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The Australian National University

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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zac

A sixpence. It is probably derived from the Scottish dialect word saxpence. Zac is first recorded in Australian English in the 1890s. Later it is also used to mean ‘a trifling sum of money’, as in the phrase not worth a zac. Australians no longer use pounds, shillings and pence since decimal currency was introduced in 1966, but we have long memories. Despite the fact that there have not been zacs in our wallets for fifty years, the word zac, and the notion that it is not worth a great deal, can still be found in Australian usage. 

1945 Australian Week-End Book: The only one who’d backed it had been his wife who’d had a zac each way.

2006 Age (Melbourne) 29 August: ‘When I started this .. I divested myself of anything I owned’, he said. ‘I'm not worth a zac.’

For a discussion of Australian terms for coins and banknotes, see our blog ‘Two bob each way: money in Australian English’ from February 2016. 

Updated: 23 September 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Centre Director / Page Contact:  Web Publisher