A DICTIONARY IS BORN IN ‘STRAYA’
In 1812 the convict James Hardy Vaux (pictured ) produced what is credited as being the first Australian dictionary: A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language. It was essentially a compilation of slang used by the ‘flash’ criminal element in the infant colony, much of it a derivative of London slang. At the time Vaux, a convicted pickpocket and forger, was serving time at the Newcastle penal colony, north of Sydney. He dedicated his little book to the settlement’s Commandant, a man he viewed as humane and fair-minded;
‘I trust the Vocabulary will afford you some amusement from its novelty, and that from the correctness of its definitions you may occasionally find it useful in your magisterial capacity.’
Here are some of the colourful entries;
FORKS: The two forefingers of a hand; to put your forks down is to pick a pocket.
MORNING SNEAK: Going out early to rob private houses or shops by slipping in at the door unperceived, while the servant or shopman is employed in cleaning the steps, windows etc.
NEEDY MIZZLER : A poor ragged object of either sex; a shabby looking person.
OLIVER : The Moon
OLIVER IS IN TOWN: A phrase signifying that the nights are moonlight , and consequently unfavourable to depredation. [theft]
SLOP-FEEDER: A teaspoon.
SQUEEZE: The neck. [This must surely have derived from hanging!]
TINNY-HUNTERS: Persons whose practice it is to attend fires, for the purpose of plundering the unfortunate sufferers, under pretence of assisting them to remove their property.
UP IN THE STIRRUPS: A man who is in swell street, that is having plenty of money, is said to be up in the stirrups.
My favourite entry is….
WOOLLY BIRDS: Sheep.
These must not be confused with another, avian species of woolly bird, which is nocturnal and better known as the tawny frogmouth. Here are two baby ones:
In 1827 the London Magazine called Vaux’s dictionary: ‘One of the most singular that ever issued from the press.’
OUR LINGO DOWN THE TRACK.
The same could be said of another little compilation of Aussie expressions, published in Sydney in 1965. It was written by the journalist A.A. Morrison and based on the broad Australian accent. As an example of this, Morrison used the pen-name Afferbeck Lauder, because he arranged his entries in alphabetical order. Get it?
Similarly, the title he chose was Let’s Stalk Strine (Let’s talk Australian). Here are some more examples, with my own translations.
AIR FRIDGE : As in, The air fridge Strine (The average Australian)
JEGODTA : Actually a contraction of several words; ‘Jegodta Mailben freeseter?’ (Did you go to Melbourne for Easter?) ‘Nar, dingo’ (No, I didn’t go).
Of course I am quite fluent in Strine myself, though I hate to admit it. My friend Errol in the UK insists I call him Irrol. But even more embarrassing was my sister’s experience while holidaying in the US. After introducing her husband Wayne and daughter Katey to someone, the names were repeated back to her as Wine and Kitey. Oh dear!
Mind you, some people speak such thick Strine that even I, Strine born and bred, have difficulty understanding. One day I was stopped in our village by an elderly couple asking for directions to the chemist. I felt a hospice might be more appropriate when the woman said;‘ We only came here to die.’
I was trying to think of an adequate response when she added;
‘ Yers, onnertrain. Wifrum Pinrith’ [Penrith] I can’t wait to share this with Irrol
There is now an emerging, post-modern version of Strine. It’s my belief that it began in the western suburbs of Sydney. A classic example can be found in the name of our homeland , which has evolved to Straya.
Now here is a little test to see if you have begun to master Strine. Please answer the following two questions in the comment box below: Born and bred Strines can simply respond to my blog in any way they choose…within reason!
Ware checketcha nise hembeg? N’emmuch wassit?
Here is a pictorial clue;
UPDATE…..I can’t resist including this selection from Kiwi-speak. dictionary.
The final say in this article should go that wonderful writer, Virginia Woolf. What a contrast her upper-class English accent is, but how wise and engaging are her thoughts on WORDS.