Friday, May 29, 2009

Talking Australian: Just add O




Almost from the beginning visitors to the colonies were taken with the way Australians spoke. This was particularly marked in second generation Australians (called ‘currency lads and lasses’) who were accused of speaking lazily through closed teeth and with a strong Cockney influenced accent and vocabulary. When more people arrived with the gold rush this led to a further amalgamation of brogues with American, Irish, cockney, county, and broken English all combining. This was thought to lead to ‘tongue-laziness’ plus the desire to ‘communicate with the fewest and easiest sounds’. As a result Standard Australian consisted of fast speaking with clipped sentences, slurring of words and complete avoidance of syllable enunciation. As a general rule 'g', 'd', or 't' at the end of words were not pronounced and inflection and stress was given to the last syllable of each utterance with a raised pitch at the end of a question. Critics thought the Australian accent was ‘thin and narrow in its range of tone’, whereas others felt the Australian accent was ‘expressive and not unpleasant to the ear.



No less a personage as US writer, Mark Twain on a visit to Ballarat in 1897 noted Australians spoke in compressed English which gave it a soft lilt. By the 30s the preoccupation with deteriorating Australian accents preoccupied educationists and teaching of elocution became a focal point during the interwar years. The new education system stressed speech, deportment and etiquette which typified class and privilege. Eventually Australian kids were left to converse in regional accents and with local vernacular. According to experts there are no strong variations in accent across the Big Brown land although differences in pronunciation (particularly vowel sounds) and vocabulary do arise.



In the movies of course where stereotyping is the norm there are three main Australian accents i.e. Broad, General and Cultivated.



Broad is typically associated with machismo and many believe the broad Australian accent creates an image the person has the ability to relate to people from all walks of life, and will treat everyone with a sense of equality. Notable ‘broadies’ inlcude Paul Hogan, Bill Hunter, the late Steve Irwin, Kerry Packer and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.



Very few women use broad Australian accents with one notable exception ex Curtin University graduate, comedian and actress Judith Lucy.



The majority of Australians speak General Australian which is a mix between the broad Australian and ‘proper’ cultivated accents. Actors who try to keep ‘ordinary’ (and not adopt an American accent) speak General Australia. Examples include Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.



Cultivated Australian is akin to formal BBC English which is more often than not spoken by women in Australia wanting to portray a feminine and sophisticated image. One exception to this rule was ex-prime minister Malcolm Fraser.



Shortening words is an established Australian trait such as beaut (great, beautiful), BYO (Bring Your Own), deli (delicatessen), hoon (hooligan), roo (kangaroo), uni (university), and ute (utility truck or vehicle).



So too is the Australian preoccupation with adding the suffix ‘ie’ to shortened words. Examples include: Aussie (Australian), barbie (barbeque), beautie (beautiful, stereotypically pronounced and even written bewdy), bikkie (biscuit), blowie (blowfly), brekkie (breakfast), cozzie (swimming costume), Chrissie (Christmas), lippy (lipstick), rellie (relative), and sickie (day off sick from work) follow suit. In a similar way "o" may be added to the abbreviation. Examples include: arvo (afternoon), bizzo (business), compo (compensation), doco (documentary), journo (journalist) and smoko (smoke or coffee/tea break).



To show affection for others the diminutive ‘za’ or ‘o’ is sometimes added to personal names like Bazza (Barry), Kazza (Karen) and Shazza (Sharon); Lizo and Camo too. Many of these terms and speech mannerisms have been adopted into British (and now American English) via popular culture thanks many to Australian Soaps which are watched all around the world.






Thursday, May 21, 2009

Talking Australian: Footie is the game




The most Australian of games is Australian Rules Football (AFL) and not only does it have a large following but of course it has its own culture and language. Much of the parlance is now in everyday use but to an outsider the origins of some key terms do need further explanation. The game is often referred to by its critics (followers of the leather patched rugby codes) as aerial ping-pong because the ball often moves back and forth between two halves of the ground. The term came from the 60s but now AFL is a much faster paced running game with increased use of hand passing so aerial-ping pong is now obsolete although it does remain in common parlance. Another jocular reference to AFL is cross country basketball.



In other football codes players wear jerseys but Aussie rules players wear guernseys. The islands of Jersey and Guernsey make up the Channel Islands in the English Channel. The Guernsey (or gansey) sweater became popular with fishermen and dates back to the sixteenth century, when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne of England. Guernsey fishermen were found all over and develop fisheries off the coast of Labrador, Canada. To keep their men warm the women of the islands developed the Guernsey Sweater which eventually became part of Royal Naval uniform. The original sweaters were tightly knitted in patterns that gave insulation, as well as water and wind resistance. This made them ideal for heavy weather as well as survival garments for those who were washed overboard. The first use of the name 'guernsey' outside of the island is in the 1851 Oxford Dictionary and the working woollen jumpers were used by the diggers during the gold rushes in the mid nineteenth century. When footie was established in 1859 players wore a sleeveless woolen jumper knitted in the Guernsey style. From the football meaning arose the phrase ‘to get a guernsey’ or be ‘given a guernsey’, meaning to win selection for a sporting team. In its widest sense the phrase now means 'to win selection, recognition, approbation', and is commonly used in non-sporting contexts.



Once sides were established and leagues formed fans began to follow their teams and to support or encourage their side they would shout and cheer this became known as barracking. In Northern Ireland the term barrack means to brag but in English it means to jeer. So you can see the dilemma many POHMs have when they come to the big brown land and are asked who you barrack for. The term was first recorded in 1890.



Originally footy was a game contrived to keep cricket players fit during the off season. It is also thought to have been based on the traditional indigenous game of Marn Grook (i.e. catching a kicked ball; and high jumping which are both features of Australian Football). The original cricketers at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground were British soldiers based in the nearby Victoria Barracks and teams from the barracks would compete against each other. Their supports were known as ‘barrackers.’



As a barracker of the modern game you need be aware of some game terms like maggot or man (or ball). Maggot which is slang for umpire (or ump). Originally they were called white maggots because of their white uniforms they wore but now the umpires wear coloured uniforms. ‘Man,’ which is short for ‘holding the man’ is called when supporters to plead for the umpire to award a free kick for holding the man, often when they fear he might be holding the ball. The two are often screamed simultaneously by opposing fans. When barrackers chant ‘Chewy on your boot’ this describes a call by opposition supporters or players to a player usually when he is taking a set shot for goal. It is designed to upset his concentration when kicking. If an opposition player were to do this in soccer it would constitute a foul and be considered very ungentlemanly conduct.



Calling the game also requires high linguistic ability and is always a worthwhile listening experience especially with game commentators like former commentator Rex Hunt (ex Richmond and Geelong player). Rex is a master of Australian colloquialisms and was in the habit of making up quirky nicknames for players. My favourite Huntisms were ‘belt the living suitcase out of’ which refers to either players involved in a melee on the field, or a team being thrashed. When Rex refered to ‘a hospital pass‘ he was describing a player who passed to another who was in imminent danger of getting tackled. The hope is it would not be a ‘coathanger’ tackle (high on the neck).



During the breaks at a game as a barracker you might get a snag or sanger. The English use of snag means an expected drawback but here in Oz it of course refers to a grilled (or barbecued) sausage. The term first appeared in 1941 and was likely to have originated as a dialect variation of the English word, snack meaning a morsel of light meal. Sanger meaning sandwich started life as ‘sango’ and was used a lot in the 40s, twenty years later it had become sanger. After the game you might like to relax at the local hotel for a few singing syrups.



Elsewhere a hotel means somewhere to stay the night but in Australia it is synonymous with a bar or pub where you can get some tucker. Some hotels will have rooms but not all.



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.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Talking Australian: Going Bush




When more people took to surviving and working on the land a bush culture soon developed with its own code of conduct and common idioms. The songs, music and poetry described people's experiences and become known collectively as 'bush music.' The lyrics contain much of the colourful slang of bush life.



Bush ballads recorded the harsh way of the life and contemporary events and experiences of the lives and loves of bushrangers, bolters (on the run), swagmen, drovers, and shearers. Later new themes emerged based on the experiences of war, railways and unions. Although the bush remains a favourite subject of Australian songs (country songs included), it was often portrayed as a place people had left and longed to return to.Australian bush music was folk music which eventually evolved in Australian country music.


The bush songs were handed down as part of an oral tradition from the time of the convicts and were eventually assembled and published in the late nineteenth century when Andrew Barton ‘Barty’ Paterson (better known as Banjo Patterson) compiled Old Bush Songs. It took until 1950 before most of the bush music was recorded.



Overlanders were drovers and stockmen that crossed the Big Brown Land with sheep and cattle; shearers were as hardy a crew and removed the sheep’s fleece. Working conditions were extremely hard and farmers and landowners took every opportunity to cheat labourers whenever they could. Soon shearers formed unions and in 1890 union shearers at Jondaryan Station on the Darling Downs, Queensland went on strike because non-union labour were being used.



In solidarity, the Rockhampton wharfies refused to touch the Jondaryan wool and the unionists won the battle. This galvanised the squatters, and they formed the Pastoralists’ Federal Council, to counter the strength of the unions. In 1891 the central Queensland shearers went on strike and thousands of armed soldiers protected non-union labour and arrested strike leaders. Despite a long campaign of defiance the strike was eventually broken but not before both Pastoralists and Unions realised they had to work more closely together. The great shearer strike of 1891 laid the foundations for the labour movement in Australia.



Shearers worked intensely during the short shearing season (late winter) and often under atrocious conditions. When the last sheep was shorn in the last shearing shed for the season it was called the "cut out." Shearers were paid with a single cheque for their season's work and most did not make it past the nearest town that had a pub. There they would naively entrusted the cheque to the publican who served them grog until their credit was gone and their hell-raising had to end. This gave origin to the Australian English phrase "cut out the cheque" meaning spend all your money.



Many of the early bush ballads were anthems of defiance and recorded the contempt bush people held for the hated squatters and government. The shearer’s strike of 1891 was like the Eureka Stackade and brought many working class heroes to the fore. The most celebrated was Jack Donohoe and the best known song about Jack, is The Wild Colonial Boy.



The songs of the Overlanders (stockmen and drovers) glorified their pride in the skills in driving sheep and cattle over long distances. Songs such as The Queensland Drover had a stirring chorus which presumably would be sung lustily over campfires in the bush.



By far the best known is not a song but a narrative poem written by Banjo Patterson, entitled The Man from Snowy River (1890). The poem tells the story of a valuable horse which escapes and the princely sum offered by its owner for its safe return. All the riders in the area gather to pursue the wild bush horses and cut the valuable horse from the mob. But the country defeats them all except for The Man from Snowy River. His personal courage and skill has turned The Man into a legend.



Friday, May 1, 2009

Talking Australain: Australian Gold Rush Lingo




The foundation of the Australian nation came after the Gold Rush of the mid 19th century. Gold was first discovered in 1851 in NSW then a little later in Victoria. What followed marked the beginning of a radical change in the economic and social fabric of Australia. Gold fever gripped the colonies and as more finds were recorded in the next half century (only South Australia had no gold resources) then more and emigrants came in search of their fortune.



The influx was multinational and the goldfield towns boomed. Goldfield life was however far from idyllic and marked with squalor, greed, crime, self-interest and racism. The hardship endured during the tough times is marked with camaraderie and ‘mateship’ which bonded the goldfield settlers. Angry discontent grew at the ever increasing cost of licensing fees for claims and many digger refused to pay. The authorities empowered the police to bring in defaulters and they used more and more violence to do so.



By 1854 regular clashes between the miners and the authorities took place but it was at Eureka when 1000 armed men gathered on the outskirts of Ballarat under the flag of the Ballarat Reform League (a white cross and stars on a blue field), to burn their claim notices and proclaim their oath to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend their rights and liberties that everything changed.



Tragically Melbourne troops overran the stockade and killed 22 of its defenders. Known as the Eureka Stockade or Rebellion the rebel leaders were arrested and stood trial for high treason but Melbourne juries refused to convict them and when a Royal Commission condemned the goldfield administration and upheld the miners' grievances then the miners were given the right to be political represented. This marked the beginning of the modern Australia democracy and eventually the abolition of convict transportation.



Making a living in the early mining days was hard and much depended on luck and ability to dig or knock. The Australian phrase to ‘knock out a living’ has its origin on the goldfields, where the ‘knocking out’ was quite literal. The phrase later became associated with making something quickly or roughly and was associated with the labours of itinerant knock about men (or rouseabouts). ‘To knock along,’ meant to wander as in the English to knock about (wander aimlessly). Drinking and womanising were common among itinerant swagmen and ‘to knock down,’ or ‘knock it down’ meant to spend a lot of money on drink and riotous living. Invariably once inebriated a fight would ensue and to ‘knock saucepans’ or ‘knock the smoke out of’ was Australian English for a violent assault.



All that digging on the goldfields led to an excess of mining refuse or mullock (rock without gold). The Australian phrase ‘a lot of mullock,’ or ‘load of mullock’ described items of no practical use and ‘mullock’ in Australian English became synonymous with ‘rubbish, or nonsense.’ To be called ‘mullock’ meant you were considered ignorant or worthless. The term became common use in shearers to incompetent or very careless shearing. Mullock was eventually taken to build the first Australian roads.



Another phrase commonly used on the goldfields was ‘to fossick’, meaning ‘to rummage or search around or about.’ Fossick was used in two contexts, either: it meant ‘to search for gold on the surface, sometimes in a desultory or unsystematic way’ or more commonly ‘to steal gold from other miners especially when their claim was left unattended. From the mid nineteenth century onwards in Australian English the term ‘fossick was used in context of stealing something, for example if a neighbour was to take a log of fire-wood from your heap … it was said he had been ‘fossicking’. Another use of the term was to describe someone who always conveniently arrived at meal times and scored a free dinner. This was a fossicker.



In Goldfield talk the term ‘roll-up’ was commonly used to describe a meeting or assembly of miners. By the end of the nineteenth century the term had common currency in Australian English, as in, ‘It is hoped for a big roll-up at next family BBQ.’



Discovery of gold saw a huge influx of migrants many of which were Chinese men. The Chinese attracted particular attention and local newspapers were quick to comment on their distinctive features, clothes, languages and habits. Any admiration of their work ethic was offset by envy and resentment when times got hard. The terms Chinaman and chink became intertwined with one another, as some Australians used both of them with hostile intent when referring to members of the country's Chinese population which had swelled significantly during the Gold Rush era of the 1850s and 1860s They were seen initially as oddities, later as rivals and then as threats to white Australia. The Chinese were often scapegoated by disgruntled European miners as seen in the violent anti Chinese riots at Lambing Flat (1861). A large mob set upon the Chinese, assaulting them and cutting their pigtails off. The Chinese miners’ tents, clothing and furniture were set on fire and their mining tools destroyed. The banner used in the riot created a symbol that began to crystallise the ideologies of racism, nationalism and exclusive egalitarianism in a conceptual process that would manifest itself in the New south Wales Chinese Immigration Act of 1861 and later the Federal Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. It was only after World War II with various changes to immigration policy that the White Australia Policy was quietly dismantled. However, it was only in 1972 that Australia had the full political introduction of official policies of multiculturalism, 100 years after the first anti-Chinese laws.



‘To hump,’ originated in the goldfields and described a long walk but later meant to carry, as in ‘to hump one’s swag.’ This later gives rise to the phrases, ‘to hump one’s drum,’ ‘ to hump one’s bluey,’ and to hump one’s Matilda. A hump(e)y was the name given to a settler’s small primitive house and originated from Aboriginal ‘oompi” with an additional of ‘h’ used by Cockney settlers.