Observatory

Che-che, bro? Chur, mate.

I recently did a bit of research at work to help figure out how to spell the New Zealand slang word chur (and, yeah, that’s the spelling we settled on).

It’s a hard one to look into because it’s the sort of word that’s never used in any sort of formal writing. Online it’s most likely to be found in blogs, forums, social networking websites, but never stuff like newspaper articles or things written by reputable writers.

The first time I heard chur was probably about 20 years ago, and yet it doesn’t appear to have made it into any Kiwi slang lists. Instead those are chocker with the kind of words that probably only your great-uncle and his cobbers down at the RSA use non-ironically.

So I guess it falls upon me – oh the burden – to get something down in writing. This is what I’ve found – there are two separate words – chur and che.

chur (tʃɜː)

  • Chur is pronounced with the ‘ch’ in ‘chop’ and the long vowel sound in ‘bird’.
  • It could also be spelt cher, but I don’t like this because it’s confusing with Cher the singer (pronounced ‘Sheer’)
  • Use 1. Chur is used appreciatively, in the way that someone might say “awesome” or “excellent”. Eg “They had a two-for-one special on Tim Tams at the supermarket!” “Chur!”
  • Use 2. Chur is used to show thanks. “Do you want this packet of Tim Tams? We bought too many.” “Oh, chur!”
  • Chur is often coupled with a vocative term, eg, “Chur, bro.”
  • The vowel sound in chur can be drawn out to emphasise the appreciation. “Chuuuuur! That’s awesome!”

che (tʃɛ)

  • Che is also pronounced with the ‘ch’ in ‘chop’, but takes the shorter vowel sound in ‘bed’.
  • Che is a shorter-sounding word.
  • Use 1. Che can be used to mean an affirmative, like “OK” or “yep”. Eg “I’m off to the supermarket.” “Che.”
  • Use 2. Che is often doubled as che-che. This used about the same as Use 1 of chur – to show appreciation or praise.

Origins

So where did this interesting word/s come from? I dunno… But I did pick up a few theories:

  • It’s short for cheers.
  • It’s short for choice.
  • It’s short for true.
  • It’s snort for Christchurch.
  • There was this guy in Rotorua who had a speech defect and when he tried to say “choice” it came out as “chuuuuu”.
  • Howard Morrison invented it.*

I’m sure that it originates from Maori English, but how it got there is less certain. It seems that chur and che probably have the same root, but it could also be argued that they might be from two separate sources.

As a disclaimer, I should note that I did a couple of first-year linguistics papers and I have vague hobbyist interest in New Zealand English, but that’s about it.

Most of this is speculation. I just want to get what is in my brain out on the interwebs. If anyone has any more information or theories about chur/che, do share!

* Here’s a clip from Eating Media Lunch, where Howard Morrison claims to have invented chur in 1960:

Update: May 2010

I’ve heard a really compelling theory of the origins of chur from Te Rau Kupenga. He says it’s an East Coast term that came about through subtle changes over time and the influence of English on Maori.

In the beginning was parekareka, meaning “sweet as!”. This was shortened to kareka, then mutated into kelega via regional consonants. That then became chalega, which was shortened to cha, and finally turned into chur.

Update: January 2014

Legendary entertainer Toni Williams shared his story of the origin of chur with Sean Plunket on Radio Live. Listen here.

To summarise: in the 1960s, Toni (who was part of Maori showband the Tremellos) was touring with the Howard Morrison Quartet, ventriloquist John Zealando and others. (I think this was hugely popular the Showtime Spectacular tour.) From being on the road together for so long, the lads started to form their own in-jokes and language, particularly a way of closed-jaw speaking that was inspired by the way John Zealando talked doing his ventriloquist act. This led to the birth of “chur” as a stiff-jawed pronunciation of “cool”. Toni says that Howard Morrison Quartet member Gerry Merito was the one who came up with it. This new slang term spread throughout the showband community, eventually coming into common use decades later. This also led to the creation of “chur doy”, with “doy” being the stiff-jawed pronunciation of “boy”. Toni added that musician Carl Doy was called “the original doy”.

As far as theories go, this one sounds pretty plausible – a bunch of young dudes in bands making up funny slang. It also ties in with Howard Morrison’s claim that he invented chur.

What I’m most interested now is how chur seems to have come into use in East Coast communities – Ngati Porou country – before moving to the rest of New Zealand. If the Toni Williams story is true (or at least truthy), then how did chur move from the showband community to the East Coast? Any ideas? Share them below!

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31 thoughts on “Che-che, bro? Chur, mate.

  1. Jess says:

    Me, Aussie girl & Irish guy in Geneva last weekend – Obviously a french/german speaking, multi-cultural environment. We were enjoying a glass of wine, and discussing the various ways of saying ‘cheers’ in differing languages – sante, salut… etc.
    I was asked if there was any special way of saying ‘cheers’ in New Zealand – my answer – ‘Chur’
    hehe they were actually most amused!

  2. Max says:

    Saying “Cheers” and switching to “yeah” part way through – as happens sometimes when you see something cool.

    In all my years I have rarely heard this word. I have never heard “che” or “che-che”. I did hear “Chin-chin” occasionally a few years ago after it was in a beer ad.

    In our office a few years ago a word was invented, as an insult, then a proper definition (for practical use!) to give the insult a definition.
    The word is “swope” (rhymes with cope) and I won’t put the definitions here because it’s a little rude.

  3. Dunno about the Maori English part, but the first people I ever knew who used it had picked it up in Rotorua and parts nearby in the late 80s. Same people from whom I first heard “tumeke”, now that I think about it.

        • There’s no doubt that people use “Chur-chur” as a nickname for Christchurch (from “Chch”), but is this the same word as the che-che/chur-chur that means “ok, sweet”? Or is it just coincidence that the two words sound the same?

          Nonetheless, it’s come up enough that I’ve added it to the main list.

  4. Rawiri: Thanks for sharing that. It’s a very intriguing idea.

    I wonder, though, how does the meaning of “chur” go from meaning “Christchurch” to “awesome!”? It’s changed from a noun to an interjection – that’s a big leap!

    I’d be interested to hear any more information about this chur origin.

  5. Tama Solomon says:

    The original use for the word “Chur” was used in greeting someone (in The Chatham Islands) by my ancestors the Moriori. This was documented before the 1835 Maori invasion. So was most probably from the Moriori.
    “Rongo” also had similar meaning and was more widely used than “Chur”.
    Both “Chur” and “Rongo” have similar meaning to the Maori word “Kio ra”
    However “Chur” was also used as a goodbye, I presume this is why it is often now said in NZ language at the end of a sentence or instead of saying goodbye.

    Chur
    Tama Solomon

  6. Tuki Tipuna says:

    Yes I have noted the upsurge in the word “Chur” in recent years by both Maori and European’s in New Zealand. I researched this also and found very little info about it until I looked into the Moriori and yes Tama is correct in that the Moriori used “Chur” as a greeting and in most cases farewell.
    Tama I see your surname is Salomon. Are you a descendent of Tommy Solomon, the last full blooded Moriori who passed away in 1933?
    Kind Regards
    Tuki

  7. Pete says:

    Chur comes from Choice. You can substitute Chur for Choice in the same context. Chur became cooler than Choice at one stage because Choice was considered ‘daggy’ by the ‘cool crowd’. Much like ‘Awesome’ at the same time. Mid 80’s perhaps?. I remember me and my mates doing it.

  8. Tamsin says:

    I have heard the term ‘che’ or ‘cha’ (not chur) in reggae/dub/dancehall/culture music from the Caribbean (Jamaican, Trinidadian etc). This could be one connection with the word, as some of this music has long been popular among Maori in NZ. From a Jamaican slang dictionary: Cha/cho- Expression of surprise. Cha! (What!)
    In some songs, the word sounds like ‘cha’ but is actually ‘Jah!’ used as an exclamation, or short for ‘Jah bless’.

  9. chris says:

    Ok people, it originates from the days of chinese mining workers in New Zealand..a corruption of “xie xie” which in chinese is “thanks”. There is no “ch” or “sh” sound in Maori, therefore it cannot be Maori origin.

  10. deemo says:

    i concur with the che being short for choice theory i knew a few fella’s said choice then all i heard was che. chur is clearly a mistake and is a town in switzerland

  11. Anna says:

    ‘Che’ is an exclamation in Argentina. I only mention it because there are very few Latin Americans in New Zealand, but the ones here seem to be Argentines/Argentinean, Chileans and other South Americans with a smattering of Mexicans. I wonder if the Argentines might have had an influence because Te Reo (the Maori language) is pronounced exactly like Spanish excepting the sounds non-existent in Te Reo.

  12. Sam says:

    Che Che Cuz, we have wen saying this for about 10years but never knew where it originated from. We use it for all of the definitions listed. We start and end messages, emails, board meetings with Che Che.

    If its a close friend we also add the word cuz to the end of it.

    Great work mate.

    Che Che

    Sam

  13. simon james says:

    Im going with the chinese miner version if anyone ever asks .
    I was watching (being forced to watch) ‘Ni Hao Kylan’ (spelling?) on Sky 44, and caught her saying “Chur Chur”. I immediately thought ‘aha thats where it came from’

  14. Hira says:

    I’m a 31 year old Maori and my uncle’s and dad always used words like che neat all right chalega atta bei when I was young they were raised in the east coast I’m sure it’s a gizzy thing che

  15. Melissa says:

    I have a Maori student in my class who uses it as a greeting. “Chur, Miss K.” He always says it when I call the roll, to say he’s present, or to greet others throughout the day.

  16. jace says:

    Chur might of started from the Howie the maori camp, but it’s in the hawkesbay where itt was most widely used circa 1979 onwards ,.. I can say this with certainty as having travelled the north island extensively when in my youth, …the word choice has a big part to play to as it morphed into chur independent of the Howard Morrison claim,..especially in the bay in the late 70’s, mobsters were among the biggest users of the word back in the day, …which is why I believe the Morrison claim has some validity to it due to the fact chur doy was used commonly by some of my mongie mates……HAWKESBAY Alll DAY chuuuurrrrrr !

  17. Pingback: Chur Burger, Surry Hills | The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry | A Sydney Food Blog

  18. Honesty says:

    NO… its much older. in the days past the army people use to say “Got your back Digger” during Anzac time… that meant in the trenches your bro had your back and would look after you if you were shot… and you had his.

    this was shortened to “Chur digger” and then eventualjy “chur”,.,. as in “got CHUR back”.

    We were saying “CHUR” in NZ into the early 80s… A whole fleet of musos went to aussie back then and returned in the mid 90s…. they brought it back with them,.. thats why no one knows where it came from. cause it disappeared with 80s musos and came back in the mid 90s who didn’t speak or know the history of it.. The original meaning lines up with Horward Morrison but come s from the war.

  19. Kia ora Robyn, thanks for the research – its really appreciated, especially the audio of Tony Williams on Radio Live. I’m an ex-sailor from the late 1970s through to the millinium and we used ‘cher doy’ (I have a tattoo on my arm spelt this way) frequently within the NZ Navy – where ‘chur doy’ still being used alongside everyday naval slang and terminology. My close friend from Manutuke (Gisborne) who has now passed on, told me that ‘cher doy’ was used by his uncles in the 60s and 70s. Anyway just thought I’d let you know that next year in Feb we’re holding a ‘Chur Doy Reunion’ of close friends that experienced all forms of ‘chur doy’. Thanks again for the thread.

  20. Chur is defo from the East Coast. First time I heard it would have been in the late 80’s while down the coast, tho I would spell it Chr, there are no vowels in chr :)

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