The New Zealand version of the English language is a rich tapestry, full of colourful words and phrases which have obvious meanings to the locals, but are basically incomprehensible to anyone else.
To make things easier for visitors trying to understand what the bejeezus everyone is talking about, here is a list of some of the most fully Kiwi of Kiwi phrases.
Perhaps the most beautiful expression in the New Zealand vernacular. No two words in the English language, when placed next to each other, convey such depth of meaning. A true translation would take 400 pages of text, but here is a brief synopsis of the meaning [example in brackets]:
Well, my friend, I find your proposal [of borrowing my car for a road trip] quite interesting. I assure you I did consider it on its merits; I thought about the pros and cons of what you put forward [your promise to give me a six pack and bring the car back with a full tank, versus the very high chance you will get caught speeding, leave behind empty Gatorade bottles, chip packets and the smell of cigarette smoke, damage the car in some way or wreck it completely]. Having weighed up the offer, I must politely and with great regret, decline. [You are not going anywhere near my car]. I trust that, even though you may be disappointed, you can understand my position on this matter.
In other words: ‘Yeah, nah.’
Go Off Like A Frog In A Sock
A mysterious phrase meaning that something—a party, for example—is particularly entertaining and vibrant. Though it’s hard to trace its origins precisely, you have to imagine that at some point, some curious little Kiwi put an actual frog in an actual sock, and those who witnessed it were all in agreement that it ‘went off’.
Have A Root
To engage in sexual intercourse. A convenient expression.
Have A Squiz
To take a look at something. Sounds perfectly natural to New Zealanders but to everyone else it kind of sounds like you need urinate.
New Zealander in an office environment: ‘Let me have a squiz at that when you’re done.’
German work colleague: ‘Why do you want to do wee wee on the report?’
Pull Ya Head In
In New Zealand culture, one must never overstep one’s boundaries. A director, for example, who admits that all is not perfect in the Land of the Long White Cloud to overseas media, will be told to ‘pull his head in’ by all and sundry. The concern is obviously that, like a tortoise which extends its neck too far, the director is exposing himself to being attacked and killed by a wily predator.
In the rest of the world ‘ta’ is taught to babies because thank-you is too difficult to say. In New Zealand adult people use ‘ta’ because thank-you is too difficult to say.
Meaning ‘that is very good news’ or ‘I am happy with that’, this expression tantalisingly declines to reveal the end of the simile. Sweet as what? Nectar? Honey? A Portuguese tart? A child’s smile? A first kiss? A litter of sleeping French bulldog puppies? It’s fun to imagine how people could finish their sentence.
Tradesman 1: Mate I gotta call the missus, you right to finish this?
Tradesman 2: Sweet as [the twinkle in my nan’s eyes].
One of those phrases that sounds great but can often lead to disappointment and/or legal problems. A booze bus is not, in fact, a party bus where booze is served. It is actually a police check-point where drivers are tested for the amount of alcohol in their blood. Do NOT dance up to the booze bus and ask where ‘the farken sugarcane champagnes are at’.
Fark Me Dead
A confusing and slightly disturbing expression that has nothing to do with sexual intercourse, or even death for that matter. It is simply to convey a sense of surprise. So if you hear someone at the pub say, ‘fark me dead, the Blues are already down by 25’ there is no need to check on the welfare of the utterer, or notify the special crimes unit.
Kind of like yeah, nah—righto is a simple-looking word that contains a complex set of meanings. In this case, it’s mostly dependent on how it is delivered. Here are some variations on what it can mean:
Righto: Enough of this, let’s get going.
Righto: Easy! Easy! Farken ease up, turbo.
Righto: You’re full of shit, mate.
Righto: I’m not listening to you and want you to stop talking.