people would use the word ‘hooray’ or ‘hurray’ at the end of their day at work or school. Not surprisingly, the Australian adaptation of the word completely confuses our guests!


Australians’ use the word ‘heaps’ to mean a lot or lots, though it seems to confuse international guests who take the use of the word literally. “There were a heap of kangaroos,” for example, does not mean there was a literal pile of kangaroos, rather that there was just a lot of them.


In Australia, Canada, and New Zealand the word ‘sook’ is a derogatory term for someone who complains too much, a whinger or someone who is a bit of a coward. It’s thought to originate from an Old English word sūca, which means ‘to suck’.

The word ‘sook’ in the UK has maintained this meaning a little more literally, with the Brits using the word to refer to someone who is sulking or sucking up to someone. While you can see the similarity between the meanings, the word still seems to confuse Brits abroad.


In Australia, if something is ‘cactus’ it is not a spiky desert plant – unless of course, it is a literal cactus. What we are actually saying is that it is completely ruined, dead or broken. For example, “the washing machine is cactus” or “he was totally cactus”.

Tea and chips?

For most countries the words ‘tea’ and ‘chips’ have just a single meaning, in Australia however, they both have two entirely separate meanings, which can understandably cause confusion. If an Aussie says, “I’ve gotta be back for tea,” you can probably assume they aren’t needing to be home for the pouring of mum’s Earl Grey, but they do need to be home for dinner. Similarly, if an Aussie has a hankering for chips, they could equally be craving oily hot chips or a packet of Smith’s crisps.

While we always seem to know what we are talking about, international visitors will often ask you to specify.

Yeah, Nah

This phrase is understandably confusing but basically proves Australians will always try to shorten a word, sentence or conversation wherever possible. Why bother saying “Yes, I understand you, but no, I don’t quite agree,” when you could simply say “yeah, nah”?

Ankle biter

‘Ankle biter’ is Aussie slang for a young child, sometimes used to imply the child is annoying or a pest. The term was first recorded in Harper’s magazine, in 1850 as, “how’s Molly, and all the little ankle-biters?”. Interestingly, the term seemed a one-off, as it disappeared from use for over 100 years until it popped up again in a book in 1959.


‘Daks’ or ‘trackie daks’ is an Australian term for trousers or tracksuit pants. The term may seem nonsensical, but the word was originally used in reference to a specific brand of pants ‘DAKS’ and has stuck around in the Australian language as a colloquial term. The brand of trousers was originally made in London in the 1930s though it isn’t clear when Australian’s adopted the term to mean all pants.


The word ‘togs’ is an Australianism for swimwear. Originally, the word was an abbreviation of the 16th-century word ‘togeman’, which meant coat. But by the 1700s, it had become slang for clothes and was bought to Australia with the First Fleet. In 1918, it was first used to exclusively describe swimwear in a magazine of the Australian and New Zealand armed forces and by 1930 the Australian public had widely adopted the term.

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