Kiwi-isms 101 – How to talk like (or just understand) the locals

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When I came to New Zealand three years ago, you could say I was a wee bit shell-shocked and confused when people talked.
Kiwis have a tendency to shorten lots of things… or they just have different names for things that I just wouldn’t think of. I was living in a hall of residence, and luckily there was another Canadian who had been in here for 2 years. She was able to translate things into ‘Canadian’ for me. Since then, I have accumulated a wide variety of kiwism vocabulary, and have become ‘that girl’ who now has to translate to visitors. My parents came to visit for Christmas, and I found myself having to think hard to call things by a name they’d understand. You see, as a teacher, I found that I had to adapt and use heaps of expressions rather than what I knew, so that children/people knew what I was talking about! Now it’s become entwined into my thoughts – as I just used ‘heaps’ without thinking…paihia
Since then, I have been compiling a ‘wee list’ if you will as I went, a reference point for all those times you may hear something and been confused. I’ve grouped the phrases into categories of Food, Toileting, Drinking, Clothes, School, Items at Home, Places, Cars, Expressions, TV, People, Things You Can Do, Annoying Behaviour, Weather, Babies and Traditional Maori.
Enjoy! Have a giggle if you have experiences any of them, or take notes if you’ll soon be on your way here!
kai - Maori for food
cuppa – a hot drink of tea or coffee
candyfloss – cotton candy
chocolate Fish – chocolate covered pink marshmallow
capiscum – a red or green pepper
chook – a chicken
cornflour - cornstarch
courgette – zucchini
tea – dinner or supper (tea time)
fizzy – pop/soda
take-aways – fast food i.e. fish n chips
Maccas - McDonalds
lemonade – 7-Up
tomato sauce – Ketchup, but with way more flavour!
pottle – a container
mutton – sheep meat, older than a lamb
kaimoana - seafood
paua – abalony. A delicious delicacy that can only be caught by free-diving
kina – a sea urchin
prawns – bigger shrimp
hangi - a traditional Maori meal of meat and veges, cooked in the ground for several hours with hot coals
pie – more commonly a meat-filled hot pie, purchased at the gas station or bakery
stubby – a shorter beer bottle
scull – chug/finish your drink
vessel - cup (ok – potentially an international drinking rule…)
take the piss – make fun
piece of piss – easy as
piss up – a gathering of involving drinking
on the piss –  drinking
getting pissed – drunk
pisshead – drinks too much/often
pissed - drunk
pissed off – angry
toilet – the only acceptable name for the bathroom or washroom
longdrop – out house
whare paku – Maori for toilet
mimi – Maori for pee
busting – when you really, really gotta go! i.e. “ I’m busting, Miss!”
dunny – toilet again
sunnies – sunglasses
cardy – cardigan, or other long sleeve sweater
jersey – a hoodie or sweater
jandals – flip flops
gumboots/gummies – rubber boots
togs – bathing suit
budgy smugglers - speedos (potentially not just Kiwi, but frequently used by those I know)
wettie - short for wetsuit
stubbies – male short shorts, often worn for rugby, or inappropriately anywheres else
morning tea – recess or break
fringe – bangs
torch – flashlight
rubbish - garbage
twink – white out
rubber – eraser (not condoms!)
whack - to hit i.e. “stop whacking me!”
Items at Home
tea towel – dish towel
serviette – napkin
flannel – face cloth
hottie – a hot water bottle
powercut – when the power goes out
shops – stores
chemist - pharmacy
dairy – convenience store
Ware-whare – The Warehouse, a popular New Zealand Wal-mart-esque department type store
tip – the dump
bach  - a summer holiday home
crib – used only in the South Island, for a holiday home, either summer or winter for skiing


Judder bars – speed bumps
petrol – gas for your car
Loose metal/metal roads – gravel roads
Pushbike – a bike you ride
panelbeater – the guy who fixes your car, when you smash it up
footpath  - the sidewalk
‘find a park’ -  find a parking space
car park – a parking lot


wee - adjective to describe a little bit or small
heaps – most commonly adjective to describe LOTS!
sweet as – all good!
grotty – gross, disgusting
pong – stinks i.e often Portaloo’s are ‘pongin’
stroppy – full of attitude i.e. “She’s quite stroppy today”
knackered – tired (sounded like ‘naked’ the first time I heard it, was quite alarming)
thick – not so bright
flash – pretty or fancy
choice – a good pick
crook – feeling sick
dodgy – uncertain about the quality
naft – boring i.e. “was a pretty naft day’
crickey dick – equivalent to ‘oh my god’  or other similar exclaimations
pukeroo – pretty crap, ruined
Pakeha – any non-maori person
wop-wops – middle of nowhere
Rattle ya dags – hurry up
chunder - vomit
chuffed – proud i.e. “I’m feeling pretty chuffed with my run today”
root – to have sex with someone
bar – all but or except i.e. “I’ve been all over the country, bar Gisborne and Nelson”
Catch u up – see you later
ta – thank you
E hoa – dude, mate, my friend – usually an exclamation i.e “Leave that alone, e hoa!”
cracked it – figured it out
choca block – all full
smoko – break time
She’ll be right – it’ll be okay
No worries – it’s okay, often said in place of ‘you’re welcome’
chur – often followed by ‘bro’, an expression of thanks.
shocking – used in place of surprising or appalling
‘mutton dressed as lamb’ – an older lady wearing clothes designed for perhaps a younger generation
hard case – a comedian or joker (A teacher at school had always said I was hard case for ages before I had the guts to ask what it meant!)
shorts – movie previews
ads – commercials
Shorty - Shortland Street, New Zealand soap on at 7pm Channel 2
Sparky – an electrician
Chippy – a builder
rhino – the male version of a cougar – old, wrinkly and horny!
stirrer – someone who
whinger – a complainer
piker – someone who says they’re going to do something, and then don’t show up or do it.
wet blanket – someone who spoils the fun i.e. “He’s a bit of a wet blanket”
fritter – drug (P/methamphetamine) addict
the missus – a guy’s girlfriend/wife/partner
my partner – significant other, more mature name for boyfriend or girlfriend… does not indicate a homosexual relationship, as I was used to. I’d hear people talk about ‘their partner’, and began to wonder if everyone was gay, until I realised…
Things you can do
pull a sickie – to take a day off work, when you may or may not necessarily be ‘sick’
ring – to call someone
have a squizz – to have a quick read
skiting – to brag about something, usually to the point people get annoyed
suss it out – figure it out i.e. “no worries, I’ve got this sussed”
tramping – hiking
shout - to buy a round or treat somebody i.e. “No worries, I got this, my shout”
Annoying behaviour
pike out – not show up or do something
spit the dummy – have a fit
whinge – to complain
pack a sad/wobbly – also another way to say had a fit, or show that they’re not happy about something
hoon – drive fast in a suped up car, typically young guys compensating for something?
granny racer – old lady in a supped up car/a mum taking a their kids car
fine – sunny, nice, not cloudy
hosing down – raining
pissing down – raining hard
dummy – pacifier
nappies – diapers
pram – Stroller
sprogs – kids
up the duff – prego
hapu – maori for pregnant
Traditional Maori
Marae -  traditional Maori meeting house for the tribe
powhiri – a traditional Maori welcome ceremony
hongi – Maori tradition of exchanging the breath of life, by pressing nose to nose
tangi -  a Maori funeral/farewell, lasting 3 days. The family will spend this time at the marae, with the body
waka – Maori word for boat
waiata - Maori word for song
haka – traditional Maori war dance, well known by the All Blacks performance before a rugby game
tamariki - Maori word for children
Do you have any favourite kiwi-isms to add to my list??
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{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Elle Williams January 14, 2013, 1:08 am

    This list is so great! You should sell little printed versions for long-term NZ travellers! Although… half the fun is figuring out what half these things mean at the time. I’m going to miss calling mayo Aioli when I get back to the UK – Aioli is such a pretty word!

  • Jo October 13, 2013, 10:42 am

    Great list of expressions! I’m Australian and there are lots of similarities with Kiwi and Aussie slang, but there are a few new ones in your list, and some that are more English too (I lived in the UK for a while as well). I’ve taught my non-Aussie husband some of our slang and he loves it (his faves are Whoop-whoop & sunnies!). Enjoy learning more and more about the culture, it’s amazing how even in native English speaking countries there can be so many cultural differences!
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  • AlteCockr r October 14, 2013, 7:03 am

    Chili bins for picnic coolers (Aussie call them “eskies”).

    I am from the US & have been confused in both countries. Australia is more difficult.

  • Penny November 5, 2015, 3:51 am

    Born in Wales, raised in USA, and engaged to my wonderful Kiwi sweetheart. One that threw me at first was hearing “bench” used for the kitchen countertops… “Put it on the bench…” And I’m looking in the kitchen for a bench you sit on…lol, ohhh on the counter!

  • Yvette November 5, 2015, 7:20 am

    I’m a Kiwi….and this cracked me up! I forget how mad we sound, when we use the terms every day and are so used to them! :-)

  • Willem November 5, 2015, 2:26 pm

    Great. We are Kiwis in Canada and even after three years get many uncomprehending looks (especially in Montreal where we were before moving to Vancouver). Although the French also have the non-specific “cojoint(e)” for “partner”. A few more:
    serviette = napkin
    cheers = thank you (which still confuses me as an ex South African)
    chippy = also a fish ‘n chips shop

  • Kerry November 5, 2015, 9:56 pm

    I’m thinking you need to leave something in there about aye (a) not aye (eye). As in, aye – used for agreeing with something, “that sounds good aye” or, better still the “aye?!?!” – what are you on about?

  • Olwyn November 6, 2015, 7:49 pm

    Great list. I would add taihoa – pronounced tie-ho meaning wait; also Ka-pai meaning all good Maori words in common usage

  • Lyn November 6, 2015, 8:04 pm

    Lots of these are common usage in the UK, certainly in Scotland. Quite surprised they would be so unknown in Canada.

  • Ariana November 14, 2015, 9:36 pm

    Judder bars are not speed bumps. They are a smaller, harsher version of them but speed bumps are speed bumps and judder bars are judder bars.

  • Jennifer December 5, 2015, 9:27 am

    Great list. Under the traditional Maori words you could add Whanau (family) which is in common use by all Kiwis.

  • Kaz December 5, 2015, 11:14 am

    Being a Kiwi and living in the USA, I still tend to “forget myself” and use our Kiwi words a lot
    Dunno Don’t know
    Gidday Greeting-good day-hello
    Pongs That smells bad
    Biff it Throw it in the rubbish
    Scrap Someone is having a fight
    Knickers Underpants

  • Ann Bishop December 5, 2015, 12:24 pm

    hahahaha most of them are the same or nearly the same in the UK

  • Rakshinda December 5, 2015, 1:24 pm

    Mufti day when u Don’t have to wear school uniform, my daughter came to Middle East in class 9th from New Zealand, once she had a slip of tongue and she said tomorrow is mufti, all her British friends looked at her ;) ………

  • Rachael December 5, 2015, 1:26 pm

    Being kiwi, I miss being able to use this slang freely in OZ. but I love the Aussie slang too.
    I would be interested in hearing what some things are shortened down into Canadian slang, cause surely there must be some. Or what is your version to the kiwi slang?

  • Heather K. December 5, 2015, 2:01 pm

    I have a couple more food ones to add. Though, since I’m american, some might not be different to a Canadian but they sure we’re for me.

    Kumara- yam
    Pumpkin- squash
    Biscuit – cookie
    Scone- buscit
    Zesperi- kiwi fruit
    Barbi- BBQ

    Here are a few other random phrases that I haven’t heard else.

    Mufti- having a school day where you can wear regular clothes to school if you normally have to wear a uniform.
    Knickers- underwear
    Posh- fancy
    Cheers- Thank you
    Hoiho- Maori for Yellow Eyed Penguin
    Tuckered- to be tired.
    Puke- vomit
    Holli- holiday
    Telli- TV
    Cutlery- silverware
    To cross the ditch- go to Australia
    Aussie- Australia or Australian
    Pom- someone from Britain
    Boc- someone from South Africa
    Overseas Experience- to travel and work outside of New Zealand for a year or two when you’re young.

  • Sara December 5, 2015, 2:33 pm

    American that lived in NZ for a year,

    Just a few I could think of:

    windscreen – windshield
    biscuit – cookie
    spewing – throwing up
    fairy floss – cotton candy (alternative to candy floss)
    I always thought scull was skull, like take it to your skull and drink the whole thing, guess I was wrong!
    singlet – wife beater
    shattered – tired, I always thought feeling shattered was more like an emotional tiredness rather than physical
    sore – as in “My stomach is sore,” rather than, “My stomach hurts.” A little different than my own comprehension of the word.
    sorted – getting something organized/figured out
    servo – gas station/service station

    I’m sure I can think of more…just thought of these while going over your list…it’s been a few years since I’ve been in NZ! :)

  • Kerry December 5, 2015, 7:09 pm

    What is the explanation for stirrer ?

    It seems to be missing

  • Gigi Ewing December 5, 2015, 11:13 pm

    Brekkie – breakfast
    Tea – can be tea and biscuits (cookies) or dinner
    Boot – trunk of car
    Paddock – field
    Garden -usually the back yard
    Lawn – front yard
    Bloke – usually a man, a stranger
    Dole – unemployment payment
    Benefit – welfare from state
    Bonnet – hood of a car
    Braces – suspenders
    Cotton buds – Q-tips
    Dressing gown – bathrobe
    Crisps – potato chips
    Ice block – Popsicle
    Knackered – tired, stuffed
    Postie – post office or mail person
    Lollies – candy
    Tracksuit – sweats
    Windscreen – windshield
    Tiki tour – scenic or roundabout way to go somewhere

  • Sue Kary December 6, 2015, 6:01 am

    Bonnet – hood of the car
    Boot – trunk of a car

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