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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Lex Hall

It’s a shame these days that much of the new slang you hear in Aus­tralia is not only largely de­void of any in­ven­tion or wit but so eas­ily im­ported from North Amer­ica. The vivid metaphor or sim­ile seems to be evap­o­rat­ing. And in the midst of the mangled hy­per­bole that stands in its place is of­ten that most dull and lazy at­tempt at rhetoric: the ini­tial­ism.

The ubiq­uity of trite Amer­i­can­isms such as “WTF” or “LMAO” is noth­ing to “LOL” about.

In­deed, the other day I saw a girl in a white base­ball cap em­bla­zoned with the words “Justin’s BAE”. The Justin in this case is, of course, the Cana­dian pop star Justin Bieber. As for the “BAE”, well, this cryptic ne­ol­o­gism stands for “be­yond/be­fore any­one else”. In other words, your sweet­heart. It re­port­edly first ap­peared in a hip-hop num­ber in 2011. Clever, isn’t it? I bet you wish you’d come up with that.

At times like these it’s worth reach­ing for that bible of Aus­tralian slang, A Dic­tio­nary of Aus­tralian Col­lo­qui­alisms. This col­lec­tion, com­piled in 1978 by GA Wilkes, foun­da­tion pro­fes­sor of Aus­tralian lit­er­a­ture at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, is now in its fourth edi­tion. You can only imag­ine Wilkes’s hor­ror had he seen the afore­men­tioned base­ball cap. “Stiffen the lizards!” he would have cried.

A tacky ini­tial­ism like “BAE” would never have made his dic­tio­nary, espe­cially when there were saltier ways to say sweet­heart — like, for in­stance, “charlie” (“f. rhyming slang Charlie Wheeler = sheila, per­haps re­lated to “char­lies”, English slang for breasts”).

And speak­ing of breasts, the ori­gin of the slang vari­ant “norks” may come from, as Wilkes sug­gests, the wrap­ping of Norco but­ter, which once pic­tured a cow’s ud­der.

But, of course, such risky et­y­mol­ogy might have earned you the cold shoul­der from your charlie. In other words, you would have been “on the coat”. Worse still, you might have copped a “Christ­mas hold” (f. prison slang for “hand­ful of nuts”).

To avoid that, your best bet was to prob­a­bly go for a soli­tary drink, or a “Jimmy Woodser” (so called after James Wood, an 1880s shearer who was re­luc­tant to shout and thus drank alone).

Then again, if you were “pooned up” (well­dressed) and had had a few too many “cruis­ers” (20oz beer in NSW) you might be tempted to fall into the arms of a woman of the night, such as “that old chromo from Camp­bell Street”, whom D’Arcy Ni­land warned you about in his 1959 novel The Big Smoke. You know the woman he means: “the wrin­kled face flar­ing with rouge and floury with pow­der”.

Add to that the risk of get­ting king-hit — or “given Bondi” — as you stag­gered home. (Wilkes sug­gests this lat­ter term may stem from a “fra­cas be­tween lar­rikins and the po­lice at Bondi on Box­ing Day, 1884.) And if you did “lock on” with some­one there was a good chance you’d end up “in the logs”.

Of course, read­ing all this, you might think I’m “on the pea”. That is, like cows or sheep which, if they eat Dar­ling pea — “a pretty shrub with whitish leaves and a crim­son pea-shaped blos­som” — go mad.

In fact, you could ac­cuse me of tak­ing no moral re­spon­si­bil­ity for what’s just been re­ported. You might think, as one politi­cian put it in the 1972 Hansard, that I’m adopt­ing the at­ti­tude of “the pi­ano man in a brothel” — “af­fect­ing nei­ther to know nor care what goes on up­stairs”.

And while I may pour scorn on new Amer­i­can­isms, Wilkes notes that we owe some of the best Aus­tralian slang to newly ar­rived im­mi­grants, or “black hats” (so called in colo­nial times for their “city clothes”).

The other day a sports jour­nal­ist friend of mine was re­gal­ing me with an im­per­son­ation of the cleaner at his of­fice.

The cleaner, a gar­ru­lous Greek, hap­pily ad­mit­ted that vac­u­um­ing of­fice floors was, as Joseph Fur­phy said in his 1903 novel Such is Life, a “soft col­lar” — noth­ing com­pared with the hard yakka he puts in in his other job as a gyprocker. It also gives him time to watch his beloved Can­ter­bury Bull­dogs. You needn’t ask him whether the Dogs are go­ing to win. He tells you: “The dog­gies’ll fix ’em up, mate.”

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