COVID-19 lingo: Why Aussies need slang for everything

Published:30 April 2020

CQUni's Associate Professor Celeste Lawson managed to 'magpie' some 'sanny'.

In 2019 Corona was a beer and a Magpie a bird - in 2020 these words have taken on a whole new meaning with COVID-19 lingo now a part of every Australian’s vocabulary.

CQUniversity’s Head of Professional Communication Associate Professor Celeste Lawson explained how the Coronavirus pandemic has forced us to use words that until recently were not a part of regular conversation.

“A few months ago, terms such as flattening the curve or social distancing would have little to no meaning to the general population,” Dr Lawson said.

“Australians like to take this one step further, creating a language based around abbreviations, diminutives and idioms. The result is people are now referring to Coronavirus as ‘Corona’ or ‘the Rona’ and a supermarket hoarder is referred to as a ‘magpie’.

“Slang words like ‘iso’ and ‘sanny’ have evolved to shorten longer recognised words, which gives the new word a context. So ‘iso’ has been contextualised to mean ‘self-isolation due to coronavirus’ and ‘sanny’ is ‘hand sanitiser’. These terms are becoming part of our everyday lexicon - just like ‘cuppa’, ‘footy’ or ‘Maccas’.”

According to Dr Lawson, Aussies penchant for adapting these words isn’t an inability for us to articulate full sentences but has more to do with creating familiarity through with language.

“Traditionally as Australians, we have laid back attitude which is further represented in the way we talk. It is not that we are lazy - we use lingo to make ourselves feel more comfortable which is particularly relevant in times of crisis such as this.

“It’s very typical of slang words to end with the vowel ‘i’ or ‘o’ and to be shortened forms of the word they represent. Another technique we tend to use is a word that rhymes with the word it represents, to use a synonym, or sometimes even a word that rhymes with a synonym - which can make for very complicated slang!”

After almost 30 years in the journalism industry, Dr Lawson has seen how trends come and go but language has become embedded into Australian culture.

“The uniqueness of our expressions are national characteristics. We will continue to use the word ‘sanny’ long past the COVID-19 pandemic and international visitors will continue to have no idea what we are saying."