Anne Barwell on Kiwi slang!

Kiwi Slang

Thanks, Kim, for hosting me today J


The first thing that struck me when I started thinking about what to write for this post, was that, as a Kiwi (which is how we New Zealander’s refer to ourselves), most of the slang I use is what I speak every day. So how do I figure out what is unique to this country?  A lot of the sayings/phrases we use are British, although I’ve noticed there are a few more Americanisms sneaking it now we’re exposed a lot more to US movies and TV shows. 


So I figured the way to go was to a) go for the obvious stuff and b)take a look online and google ‘Kiwi slang’ and see what turns up. Hmm, some of these I knew and some I didn’t realise were ‘Kiwi slang.’…  And there are phrases in use now that weren’t when I was growing up. But that’s language for you, it changes over time. That’s what makes the study of older forms of English, and its varying dialects so interesting. Yes, I do have an English Lit degree, why do you ask?


One of the most common phrases here is ‘sweet as’.  Or ‘cold as’ or ‘insert appropriate word here as’. It basically mean there’s no comparison so why waste time giving one.  When I use it online the response I usually get is ‘as what?’ as though I’ve missed a word. I haven’t.


Another word which is a fairly recent addition to the Kiwi slang dictionary is ‘munted’.  It means broken, and badly at that, and came into regular use after the Christchurch earthquakes. ‘Nuff said.


Other words and phrases in fairly common use are: ‘togs’ (swimsuit), ‘arvo’ (afternoon), ‘fortnight’ (two weeks), ‘take the piss’ (make fun of – although I suspect that’s Brit), ‘tiki tour’ (take the long way around, scenic tour), ‘rellies’ (relatives or family/whānau), ‘flag it’ (forget about it, which I found when I used it the other day is the opposite to what it means in the US). That’s just to name but a few.


But of course differences in slang is just the tip of the iceberg where culture shock is concerned as Ben (in my upcoming release Shades of Sepia, the first book in The Sleepless City series, which is a joint project with Elizabeth Noble) discovers upon arriving in the US for his OE. So I’ll finish this post with an excerpt from the beginning of the story which illustrates just that….



A serial killer stalks the streets of Flint, Ohio. The victims are always found in pairs, one human and one vampire.

Simon Hawthorne has been a vampire for nearly a hundred years, and he has never seen anything like it. Neither have the other supernaturals he works with to keep the streets safe for both their kind and the humans.

One meeting with Simon finds Ben Leyton falling for a man he knows is keeping secrets, but he can’t ignore the growing attraction between them. A recent arrival in Flint, Ben finds it very different from his native New Zealand, but something about Simon makes Ben feel as though he’s found a new home.

After a close friend falls victim to the killer, Simon is torn between revealing his true nature to Ben, and walking away to avoid the reaction he fears. But with the body count rising and the murders becoming more frequent, either, or both of them, could be the killer’s next target.


“Ben? You there?”


“Yeah, just give me a minute, will you?” Ben Leyton called over his shoulder in the general direction of his laptop. He finished pouring the milk into his tea and took the time to peer out the window for a moment. The street below was quiet and dark apart from the soft glow of the streetlight in front of the bookshop.


“So, how’s it going?” Ange Duncan grinned at him from the computer screen. She’d always been one of his constants, a close friend with whom he could talk stuff through. They’d met at university, and something had clicked between them. “Not keeping you from your beauty sleep, I hope?”


“Nah, it’s fine. You know I’m a night owl.” Ben took a sip of his tea. Despite the time difference between the States and New Zealand, he and Ange had managed to keep up their regular Skype chats. During the six weeks he’d been in Flint, they’d tried different times before settling on late evening for him, which worked out to be late afternoon for her. They both had flexible schedules which tended to shift a bit, so some weeks they caught up more than others.


“How’s work going?”


“Fine.” Ben rolled his eyes. “Well, fine apart from Melanie. I swear I don’t know how that woman got a job working in a café. Her social skills are zilch. Apparently one of the customers complained last week and the boss had a word with her. She was over the top friendly for a couple of days before she started to revert.”


Ange laughed, her gray eyes twinkling. “I think most work places have a Melanie, Ben, although so far we’ve been lucky.” Ange worked at a community library part time and was studying for her PhD in Anthropology at Victoria University in Wellington. “But mostly it’s okay, yeah?”


“Yeah. It’s sweet as.”


“Apart from everyone asking you sweet as what?” Ange had been amused when she’d heard about that one. The first time he’d used the phrase he’d had to explain it. Who would have thought there was such a difference between their two cultures? It was the little things that still tripped him up on occasion, although he was getting there slowly.


“I’ve got some of the locals using it now.” Ben grinned. “Once I told them the point of it was that there was no comparison, they thought it was pretty awesome, especially when I pointed out there were variations on it too.” He sighed ruefully. “I suppose it makes up for all the stuff I’ve had to learn. I had no idea serving coffee could be so complicated.” He’d referred to coffee with creamer his first day on the job as a flat white. The woman had looked at him blankly and asked why he was talking about house paint. In hindsight he should probably be thankful he hadn’t handed her the coffee and called it a straight black.


Ange pulled a face. “I don’t blame you for taking your coffee black. The very idea of creamer, or cream for that matter….” She shuddered.


“I’m told it tastes good, but I can’t get my head around it,” Ben agreed. Although he could ask for milk if he wanted, he didn’t see the point in making a fuss.


“Hey, I got those photos you sent. I’ll print them out later in the week and go see your granddad, see if it’s the right place.”


“Thanks.” Although many people traveled around a lot during their overseas experience—usually referred to as an OE—Ben had decided to settle in one place for a while and then go from there. Flint, a smallish city by Lake Erie in Ohio, seemed a good place, especially as his granddad had visited there years ago, and spoke highly of it. “It looks the same to me, but it’s hard to tell, as the trees would have grown quite a bit since the fifties. Granddad never mentioned the plaque on the park bench, so I included a close-up of it. I reckon that will help.”


When Ben had first become interested in photography, his grandfather had encouraged it, and loaned him his old camera with which to practice his skills. Before he’d left for Flint, the old man had given him a copy of a black and white photograph taken in a park there. The use of light and shadows in it had fascinated Ben, and since his arrival he’d spent a lot of time taking his own photos of that same park, playing around with different settings and effects. Spending time there also reminded him of his grandfather, to whom he’d always been close. Ben hadn’t expected the homesickness to hit him this hard. Knowing he was somewhere his grandfather had once been helped in a weird sort of way. Sometimes he closed his eyes and just listened to the wind, pretending he was still home in New Zealand.


About a week ago, he’d reopened his eyes to catch a glimpse of someone watching him. He’d blinked, not sure whether he’d imagined it or not, but when he’d looked again the guy was gone.





Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.

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