You feel like you are doing well in English class.
Then you sit down to talk with some locals, and you realize you do not understand anything they are saying!
Has this happened to you?
You are not alone! Learning the slang of a language is one of the more confusing parts of learning to actually speak to real people.
Slang words are very casual words that are used by certain groups of people. British people, for example, might say “cheers” when they’re saying goodbye, but Americans prefer “see ya.”
Understanding the local slang will make it easier for you to have conversations with the people who live in the area. Learning slang words is also a fun way to understand a new culture better.
Because so many countries speak English, English slang words differ a lot around the world.
New Zealand is a British colony with the official languages being British English and Māori. While New Zealand and Australian slang features a lot of cross-over and the locals typically do not have a problem understanding each other, New Zealand has some fun slang words of its own.
If you are interested in learning the English spoken in the area, these New Zealand slang words will help you sound like a native!
30 New Zealand Slang Words to Sound Like a Native
The word “kiwi” has three meanings in New Zealand:
- A New Zealander,
- New Zealand’s iconic bird,
- A small oval fruit that looks like a kiwi bird without legs or a beak with green or yellow flesh and small black seeds inside.
Typically, when you hear a New Zealander talking about a Kiwi, unless the conversation is about food or native animals of New Zealand, they are talking about another New Zealander. And no, for the record, New Zealanders did not name themselves after the world-famous fruit. New Zealanders are proud of their fuzzy, flightless, nocturnal, endemic kiwi bird so much that they named themselves after it.
When and why New Zealanders started calling themselves Kiwis is not well understood, but they say will always say it with pride.
“I met some Kiwis over the weekend.”
“There are three Kiwis on this island.”
2. Kia Ora
This is a formal, casual and polite way to say hello. This is not precisely slang, as it comes from the native Māori language, but you will hear it as a greeting in New Zealand a lot even when the rest of the conversation is in English.
“Kia Ora! How are you today?”
“Bro” is a shortened form of “brother” but used in a more casual sense toward friends in the same way Australians would use “mate.”
“These are my bros.”
“How are you doing, bro?”
A shortened word for the afternoon. “Arvo”—sometimes spelled “Avo” in text language—is shared with Australian slang.
“What are the plans this arvo?”
While heaps is not technically a slang word and is actually an English word you can find in the dictionary, it is one that seems to be used more by New Zealanders and Australians than other English speakers.
To the point that as a New Zealander abroad myself, I have been asked by many North Americans and Europeans what this word means!
“There were heaps of people on the beach.”
“I have heaps of clothes in my wardrobe.”
“Wow, that’s heaps of food.”
“Togs” refers to any swimming costume, bikini, one-piece, trunks or, in other words, a swimsuit. This is universally understood throughout New Zealand and a lot of Australia.
“I just need to grab my togs before we head to the beach.”
“My togs are still wet.”
Trousers. Although in some places, “pants” can refer to undergarments, “pants” throughout Australia and New Zealand mean trousers, not underwear. So now we are all clear that the following sentence is not as weird.
“Oh no, I ripped a hole in my pants.”
8. Undies or panties
This one does mean underwear.
“I need to buy some undies.”
New Zealanders derived the term jandals from the name “Japanese sandals.” North Americans call them “flip flops,” Australians call them “thongs” and South Australians call them “plakkies.”
If a Kiwi is wearing anything on their feet to the beach or river, it will probably be jandals.
“I’ll just put on my jandals, and I’m ready to go.”
These are rubber boots or Wellington Boots, worn to stop the rain getting in. Also commonly worn by farmers or factory workers to protect their feet.
“My gumboots are so dirty from the mud.”
A holiday or beach house. There is a New Zealand ideology that success comes when you have the car, the boat and the bach. The bach is an iconic Kiwi summer escape.
Since water is everywhere in New Zealand, baches are often found in remote parts of the country near the ocean surrounded in native bush.
“We’re heading to the bach this weekend.”
A dairy is a small grocery store or corner store. This is one that is very unique to New Zealand. If you asked an Australian where the local dairy is, they would direct you to the closest farm or look at you like you are mad.
The term “dairy” stems from small stores in the early 1900s that sold milk, butter and cheese products from the local dairy farms. The name stuck, and today every Kiwi will point you to their local corner store if you ask, “Where is the dairy?”
“I’m going to the dairy to buy a pie and a drink.”
13. Op Shop
Short for “opportunity shop,” “op shops” are charity shops that sell second-hand clothing and household things. “Op shopping” is used when you are going to shop at the op shops.
“I got this beautiful dress at the Op Shop.”
“Do you want to go op shopping with me this arvo?”
Another word for the toilet. This slang term is often used in the U.K. and Australia as well.
“Excuse me, where is the loo?”
15. Wop wops
This describes a rural area far from town.
“I live in the wop wops.”
Tramping is a term used for hiking long distances. Not to be confused with North American references to homeless people or prostitution.
“This weekend, we went tramping through the Kaikoura ranges.”
This stands for “overseas experience” and is a unique term to Kiwis and Aussies. Usually, young people go on their O.E. after high school or after university to travel the world and work abroad for a year or two.
“She’s heading off to Europe for her big O.E. next year.”
“I’m on my O.E.”
A short work break, usually 15-minutes long. Often, people smoke cigarettes at a smoko, hence the name, but with smoking becoming less popular, there still are many non-smokers who call their short 15-minute work breaks “smokos.”
“I’m just going for my smoko.”
The unemployment benefit. A “dole bludger” is someone who works the system to live off the dole because they do not want to work rather than they cannot work.
“If I don’t find a job soon, I’m going to have to go on the dole.”
“He could get a job if he wanted to, he’s a dole bludger.”
This usually means “thank you” but will also be heard when you clink glasses for celebrations or at the start of a meal. Like in Britain, it is sometimes also used as a goodbye phrase.
Depending on the region you are in, more commonly in the North Island, you may hear “Chur bro,” which means “Cheers bro.” “Chur bro” can also be used as a compliment, as in “good work.”
“Here’s to good food and good company, Cheers!”
“Cheers for the beers, bro.”
Say this when you want to tell someone “good work,” or “that’s great.”
“Check out this car I’ve been renovating.” “That’s choice.”
Used when you are super happy about something.
“I got the job.” “Wow, you must be super stoked.”
“I’m stoked she’s actually going out with me.”
23. No sweat
This means “don’t worry about it!”
“I can pay you back that $20 tomorrow.” “No sweat.”
24. Sweet as
This refers to something that is really good. This can be used as both a statement about something being really good or as an affirmative reply to a question.
“That’s sweet as bro.”
“We’re going to the movies?” “Sweet as.”
25. Yeah, nah
A commonly used way to say “no” or “probably not.”
“Yeah, nah, that wasn’t funny.”
“Do you want milk with your coffee?” “Yeah, nah.”
“I’m absolutely knackered today.”
Something unreliable or untrustworthy. Also sometimes shortened to “dodge.”
“That person looks super dodge.”
“I feel sick, I think the chicken I ate might have been dodgy.”
This means something is broken or damaged in some way, often beyond repair.
“That looks a bit munted, bro”
“My car is munted, but it still works.”
29. Ripped off
When you overpaid for something. This term is also used in North America.
“Oh no, you got ripped off.”
“That guy ripped me off.”
“How much did you pay for that? Sounds like a rip-off.”
30. Eh or ay
This means, “don’t you agree?” Typically only used in the spoken language at the end of a question or sentence that requires a response.
“That was so much fun, eh!”
How to Use New Zealand Slang Words in a Conversation
Now that you are familiar with New Zealand slang, you will be stoked when you see your kiwi friend at smoko and they say, “Kia Ora bro, cheers, how are you doing? I’m knackered. I finally got my dodgy car fixed, so it’s not munted anymore. I got ripped off by the mechanic, though. He wanted to change the tires as well, but I was like Yeah, nah, I earn as much as people on the dole.
“Anyway, do you want to grab your togs, jandals, some spare clothes and undies after work this arvo and head to my family’s bach out in the wop wops? We can do heaps of swimming and tramping there over the weekend. You might need your gumboots, too. If it rains, the loo is outside, and it’s not a fun walk.
“I know a dairy on the way with some sweet as pies we can buy for dinner, eh. Plus, there’s a choice Op Shop we can stop at on the way home. I need to buy some new pants for my cousin’s O.E. going away party.”
Got all that?
Resources for Learning More New Zealand Slang
This list of 30 essential slang words is just the starting point in your learning Kiwi slang journey. An excellent resource for learning more is the New Zealand Slang website, which is solely dedicated to sharing Kiwi slang words and their meanings.
For people planning on moving to New Zealand for study or those who want to understand better the local language and culture, the NauMai NZ website has a great page about the local culture and lifestyle.
You can also check out FluentU’s English program, which takes authentic videos from around the world—like movie trailers, news clips, inspirational talks and more—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Now get out there and put your New Zealand slang terms to use!
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