Day 39: How to Talk Like a Kiwi

Kiwi English and American English aren’t that different — they are just as similar I think as British English would be. But no NZ blog would be complete without touching on some of the colorful language differences that make NZ special.

So let’s start with an obvious one — the letter ‘z’. In NZ, ‘z’ is pronounced like ‘zed’. When I was in the US, I started doing phone interviews with companies in New Zealand. One of them was NZ Bus. I was sooooooo confused when I checked my voicemail from the recruiter and she said that she had a role with ‘In Zed Bus’. And I Googled this strange company and couldn’t find it! I now work for a bank called ANZ — it took forever before I got used to saying ‘A-N-Zed’ when I told people where I work.

There are some simple spelling differences as well — in the US we leave out the ‘u’ in color, flavor, and similar words whereas in NZ they spell them colour, flavour, etc. And they have something against z’s in words like capitalize (here it is capitalise). The nice thing about these is that the pronunciation is the same so as long as you have your word editor set to NZ English or British English then it will remind you to fix them. And this is one that most people just don’t care about that much so mis-spelling them goes mostly unnoticed.

Some words are used the same but pronounced differently. Words like controversy crack me up. In NZ, they put the accent on the middle syllable (con-TRO-versy) instead of the first one (CON-troversy). There are a few more like this mentioned here.

But of course, the fun ones are the ones that are the hardest to get used to. Here are two of those:

‘Sweet as’ – this is a very very common expression in NZ that basically means something is really good or everything’s ok. It’s used in a variety of ways — a waiter/waitress will say it after taking your order, a friend will say it when you thanking you for getting them a beer, or even just when agreeing something is great.

The problem I have with ‘sweet as’ is that it sounds sooooooo similar to ‘sweet ass’. It took me a while to get used to the expression and I still smirk when I hear it. I just don’t think I could ever say it myself with a straight face!

‘Biscuit’ – I’m from Texas. My family, like many people from the Southern US, loves our biscuits and gravy. Biscuits are a big part of my Southern identity. In NZ (like in the UK), the word ‘biscuit’ is what those of us from the US would call a ‘cookie’. And what I would call a ‘biscuit’, here is called a ‘scone’. I mentioned this a bit in one of my earlier blogs about Devonshire Tea. So when I tell my friends in NZ that my mom makes the best biscuits and gravy in the world, they look at me very confused and feel very very sorry for me.


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