Wednesday, August 27, 2008
lexicon of nobody
Regulars will know I use a lot of obscure words and phrases here. Certainly I can choose to do so or not. I understand the appeal of not doing so. Foreign readers would be less confused if I stuck to some variation of international English. But I view this as a soft form of dumbing down. And besides, no one ever did this for me, ha ha.
I've been reading English and American writers all my life and none of them saw fit to narrow their vocabulary or explain anything for the sake of Antipodeans. So I would grab a dictionary and figure it out for myself. Often as not I just had to guess. Well now I get my own back, ha!
But don't worry. In a spirit of helpfulness, I have come up with this brief lexicon. It's a simple glossary of Australian English, archaisms and other unlikely words. It's not any variety of exhaustive. If I use a word that I suspect foreigners will be unfamiliar with, I'll whack it in here. Mind you, this is not such a simple matter. I'm constantly surprised to find words that I thought were universal, were no such thing. Just lately I discovered that 'offsider' is an Australianism. Who knew?
Further, it's not my intention to replace the dictionary. You won't find 'Jesuitical' there, for instance. Every English dictionary has it already (and what a marvellous word it is too). Rather, my purpose is to cover words that foreigners won't find in their respective dictionaries. And don't write to tell me that you do in fact have a given word in common use. It may still be unknown to other native, and second-language, speakers of English.
So! Let's exciting English! Yoroshiku.
noun - the Greek goddess of idleness. (Daughter of Aether and Gaia. She guarded the court of hypnos in the underworld. When she could be fagged that is...)
noun - a derogatory word for an aborigine. (Racist epithets aside, in Australia aborigine and aboriginal are interchangable as nouns. It's meaning is simply that of 'original inhabitant')
noun - Australia; Australia and New Zealand (Literally - the far side of the world. Technically for Australia, the 'antipodes' would be Europe, but let's not confuse things)
noun - afternoon. (As in - 'Seeya this arvo'. This follows in the hallowed tradition of Australians taking words, shortening them, and adding 'o' or 'y' to the end. See telly, below)
noun/adjective - Australian. (I understand everyone knows this word. I put it here to make clear the pronunciation, which is 'ozzie'. For some reason, Americans pronounce it 'ossie' with a hard 's'. For Australians, this grates like you wouldn't believe. See 'Oz' below)
verb - deprecate, derogate. (As in - 'He never missed an opportunity to bag out George Bush.' Is this Australian? Possibly)
verb - to reserve a thing before anyone else has the opportunity. (As in - 'I bags the couch.' Or - 'You can't bags it because I bagsed it already.' Ha ha ha. It looks ugly written doesn't it? Never mind, it is what it is)
noun - man, fellow. (apparently derived from Shelta, the language of Irish and Welsh gypies loosely based on Gaelic)
noun - a notorious jail in Brisbane, now closed.
noun - bro, mate, pal. (Short for 'brother', sure enough. This is New Zealander/Pacific Islander English. I always found it curious that 'bro' is pronounced the way it's written. For mine, this makes more sense)
noun - whirl, as in 'give it a whirl'. (I've heard vague rumours that this was originally Scottish. Maybe, maybe not)
imperative verb - Come on. (Made famous by Australian playwright David Williamson with his play The Club. The play was about the dramas within an Australian Rules football club, The Crows. The team was urged forward with the cry, 'C'arn the Crows!')
adjective - embracing many things; of, or catering to, wide tastes. (As in - 'Country and Western, hip-hop, easy listening, you name it, it's all good. My tastes are perfectly catholic'. As for the Catholic Church, it's no accident that it was named thus. For mine, it's a declaration that it is for all, and is an emphatic rejection of any sense of exclusivity)
noun - an old story or gag that we know too well. (As in - 'Not that old chestnut!')
noun - a chicken. (Australians, when feeding chickens, will inevitably say - 'here, chook, chook, chook.' I certainly do.)
noun - rear, derriere. (As in, 'That bloody tailgater was right up my clacker'. I would declare that on the scale of things this word is less rude than 'arse', mostly on account of its comedic resemblance to some kind of sound effect. Without being certain, I'm convinced it derives from cloaca a primitive physical arrangement found in many non-mammals that functions as both waste tract and sexual organs. Okay, so that's pretty yucky, but since nobody has ever heard of a cloaca, clacker is safe to be used in front of children, grandmas, etc)
noun/interjection - a high pitch cry used in the Australian bush to attract attention or denote one's location to those distant or unseen. (Used in conversation to indicate great distance. Thus - 'We broke down in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing within cooee')
noun - man, fellow. (Dated English but originally from the Romany kova meaning 'thing or person')
crack the shits
verb - throw a tantrum. (As in - 'When he was told there were only light beers left, he cracked the shits.)
noun - a really marvellous thing, a shining example. (As in- 'Don't miss that new flick. It's a cracker!' Crackers are also small fireworks of the Chinese New Year's variety, as well as those paper things one pulls apart at Xmas to find a paper hat and small toy inside. Do Americans have those? And what do they call them?)
crawl up one's arse
verb - to behave in an obsequious or sycophantic fashion. (As in - 'I'm sick of that bloke, he's always crawling up the boss's arse)
noun - a silly person.
dips me lid
verb - 'take my hat off'. (This is a quote from CJ Dennis' 1919 poem, 'A Sentimental Bloke'. Dennis along with Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, and others featured in the then culturally significant 'Bulletin' magazine, and were the first Australians to write in a distinctly Australian vernacular. Whilst not quite reaching his genius heights, they are to the Antipodes what Mark Twain was to the US)
verb - inform on someone, rat someone out. (This used to be an arch sin in Australia. But under that shit Howard, the Australian Federal Government began running a campaign urging Australians to dob in their coloured, jibber-jabbering neighbours. It wasn't quite that explicit, but everyone got it. PS - Under Rudd, the campaign continues to run. No surprises there.)
noun - a cigarette.
verb - bothered, as in a tiresome chore. ('The picture fell down but I couldn't be fagged putting it back up.' This is clearly derived from the English public school tradition of 'fagging' whereby younger boys would do the chores of older boys. This doesn't exist in Australia and subsequently the word persists only by way of the past participle)
feeding the chooks
verb - addressing, or otherwise answering the questions of, the media (This was coined by the famous, long serving, populist State Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke Petersen. It was a clear statement of contempt for the media on his part, and still holds that connotation. Whilst I share his contempt for the media, that's not to excuse him. He was an arsehole)
noun - a punctuation mark denoting the end of a sentence. ('period' in American English)
noun - a falsehood, a piece of scuttlebutt, a red-herring. (Furphy and Sons were the manufacturers of water carts in WWI. These carts served the precise function of the scuttlebutt (water barrel) on a ship, ie. a place to stand around and chat whilst having a drink of water. Scuttlebutt is considered to be gossip that may, or may not, be true. A furphy, on the other hand, is never true, as in - 'The WMD's were a complete furphy')
Japanese, noun - foreigner. (What I am in Japan. Literally 'outside country person')
phrase - Hello. (Actually 'hi' would be closer to the mark in terms of the casual nature of this greeting. Neither the Prime Minister, nor any newsreader, would ever begin any formal address with 'G'day'. It is emphatically not 'good day' which would, if anything, denote the end of the conversation and that one were leaving, presumably in a huff. To be honest, no one in Australia says 'good day'. Ever. Otherwise by way of pronunciation, it's closest relative would be 'Gdansk'. The elision of the vowel between g and d should be utter)
get on the fiddle
phrase - to be up to something of a lewd or sordid nature. (Another neologism of Roy and HG. See 'have a spray')
noun - a worthless or contemptible person. (I find this word useful as it's fairly gentle and makes no comment on one's birth, sexual orientation, intelligence, physical shortcomings, or race)
Cantonese, noun - foreigner. (What I am in Hong Kong. Literally 'foreign devil' or variously 'ghost man'. Cool, huh?)
noun - a jersey. (Jersey and Guernsey, both Channel Islands, became synonymous with the distinctive variety of knitted tops traditionally made there. Both words are now loosely used to describe the pull-over tops worn by football players of all codes. Thus, to get a guernsey means to 'be picked for the team' or otherwise 'make the grade')
have a spray
verb - to have one's say, to express an opinion. (I suspect that this is a neologism created by Roy Slaven and HG Nelson, two Australian radio and TV personalities famous for their singularly perverse sports commentary. More than a few of their expressions have entered the vernacular and most of them smutty, albeit in a cryptic fashion)
noun - a Japanese minimalist poem of three lines. (This is explained in more detail on the haiku blog. I merely mention it here to reiterate its pronunciation, which is 'high-koo'. Also the plural of haiku is haiku)
noun - a creature which inspires fear but exists only in one's imagination. (Heffalumps appear in 'Winnie The Pooh' by AA Milne and illustrated by Earnest Shepard. Whilst the characters in Pooh are convinced that heffalumps are very scary things, any children reading the book (or having it read to them) will clearly understand, by way of the illustrations, that heffalumps are merely elephants and not scary at all. Disney later anthropomorphised heffalumps into yet more cute singing characters. I expect AA Milne rolled over in his grave. For mine, the Disney version of Pooh is execrable, a real piece of shit. The original on the other hand is a masterpiece of children's literature)
noun - a simple cake made from sponge that is cut into cubes (approximately two inches square) and covered in chocolate icing and sprinkled with dessicated coconut. (These are famously made at home and then sold at churches, or school fetes, to raise money for charity. This is known as a 'lamington drive'. Lamingtons taste pretty good. Fancy lamingtons are cut in half and have red jam smeared in the middle before being coated)
lizard of Oz
noun - a reference to the then Australian PM, Paul Keating, who had the temerity to place his hand on Queen Elizabeth's shoulder at an official function (This was the precise headline from an English tabloid. The media's tone was - How dare a commoner touch our Queen! Sure enough, there are commoners and there are commoners. I suspect if the right sort of commoner (Michelle Obama comes to mind) were to replicate the act, no one would say boo. As colonials go, Americans are infinitely preferable to Australians)
Mandarin, noun - foreigner (What I am in Mainland China. Literally 'outside country person')
noun - friend, pal, buddy. (It's my considered opinion that none of these quite hits the mark. 'Mate' has within it an implicit solidarity, as in 'shipmate' or 'cellmate'. Officers and government officials aside, nearly all Australia's early settlers were one or the other. Subsequently, calling someone 'mate' is an unspoken acknowledgement that one is not a member of the ruling class)
noun - a name. (This is informal and operates thus - 'Just whack your moniker and address at the top of the form.' Do Americans use this? I only seem to hear Australians say it)
Japanese, adjective - second generation. (Used solely for Japanese who have settled abroad. 'Ni' means 'two' and 'sei' means 'life' or 'generation'. Ichi, ni, san (one, two, three) thus becomes 'issei, nisei, sansei', ie. 'first, second, and third generation')
noun - partner, assistant, a person comprising a third party connected to a second party. (Thus unlikely to be used to describe one's own friend. 'I talked to the bloke while his offsider had a cigarette')
phrase - congratulations, well done, bravo. (Short for 'good on you', possibly present in other Englishes but certainly common coinage in Australia)
noun - Australia. (This was coined in the seventies by Richard Neville (who occasionally still lobs up on counterpunch) in a magazine of the same name. It's an obvious name given the correct pronunciation of 'Aussie')
packed to the gunnels
adjective - very full. (gunnels, a corruption of 'gunwales', are the upper sides of a ship, so called because they had cannon bowsed up against them. A 'wale' was a particularly heavy plank used for the hull)
adjective/pronoun - alone, on one's own. (There's precious little true Australian rhyming slang but this is one of them. I suspect that there was no actual Pat Malone as such. Under the rules of rhyming slang, this should more correctly be shortened to 'pat', as in, 'He was all on his pat'. Me, I find this somewhat unlovely and prefer the full expression)
noun - a person who backs out of a deal or otherwise chickens out. (In the verb form this functions exactly like 'chicken out' as in, 'He was going to help us move house but he piked out.')
noun - a politician.
noun - an Englishman. (The adjectival form being 'Pommy'. I suspect that English people have by now calmed down about this word. I notice The Times Crossword recently had a clue, 'Sounds like English stone fruit', with the answer being 'pomegranate'. Significantly the clue was not 'Sounds like English put down stone fruit', which is to say the clue acknowledges that 'English' and 'Pommy' are interchangeable and that the latter lacks any sense of derogation. Mind you, one can fix that by modifying 'Pommy' with the suffix 'bastard'. But that says more about 'bastard' than it does about 'Pommy', ahem)
noun - a small bet.
verb - to lay a small bet.
noun - the average man in the street, literally 'one who bets'. (I don't know about other places, but in Australia the age-old entertainment of the lower classes was to follow the horses. The majority of betting was through the government-run TAB (Totaliser Agency Board). No shopping street in any Australian town is without a TAB. Sure enough, it is now being pushed to the sidelines as gambling is being legalised and put into corporate hands. Who'll give me odds on the inevitability of corruption? Any takers?)
adjective - happy, pleased. (Who knows why this magical word assumed such a mundane role in Australia? Not me)
verb - to bilk a system (in all likelihood the government) by fraudulent or dishonest means. (The insurance companies had been rorting the system for years)
noun - as above
adjective - the same as. (Thai-glish usually delivered as 'same same, different' meaning 'just like that, but not quite'. Part of the vernacular of Asian expats)
Japanese, adjective - third generation. (See nisei, above)
noun - one's own legs as a means of transport, ie. walking. (Shank is not a fellow who owned a pony, it merely means leg)
verb - past tense of shit. (Australians and the English have the irregular verb 'shit' follow 'sit' by way of past participle and past perfect. Thus, sit/sat/sat - shit/shat/shat. Americans have it follow 'hit'. Thus hit/hit/hit - shit/shit/shit. Which is a pity because it's a marvellous word, shat. Oh, 'spit' functions in the same fashion - spit/spat/spat)
noun - dust-up, brawl, kerfuffle.
noun - television. (Australians have a habit of shortening words and adding a 'y' or an 'o' to the end. Thus 'Christmas presents' become 'Chrissy prezzies'. Foreigners view this as infantile but they fail to understand that it's done in a spirit of archness, which is to say that it's a joke and we all get it. To object to it is to not get the joke)
noun - a shop, usually by way of a counter, where school students can buy food and drink. (The tuck-shop is usually run by volunteers, invariably known as 'tuck-shop ladies'. The 'tucker' sold in tuck-shops usually consists of pies, sausage rolls, chips, sticky buns, and soft drinks)
noun - two and half pence. (which is to say, a trifling amount. As in - 'I wouldn't give you tuppence ha'penny for anything he has to say'. In Australia, we shifted from pounds, shillings, and pence over forty years ago but the phrase lingers)
verb - Japanese for 'I understand' or 'I get it'.
noun - a prude, a killjoy. (No one knows where this comes from. It's a great word though)
Japanese, technically an adverb - regards, best wishes. (literally the 'well' from 'please consider me well'. Whilst functioning as 'regards' it does so in a backwards fashion by asking that the second party have regard for the first party, if you can dig it)