Australian Lingo

Source: The Age

Aw geez, what's happening to our bonzer lingo?

By KEITH DUNSTAN - Published Monday 16 February 1998


There were whingeing Poms, there were satisfied Poms and even a few ecstatic Poms, but one middle-aged Pom couldn't stand our language. The line that irritated him was "Good onya".

Now I have always liked "Good onya". It has a lovely home-grown Ocker warmth. It expresses approval of something done, and wishes the recipient further success. It beats the hell out of that dreadful American import "Have a nice day". What does he expect us to say, "May your scenario always improve".

Now I am all for preserving our curious Australian phrases and have long pleaded that the National Trust should do something about it rather than merely preserving old houses. The number of Ocker words that are on the endangered species list is worrying.

Fortunately, g'day has made a comeback but "hooroo" and "hooray" for goodbye are in terrible danger.

There are a number of ways Australians can greet each other. The standard salutation is "Owya going?"

To this there are four regulation replies.

1. "Not bad, ows yourself."

2. "Good as gold."

3. "Carn complain."

4. ( And I think this is my favorite). "Wooden be dead for quids."

They all have that delightful Australian trait of being just a bit of a put down and not giving anything away.

On the more vulgar side, there is the query, "Getting any?" For the correct replies one has to go to that eminent authority on Australian slang, the late Sidney Baker.

1. "Climbing trees to get away from it."

2. "Got to swim under water to dodge it."

3. "So busy I've had to put a man on."

But what are we to do with the ones that are disappearing? "Bonzer", meaning something splendid, of inestimable value, is a generous beaut word, but who uses it now? There was a variation, "boshter", a favorite of C.J. Dennis in The Sentimental Bloke. Alas, boshter is beyond retrieval, gone like the Tasmanian Tiger. And if bonzer is in peril, how about "extra grouse". Now extra grouse is one of the most exquisitely expressive lines in any language. We must not let it go.

Then there are the occasions when you are working excessively hard. The response used to be "Aw geez, I'm flat out like a lizard drinking". Never hear it any more.

Perhaps the most beautiful eloquent phrase in the Australian language is "Don't come the raw prawn". It means you are trying to put something over, to misinform. Our politicians are coming the raw prawn every day.

And if we are thinking about things not being too good, we have to watch "crook". Is it possible that things are still crook in Tallarook?

It goes on. I was shocked this summer to hear people talking about swim suits. There's no such thing in Ocker land. Either they are "cossies" or "togs".

What's more, people are now talking about hookers. I always thought a hooker was something to do with a strange sport that they play in Sydney. The traditional words for prostitute are "Mallee root", "ferry", "chromo", prossie, or for a genuine Tasmanian Tiger, a "cake". Indeed, back in the dream time we used to call a brothel a "cake shop".

Now here is a list of words we need to watch, "lair", and in bad cases, a "mug lair"; "ridgey didge" for something that is fair dinkum and, "maggoty". "Yes, the old man was a bit maggoty this morning." If he wasn't maggoty, then very likely "he was as mad as a gum tree full of galahs". After times of extreme drought, when rain came, it was the custom to run outside and holler "Send her down Hughie". A very appropriate exclamation of joy, but who was Hughie? Sid Baker claims Hughie was another term for the Almighty.

There are various words for drinking, but I have always liked "getting on the turps" and if you are tough then you have to be "as tough as fencing wire" or tough as "seasoned mulga".

A party used to be a "shivoo", a Sheila used to be a bit of talent, and if you looked at one too carefully, hells bells, you were a "perv artist". When we were kids we used to bounce "yonnies" across the water. That's another serious worry. There hasn't been a yonnie around for at least 10 years.

If you can keep on using these words, well, "Good Onya".

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