by Mark Gwynn
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.