Lan­guage changes

Warragul & Drouin Gazette - - NEWS -

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

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