Mureka’s throat felt lumpy and burning but all the bubblers in the park were as dry as the Simpson Desert. (N. Wheatley, Five Times Dizzy, 1982)
Reviews describe the play as a ‘comedy drier than a dead dingo’s donger‘. (Casino Richmond River Express, 19 May 2010)
In Australian English the simile dry as… is used in various phrases to indicate different kinds of extreme dryness, including thirst and laconic humour. In standard English we find dry as a bone from the early 19th century, but the Australian climate has contributed to a number of variants in Aussie English. The idiom can be simply descriptive, such as dry as the Simpson desert, but is often found in more elaborate forms including dry as a dead dingos’s donger, dry as a kookaburra’s khyber, and dry as a pommy’s towel. For the uninitiated donger is an Australian colloquial term for penis; khyber comes from the rhyming slang khyber pass, arse; and pommy is an Australian colloquialism for a person from the UK, especially England. Dry as the Simpson desert is recorded from the 1940s, while the more colourful phrases emerge in the early 1970s, with the earliest evidence of these from the work of Australian satirist Barry Humphries.
Do you know any more variations on the dry as… pattern? We’d love to hear about them.
The Lord’s had a fair crack of the whip and He’s missed the bus. It’s surfing for me. (Lawson Glassop, We Were the Rats, 1944)
So I say we should give Fatty a chance. After all, he is Australian and our national motto is: Fair suck of the saveloy. (Australian, 27 December 1997)
The expression fair crack of the whip is used elsewhere but is recorded earliest in Australia, from 1902 onwards. It means ‘an equitable opportunity; a reasonable chance’. It is also used as an interjection, meaning ‘give (someone) a chance!’. In Australian English there are several variants of this idiom, all with the same meaning. They can be found in written sources from the 1980s, but probably go back some years earlier.
In the variant fair suck of the sauce bottle (with its elliptical form fair suck), the ‘sauce bottle’ is probably originally a reference to a bottle of alcoholic liquor. Interestingly in 2006 the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, used a slightly different variant: fair shake of the sauce bottle. It is possible that Rudd may have mangled the earlier idiom or heard this expression elsewhere—his use of it is still our earliest evidence. This variant has now entered the Australian lexicon. Another common variant is fair suck of the sav (or saveloy).
Do you know any more variations on the idiom fair crack of the whip? We’d love to hear about them. Please help us add to our collection!
The choice of the word Kwaussie as the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year for 2017 has raised some eyebrows, and a lot of people say they have never heard of it. So I’ll explain why we chose it.
The word came to our attention earlier this year due to its use by Van Badham, describing Barnaby Joyce (and herself), in a Guardian Australia piece. As editors of the major research project and dictionary The Australian National Dictionary: Australian Words and their Origins (Oxford University Press, second ed. 2016) we are always on the look-out for possible Australianisms and so it went into our database for further research. It also went onto our list for Word of the Year, because it related to a major event in Australia for the year – the dual citizenship saga that affected federal parliament.
We then began our research into the many words we consider for Word of the Year, including Kwaussie. Kwaussie proved to have an interesting story, and will be included in the next edition of The Australian National Dictionary. We traced our earliest piece of evidence for the word – it is first recorded in 2002 in a disparaging reference to actor Russell Crowe, a Kiwi who has lived much of his life in Australia. In a New Zealand newspaper he is described as a ‘Kwaussie (what you get when you cross a Kiwi who can’t decide whether they’re a Kiwi or an Aussie)’. (Wellington Evening Post, 19 February 2002) Continue reading →
In a time of covfefe, fake news, and tweetstorms, the Australian National Dictionary Centre has chosen Kwaussie as its Word of the Year for 2017. A number of significant events shaped the Australian political, cultural and social landscape this year, and the words on the shortlist reflect a number of these.
Kwaussie ‘a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand; a New Zealander living in Australia; a person of Australian and New Zealand descent’. Kwaussie, a blend of Kiwi and Aussie, is the most interesting term associated with the dual citizenship crisis engulfing the Australian Parliament in 2017. It was used to describe the most high-profile casualty of the crisis, Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Barnaby Joyce. He revealed to parliament in August that, despite being born and bred in country New South Wales, he was also a New Zealander by descent. The first evidence is found in a 2002 New Zealand newspaper article discussing Russell Crowe: he is described as a ‘Kwaussie (what you get when you cross a Kiwi who can’t decide whether they’re a Kiwi or an Aussie’). Subsequent evidence suggests its use is predominantly Australian, and is found chiefly in social media (and also found with spelling variants including kwozzie and kwozzy). Thanks to the two kwaussies identified as ineligible to sit in parliament, Barnaby Joyce and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, the term is now becoming better known.
We asked a question on social media last week about a commonly used kitchen utensil, and were overwhelmed by the response. The utensil in question (pictured) has a broad flat blade and is used for lifting and turning food. We asked ‘what do you call this implement’ and ‘which country do you come from’.
The following analysis of the feedback we received demonstrates a number of points:
the word spatula is now the most common term for this utensil in Australia and North America
there are regional differences in world English designations for this utensil
hypernymic words such as lifter and turner are often applied to this utensil
it frequently attracts a thingummy or whatsit type of response, implying its name is not known
and it attracts names that suggest it has other uses, real or imaginary, such as bum warmer and fly swatter.
Last time he arrived, plastered to the eyeballs, full as a State school. (C. Rohan, Down by the Dockside, 1963)
We sat under the oleanders eating liquorice all-sorts .. ‘God, I’m full as a goog‘, Connie said. (Paul Radley, Jack Rivers and Me, 1981)
He deals with bed crisis on a daily basis as the hospital is, as they used to say, ‘as full as a Catholic school‘. (Adelaide Advertiser, 24 June 2001)
The ‘wafer thin’ scene from Monty Python’s 1983 film The Meaning of Life
In Australian English the word full is found in various similes to designate ‘fullness’ of three main kinds: (1) being very drunk; (2) having eaten to one’s limits or satisfaction; (3) containing or holding much or many. The earliest forms, full as a goog, full as a boot, full as a bull (or bull’s bum), and full as a state school (with variants such as full as a state school hat rack) are all recorded from the 1930s. A number of other variants emerge from the 1960s onwards, including full as a Catholic school, full as a pommy complaint box, full as the family po (from the French pronunciation of pot in chamber pot), the offensive full as a fairy’s phone book, and full as Centrelink on payday.
It’s currently bush week here at the Australian National University. This has traditionally been a period of student festivity and pranks. The earlier sense of bush week refers to a time when people from the country came to a city, originally when bush produce etc. was displayed. This sense is recorded from the early 20th century. In the mid-20th century bush week is also used to refer to this week as a time when people from the bush are exploited as credulous by city people, are susceptible to con men, etc. We see this sense especially in the phrase what do you think this is – bush week?: a response to a request etc., implying that one is being unfairly imposed upon or taken for a (rustic) fool. The staff at the Australian National Dictionary Centre wish the students a joyful bush week. But please behave yourselves!
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!
Paul Hogan made some trenchant comments on radio 2GB this week about the Australian Tax Office, after the tax commissioner implied that the star had paid megabucks to avoid going to court for tax evasion. Hoges’ observations were noteworthy for his use of the words prawns and boofheads to describe ATO officials, but another of his Australianisms—quoit—may not have been so familiar:
‘Excuse me? They looked up my quoit for five years. They involved the IRS, the Australian Tax Office, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or whatever they call it in England, and they found nothing.’ (reported in The Age, 30 May 2017)
Quoit is a euphemism for ‘backside’ or ‘anus’, and is a figurative use of quoit, the ring of rope or rubber used in the game of quoits. The Australian National Dictionary records the euphemism from 1919. It’s not heard often these days, and younger Aussies are unlikely to recognise it. We owe thanks to Hoges for giving it an airing.
The following words are just some of the many terms recently added to Word Box, the website feature you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases.
fidget spinner – a metal or plastic toy that can be spun with the fingers to relieve stress or for amusement. The device has become the latest playground craze for Australian children. While it was invented and patented in the US in the 1990s, evidence for the term doesn’t appear in the media until 2016.
haram dingo – a humorous name for a person who prefers a halal snack pack* without one or all of the usual condiments (garlic, chilli, and barbecue sauce), or with an unusual addition, such as tomato sauce or even (heaven forbid!) mayonnaise. Haram dingo is a multicultural term combining Arabic and Australian English elements. Haram (Arabic ‘forbidden’) refers to something forbidden or proscribed by Islamic law, and dingo is an Australianism applied to someone who is cowardly or treacherous—characteristics popularly attributed to the dingo.
quokka selfie – a selfie that includes a quokka. The quokka is a small, short-tailed wallaby found in south-western Western Australia including Rottnest and Bald Islands. The name comes from the Noongar language of this region. In 2013 the Huffington Post declared the quokka ‘the happiest animal in the world’ because its facial expression often resembles a smile. At around this time a trend began on the social networking site Instagram where photographs including the quokka were shared. The hashtag #quokkaselfie also became popular.
*A halal snack pack is a substantial takeaway meal of hot chips topped with cheese, halal-certified kebab meat, and several sauces. Strictly for the hungry!