I was already fluent in Kiwi vernacular when I arrived in New Zealand. I had lived with Nick for more than two years, so I knew all about kumara, jandals and togs. I knew that bear sounded like beer, bad like bed, bed like bid, and bid like bud, and that six and deck were not rude words. I thought that was all I needed to know.
How wrong I was.
Just where I live in Tai Tapu, I often stumble on gaps in my farming vocabulary. Around my house, it's a Disney show: rabbits spring, birds sing, cows graze, sheep (not sheeps) stare, deer (not deers) run and alpacas (not llamas) drool.
The other day, I saw a new animal in the neighbour's paddock.
Me: "Oh, look, a goat!"
Nick: "Ha! It's not a goat, it's a sheep."
Me: "Oh, but it looks all skinny like a goat. It must have been shaved."
And that's how I learned that sheep are shorn rather than shaved.
When it comes to sports, I don't so much stumble on vocabulary gaps as tumble into canyons.
I once interviewed a teenager who had come all the way from Brazil to play rugby at Boys' High for a year. He explained how the local style of playing rugby was different:
"For example, when there's a ruck, I…"
"Um, what's a rug?" I asked.
"A ruck," he said.
"A rock, a rack?"
"No. A RUCK."
I still don't understand what a ruck is, but at least I can spell the word now.
Another day, I had to write a breaking news story about the America's Cup. I had 10 minutes to write 300 words on a topic I knew nothing about.
"The Government signalled today that it is prepared to back another challenge for the old Mug," I wrote.
My editor spotted the mistake and we had a good laugh. But for a journalist, misspelling a word drops your credibility to tea-leaf reader levels. And people's names and local institutions are a landmine of vowels ready to pop up at the wrong place in my copy.
It can take me up to 10 minutes just to get a first name right.
"My name's Emo," I hear.
She sees me writing it down on my notebook and laughs.
"Not Emo! Emo is not even a name! It's EMMO."
"Hum," I say.
"E-M-M-A. With an ‘a' like alien."
Not long ago I interviewed a man who'd worked more than 50 years in the supermarket industry in Christchurch. He told me all the different supermarkets he'd worked at.
I wrote: "Over the years, shop names have changed from Hays to Self Help, Supervalue, Rat Race..."
Rat Race seemed a remarkably honest name for a supermarket, but why not?
Again, my editor came to my desk, laughing. "It's Rattrays, not Rat Race!"
You'd think that confusion would be a hindrance. Not at all! It is a strength because it makes me triple check every spelling. It's also part of the fun of living abroad - misunderstandings make people laugh, and I learn new words every day. Speaking of learning new words, I'd better rattle my dags and crack out my "barbie" dictionary before Christmas.
What other Kiwi words or expressions should I know? Comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter.
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