Sunday, 25 August 2013

Wit my Nan says

For the last two weeks, I've been taking care of my Nan (that's "grandmother", coming from the italian term Nonna which some Australians adopted from "wogs" and into Nanna).
I've been taking care of her because she can't take care of herself. Not that she'd have me say that, she'd wring my neck if she heard me talking like that (which makes me thankful she doesn't read the blog). See, she likes her independence and refuses to move into a nursing home (she worked in one for twenty-seven years and doesn't trust them) and sure, I reckon good on her, she's still got fire in her, she doesn't need full-time care.
But the thing is, she doesn't need care at her house, because she's organized it and lives in it in a way that suits her needs. However, our home is not conducive to a little old lady born before 1950.

For instance, she drinks tea all the time (preferable Bushells), a simple task, except when she comes to our house, for the following reasons:
For starters, my family doesn't have a regular "kettle", we own a one-touch automatic kettle which squirts one cup of piping hot water into your cup when you press a red button. This resulted in some spilled tea before Nan learned how to operate it.
Then there's the tea, Nan drinks a lot of tea so she buys it in bulk, but we only had the one little box so we needed to buy more, which is bad for Nan because she doesn't know where the shops are out here, and she's got a bad knee that slows her down and makes walking a bother (she's got an appointment for the doctor to look after her next week) so I had to help her around and make sure she didn't get lost.
Finally, the milk. We buy all of our milk from Aldi so it only comes as UHT in those square milk cartons that, to keep it fresh, also have a little "pull-off" tag that you tear by wrapping your finger around it. Nan has arthritis, so she can't loop her finger through the little plastic tag, and it takes about a kilogram of force to pull those things off (That's about 10.1 Newtons, according to the conversion calculator I found online). I know, because the milk containers are 1 litre, and I've picked them up by those "loops" without them breaking, so she needs help to do that.

Don't get me wrong, she's not infirm, she takes well care of herself. Back down in Grafton she's a big part of the community, always baking things for the Church Bake Sales; selling jams at the markets; helping out her old friends when they're going to hospital; constantly perfecting that little cottage garden around her place, (which last I saw had four different kind of roses [the peach-coloured rose was my favourite]); then getting all around town helping out and socializing, even though she's got a walking stick and can't move faster than a slow limp.
She's self-sufficient, so long as she does it her way, and sometimes I wonder whether "our" way is better, with all this technology clogging our arteries.
Okay, that's a lie, I prefer my way - I'm not saying we should throw out computers - but what I am saying is, I wish we could adopt some more of those things from the "old days" that my Nan still does "nowadays". Because, an awful lot of the time, I reckon that what she does is better.
The Word of the Day is 'OLD-SCHOOL'.

Ocker /'okə/ n. Colloquial 1. The uncultivated Australian working man considered as a type. 2. An insensitive, narrow-minded Australian male who considers his ideas and values the only possible ones. 3. An Australian male displaying qualities considered to be typically Australian, as good humour, helpfulness, and the abilities to overcome difficulties. ♦adj. 4. distinctively Australian: an ocker sense of humour. Also, okker.

That was the longest preamble I've done in a while. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it a pre-ramble, since I haven't exactly explained what I want to talk about today. The point is, I like what my Nanna does, and one of the things I love most about her is that she is proper Australian, or I should say "ocker".
I love Australia and its culture but it seems to me like we've lost some of that true blue, Aussie identity as the country's grown older. At least in the public eye, we've become more politically correct, inoffensive and strict. I always associate with Australia that Work hard, Relax harder, "she'll-be-right-mate", modest, jovial, imperfect, laidback aesthetic, but these days we all seem so polite and inoffensive. Which annoys me, because we're not supposed to be "polite and inoffensive", we're supposed to be honest and rough as guts! That's what True Blue means! True, as in Loyal & Honest; Blue as in "Raw", like Blue Steak or Blue Language!
That's not where the term comes from, historically, but as is the Australian way,we don't care about where it comes from, we care about where it's going. But at this rate, Australian Identity is going the way of the dodo.
I appreciate multiculturalism as much as the next person [here person should be read as person who is not a fucking racist.], but a multiculture is supposed to be many cultures growing bigger, not getting smaller, more diluted and homogenous. We've lost that, but when I talk to my Nanna everything that comes out of her mouth is pure, raw Aussie. Hell, she's more "Ocker Aussie" sitting in the kitchen drinking tea than most of the mongrels out there, suckling beer out of a bottle while barbecuing beef with their buddies, watching the latest football match.

One of the coolest things about the way my Nan speaks is that she uses oldschool Australian slang and idioms from 50 years ago. Not only are they funny, but I think they represent how Australia is supposed to be. Laidback, modest, politically incorrect and not afraid to make fun of itself.
So, for your pleasure, I've compiled a list of my favourites, and an explanation of what it means. For added comedy, I can guarantee you that every single one of these came out of the mouth of a 70+ year old grandmother. So, allow me to introduce, in no particular order . . .

The A.W.N.'s Half-Arsed List of True-Blue, Dinky-Di, Ridgy-didge Ocker Aussie Slang

"Fair dinkum"
  This means real, true or genuine. Apparently the word dinkum used to mean work, but these days means something like play. However, don't be fooled into thinking the term means fair play. The most accurate translation to common parlance would be for real, and they could be used interchangeably.

"Dry as a dead dingo's donger"
  Really dry. This can suit to describe someone's wit or literal dryness. I like this because I imagine it being said by an old stockman, complaining about the weather during an Aussie summer out in the desert. But I use this to welcome you to the grand history of crude Australian metaphors. One my Nan doesn't use, but I find funny is "low as a snake's arsehole" to describe someone devious, unkind, cruel or just plain nasty.

"Like tits on a bull"
  Completely useless, used to describe a person. One might, at first, think that tits on a bull would be useful, (twice the milk, right?) so I feel the need to remind you of another saying: "mess with the bull, get the horns". Another way to call someone useless that my Nan doesn't say is "as useless as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest".

"Off, like a bride's nightie"
  Used to describe something or someone that leaves quickly, not something which isn't on. Although Nan's never said it, we also have "off like a bucket of prawns in the hot sun" to describe something that has gone rotten. This too can describe an expedient departure if you so choose, it's a flexible metaphor.

"He/She wouldn't know a tram was up him/her 'til the bell rang!"
  This is used to describe someone either inattentive or dim-witted. I don't believe it means "upon him/her" so much as "up his/her arse", as that is just our sense of humour, but I really like this one because of the history.
Australia originally wanted trams in every city, but a lot of councils elected not to install them because our cities were too small. These days we can't add them, and in fact some have been removed, because they're too expensive to run and not enough people use them, so to me this phrase harkens back to a time when trams were a big deal in Australia.

"A face like a smacked arse"
  This is used to describe someone blushing or looking very surprised. The first meaning is pretty simple, a smacked arse would look red and flushed. As for the "looking surprised" definition, I believe it comes from the notion that someone would look surprised if you smacked them on the arse, but I can't be sure as the surprised meaning isn't used often.

"You've got tickets on yourself"
  Used to describe a person with a high opinion of themselves (I know, because I get told this one all the time). My Nan sometimes pairs this with "don't go out in a breeze, they'll all blow off". The idea here is that a person has notes all over them describing how good they are, how smart, how handsome, etcetera in a conceited attempt to constantly advertise themselves and be the centre of attention. This is actually an insult, since modesty is very important in Australia and so people will often think more highly of you, if you don't express how highly you think of yourself.
This is also closely related to figjam, another derogatory term for an immodest person. It's an acronym and stands for: Fuck, I'm Good. Just Ask Me.

"Mad as a cut snake"
  Bloody furious. This is very Australian, because Australia is host to 9 of the world's Top 10 Deadliest Snakes. If you cut a snake in half, they will twist and writhe over themselves and lash out at any perceived threat. Also, Fun Fact: even if you cut a snake's head off, it can still bite you. By the same note, if someone is described as "mad as a cut snake" then they are likely to lash out and hurt other people in their anger, even if you're trying to help.

"Blood worth bottling"
  This is used to describe role models or otherwise incredibly kind, generous, selfless, irreplaceable people. The phrase is similar to "worth his weight in gold" or even the Australian saying "he's a top bloke", but I think it's more than that. This implies that someone is worth saving, as though you wish you could keep something of them in the world, to make sure there were always people like them in it.

  Idiot. I don't know where it came from, but Dictionary blames the Spangled Drongo, an Australian bird. This probably relates back to "birdbrain" an insult implying a small mind, since we also call someone a "galah" if their being foolish, and a Galah is a kind of cockatoo with pink feathers and grey wings found in Australia. Some sources claim that Drongo was the name of an old racehorse that never won any races, but the birdbrain idea makes more sense to me.

"You've got Buckley's"
  You have no chance or it's impossible. Sometimes this is said as "a Buckley's chance", and is named for a man who was very unlucky. Sources are uncertain as to which Mr Buckley provided the name for this quote, but as it's one of the oldest examples, I believe this is speaking of William Buckley, a convict who escaped from prison and ran away into the Australian bush. He only managed to survive by living with an Aboriginal tribe. At this point one might think "but if he survived, he had a chance, right?"
But let me remind you, we know he survived, so obviously he was found again which means he must have gone back to prison. It doesn't seem so lucky when you put it like that.

"Full as a goog."
  Describes someone who has a full stomach. The word goog comes from 'googie' meaning egg, and supposedly comes from the way young children pronounce the word "egg". Eggs are basically full to the edge of the shell, so this meaning is literal. However, some claim that "full as a goog" also means drunk but these people are wrong.
In the context of a drinking session, calling someone "full as a goog" would imply they are filled to the brim with alcohol, and would also happen to be very drunk. I believe this is where the misunderstanding has arisen.

"Flat out, like a lizard drinking"
  Someone working very hard and fast, often to their limit. "Flat out" refers to something using a lot of effort. A lizard always lies flat on its belly, so this could be a good play on words. But at the same time, lizards drink by flicking their tongue into water and snapping up the splash and they do this in quick succession, so their tongues move very quickly when they drink, meaning this could just as easily be another clever Australian Metaphor.

"Technicolour Yawn"
  Puke, Spew or Vomit. This is both a clever bit of outback poetry and incredibly gross. It's kind of interesting how many different ways there are to say vomit. This is what my Nan calls it, but one of my favourites is chunder, because it has a colourful history (assuming the story I was told is true).
Apparently this term comes from the days of Australia's colonization, since everyone came by boat, even if they were seasick. So, if you were going to puke, you'd have to run to the edge and throw up into the sea. Unfortunately, many of these ships had more than one level, so there was a chance you might get vomit onto someone sticking their head out from a lower deck. To avoid this, it was a courtesy to yell out "watch, under!" if you were going to puke. But, since there was usually something "caught in your throat" at the time, this was often shortened to the monosyllabic 'tch under! before spilling your lunch. I sure hope that story's fact, but if it's not at least it's a brilliant fiction.

"Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels"
  Native Papua New Guineans who helped bring Australian soldiers to field hospitals during World War 2. The name comes from the fact that they had frizzy black hair and saved a lot of lives. I've only ever heard my Nanna say this one once when she was talking about her brothers who fought in the war, one of which was helped by these wonderful people, but I felt the need to mention it, just because it's awesome.
Their blood's worth bottling, that's for damn sure.

"Gone Walkabout"
  Something or someone that is lost or missing. A walkabout was an informal excursion into the Australian outback taken by native Australians either to visit family, escape from city living or return to their native life. This trips lasted indefinitely, so the saying is used for things we've lost if we don't know when we're going to find them again.
I like this one because it's about aboriginals, but not racist or derogatory like most of the old sayings or terms about aboriginals were, like "boong" or "abo". Or maybe it is racist (I don't know how), but I don't see it that way. For me, all I see is the idea that sometimes we lose things, for reasons we couldn't possible imagine, and no matter how hard we try to find them all we can do is wait for them to come back.

So, that's my list. I'm not going to lie, after looking back, I feel somewhat wistful. Perhaps it's the way I structured the list, because now I'm thinking that perhaps Australian Identity has gone walkabout. We've entered this bold new world and we're not sure where we're going from here, so our sense of self has left us. I can only hope that, after we find ourselves, we'll come back to our senses and find ourselves again, this time knowing more about who we are and where we come from . . .

Well, it's been a rip-snorting good laugh - for me anyway, I hope you weren't bored shitless - but I gotta shoot through, so you might as well nick off.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd and until you next lob in I'll be flat out cracking into the next yarn for this rag of mine - no worries, mate.


  1. I've said it once and I've said it before; your Nan is awesome. It's amazing how much slang she uses that I've never read in Australian Lit, and I do love the expression "mad as a cut snake."

    1. Well, it's oldschool, so some of these may be "out of date", but I wish it wasn't. All I can do is keep it alive where applicable.


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