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!

 

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.

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Head like a robber’s dog

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Bill Sikes and his dog Bull’s-Eye. A reproduction of a c. 1870s photogravure illustration by Fred Barnard for Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

by Mark Gwynn

The Australian expression to have a head like a robber’s dog means to be very ugly or unattractive. It is first recorded in the 1940s.

Horrie has a head on him like a ‘robber’s dog’ and was in all the trouble about the place, caused by playing shots over which he had no control. (Picton Post, 21 November 1946)

Several variations of this unflattering expression have been recorded over the years, including to have a head like a drover’s dog, to have a head like a beaten favourite, and to have a head like a half-sucked mango. In Frank Hardy’s The Yarns of Billy Borker (1965), the eponymous storyteller provides an insight into the phrase’s adaptability:

You always have a specific character in your stories. That’s because they’re true mate. Had a head on him like a burglar’s torch. A burglar’s torch? Yeh, a long thin neck and a round head. Every real character has a definite name and a head on him like something. I’ll tell this story my way, see. But if you tell it to someone else, you can use a different name and say his head was like something else: maybe a robber’s dog or a warped sandshoe.

As part of our continuing research into Australian English we would like to record more variations of the ‘to have a head like…’ idiom. If you know of any, please tell us. If you have found the idiom in a book, newspaper, blog (or other online source), we’d appreciate any source details you can provide.

 

A tribute to the language of the Honey Badger: is it fair dinkum?

by Julia Robinson

Last week brought the sad news for sports fans that Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins, a talented rugby union player with Perth’s Western Force, and who has represented Australia internationally, is leaving the country to play in Japan. He has achieved fame and a huge following not only for his exceptional football skills, but for the quote-worthiness of his post-match interviews and comments to the media. As a result of his way with words he has been dubbed ‘the world’s most Australian man’, and has a Facebook page dedicated to his quotes. He has a creative turn of phrase and an engaging larrikin personality, but just how Australian is his language? As a tribute to the Honey Badger the Australian National Dictionary Centre is putting his words to the test. We identify the dinkum dialect in a selection of his quotes below – will he pass or fail the test?

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