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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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uey

A U-turn. Uey is formed by abbreviating U-turn and adding –y on the end, a common Australian way of altering words. It is often found in the phrases to chuck a uey or to do a uey, meaning ‘to carry out a U-turn’. The earliest evidence of the term is found in 1973.

1975 Australian Women’s Weekly 2 July: My father remarked nervously that we were going the wrong way. ‘Sir’, replied the driver, ‘I will shortly make a turn. I am not in the habit of chucking a U-ey.’

2006 A. Hyland Diamond Dove 205 He did a casual u-ie in the driveway and headed south.

ugg boot

A flat-soled boot made from sheepskin with the wool on the inside. The term is of unknown origin, but is perhaps originally an alteration of ugly boot. Ugg boots (also spelled ugh boots and ug boots) are Australia’s favourite footwear for comfort or cold weather. The early evidence for the term, from the late 1960s, suggests they first became popular with surfers. The name Ugh-boots was registered as a proprietary name for a type of footwear in 1971 by the Shane Clothing Company, but in 2006 ugg boot (and its variants) was removed from the Australian register of trademarks. It is now a generic term for this type of boot in Australia. For a discussion of this and other footwear terms, see our blog ‘Footwear in Australian English’ from May 2015.

1986 Woman's Day (Sydney) 15 December: You can wash your ug boots in the washing machine with a good wool wash.

2003 Sydney Morning Herald 29 November: Is it just us, or has 2003 been the year of the ocker? Everywhere you look, there are ugh boots, thongs and mullet haircuts.

ute

Abbreviation of utility, a small truck with a two-door cab that looks like a sedan, and a tray (with permanent sides) that is part of the body. The word ute is first recorded in 1943. Utes are used for carrying light loads and are a familiar sight on Australian roads, both rural and urban. Many towns have an annual gathering of utes for competitive display, sometimes called a ute muster, with prizes awarded in categories such as ‘best street ute’ and ‘best feral ute’.

1955 Bulletin (Sydney) 2 February: Charley, caught well out in the blacksoil country in his utility .. glanced over his shoulder—the back of the ute was loaded with hailstones!

1994 Age (Melbourne) 26 June: No country road anywhere on this continent is ever entirely free of hoons in utes travelling faster than they ought to.

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