Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms

This section contains a selection of Australian words, their meanings, and their etymologies.

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Compulsory military training, as introduced under the National Service Act of 1951. It is also a name for a person who underwent National Service under the Act. The word nasho is an abbreviation of national with an added -o, a common feature of Australian word formation—compare garbo (‘garbage collector’), journo (‘journalist’), and milko (‘milk man’). In the past nasho was seen as a derogatory term within the permanent military force. The term was first recorded in 1953, but it is especially associated with those national servicemen who fought in Vietnam.

1973 Bulletin (Sydney) 27 January: Some 'nashos' have shown outstanding zeal by signing on with the Regular Army. 

1980 C. James, Unreliable Memoirs: National Service was designed to turn boys into men and make the Yellow Peril think twice about moving south. It was universally known as Nasho.

Ned Kelly: as game as Ned Kelly

Fearless in the face of odds; foolhardy. The phrase derives from the name of Australia's most famous bushranger, who was hanged for his crimes in 1880. Opinion on Kelly has remained divided, his critics seeing him as the worst type of colonial thug, while others have represented him as a champion of the underdog, a brave opponent of heartless authority, and a staunch Australian nationalist. A number of terms and phrases derived from the name Ned Kelly are found in Australian English and are discussed in a 2009 article 'Who's Robbing this Coach? Ned Kelly and Australian English' in our newsletter Ozwords. For a discussion of the term Ned Kelly beard see our Word of the Month article from March 2015. And for a further discussion of as game as Ned Kelly see our archived blog. The phrase is first recorded in the 1920s.

1936 Sydney Morning Herald 8 January: When the police asked what had been done with the man's money, Sloane said, 'You had better find out. You can take me and put me in for two years if you like. I'm no squib; I'm as "game" as "Ned" Kelly. I went to the war when I was 15'.

1997 D. Ireland, The Chosen: The other kids loved him, he was never vicious or cowardly and so brave that he was game as Ned Kelly and had a heart like Phar Lap's.

2012 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 1 August: How bonza is Leisel Jones to be fifth fastest 100m breaststroker in the world, proving the critics wrong. She's as game as Ned Kelly, that girl.

neenish tart

A small sweet pastry case filled with mock cream, and sometimes including jam, topped with brown and white or pink and white icing. While the origin for this term is unknown the spelling variants neinich, nenische, and nenish suggest that it may derive from a Germanic language. The earliest evidence takes the form neenish cake and dates to 1895. The early evidence also reveals that there have been various recipes for this tart over the years.

1902 Sydney Mail 10 December: Neenish Tarts ... On the top of the whole spread the thinnest layer possible of icing made with the white of an egg and icing sugar sufficient to form a thick paste. With coffee, colour one half a pale yellow, and the other half a deep brown. Ice the tarts carefully, having the top of each half dark, and the other half light, the division being exactly in the centre. Care must be taken that the two colours do not run into each other.

2011 S. McCullough, The Meaning of Existence: By the time the gig rolled around, about half my face had peeled. I looked like a living, breathing Neenish Tart.


A shark. The word is derived from rhyming slang Noah's ark, but as is common with many rhyming slang terms the rhyming final element is often omitted. Other examples of rhyming slang in Australian English include: Al Capone 'phone', Barry Crocker 'a shocker', billy lid 'kid', meat pie 'a try (in rugby)', and mystery bag 'snag (a sausage)'. For a more detailed discussion of rhyming slang in Australian English see the article 'Does Australian Slang still Rhyme?' in our newsletter Ozwords. Noah's ark can be found from the late 19th century in Australian English as a rhyming slang term for 'nark', meaning an informer. The shark sense is first recorded from the 1930s.

1936 Western Argus (Kalgoorlie) 12 May: They were about 70 yards from the shore and noticed a 12 ft. shark swimming about. As the 'Noah's Ark' seemed to avoid bait thrown on a line, they decided to experiment with fracteur.

1979 B. Humphries, Bazza Comes Into his Own: A lotta them beaches in Oz are full of Noahs.

1995 T. McGowan, Crew: 'Noahs love surf carnivals', Jason said.

no worries

No bother, no trouble; an assurance that all is fine. This colloquial version of the phrase ‘not to worry’ is very common in Australia, and also occurs in other forms such as ‘no worries, mate’, ‘no wuckers’, and ‘nurries’. It implies that everything will come right, or be taken care of, and that we should all be relaxed —‘Will you help me do my homework, Dad? It’s due tomorrow!’ ‘No worries, son’. First recorded in the 1960s.

1978 Westerly i: Thanks very much. No worries, she said, making space for my gear on the back seat.

2000 R. Smith, Cold Beer and Crocodiles: I thanked him for the tip. 'No worries.'

Updated:  19 October 2017/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications