Word to the wise: don’t let our old sayings cark it

Posted on 20 April 2019

I SAY: Having a Barry Crocker? Maybe you are just three sheets to the wind?With the emergence of every new generation and the exiting of every old one, many of our classic Australian sayings – household expressions of my youth – are vanishing.
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I would venture to guess that Australian teenagers of today and many of our young adults would have no idea of the meaning of sayings such as ‘up to pussy’s bow’or ‘three sheets to the wind’.

Not long ago, my sister-in-law was in a hardware store when a well-mannered young salesman asked if she was satisfied with her purchase.

“Bob’s your uncle,” she said, signifying that all was well and she was pleased the lad had asked.The puzzled boy replied: “No he’s not. He’s my father.”

My first assignment in English 1 at the University of Newcastle almost 50 years ago was to write an essay about whether there was a place in our society for Australian slang.My lecturer, Ray Cattell, gave me a high mark because I suggested that our language was forever changing and there should always be a place for all kinds of verbal expressions, whether they were regarded as slang or “Educated Southern English.”

I argued that even Australian slang could be appropriate in some situations. For example, a punter being jostled in a bookies’ ring at the races would hardly tell a tipster: “I say old chap, that horse you gave me didn’t run up to your expectations”.It would be much more appropriate and accepted more readily if he said: “That nag you put me onto was as slow as a wet week.”

If he was an Aussie barracker on the SCG hill watching an Ashes test match and seeing an English fieldsman drop a simple catch, he would hardly say: “Hard luck old boy. Better luck next time”.He would be much better understood and appreciated with the words: “Get a bag you Pommy mug.”

Words are continually moving in and out of our language and the moving feast has been accelerated even more with what I call the “new language of the thumbs” on Twitter.Twitter language such as “R.U.OK?” or “Great.2.C.U.” are already modern day communication fixtures.

Much of the language I am attempting to classify here is disappearing or has already gone from our slang lexicon. But old blokes like me don’t want to seeit lost forever. And, who knows, someone in the distant future might want to bring these sayings back, or at least record them for posterity.

My first category is the use of Proper Names in slang to express a feeling or point of view. Some examples and their meanings are:“Bob’s your uncle” (mentioned earlier), “I’m alright Jack” (don’t worry about me, usually said sarcastically), “A Joe Blake” (a snake), “the Joe Blakes”(the shakes), “aNoah’s ark “ (ashark), “Brahams and Liszt” (inebriated),“he had a Barry Crocker” (he had a shocker, a bad day) and “a smart Alec” (someone who thinks they know everything).

I’m sure there are many more you can add to that list.

The next classification could probably be called comments about THE HUMAN CONDITION:

“Up to Pussy’s Bow” (Can’t eat anymore),“Full as a goog (Full of food or booze),

“Tired as a drover’s dog” (Very weary), “Thirsty as a drover’s dog” (Very thirsty),

“Three sheets to the wind”( Approaching drunkenness),

“As drunk as a skunk ” (Very drunk),“I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” (I’m very surprised), “As smooth as silk” (A good talker or a flawless action), “Sharp as a mother-in-law’s tongue” (The talent of a bitter critic), “Bright as a button”(Highly intelligent),“In the pink” (Feeling healthy), “Eye like a hawk”( 20/20 vision),

“Nutty as a fruitcake” (Absolutely crazy), “Mad as a hatter” (Just as crazy),

“Mad as a march hare”( Fairly crazy)), “Had the sword” (About to expire), “Ready to Cark it” (Also near death), “Dead Ringer”(A lookalike), “Slept like a log” (slept soundly), “Smokes like a chimney” (Heavy smoker), “Slippery as a Eel” (Dubious character), “Quiet as a mouse” ( Very retiring), “Blows his own trumpet” (Skites), “Like a blow fly in a pickle bottle” ( Very agitated), “Bible Basher” (Devout person), “Didn’t come down in the last shower” ( Smarter than you think), “Down the gurgler” (Bankrupt), “Down the drain” (Business collapse),

“Down and out” (Destitute), “Up the creek without a paddle”( In big trouble), “Couldn’t lie straight in bed” (Unsavoury character), “Crooked as a Dog’s Hind Leg” (Someone with criminal tendencies),”Thick as two planks” (Lacking in intelligence), “Silly as a two bob watch (As Above), “Dumb as dog poo” (As above), “Fine and Dandy” (Happy and well), “Making Hay while the sun shines”(Having a good time while young enough to enjoy it), “Get down off your high horse”(Calm down and stop trying to act superior), “Doing a bunk” (Running away from a problem), “Learning the hard way” ( Learning from experience), “Playing possum” (Keeping quiet and out of the way), “Playing with fire” (Tempting fate in a dangerous situation), “Getting your fingers burnt” (Getting into trouble for doing the wrong thing), “Away with the fairies” (A dreamer who can’t concentrate), “More money than you can poke a stick at” (A rich person), “Loaded” ( Rich ), “Doh Ray Me” ( Money), “Stoney broke” ( No money), “Burning the midnight oil” ( Working late), “The early bird catches the worm” ( First in best served), “Nitwit and Ratbag” (A silly person) “A Crawler” ( Someone who seeks favour by falsely professing support and admiration), “Bold as Brass ( Very confident), “Smart as a Whip and Sharp as a Tack” (Intelligent), “As deep as the Ocean” (Introverted), “Like a rat up a rafter” (Describing a person fleeing at great pace), “A wigwam for a goose’s bridle” (anything ridiculous) “Like a cat on a hot tin roof”(Very jumpy and fearful), “Pull your head in” ( Stop being stupid), and “Cripes, Crikey and Gee Whiz” (Expressions of surprise and wonder).

What about SPORT? Here are a few oldies which fit into that category:

“A Bunny” ( Lower order and incompetent batsman in cricket), “Get a bag, couldn’t catch a cold and butterfingers” ( All sledges for a fieldsman who drops a catch in cricket), “Have a go”, ( a cricket barracker’s appeal to a slow, dour batsman), “Couldn’t beat time, slow as a wet week, couldn’t win if it started now and a donkey” ( all descriptions for a losing racehorse),

“A dead cert” ( A racehorse that is sure to win), “Swinging like a rusty gate and couldn’t hit a barn door” ( (Favourite sledges against batters at baseball or cricket ) and “Runs like a rabbit” ( A fast athlete).

And finally the WEATHER:

“The wind would blow the leg off an iron pot or a dog off a chain” (Gale force), “It’s raining cats and dogs” (Heavy rain) and “As hot as Hades” ( A scorcher).

Now it’s time I said farewell with “ Tat Ta and Toodle Loo.”

Vic Levi is a former journalist who lives in Lake Macquarie

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