by Mark Gwynn
Over recent weeks a television adaptation of the novel Puberty Blues has been airing to wide acclaim. Based on a 1979 novel written by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, Puberty Blues is a coming-of-age story about two 13-year-old girls, Debbie and Sue, who seek to be accepted into a group of popular surfers and surfie chicks (surfers’ girlfriends). The novel explores a range of themes including peer group pressure, drug use, generational differences between parents and children, and sexual relationships. The language of the novel is strongly colloquial and uses the Australian vernacular of the 1970s—particularly the language of teenagers and the surfing culture of this period. For this reason it is a valuable source of evidence for lexicographers of Australian English.
The Australian National Dictionary Centre’s database and the Australian National Dictionary contain over a hundred quotations from Puberty Blues that provide evidence for Australian words and the way these words are used. The quotations give a colourful context for Australian English as the following examples reveal. For those unfamiliar with these terms a translation is given in brackets.
The girls smiled, bludged smokes and looked attractively bored. (cadged)
Here comes Darren. What a deadset doll. (genuine, awesome)
I’m so nervous. I didn’t do any study. I’m packin’ shit. (terrified)
At south Cronulla we’d let the boys ‘tit-us-off’ and occasionally get a hand down our pants. At North Cronulla we’d progressed to dry roots. (simulated acts of sexual intercourse without penetration)
She walked everywhere in her bikini. That meant she was showing off her body and was an easy root. (sexual partner)
Sue and I checked out the guys. They were spunkier at North Cronulla. (more sexually attractive)
Look Debbie – Kim told me that Bruce’s wrapped in ya. (engrossed in, infatuated by)
Things like have sex, smoke cigarettes, nick off from school. (depart surreptitiously)
‘Spung!’ cried Jeff Basin, the local dubbo. (country bumpkin, fool)
I paddled out first. Sue couldn’t stop laughing at me slipping off and getting chundered. (thrown into the sea—a figurative use of chunder ‘to vomit’)
‘Smile!’ ‘No. He’ll think I’m trying to crack onoo him. (crack on to, pursue someone with amorous intent)
You’d go out with the gang to a party and when everyone else paired off, he’d lead you outside for a pash on the front fence. (passionate kiss, French kiss)
Many of the Australian slang terms found in Puberty Blues would be unfamiliar to teenagers today. There are a number of reasons for this including the fluidity of teenage language, the influence of US and British slang coming via television, movies, and the Internet, and the social and cultural changes that have occurred in Australia over the last 30 years.