by Mark Gwynn
This year the Australian National Dictionary Centre is showcasing Canberra words to mark the city’s centenary. The first Canberra Word blog discussed pube, a colloquial word for ‘public servant’. This blog, the second in the series, looks at the word booner, a local word meaning ‘bogan‘.
Many readers will be familiar with the Australian word bogan. A bogan is a person who is regarded as being uncultured or unsophisticated. There are a number of regional terms across Australia for this type of person. One of the earliest examples of this kind of word is westie. A westie is used to describe a person from the western suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne. Other states provide us with the words bevan (Queensland), bog (Western Australia), and chigga (Tasmania), to name just a few. Like bogan, all these words carry an underlying judgment – that people from working-class or low socio-economic backgrounds are uncultured, crass, and unsophisticated.
In Canberra the local equivalent is booner (sometimes shortened to boon). The origin of the word booner is uncertain. One theory is that it may be derived from the US word boondocks ‘rough or isolated country’ – to come from the boondocks denotes a lack of sophistication. The first recorded evidence of booner is from 1990:
Another enemy of a skater is ‘booners’. In Melbourne they’re known as headbangers, in Sydney they’re Westies… Guys mainly have long hair and wear Metallica shirts, girls wear tight, black jeans, flannelette shirts and ugboots. (Canberra Times, 1 March)
The same article mentions boonerism ‘the act or state of being a booner’:
Boonerism thrives in high schools, where being accepted means conforming to the prescribed uniform, listening to thrash and heavy metal music, and associating with other boons, not yuppies.
The stereotypical booner is often described as someone who is uncouth and rough when it comes to social niceties:
Like her male counterpart, the female booner smokes, swears, and drinks until she vomits. She has an innate sense of school pride which often results in scrags with girls from other schools. She refuses to take any shit from anyone, a principle that either results in physical violence or insults like ‘Sheena’s a fuken bush-pig’ and ‘Katrina’s a lezzo’ on the walls of the girls toilets. (Woroni, Sept., 1997)
Booner is a Canberra word that is still heard in the nation’s capital, although there are indications that it is less commonly used now than in the 1990s. It is possible that the rise and popularity of bogan has contributed to this.