The Honey Badger speaks Strine

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.

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Head like a robber’s dog

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Bill Sikes and his dog Bull’s-Eye. A reproduction of a c. 1870s photogravure illustration by Fred Barnard for 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.