I found it impossible to keep a straight face when an Australian banker looked me in the eye and spoke passionately about the fetish of "footy." But that is merely the diminutive for Australian rules football, a wild and popular sport that evolved from miners' scrimmages in the 19th-Century gold fields of the state of Victoria.
The giddy obsession they call footy fever breaks out every winter in Victoria's capital city of Melbourne, where, I was told, one person in 16 attends the Saturday games, and most of the rest watch on the "telly."
Footy was the first of many abbreviations that fascinated me Down Under. "Crissie" means Christmas, "postie" is mailman, "bikey" is biker and, of course, "barbie" is what you put another shrimp on, unless you are in Melbourne, where you might put a sausage on.
"Stubby" is a small bottle of beer, while "middy" is a 10-ounce glass. "Mozzie" is mosquito, "uni" is university, "tazzie" is Tasmania and "Aussies" are all the merry folks who talk this way.
Their strain of English is rounded off with choruses of words that end with o: "garbo" is garbage collector, "dero" is derelict, "demo" is demonstration and "journo" is journalist. "Paddo" is Paddington, a trendy suburb of Sydney; a pharmacy on its Oxford Street is billed as "Maddo, the chemist from Paddo."
On a flight from Queensland, I sat by a woman who wore plum lipstick and coral rouge and reminded me of my seventh-grade English teacher. She showed me her late mother's opal ring, which she kept pinned inside her purse, and then launched into an Aussie language lesson, including many expressions born in the north:
"To make a blue" is a faux pas, she said, although "blue" can also be a fight or a quarrel. "To pickle and pork" is to talk excessively.
She recalled that her niece's boyfriend had said, after he first met the family: "Your aunt can really pickle and pork." The memory made her chuckle, and she proceeded to pickle and pork all the way to Sydney.
During a city tour in Melbourne, a coach driver pointed out the elegant residence of the Premier of Victoria and said: "He's an Irishman, you know.
But don't let anybody tell you that it takes him two hours to watch '60 Minutes.' "
And so it goes. Melbourne and Sidney residents cheerfully insult each other in story and song, and both trade barbs with New Zealand.
How could you not like a nation that, when you say "thank you," responds with the endearing phrase: "No worries?"