Friday, 23 November 2007


Booking through Thursday

This meme takes a different tack this week, linking to this blog post, whose author, Joanna, and co-contributor Brad are asking about “connecting words,” and they don’t mean conjunctions like “and” or “but.” No, what they’re looking for are unique, or treasured words that we’ve found out and about in our daily travels, words that might not be common usage, or often heard, but which struck a chord for some reason.

Being Australians in the US, almost everything we say seems to make people laugh, or scratch their heads. Our vernacular uses a lot of irony, is broad and nuanced, and hard to explain to non-Australians. We use colourful expressions that need translating occasionally, such as 'beaut', 'chuck a yewie (make a U-turn)', and 'it's my shout, mate (it's my turn to buy you a drink, buddy)'. And we get into trouble occasionally with words like 'pissed', which here means cross and in Australia means drunk; and 'root', which is something Americans do for their teams and in Australia is having sex (not very nicely).

One of the best Australian words, and one which is so useful and charged with meaning back home, is dag/daggy. Nerds in stretch pants and cardigans are daggy. Daggy means naff, unfashionable, unstylish. The literal definition of a dag is a matted piece of wool, usually flyblown and dirty, that hangs off a sheep's rear end.

:: At a weekly suburban paper I used to work for, we had a vocabulary of our own on production day. For example, if a story was a fraction short (or long) for its allotted space, it was 'a poofteenth out'; and a really strong headline was 'a grunter', or 'an overhead dick-dick'.

:: My family is originally from Norfolk, in the UK, and my grandmother, who was born in 1896, had some wonderful old expressions, which we still use at home. If the weather looked stormy, she would look at the sky and say, dramatically, 'It's dark over Will's mother's'.
If, as a child, I was curious and asked 'What's that?' or something of that nature, the answer would always be 'K-O-Y-H raspberries, and you're the first.' We still don't know what she meant!

:: Added later: My mother, who was from Southampton, would look at a stormy sky and say 'It's as black as Nooka's knocker.' Which may be some reference to the door of hell — we don't know.

:: PS: I'm adding this the next morning, as I forgot to mention how amused we were when we realised that many of the Americans here in Southern California had never heard of a fortnight, and couldn't even begin to guess its meaning. Such a common English word that we use without thinking.
:: I also use the exclamation 'struth!' a lot, which even makes Australians laugh. It is an old Australian expression that you don't hear much, except around me! I use it because it's also an old English expression — 'a contraction of God's truth' — and my Norfolk grandmother said it often. I think it was the strongest word in her vocabulary.
Another of her favourite expressions, of surprise, was 'Well, stone the crows and chase the cows!'
I miss her and her colourful turn of phrase.
I swear a lot, and my grandmother would be horrified. It also shocks Americans, I was very surprised to discover, so I quickly learned to tone it down, hence the usefulness of a well-placed struth!

5 comments:

gautami tripathy said...

I too was once the brunt of Australian slang! My main blog is titled rooted!!

--Deb said...

GREAT list of words. Some of which I've never heard before. (Um, especially that last one about the raspberries....) (grin)

Chris said...

Pissed can mean both things in my part of Canada.

Joanna said...

Wow, you've got a great overview of English usage with experience of British, Australian and US word usage.

'struth is one that I use from time to time for sure.

And I think I might start using daggy - now I know the origins of the word!

Thanks for taking part

Joanna

Lazy cow said...

I was very proud of my American friend (who now lives in Australia) who emailed me yesterday with the phrase "making an arse of herself", instead of using the word ass. She's a true Aussie now!
However, the children use "butt" instead of "bottom" and it drives me crazy.