The Edmondson Blog


Foster's, wine in a box, Neighbours, the barbie ... Australia's contribution to world culture is staggering, but nowhere is Australian ingenuity better expressed than in its massacre of the English language.

Known universally as Strine, this Australian patois is a constantly evolving linguistic stew of cast-offs, inventions, corruptions, contractions, taunts, threats and one-liners.

Having mastered the mysterious Antipodean argot, English-speaking migrants often describe themselves as being bilingual - that is, fluent in English and Strine. But the price of Strine is eternal vigilance.

For instance, when an Australian male asks "How you goin', youse old bastard?" he's being affectionate, not asking to see your birth certificate. And if someone tells you his wife is "in bed with a wog", he is not being racist, nor is he casting aspersions on the moral rectitude of his partner - he simply means a bad case of the flu. In Australia, it is bad manners to discuss your personal life in public.

Personal abuse, the cornerstone of Strine, is equally confusing. Being called a bastard may be a term of affection - but a whingeing Pommy bastard should definitely pull in his (or her) head. The shorter Pommy bastard is a tautology.

Of all the terms of abuse, perhaps wowser (killjoy) is the worst. In the land of the long weekend, where drinking, betting and vomiting are all celebrated national pastimes, strait-laced puritans and their sub-species - do-gooders (social workers), sky pilots (priests) and teetotallers - are treated with derision.

By contrast, being mentally unstable or even insane is treated with mild amusement - "He's got kangaroos loose in the top paddock" or "He's one sausage short of a barbie".

But more than anything Australians enjoy baiting foreigners. It is their way of making you feel at home. And yet, racial abuse in Australia is often cloyingly innocent. "Gone are the days they used to fight us," warbled Barry Humphries in a poem about the Japanese. "Now we think of them as little Aussies with hepatitis."

Visitors should observe rule number one: never criticise Australia. Any foreigner who fails to embrace godzone (God's own country) is likely to cop an earful.

In Australia's most remote Outback pub, the Birdsville Hotel, a notice on the wall warns patrons: "Anyone wearing a baseball cap round the wrong way is fined $5. This is bloody Australia. All proceeds to the Royal Flying Doctor Service."

Despite the inroads made by political correctness, women and homosexuals remain favourite targets. "Get back in the car and bark at strangers" is one taunt made at women. Gay men are always poofters or shirt-lifters - in fact, Australia, a country where mateship is a cultural icon, has more terms for being gay than the Eskimos have for ice.

The taste for invective infects every strata of society. Australian sportsmen, for instance, are judged not only by their on-field performance but their ability to sledge the opposition. "Call that a serve?" your tennis opponent may shout. "You're playing like a big girl's blouse."

Australia's most popular politicians are the ones who can turn it on for the television cameras. Paul Keating, the former prime minister, once described Australia's Senate as unrepresentative pig swill. Reflecting on life in the federal capital he said: "If you want a friend in Canberra, get a dog."

Strine is infectious. It is not unusual for European migrants to refer to themselves as bloody wogs and even pukka English settlers fall into the habit of shortening every word. The nation of utes (pick-up trucks), unis (universities), smokos (tea breaks) and long arvos (afternoons) at the footie (football) hasn't finished with the English language quite yet.

Anyway, time to knock off. I'm as dry as a Pommy's towel.
Hat tip to The Daily Telegraph

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