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is that a lolly in your bum bag...
...or are you just chuffed to see me?
by jack bradley
9.17.00
writing


The following sentence was written to me just the other day, during the course of an otherwise pretty mundane conversation via email:

“Snog. Snog. I love that. Is that an Aussie-ism? ‘Snog me, you freaky little hunk of love stuff, and throw another shrimp on the Barbie, while you're at it?’"

See, I’d used the word ‘snog’ in a sentence to an American, forgetting that it’s an Aussie word, not an American one. It means to kiss or ‘make out’ with someone pretty intensely. Let’s not go into why I used it, but hearing Mary use it back to me made me stop and pay attention to what’s happening to my vocabulary.

I'm actually feeling a little lost, lately.

See, when you move to a new country, you are at first struck only by the big stuff. In Australia it's the size of the sky, the weather, the people, and the animals. You don't realize it when you're just here for vacation but the little things are where all the real differences lie. I've had it pointed out to me (by an American friend who was visiting) that my accent has changed, but I don't notice it. What I do notice, however, is the fact that my terminology for things has gone completely bonkers. How did this happen? Australians speak English, Americans speak English, and so what’s the big deal?

Trust me, it’s a big deal.

I'm now some weird linguistic hybrid...half American, half Aussie. A few differences are subtle…hardly noticeable in conversation. Things like:

I now say shop instead of store.
I say sweater instead of sweatshirt.
A townhouse is now a terrace house.
Bartenders are barmen.
Workers are tradesmen.

Other things are a lot more noticeable to the American ear…things that we don’t have the correct history to understand. See, Australian English is about as old as American English, and it came from the same place…England. (Duh.) But since these sister countries are so far away from each other, they’ve each developed a personality and language all their own. The result of all of this is a subtext of meaning that goes beyond the simple definition of a word. It’s part of each culture, of who you and your fellow man can claim to be. The slang or the proper usage, the spelling or the abbreviation…it doesn’t matter. It all speaks to the personality of the culture. Some of the differences can be startling, like:

Snog means "I made out with him until my tonsils bled."
I say "G'day" instead of "Howaya?" (When did I pick that up?)
I say "Good onya!" instead of "Congratulations! Well done!"
I say jumper instead of sweater.
A turnover or pie is now a rat's coffin. (This one would never work in America…I can just see it now: New at McDonald's! Hot Apple Rat Coffins! Caution: Tail and Whiskers May Be Hot!)
A piece of candy is now a lolly.
A pickup truck is now a ute. (Pronounced "yewt") I think this came from “utility vehicle,” but even that phrase means an entirely different machine in American.
A liquor store is now a bottle shop.
A shrimp is a prawn.
A really small prawn is a shrimp.
Crayfish are yabbies.
Lobsters are bugs. (This one takes some getting used to. Hearing the lady in the stunning evening dress at the next table order a “Steamed Bug” for dinner will make you stop and take notice.)
Bugs are specks. (As in a speck buzzing around your head.)
Good friends are mates.

There’s also a whole other way of phrasing things, as well…it’s not just the wording. Some of this does make sense, in a funny way. The rest of it makes about as much sense to my American ear as hearing “Australia the Beautiful” as the national anthem. For instance:

You don't call someone "AT" 555-5555; you call them "ON" 555-5555.

You don't say "How ya doin’?” you say, "How are you going?" (I want to answer, "Well, I'm going to the next corner, then turning right.")

Someone told me that they were chuffed with me the other day…being a fine Southern gentleman, I began to apologize profusely for whatever it was that I had done to chuff the poor fellow. He was laughing so hard, he could hardly finish his explanation that “chuffed” meant pleased or proud of someone.

But back to my point, it's all very confusing. A lot of it has just crept into my head by osmosis, like "snog." (See Mary, I was getting there.) It feels perfectly natural to say that now. I also say 'carked it' a lot now...it's short for "it's a carcass," meaning, "it's dead, broken, or useless." (Usage: Q:"What happened to Hayden's dog, Rex? The one that kept chasing cars? A: "Rex carked it when one caught him.")

The word mate however, is a different kettle of fish (or is that ‘basket of prawns?’) I can't get the hang of saying, "mate." Just doesn't roll off the tongue for an American. To me, mate means have sex; it’s a verb instead of a noun. And yelling it in a crowded bar to your friends usually makes me want to laugh out loud.

Sometimes it's even downright dangerous or offensive to say things in "American." The first time I pointed at the pouch strapped to someone's hip and said "fanny pack," you'd have thought the world ended. The women around me were shocked and horrified, the men were all laughing their asses (bums?) off.

See, in Australia, 'fanny' is the vulgar term for female genitalia. I basically asked the guy "What's in your (insert four-letter word that you can’t say in a family publication. Or this one.) Australians call it a Bum Bag. Stuff like this effects my writing, too. This column will be read in both countries, by people I respect and admire. The Americans are going to laugh at this paragraph, and the Aussies are going to wonder how I could toss around such vile language. What can I do?

Oh, and before I forget: If you want to ignore an Australian, don't ever "blow him off." You’ll either get punched in the nose or get a date for Friday night.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading down-the-pub to meet a few blokes, toss back a couple of stubbies, and have a good feed. No worries, right? Good onya!

Jack Bradley
Sydney, Australia
August 24, 2000



ABOUT JACK BRADLEY

Born the son of a circus monkey, Jack had to overcome the stigma of having an address south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Struggling against all odds, he finally got his HS diploma from some guy on the corner, and proceeded to attend NC State University, where his records are now the "running joke" in the admissions office. In February of 2000, he moved to Sydney, Australia, to pursue a writing career full-time. Jack currently has a husband but no wife, no children, and a dog with great fashion sense.

more about jack bradley

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COMMENTS

lila snow
9.21.00 @ 8:11p

I will never shove things into my fanny pack the same way again. Thanks, mate.



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