Fair Dinkum: A Hebrew Guide to Aussie English

An Israeli raised Down Under has published a Hebrew-Australian slang dictionary in e-book form.

Alona Ferber
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Alona Ferber

Australians have at least eight different uses for the word "ass." And, in case you were wondering, if you want a 285 ml glass of beer in Adelaide ask for a "schooner," but if you're in Melbourne, the barman won't know what you're talking about so order a "pot." 

These are just a few of the Antipodean insights you will find in "Strine: Guide to Australian Slang," the first such dictionary in the Hebrew language, according to author Nadav Shemer. 

Published last week, "Strine" sets out to equip Israeli readers with a toolkit of useful words and phrases to impress the locals, as well as giving them something fun to read on the long plane ride over. The 295-page e-book includes an alphabetical dictionary and chapters on various aspects of slang, including New Zealand slang and a list of phrases themed around the word "bloody." 

Geographically isolated, and influenced by its mix of Aboriginal culture, British settlement and South African and Asian immigration, as Shemer explains in his introduction, Australians have developed their own rich English vocabulary and phraseology. The title of the book, "Strine," is a nod to Australian author Alastair Morrison, who coined the term in the mid-1960s to refer to the broad Australian accent. 

The idea of a Hebrew dictionary first came to Shemer, a consultant and journalist who has worked for Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and other publications, a few years ago. Born in Israel to an Australian mother and Israeli father, he moved to Melbourne at the tender age of one, and returned to the Holy Land in 2008. Here, he embarked on his second M.A., this time in Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. 

As the only English-speaking immigrant among his university friends, he was often asked about Australian English. During one Arabic class, he recalls, a friend even asked him to write words and phrases in the back of her book. "We were studying Australian English, not Arabic," says Shemer — and the idea developed from there. 

The beginnings of the book sat in an unopened Word document on his computer for two or three years. That is, until a visit to Australia earlier this year, when questions about the project from friends back home renewed his motivation. On returning to Israel, he opened up the file and completed the book within four months.

The market for Hebrew e-books is small, Shemer laments, and Amazon still doesn't sell digital books in Hebrew. The first-time author self-published through the Israeli digital publishing company Mendele, and the book is available through its online store for NIS 27. Readers can also pick up a copy through the e-vrit online store.

Shemer assumes the reader has a basic knowledge of English, and guides them on use and pronunciation. Anyone familiar with English can get by Down Under — and some terms in "Strine" are not unique to Australia. But many Israelis, and even some Americans that Shemer has met, don't understand Australian English, he says. People tend to be familiar with the ubiquitous "g'day" and "mate," however. 

Readers might be surprised to find words in the dictionary with a connection to Hebrew, Shemer says. One example is "cobber" a synonym for "mate," or friend. 

"There is a theory that it comes from "chaver" (the Hebrew for "friend")," he explains. "As the story goes, and I've heard it repeated by Israeli politicians speaking to Australian audiences, Australians stationed in Palestine in the Mandate period heard locals use it, and adopted it themselves." 

Aside from equipping readers to strike up a conversation with an Australian, Shemer hopes the book will help them understand the country. "They say the best way to get into a culture is to know the language, so I guess that's how I want to help Israelis who go to Australia," he says. 

Nadav Shemer during a recent visit to Australia.
The guide to Aussie English.Credit: Courtesy

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