French girl learns Kiwi lingo

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 or follow me on Twitter.

The Press