A stubby short of a six-pack

by Mark Gwynn 

Liberal Peter Dutton described Mark Latham as ‘mad and erratic’… . Amid the usual bickering, Hawker [the Speaker] called for order and declared mad to be unacceptable but erratic OK. No rulings so far on barmy, nuts, roo loose in the top paddock and a stubby short of a six-pack. (Australian, 1 December 2004)

The phrase ‘a stubby short of a six pack’ means very silly, ‘mad’ or just plain eccentric. It is just one of a number of variations on the formula ‘an X short of a Y’. Other examples include ‘a sandwich short of a picnic’ and ‘a tinny short of a slab’. This kind of expression nearly always refers to a larger whole missing one single or important thing: the six-pack or slab (carton) of beer is one bottle or can short of the total.

The ‘X short of a Y’ pattern is now found in standard English, but the earliest evidence for it is Australian. The Australian phrase ‘a shingle short…’ is found in newspapers from the mid 19th century, often taking the form ‘a shingle short of a roof’. A similar form from the late 19th century is ‘short of a sheet of bark’, sometimes abbreviated to ‘short of a sheet’. The same sentiment can be found in standard English idioms such as ‘to have a screw loose’ and to be ‘not all there’ (not quite right in the head).

The Australian National Dictionary includes a number of examples of this pattern including: ‘a sausage short of a barbie’, ‘a sandwich short of a picnic’, ‘a zac short of a quid’, ‘a kangaroo short of a full paddock’, ‘a few snags short of a barbie’, ‘a spike short of a running shoe’, and ‘two Lan Choo lids short of a milk jug’. Most of these go back to at least the 1980s while ‘a stubby short of a six-pack’ is recorded from the 1990s.

Do you know any more variations on the ‘ X short of a Y’ theme?  We’d love to hear about them. Please help us add to our collection!

 

The story of rello, rellie, and other Australian terms ending in ‘ie’ and ‘o’

by Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and editor of the Australian National Dictionary (2016). The following is an extract from his book What’s their Story? A History of Australian Words (published by Oxford University Press Australia, 2010).

What's their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.

What’s their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.

In 1981 in the Bulletin magazine the Australian writer Kathy Lette uses the term rellie for ‘relative’: ‘Dreaded rellies are not so easily disposed of.’1 In 1987 in a collection of short stories Kathy Lette uses the variant form rello for ‘relative’: ‘Everybody else would have liquid-papered me out of their address books by now, especially the rellos.’2 This use of the –ie (or –y) and –o suffix with abbreviated forms of words is not exclusive to Australia, although it is more common in Australia than elsewhere, and is used in distinctive ways in Australia. The choice of –ie or –o appears to be arbitrary, although the –ie forms are much more common than the –o forms. It is rare to find a term that uses both –ie and –o, as in the case of rellie and rello, but such doublets appear occasionally, as in the older commie and commo for ‘communist’, and the more recent flannie and flanno for ‘flannelette shirt’. Some have argued that the –ie forms are more sympathetic or friendly than the –o forms, but even the examples given in this paragraph show that this is not the case. Continue reading

Chuck a berko, sickie, wobbly…

Nick Kyrgios chucking a tennis racquet

Nick Kyrgios chucking a wobbly.

by Mark Gwynn

In Australian English the word chuck is often found in phrases where it means ‘to perform’, ‘to do’, or ‘to put on’— as in chuck a wobbly (a variant of the Standard English throw a wobbly). While this use of chuck is not exclusively Australian, there are a number of well-established forms that suggest its resonance in the national idiom. The earliest, dating from the 1940s, is chuck a willy (become angry; have a fit of annoyance or temper). Most other chuck expressions appear much later, from the 1970s on.

Continue reading

Two bob each way: money in Australian English

 by Mark Gwynn

14 February 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of decimal currency in Australia when pounds, shillings, and pence were replaced with dollars and cents. While various names were proposed for the new currency including austral, digger, dinkum, roo, and royal, it was the prosaic dollar that won the day. In this article I look at some of the colloquial terms in Australian English that refer to particular coins and banknotes.*

Australian decimal banknotes including the pineapple, lobster, blue swimmer, and prawn

Australian decimal banknotes including the pineapple, lobster, blue swimmer, and prawn

If you had a pineapple, added a lobster, two blue swimmers, and two prawns, what would you get? A grey nurse, of course! While this equation may look like a seafood recipe, these are actually Australian slang terms for banknotes. There is a good chance that you have not heard of them because they don’t appear to be in common use, although we have some evidence for them from the 1980s. The terms allude to the colour of the banknotes: the $50 note is yellow (a pineapple), the $20 note is red (a lobster), the $10 note is blue (a blue swimmer, a type of crab), and the $5 note is pink (a prawn). The $100 note is currently green, but between 1984 and 1996 it was grey, and was called a grey nurse (a type of shark). While terms for our decimal banknotes do not have a strong hold in the Australian vernacular, the pre-decimal currency did produce words and idioms that were well-known in Australian English in years past. Continue reading

Eggshell blonde (Word of the Month for February 2015)

Peter Garrett, AM. Perhaps Australia's most recognisable 'eggshell blonde'.

Peter Garrett, AM. Perhaps Australia’s most recognisable ‘eggshell blonde’.

by the ANDC team

The Oxford Word of the Month is written by members of the Australian National Dictionary Centre and published each month by Oxford University Press Australia. Each Word of the Month looks at an Australian word or term in some detail, providing a history of the term and its role in current Australian society. If you wish to receive Word of the Month by email you can subscribe at the Oxford University Press Australia website.

Our Word of the Month for February 2015 is ‘eggshell blonde’: a man with a bald head. Evidence for ‘eggshell blonde’ is found in newspaper evidence from the 1940s. You can read the full Word of the Month in PDF form on our website or read it in an online format.

Rolf Boldrewood, ‘the Homer of the Bush’

by Julia Robinson

‘Rolf Boldrewood … the Homer of the Bush, the most distinctively Australian of all Australian writers of fiction.’

Tom Roberts, 'Bailed up', 1895. Source: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Tom Roberts, ‘Bailed up’, 1895. Source: Art Gallery of New South Wales

So said the Adelaide Advertiser in October 1889, reviewing Rolf Boldrewood’s novel Robbery Under Arms, a hugely popular tale about a boy from the bush who lives on the wrong side of the law. It first appeared as a serial in the Sydney Mail (1882-1883) and was published in full in 1888. It was an immediate success. The story is a rollicking yarn told at a fast pace, following the young Dick Marston’s fortunes from boyhood into a life of crime. Continue reading

Australian words with a Yiddish origin

by Amanda Laugesen

A small number of Australian English words have their likely origins in Yiddish, a Jewish language with its origins in German, and with several regional variations. Words with a Yiddish origin came into Australian English both through the migration of Yiddish speakers to Australia, as well as through transferred uses and variants of terms that had developed in British English and slang. Continue reading

Checkout chick (Word of the Month for May 2014)

by the ANDC teamcheckout chick girl

The Oxford Word of the Month is written by members of the Australian National Dictionary Centre and published each month by Oxford University Press Australia. Each Word of the Month looks at an Australian word or term in some detail, providing a history of the term and its role in current Australian society. If you wish to receive Word of the Month by email you can subscribe at the Oxford University Press Australia website.

boy checkout chick Our Word of the Month for May is ‘checkout chick’: a checkout operator at a supermarket. There is evidence for this term from the 1970s. While the stereotypical ‘checkout chick’ was a girl or woman (hence ‘chick’) the term now refers to boys and men as well. You can read the full Word of the Month in PDF form on our website or read it in an online format.

Larrikin, writer, activist: Frank Hardy and Australian English

by Amanda Laugesen

Union membership cards were obtained from the dwindling band of ‘West’ trade union officials. Votes were then cast in the names of absent union members, living or dead. If this precaution failed, the ballot box was, if the opportunity arose, ‘stuffed’ as Sugar Renfrey termed it. This entailed the addition of as many more ‘bodger’ votes as possible. (Power Without Glory, p. 383)

Hardy1

One of Australia’s most controversial literary figures is Frank Hardy (1917-1994). Hardy was a left-wing novelist, writer, and political activist, and is probably best known today as the author of Power Without Glory, published in 1950. Although a novel, this book is a thinly-veiled account of the life of John Wren, a Melbourne businessman who wielded considerable political influence in Victoria for many years. Hardy was famously sued for criminal libel over the publication, but was acquitted. In writing about politics – the quote above makes use of the Australian term bodger, meaning ‘fake, false, worthless’ – he drew on a rich vein of colloquial Australian speech to inject his radical politics with what he considered an authentic Australian working-class spirit. Continue reading

Cornelius Crowe and The Australian Slang Dictionary

by Judith Smyth*

In my last blog, I told the story of Cornelius Crowe, policeman, anti-corruption campaigner, and author of The Australian Slang Dictionary (1895), a record of the language of criminals on the streets of Fitzroy and Collingwood in the 1890s. In this blog I take a closer look at the dictionary itself.

Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Image source: State Library of Victoria

The dictionary was published in 1895 by Robert Barr, a printer in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, and sold for a shilling. It is ninety-eight pages long and contains nearly 2,700 words with brief definitions. The contents page lists thirty-three different types of slang covered by the dictionary, including Lovers’ Slang, Theatrical Slang, Imposters’ Slang, Vagrants’ Slang, and Bookmakers’ Slang. The subtitle claims that some of the ‘unauthorised though popular expressions’ included in the dictionary are ‘now in vogue with all classes in Australia’. Continue reading