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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HB: ‘Holy tomorrow – how good? Bloody, you beauty.’  Bloody, although it is used elsewhere in the English-speaking world, has been known as ‘the (great) Australian adjective’ for more than a hundred years, and is considered characteristically Australian. You beauty is a expression of approval, appreciation, or triumph. PASS

HB: ‘Tough as woodpecker lips.’ Not Australian. FAIL

HB: ‘If I end up getting a gig, mate, I’ll be going off like a cut snake.’ This is a variant of mad as a cut snake, meaning ‘extremely angry’ or ‘crazy’. The Badger’s use of it is influenced by the various idioms including ‘off’ that are found in Australian English: off like a bucket of prawns, off like a bride’s nightie, off like a frog in a sock, and so on, which play on different meanings of the word off (‘away’, ‘gone’, ‘decaying’). The Honey Badger means that he will be very quick off the mark. PASS

HB: ‘Like a rat up a drainpipe in one of them runs there.’ This means ‘extremely fast’. PASS

HB: ‘Yeah look, there’s a couple of big hooers gettin about.’ A general term of abuse in Australia, used with varying degrees of strength. Hooer probably represents a dialect pronunciation of whore, but it can be applied to a person of either sex. PASS

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HB: ‘Sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage.’ This may be the Badger’s own coinage. Perhaps an Australianism in the making? POSSIBLE PASS

HB: ‘I’m going to get out there and just go bananas.’ Not Australian. FAIL

HB: ‘We come out as mad as a tree full of galahs there in the first twenty minutes.’ A variant of the idiom as mad as a gumtree full of galahs, meaning ‘crazy’ or ‘eccentric’. The Honey Badger is perhaps using mad here in the sense of ‘angry’, or even ‘crazy-brave’. PASS

HB:’Got a bit of test meat we call it back home, bit of meat pie.’  Meat is an abbreviation of meat pie, rhyming slang for a ‘try’ in rugby. Extra points for the use of both forms of the idiom. PASS WITH MERIT

HB: ‘You’ve got to have the patience of the Dalai Lama.’ Not Australian. FAIL

HB: ‘I’ve gone up and over and bloody head over biscuit.’ At a stretch we might claim this as a variant of the Australian head over turkey, meaning ‘head over heels’. The addition of bloody (see above) is a nudge in the right direction. SEMI-PASS

HB: ‘You had to stop wearing them DTs.’ An initialism from dick togs, a synonym for speedos or budgie smugglersPASS

HB: ‘He was sweating like a bag of cats at a greyhound meet.’ Another one peculiar to the Badger? See ‘sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage’ above.  POSSIBLE PASS

Australian salmon. Image source: Museum Victoria

Australian salmon. Source: Museum Victoria

HB: ‘Bit of salmon on the run, maybe a few tailor.’ The Honey Badger is using Australian fish names in a figurative sense, alluding to what he may achieve during a game. Salmon (or Australian salmon) refers to any one of several fishes, especially the marine fish Arripis trutta, and tailor is the marine fish Pomatomus saltator. Both species are valued by anglers. PASS

HB: ‘I was busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad mate, it was flat out.’ He may be using flat out as an abbreviation of the Australian idiom flat out like a lizard drinking, (‘fully extended; acting or working with the utmost effort’), so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, mate is a quintessentially Australian term of address. PASS

Australian diggers, Gallipoli 1915. Source: Australian War Memorial

Australian diggers, Gallipoli 1915. Source: Australian War Memorial

HB: ‘When we were back in our line here, we were diggin’ like the boys in the trenches at Gallipoli.’ Not an Australian idiom, but it probably should be. Full marks for the historical Australian reference. PASS WITH MERIT

HB: ‘Get down there – it’s going to be a screamer‘. We’re going out on a limb here. A screamer is an AFL word for ‘a spectacular mark’.  Despite the fact that it derives from a rival football code, we think the Honey Badger is using this in a figurative sense to mean ‘a spectacular game’. PASS

HB: ‘Got a couple of knocks and a whack on the schnozz.’ Not Australian. FAIL

HB: ‘We’re just more focused on treading softly and carrying a big stick.’ The Badger knows his American history. ‘Speak softly, and carry a big stick’ was used by President Theodore Roosevelt to describe his approach to foreign policy. Not Australian. FAIL

The verdict? Our Strine-ometer measures the Honey Badger’s language as 75% distinctively Australian. We are not sure if this makes him the most Australian man in the world, but he is certainly well up in the running. On a more subjective scale we give the Honey Badger’s language full marks for exuberance, variety, historical reference, and the creative use of idiom. His love of language has recently inspired a Honey Badger tribute song, which captures the sentiments of his many fans. We wish him all the best.