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SocietyJanuary 26, 2024

Don’t be a dingus: The best New Zealand schoolyard insults that time forgot


Are you a tryhard, a sad guy, or a gumbus? We look back at the most memorable schoolyard insults of yesteryear.

The school year is looming which means children across Aotearoa will soon be flooding back to the playground to unleash a litany of confusing and sometimes extremely regionally specific insults upon one another. Today we can report from our rocking chairs that “simp” (wanting attention from girls) is apparently a big one with the kids, along with “sussy baka” (suspicious idiot) and “flexy” (a show-off).

While we of course don’t endorse any kind of bullying, and won’t be including any of the many overtly sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist or otherwise not-OK insults that were once common, we do enjoy ourselves a good dose of nostalgia – even when it’s painful. So we took a walk down memory lane to dredge up some of the most powerful insults that time forgot. 


When I lived overseas and ended up working with an Australian who relentlessly teased my (mild compared to his) accent, I called him an egg. Which only fuelled the ribbing. It soon became known in the office that the top New Zealand insult was to call someone an egg. And look, I’m proud that a corner of Belgium knows this and hopefully has adopted it (the word for egg in Flemish is “ei”). It is the single greatest and funniest and strangest mudsling there is. The best time of year is obviously Easter when you can say, “Happy Easter, eggs.” / Claire Mabey


In Karori in the 1990s, the worst thing you could be called by a teenager was a gripper. The exact definition is contested – one of my two older sisters says it’s “a massive nerd who is also a touch unpleasant”, while the other defines gripper as “an annoying tryhard loser”. Either way, it was brutal. I was generally too young and meek to wield the insult myself but was certainly at the receiving end often enough, as was fellow Karori expat Madeleine Chapman. Born in 1994, she’s almost a decade younger than me, suggesting gripper hung on until around the turn of the millennium, at least in the Chapman household. How much it spread beyond Wellington suburbia is not clear, though one of my sisters recalls cries of “gripper!” ringing regularly through the halls of an Otago uni hall of residence circa 1996. / Alice Neville


“Hard up” has been a part of the New Zealand vernacular for decades, usually as a phrase to describe one’s financial situation – “sorry I can’t pay you back, I’m a bit hard up at the moment.” But at my Invercargill primary school in the mid-90s it was also a catch-all insult used to describe anything that appeared cheap or didn’t meet an eight-year-old’s benchmark for quality, from pencil cases to haircuts to shoes. The fear of having my clothes described as “hardup” ultimately drove me to dress head-to-toe in Charlotte Hornets merch from Stirling Sports despite never having watched or played basketball in my life. / Calum Henderson

Not pictured: psychically damaging regionally specific insults. (Photo: Getty Images)


Both meaning a sycophant, kissarse and eatarse were used interchangeably depending how little you like the person. Undoubtedly born from some classic NZ homophobia, eatarse has potent energy, a truly forceful insult given to those who are both lame and really trying too hard to be cool. Who decides what’s lame and what’s cool? No one knows. But in a sign of New Zealand progressive rainbow attitudes, eatarse is most often heard now as simply “eats”. / Madeleine Chapman


A phrase where the prefix and pronunciation is everything. For a kid to say “far, that’s hard out” meant something was exceptional, flash, impressive, grandiose. If someone asked if you wanted to go to the pools and you said “yeah, hard out”, that meant you really, really, wanted to go to the pools. But everything changes as soon as you lose the space between the words, and run it all together: what a hardout. To be a hardout was to be so hard out into something that you have likely brought shame upon your family name. Exists in the same universe as “tryhard” but slightly more affectionate. For example: “She’s such a hardout for Winnie the Pooh, but it was real tryhard to write a whole speech about it” (my bullies, 1998). / Alex Casey


“What a sluzza!” For girls and young women, the grade of insult changed at high school from generic to sexually charged as you got sorted into a group based on the inescapable good girl/bad girl stereotypes. Sluzza seemed to be a particularly virulent strain of insult at all-girls high schools. It’s the softer iteration of “slut” and was whispered on Mondays as news leaked out about who’d pashed who or been “felt up” over the weekend at a garage party. You could be a sluzza for a week based on one story, or branded one for the entirety of your time at high school. / Anna Rawhiti-Connell


The drink driving PSA “Oi Jeff” found here in all its 144p glory, tells the tale of a good bloke who is worried his mate Jeff is about to drive home from a party after too many beers. Our hero rushes outside to stop Jeff getting in his car, only to discover Jeff was just grabbing a rugby ball. They have a good laugh, and then call each other “a manus”. The ad took the playgrounds by storm, and it was not a good time to be a self-conscious kid with the surname MacManus. No one seemed to know how to spell it (Manus/Marnis/Munnus?), or even what it meant (Menace? Male anus? Man-ass?). Every time I made the mistake of asking for a definition, other kids gave me increasingly outrageous and hurtful answers. 

Story within a story: I still don’t know if manus is a real insult or was created specifically for the ad. The earliest internet record I could find was a 2006 forum on Most of the commenters thought it an invented term, but a couple insisted it was an old insult. The user ‘aazaa’ seemed convinced it referred to Ketjap Manis, the Indonesian sweet soy sauce. Someday, I will get to the bottom of this and finally track down the ad executive who ruined my intermediate school existence. / Joel MacManus

Goose/silly goose 

I was an egg guy, for a while. I liked how inoffensive it was, as a hard note of resistance to the algorithmic amplification of offence that has characterised the social media era. If you’re really bad you’re a rotten egg. That worked – until I happened upon goose. Even though I’m old, it was never part of my upbringing.  It feels like it was the state of the insult art between the world wars, so mild as to barely be an insult at all – a goose is just a nice bird whose only crime is not to be a swan. I started using it on my children when they forgot to do something and it landed with almost no sting. When they were really out of line – silly goose. Meaningless. Perfect. / Duncan Greive


Definitely remember this pithy number on the mean streets of Tauranga in the late 90s. It could be applied to anything really but I distinctly recall it being used on frequent op-shop trawls (for old-man pants, petticoats and bootleg jeans). You definitely did not want to have the word scody applied to yourself but it’s an excellent choice when assessing the quality of poo-brown pants and whether they’re simply too rank for the $2 price tag. / CM


For a long stretch of my late adolescence, dropnuts was about as close as an insult could get to perfection. To be a dropnuts was more than just to be a coward, it was to be a disappointing coward. Here you were, two nuts at your disposal, and rather than do a Run it Straight challenge in your university accomodation’s third-floor corridor, or jump off that shop awning into a box hedge, or prank call your old principal at 3am on a Tuesday, you’ve been cowed. Shirked at the challenge. You had the opportunity to sack up, and look what you did instead. Certainly there were worse things to be called. But there weren’t many other insults I’d so gladly risk (or receive) a concussion to avoid. / Matthew McAuley

Pork chop 

In Adam Parore’s autobiography The Wicked-keeper, which I recently re-read (it’s still good), he describes himself as “behaving like a pork chop” on multiple occasions, usually while ratarse drunk on a night out with Cairnsy or in the midst of an uncontrollable cricket rage. Parore attended Auckland’s St Kentigern College in the 1980s, for what it’s worth. / CH

The real Gumby


I was well out of primary school when I realised that gumby was the name of a rubbery turquoise humanoid character and not a word specifically created to articulate my existence. In the 90s, “gumby” would mostly arise during displays of awkward physicality. Missed the ball in T-ball? Gumby. Started running in the 100 metres before that scary wooden clapper thing had clapped? Gumby. Slipped over in a Jolly raspberry puddle at the disco? Gumby. And, much like a Flybuys programme, if you earned yourself enough gumby points, you could ascend to the schoolyard honorific of being “a gumbus”. Celebrity gumbuses (gumbii?) include Sir John Key, Shortland Street’s Damo from IT and What Now’s Camilla the Gorilla. / AC


Years ago the director Joel Kefali described the New Zealand indie posture as “trying’s lame”, which seemed apt then and now. If you must succeed, make it look like you could barely be bothered doing the thing. It feels deeply ingrained in our national psyche, that the very worst thing you can do is to take a big public swing and fail, followed closely by a big swing that succeeds. If you have to be successful, at least be mortified by it and act like it was just an accident. You get all that from tryhard, a schoolyard insult which cut the recipient to ribbons in the 90s, an irrecoverable wound. / DG

Foolish sucka

In the iconic New Zealand movie Eagle v Shark (2007) Jemaine Clement’s character Jarrod amps himself up for a confrontation phone call by spitting out “Sucka, foolish, foolish sucka” and a mid-2000s insult (of the fond variety) was born. I was at university in Ōtepoti by this time and have fond memories of this phrase as common usage, whether bellowed, murmured or slurred. / CM

Label basher

Oooof. This one hurt. Label basher was a common-use shame out that hit its peak in the late 90s / early 2000s, around about the time that Barkers trackpants, Dickies, anything Volcom and Vans were the must-have accoutrements for pre-teens (at least in Tauranga). Label basher is a jealousy-tinged slight on your lack of personal style and creative chic. I half suspect that accusations of label bashing was partially responsible for the shift into grunge: no labels in sight during that era, just scody  (see above) second-hand petticoats over bootleg jeans. What a look. / CM


On an etymological level, bots/botz is the Samoan equivalent of both a smartarse and an eatarse. Short for fia poto (fia = to be, poto = smart or clever) a bots or a fiabots is someone who thinks they know something but in fact knows nothing. Applied to knowledge, practical skills and general vibe, bots is unique in that while it is absolutely a catch-all insult, it burned hardest when it was actually true. If you heard “don’t bots it” after talking up your own skills or charm, and then were called a bots for years because you caked it… well, they’re not wrong. A genuine bots guy – someone who is always acting like the smartest person in the room despite being far from it – is truly one of God’s greatest punishers. / MC


Not an insult so much as an expression of pure tweenage disdain, “mrrrr” is easily the largest publishable word in the word cloud of my late-90s Dunedin intermediate experience. The oral equivalent of rolling your eyes, pronounced with a brutally hard R, “mrrrr” became an instinctive response to anything we deemed stupid, annoying, childish or cringe (a concept we didn’t know about back then but would have wholeheartedly embraced if we did). Mum says you can’t get dreads? “Mrrrr.” Canteen sold out of Cookie Time $1 cookies? “Mrrrr.” Someone wore head-to-toe Charlotte Hornets merch on mufti day when everybody else had moved on to wearing Australian surf brands? “Mrrrr.” / CH

tfw you realise you need a Billabong T-shirt and you need it yesterday

Sad guy

“Don’t be a sad guy!” This choice pairing has a couple of meanings in my memory, on the one hand it was the ultimate peer pressure tool (“you have to come to the hall party, don’t be a sad guy!”) and on the other it could be used as a take down of someone who was being mean, “what a sad guy”. These days I’m the former sort of sad guy on the regular (enjoy a 9pm bedtime and a zero alcohol beer (not at the same time) and wish I could tell my 15-year-old self that turning down the Spumante would not be a sad guy move at all. / CM


An acronym of “joiner-inner” (or perhaps joiner-innerer). To be a JI in the Wairarapa in the 90s was one of the worst things you could possibly be. JI’s were people who hadn’t been invited into the conversation, the netball game, the sleepover. I just wish someone had told me that being a JI is actually good practice for growing up. Ironically, in this modern climate of much-adored “hustle” and “moxie”, only the very finest JI’s rule the roost. / AC


Still really enjoy this. It’s somehow softer than your straight “dick” and a lot funnier. Dickhead has enjoyed a long history of usage in New Zealand and is generally understood to mean someone who partakes in pretty shitty behaviour. A quick google of “dickhead NZ” brings up a vibrant raft of news stories in which the word stars, including this 2020 report about a complaint against Mediaworks for displaying the word during the 6pm news in a segment which asked participants to describe, using one word, the then-leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges and the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern: “One of the words used to describe Mr Bridges was the word ‘dickhead’, which was displayed in the word-cloud in medium-sized text.” The complaint was not upheld. / CM

Honourable mentions: Munter, hungus, dur-brain, brrrtz, rats, dingbat, drongo, ning nong, druff, mole, pillock, dingus, stain. 

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