In my last column I wondered whether trough pronounced to rhyme with throw was a distinctive Tasmanianism. A reader chimed in to ask how else you would pronounce it? Well, troff is the standard pronunciation, I believe, but the fact that a Tasmanian asked the question suggests my theory may be correct.
This doesn’t always happen. Just as you think you’ve got a particular usage down to a particular place, something will turn up to throw your theory right out of whack.
For instance, I was watching Vera the other night when she said ‘stone the crows’. My ears pricked up. Surely that’s a purely Australian saying? Or have we been deluding ourselves, and all along there it was in the north of England, from whence we presumably got it?
Then, a mere five minutes later, thinking aloud about a suspect’s motives and behaviour as she does, Vera said ‘so he takes a sickie…’ Sickie! Another one we all thought was home-grown, fair dinkum and true blue.
Rather than originating in the Old Country, I suppose it could have got there via Neighbours or Home and Away. They were hugely popular among young folks, always reliable spreaders of new slang.
One very recent Australianism that’s emigrated abroad is selfie, sped along by the information superhighway. According to an internet scholar, it first appeared on the internet on September 13, 2002, in an ABC Online forum. The anonymous poster wrote this:
Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped over and landed lip first … on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.
Within a matter of years it had gained worldwide currency and in 2013 was the Oxford Dictionary Word of The Year.
Thanks to the internet our Aussie practice of calling tradesmen tradies has been noted, if not yet adopted, in other English-speaking countries, even North America. It remains to be seen whether specific trades terms like sparkie for an electrician, brickie for a bricklayer and chippie for a carpenter will be similarly noticed.
An online Aussie slang website tells me plumbers are known as dunny divers, but I don’t think it’s in common use. I’d never heard it before. But it is unquestionably Australian. Surely no other English-speakers call a toilet a dunny? And now that I’ve said that, it’ll probably turn up on Vera next week, just to confound me.
It’s probably too late for old Australianisms like cobber or bonzer to be adopted elsewhere. We’ve largely abandoned them ourselves. Newer words like rego and garbo are hanging on in Australia but show no sign of being taken up elsewhere.
The flat white, as in coffee, is one of Australia’s gifts to the world. We may not the world’s first coffee drinkers, but we are the first of the new world countries to learn from European immigrants how to make proper coffee, and I suspect we now outdo them all for sheer complexity and fussiness about sourcing, preparation, service, consumption …. and terminology.
We invented the flat white (and the long black?) but kept the Italian terms for the rest: cappuccino, latte, macchiato, ristretto and so on. Then so enamoured were we of our sophisticated new coffee culture that we used its terminology in whimsical shorthand for socio-economic and cultural divides, such that beyond the latte line was a desolate land where café-owners didn’t routinely have espresso machines.
I’ve also noted the laneway latte belt, the cold brew curtain, the ristretto roadblock, the long black lattice, the americano avenue, the mocha mantle and the cappuccino cummerbund, although I can’t quite get a handle on that one. Perhaps a more sophisticated reader can tell me.
I struggled for a minute with the soy sunglasses and the oat milk affogato garage, but I think I’ve got them now.
We do this with new food fashions too, hence the quinoa and kale curtains. (One of the rules of such phrase-formation seems to be that while alliteration isn’t essential it should be used if possible.)
Are we the only country that does this? If you search these terms they only turn up .au domain names, so I suspect we are.
I’m sure you know what a Tassie tuxedo is, but here’s a couple to test your Aussie slang knowledge. Do you know what Kiwi samsonite is? How about the bachelor’s handbag? Answers next column!
This was first published in the New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News on May 7, 2021.