John Wells’ Gippsland History column, ‘Make language changes slowly’ (Trader 2/11), incorrectly attributes “Fellers of Australier, Blokes an’ coves an’ coots, etc.” to Henry Lawson.
In fact, he’s quoting the opening lines of The Austra-laise by CJ Dennis – ‘My young friend Dennis’, to whom ‘I “dips me lid”’, ‘Old Henry’ wrote in a 1915 Foreword to The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke.
The first verse and chorus of the poem, sung to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers, became a World War 1 marching song, recalled in the Victorian Opera’s 2015 production Remembrance, which was performed here in Warragul.
Evidently ‘coot’ meant to Dennis ‘a person of no account (used contemptuously)’, so John Wells’ impression (and mine) of it meaning much the same as ‘cove’ may not have been Dennis’ intent. The contemptuous edge seems to have worn off with time; like hardware tools, words tend to lose their sharpness with usage.
‘Dips me lid’, by the way, is an interesting example of language change. ‘Lids’, the felt