Friday, May 15, 2009

Talking Australian: UK words in Australian English

In the early days many words and dialects were borrowed from the Old Country. Most came from Northern England, the London area, Scotland, surprisingly few words from Ireland, and none from Wales. No one can really account why some words were preferred over others but they invariably related to agriculture, land settlement, and mining. No surprise therefore many remain in daily use today. Some good examples are chook (1855); kip (1887); ripper (1858); and tucker (1833)and snob.

Chook was first recorded as chuckey and is thought to derive from British dialect chuck which was word derived from the sound of a hen's cluck. Australians use 'chicken' to mean ‘the meat of the bird’ but chook is reserved for the live bird In Australia there are chook raffles which are held in pubs with the prize a ready-to-cook chooks.

Kip was a bed or somewhere to sleep and became synonymous with sleeping;

Ripper was cricket terminology and meant notable performance;

Tucker originated from the English word tuck meaning hearty meal which was then Australianised into tucker by the goldfield diggers and referred to their food rations and snob is London slang for a cobbler or boot maker.

In the prisons, shoes were highly prized possessions and shoe makers particularly special.

There were many slang words from the UK underworld (mainly around the London area) incorporated into Flash talk most of these have now disappeared but some still remain in common Australian English. For example bludger (1882); nark (1891); dag (1867); and sheila (1832).

A bludger today means a kind of shirkster (parasite) but originally referred to a thief likely to use violence in the form of a cosh (bludgeon);

A nark was someone who told tales;

Dag comes from dagen (or degen) meaning an artful criminal and a dag described someone who was extremely good at whatever. That could mean a hard man, a wit, or cunning.

SÌle is an Irish word pronounced ‘sheila’ and was used in literature to describe an effeminate man. In the parlance of Australian convicts the term was in common use and by the mid nineteenth century had transferred into Australian English and was used to describe an Australian woman. A common misconception is the generic term Sheila was used to refer to Irish girls in the same way Irish men were called Paddy. However there is no evidence of this anywhere else where large Irish communities and again contrary to popular belief Sheila is not a common name in Ireland. Further, researchers have examined the original convict names and found few if any with the name Sheila.

Other English regional words to be absorbed into the Australian lexicon are Cob (Suffolk) a verb meaning “to take a liking to someone” and hence Cobber (friend); Clobber of Romany origin used in the Kent area as clubbered up, meaning “dressed up”.

One important Scottish contribution was bally meaning a milk pale which became billy as in billy can.

Some Irish words which entered Australian English include: corker, dust-up, purler and tootsy.

Cocker means to end an argument in which case if you have a corker of a black eye then the feud is over.

Dust up was used in the Goldfields and referred to gun powder and blasting; later it became domesticate and meant flour or baking.

Purler means to fall head over heels or spin. (In Scotland we had purlers or peeries which were spinning tops.); and Tootsy means a small foot.

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