Brekkies, barbies, mozzies: Why do Aussies shorten so many words?

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Brekkies, barbies, mozzies: Why do Aussies shorten so many words?

Australians sure do like those brekkies, barbies, and mozzies.

We’re not talking about “actual” mozzies here. We’re defo (definitely) talking about words — and Aussies can’t seem to get enough of these shortened words.

Some say we’re lazy for clipping them. Others claim it’s just Aussies knocking words down to size — ta, we’ll have a glass of cab sav or savvy b instead of whatever that is in French.

Our most beloved shortenings end in –ie/y and -o. Journos often ask us why Aussies use them, and whether they’ll last. Well, not only are we still using them, seppos (Americans) and pommies (Brits) are joining the action, too.

Here’s an uplifting story for your hollies (holidays) about Australia’s “incredible shrinking words”.

Endings that bond and bind us

These alternative forms of words are often described as “diminutives” (or hypocoristics).

Pet names with such endings can show we have a warm or simply friendly attitude toward something or someone (think of the on -s on cuddles). Certainly, on names, –ie/y and –are often affectionate (think Susy and Robbo).

But the vast majority of Aussie diminutives are doing something different.

Indeed, saying journo or pollie doesn’t usually indicate we’re thinking of journalists and politicians as small and endearing things. These “diminutives” are also a world away from the birdies and doggies of the nursery. Adult Australians might cheerfully talk about blowies and trackies, but not birdies and doggies — well, unless it’s on the golf course or perhaps in reference to the Western Bulldogs getting a specky (spectacular mark).

For Australian National University linguist Anna Wierzbicka, these expressions are among the most culturally salient features of Australian English — expressions of informality and solidarity that are “uniquely suited to the Anglo-Australian ethos … and style of interaction”.

Experiments by Australian linguists have empirically confirmed the social effects of these embellished words. Colloquialisms such as barbie and smoko are like accents — part of the glue that sticks Australian English speakers together.

Are -ie/y endings darlings or weaklings?

Diminutives can die out when they take on the burden of new social meanings. One of the oldest endings (found as far back as Anglo-Saxon times) is -ling. We see it still on words like twinkling and darling. However, by modern times it had flipped and become contemptuous, especially when used of humans (think of weakling and underling).

In contrast to -ling, our -ie/-y endings carry important, positive meanings, and there’s no sign yet that we’re giving up on them. Those sunnies, scungies, boardies, cozzies, stubbies and trackies are still the stuff of our sartorial summer fashion.

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