Australian English slang – part two: hand-me-downs

Posted by on September 23, 2010

In the first part of our short series on Australian English slang, author Susan Butler talked about the origins of Aussie slang. In this second part, she explores the influences of colonial British English. Susan Butler is Publisher of the Macquarie Book of Slang (Revised Edition 2000).

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It is not surprising that colonial society in Australia remained attuned to the colloquialism of British English throughout the 1800s. London was the centre of Australia’s colonial universe. British English was our model, our aspiration then, as American English is now, at least for the young.

It comes as a bit of a shock to realise that some of the key items of Australian English are hand-me-downs from elsewhere. Iconic terms such as the bush and bushranger are in fact borrowings from American English. And a colloquialism that we think of as being central to our culture – fair dinkum – is in fact a borrowing from British dialect.

The following are some common items in Australian English for which we have to acknowledge our debt to British English. It is true however that in some cases we have made more of these words than the British have done. Some of them are still limited to British dialect, the word chook being a notable case in point. Others have died out of British colloquialism while remaining strong here. Mongrel in the sense of despicable was a colloquialism of the 1700s in British English but is alive and well in Australian English, particularly in the expression a mongrel act.

Some examples of British English hand-me-downs:
bloke
boomer
go for a Burton
chiack
chook
chuffed
have a derry on someone
cobber
dink double
on a bicycle
duffer
(of cattle)
dunny
flummox
a fluke
fossick
a geek
a look
give someone gip
golly
mucus
josh
tease
mollydooker
mullygrubber
nick
steal
nincompoop
ning nong
purler
Rafferty’s rules
a punt
a kick
the rozzers
shivoo
skerrick
skite
slummocky
smidgin
smoodge
sook
sool
little tackers
tiddler
tootsy
waffle
talk at length
wonky

In the final part of the series, I’ll be looking at the creativity so characteristic of Australian slang.

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