Both “parmi” and “parma” are on the list of Australian food words to be included in the annual update of the Australian National University’s dictionary, as researchers elect to remain “neutral”.

Director and chief editor Dr Amanda Laugesen says there’s quotational evidence to support both iterations, but further research must be done to determine which originated first and where.

“We are quite interested to see if we can get those kind of submissions … so we can tie it down to a particular area,” Laugesen says.

Market research conducted by Arnott’s in 2020 revealed 45 per cent of Australians prefer to use the word ‘parmi’, over 34 per cent who say ‘parma’.

“Oh no, no,” says Sydney publican Chris Deale, when asked if patrons ever ask for a ‘parma’ at Surry Hills establishment Dove and Olive.

“Parmi is what we use here. The full word is parmigiana, so it makes sense.”

Chef and author of The Kitchen Think, Anthony Telford, says people who prefer to say ‘parma’ are “trying too hard to be colloquial”.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews begs to differ. In a press release delivered in 2018, the MP “officially determined that ‘parma’ is the correct shorthand term” after conducting a social media poll of more than 32,700 Australians.

Collingwood pub The Grace Darling Hotel committed the abbreviation to paper, with each menu bearing the word ‘parma’ rather than ‘parmigiana’.

“I can’t even remember the last time I heard someone use the word ‘parmi’,” says general manager Elena Gill.

Abbreviating a pub favourite is just one example of Australians’ propensity to play with their food.

“Australians don’t just eat a meal,” says wordsmith David Astle.

“We have tucker, grub, barbies, nosh, scran, a fab spread, a decent feed, or stick our snouts in the trough for a pig-out.”

Food TikToker Audrey Lim says Australian food slang is one of the first topics of conversation that arise when speaking with people overseas.

“I guess we just don’t have time to waste,” she says. “The less time wasted, the more time we have to eat, right?”

“My favourite thing about Australian food culture is that really anything goes.”

Laugesen says food words have become a significant subset of the Australian lexicon. They typically fall into one of three categories: national inventions (chicken salt, brekkie bowls), slang (snot blocks, spag bol) or native ingredients (yarrinyarri bush onion).

“The words we use tell us about what we value in our society,” she says.

“And we have quite a lot of new words relating to food.”

National food personality and cookbook author Alice Zaslavsky says those abbreviations are a form of endearment.

“We love language, and we love food,” she says.

“We give food a nickname because it’s familiar to us, it’s our mate.”

Australia’s increasing multiculturalism will also be reflected in the new edition of the dictionary, with additions such as halal snack packs, souvas, dim sims and dimmys.

“I’d like to see dim sim in the food dictionary,” says Victor Liong, chef and owner of Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne.

“It’s a completely Australian-Chinese invention and much beloved by all.”

After 36 years in the hospitality industry, Telford says it’s about time.

“Asia is right on our doorstep. It makes sense that we should have robust multicultural influence in our restaurants.”

While many of the new additions will come as no surprise (looking at you, avo), there will be some forgotten favourites making a belated appearance.

Among them are blowaway sponge cakes, honey joys, and pikelets.

“What happened to pikelets?” asks Telford. “We all grew up with pikelets after school, topped with jam and cream. I’m ready for them to make a little comeback.”

Aussie slang translated

Rhyming slang words are a cornerstone of Australian English, says chief editor of the Australian National Dictionary Dr Amanda Laugesen.

“We’ve had a lot of new submissions for rhyming slang,” she says.

“In some cases, it’s just something someone uses within their own family, and we can’t find other evidence of it. Other times, I think, ‘Oh, that’s just something one person says’, but we end up confirming it.”

Dog’s eye and dead horse? A guide to Australian rhyming food slang

Greg Chappell – Apple

Harold Holt – Salt

Dead horse – Tomato sauce

Sparrow’s guts – Asparagus

Chicken in pajamas – Chicken parmigiana

Mystery bag – Snag (or a meat pie, or a dim sim)

Dog’s eye – Pie

Pig’s ear – Beer


Submissions for new food words to be included in the dictionary can be made through the Australian National University’s website.


Source: Is it chicken parmi or parma? Aussie dictionary update reignites the enduring food naming debate (