Head like a robber’s dog

large_billsikes

Bill Sikes and his dog Bull’s-Eye. A reproduction of a c. 1870s photogravure illustration by Fred Barnard to Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

by Mark Gwynn

The Australian expression to have a head like a robber’s dog means to be very ugly or unattractive. It is first recorded in the 1940s.

Horrie has a head on him like a ‘robber’s dog’ and was in all the trouble about the place, caused by playing shots over which he had no control. (Picton Post, 21 November 1946)

Several variations of this unflattering expression have been recorded over the years, including to have a head like a drover’s dog, to have a head like a beaten favourite, and to have a head like a half-sucked mango. In Frank Hardy’s The Yarns of Billy Borker (1965), the eponymous storyteller provides an insight into the phrase’s adaptability:

You always have a specific character in your stories. That’s because they’re true mate. Had a head on him like a burglar’s torch. A burglar’s torch? Yeh, a long thin neck and a round head. Every real character has a definite name and a head on him like something. I’ll tell this story my way, see. But if you tell it to someone else, you can use a different name and say his head was like something else: maybe a robber’s dog or a warped sandshoe.

As part of our continuing research into Australian English we would like to record more variations of the ‘to have a head like…’ idiom. If you know of any, please tell us. If you have found the idiom in a book, newspaper, blog (or other online source), we’d appreciate any source details you can provide.

 

Cornelius Crowe: a dictionary maker in the cause of justice

by Judith Smyth*

In a previous blog Mark Gwynn looked at the first dictionary produced in Australia, A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language, written by the convict James Hardy Vaux in 1812 to provide the court with a translation of the slang used in the colony by convicts and criminals. The perceived need to translate the language of criminals continued throughout the nineteenth century. An interesting example of this phenomenon is a dictionary compiled by Cornelius Crowe in 1895 entitled The Australian Slang Dictionary, containing the words and phrases of the thieving fraternity together with the unauthorised, though popular expressions now in vogue with all classes in Australia. Continue reading