by Mark Gwynn
Several years ago my colleague wrote a light-hearted blog judging the Australianness of the language of Nick Cummins, aka the Honey Badger. The rugby union player and former Wallaby had become well-known for his use of quirky idioms, rhyming slang, and the Australian vernacular. Suffice to say the Badger’s colloquial language contained a significant proportion of distinctive Australian terms. Now that he is starring in this year’s The Bachelor Australia, it’s time to revisit the Honey Badger for a look at his recent use of language.
As part of our reading program to collect evidence of Australian terms for the Australian National Dictionary (AND), I had the opportunity to read two of Nick Cummins’ weighty tomes—Tales of the Honey Badger (2015) and Adventures of the Honey Badger (2016). From these books I recorded over 120 words and expressions for our archive of Australian English. All quotations below are taken from these works.
The Badger excels in several aspects of colloquial language use. They are: rhyming slang; variants of Australian idioms; idiosyncratic similes; and other idiosyncratic expressions, some of which may be his own coinage.
* Rhyming slang terms. Rhyming slang emerged on the streets of working-class London in the early to mid-19th century, and quickly made its way to the Australian colonies. Many terms are unique to Australian English, or used here more often than elsewhere. An example is Noah’s Ark ‘shark’. As with many rhyming slang terms the rhyming element is often omitted, so simply shouting Noah will be enough to alert your fellow surfers to catch the next wave in. The Honey Badger uses a number of familiar Australian rhyming slang terms. For example:
The infection had spread covering most of my quad and marching towards the Jatz Crackers. (‘knackers’, testicles. The term ultimately derives from Jatz, the proprietary name for a cracker biscuit. AND has evidence from the mid-1990s.)
What if I drop a Richard the Third, ‘cause ya gotta have a snake’s hiss immediately after impact. It’s science. (‘piss’. AND has evidence from the mid-1960s. Richard the Third ‘turd’ is found in general rhyming slang from the 1940s.)
I just saw the line, pinned me ears back and ended bagging a bit of meat in the corner there, which was tops! (shortened form of meat pie ‘try’, often heard in the form meaties. AND has evidence from the mid-1990s.)
The Honey Badger also uses some less familiar rhyming slang that we’ll be looking out for in future. For example:
And with two victories in one day, we headed to a local burger joint for a quick Bruce Reid before getting on the launch pad and pressing the button for a big night out. (‘feed’. This term probably refers to the retired Australian cricketer and former bowling coach of the Indian national cricket team.)
When I woke up I looked for the Chris McKenna. Hell, just thinking about the food I could buy with $10 got me through the operation. (‘tenner’. This term probably refers to the former professional Australian rugby league player.)
The names of sporting identities often provide the rhyme for Australian rhyming slang, so the Honey Badger’s terms may already have some currency.
*Variants of familiar Australian idioms. The Honey Badger uses numerous Australian idioms including: have a head like a robber’s dog; syphon the python; so hungry I could eat a horse and chase the rider; drier than a Pommie’s towel; and in more shit than a Werribbee duck. But importantly for our research he uses a number of variants that we hadn’t recorded, or had very little evidence for. Here are some examples:
We were looking better than a poodle to a rottweiler and with my older brother Luke’s fourbie bedded down and a fox’s brekkie under the belt, we were ready to hit the frog and toad. (variant of dingo’s breakfast ‘attention to early morning needs, such as urination, washing, etc.’ The rhyming slang frog and toad ‘road’ dates from the 1850s.)
Nathan saw I’d virtually been impaled, and like a rat down a drainpipe he was there. He picked me up and carried me to the bottom. (variant of like a rat up a drainpipe ‘very quickly, quick as a flash’.)
I’ve been in a pretty fertile paddock since Japan but I’d tried to stay in reasonable shape and thought I’d be cool. (variant of in a good paddock ‘in a state conducive to putting on weight; well fed’)
* Idiosyncratic similes. The Australian vernacular has many colourful similes including mad as a cut snake, bald as a bandicoot, like a kid in a lolly shop, full as goog, dry as dead dingo’s donger, and like a shag on a rock. The Honey Badger has a particular talent for making interesting comparisons:
I’m as full as Centrelink on payday.
Things were looking up for one Nick F. Cummins. And like a hippie with a dole cheque, I strutted into day one of the prep-season with a real groove in my step.
I was as nervous as a rugby league player during a TAFE exam as I made way towards the big beast.
Hair like a bush pig’s arse. Messy.
You’re as tough as woodpecker lips.
I loved that place. The freedom, the smell, the serenity. Just driving into the place gave me a grin like a dead sheep.
* Other idiosyncratic expressions. I’ll finish with some of the Honey Badger’s more interesting or creative expressions. Some of these may be based on familiar idioms (knob high to a ladybug/knee-high to a grasshopper), while others may well be the Badger’s own creations:
When the air-con’s crapped itself and it’s hotter than a flatscreen TV in a pawn shop.
It’s 1998 and here I am, knob high to a ladybug—or 11 in proper English—and on a fishing adventure with the old man on Fraser Island.
But this feeling won’t go away. Like a Melbourne Cup hangover, it just becomes stronger and stronger.
Jake looked more confused than Tony Abbott at the Oxford Street Markets.
My old man woke me up in the morning. He was going off like a bag of cats.
I’m not a great fan of reality television so I’m unlikely to watch The Bachelor Australia, but my colleagues will be following the show closely to record the Honey Badger’s language – all in the name of research, of course. I wish Bachelor Nick the best of luck in his search for love. Certainly, his own words reveal him to be a hopeless romantic: ‘Like women and left-handed screwdrivers, the ocean has always fascinated me.’
Perhaps one of the women on this show will enjoy Nick Cummins’ creative turn of phrase as much as I have in recording it.