Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Language beyond and within borders

I posted a comment on Oz Mystery Readers about the colorful language in Chris Nyst's Crook as Rookwood, and a reader offered this touching reply:

"Thank you, Peter. Sometimes it takes someone not born in Australia to point out just how colourful the Australian vernacular can be. I did read all of those and took them as a matter of course."

Here are some examples of that vernacular, explanations courtesy of Peter Macinnis of Oz Mystery Readers:

" ... his minders became very particular about who got within cooee of their boss." (Cooee is a call, originally used by Aborigines -- it sounds like that, but the call is strung out, and the end rises in tone. ... A good cooee! can carry for 3 km, and people would use cooee calls to get together, or to indicate that they were inbound. So "within cooee" can mean you are still two miles off.)

"She was the one who'd tipped the bucket of prawn-heads all over his career in the police in the first place." (When you leave a hated place of work or residence, a couple of prawn heads inserted into the tubular steel leg of a desk can wreak havoc for weeks. Smart people put their prawn heads in the freezer until garbage night.)

"All I know is, three weeks ago you're throwing sheep stations at me to find this old guy" (A sheep station is a large farm with lots of, umm, sheep. The "station" was originally the central point on a large and unfenced run in a time when people just went out and grabbed some land. ... Think ranch, and you won't be far off.)

The frequent reference to deals and a political party's record keeping as shonky. (Shonky means what it sounds like: dodgy, bent, crooked, not to be trusted.)

Not only are such expressions beguiling, but they are reminders that English is quite probably the richest language in the world because so many people from so many places speak it and have spoken it. (See this post for beguiling words from an Indian crime novel written in English, but make sure you're over eighteen.)

So read Christ Nyst. And be careful where you put your prawn heads.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's good to see an American actually finding out what this sland, which is used in everday conversation by Aussies, actually means. Getting within coo-ee has simply come to mean getting close, but not THAT close. The opposite applies, of course. "I couldn't get within coo-ee of the beach because of the traffic". etc.

Aussies use the term "sheep stations" in this context to mean big money. A grumpy player's favourite reply to our rugby coach's exhortations to put our bodies on the line was always the same: "Mate, turn it up ... we're not playing for sheep stations".

And "turn it up", there's another beauty. It means the same as "Give me/us a break". I reckon anyone with half a brain should be able to work all those things out depending on the context, and if they're interested, research it a bit. Which is why I'm impressed with Peter here.

BTW, I do the same with UK and US slang. Mostly, it's half obvious by the tone and the context, but where it's not or I haven't seen it in American or British movies and TV shows, I'll turn to the internet to get a handle on it.

What a wonderful language we've inherited. Something for everyone, and a never-ending source of fun.

February 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, it's great fun, and I am distressed when i occasionally hear rumors that some publisher wanted to "translate" some other variety of English into American.

February 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm especially impressed by "turn it up," since out of context, I'd haver guessed precisely the opposite meaning.

February 18, 2012  

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