In Australian Aboriginal English, does "Cheeky" have meanings different from those found in other varieties of English?

In the Baz Luhrmann movie "Australia", the word "Cheeky" was used by the Aboriginal character Nullah:

Miss boss! We gotta get those fat cheeky bulls into that big bloody metal ship!

(However, Australia might be unreliable when it comes to Australian Aboriginal English)

The Wikipedia article Australian Aboriginal English indirectly talks about "Cheeky". It doesn't fully define it, but suggests it has distinct meanings in Australian Aboriginal English:

Another use [of "rubbish" ] is meaning something is not dangerous, for example, non-venomous snakes are all considered to be rubbish while in contrast, venomous snakes are all cheeky.


From an article (p4) in the Australian Journal of Indigenous Education

Lexical items do not necessarily correspond, even in Aboriginal English. Nicholls (1994, p. 5) gives the example of cheeky meaning vicious, rough, violent, or perhaps very spicy chilli sauce. English meanings of “cheeky” do not have the same connotations.

dangph provides:

From Aboriginal English by Jay Mary Arthur (p89):

Cheeky is a word used widely throughout Aboriginal Australia to mean not just insolence but behaviour that is dangerous, or violent.

  • +1 That sort of agrees with my understanding, although seems a bit more violent. Never considered sauce. – Frank Jul 6 '14 at 8:14

Plain Australian (although it could well be influenced by Aboriginal terms) includes the sense of being ornery in cheeky.

Stop being so cheeky means the same as in the UK (insolent, impudent, 'clever') but can also mean stop being difficult as in difficult to control physically or prone to angry outbursts.

I've never heard it used for bovines but I suppose it could extend to cantankerous.


My understanding of the Aboriginal use of cheeky has always been that the object or creature being cheeky (such a snake or bull attacking) is being disrespectful or impudent.

It is that the person (or his power) is not being respected by the object or creature. It is cheeky to attack, because the outcome is certain: the attack will fail.

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