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Sam De Brito has a great blog post today on antiquated items of the Aussie lexicon that he fears are endangered. Of his list of 32 terms, I’m proud to say I’m still doing my part to keep at least 13 of them alive: rooting, bonzer, ripper, durry, dart, burl, lair, squiz, gander, togs, yakka, wowser and (a personal favourite of my mum) nong.

Make that 14. “Wigwam for a goose’s bridle” is one I’d totally forgotten but definitely got thrown around a lot when we were kids and asking our mums what there was to eat. I always thought it was “wing wong” though! It makes absolutely no sense, and I think that’s the best thing about it. There are so many other great phrases Sam didn’t mention though:

  • Mad as a cut snake
  • So hungry I could eat a horse and chase the rider
  • Strike me roan
  • Fuck my brown dog
  • Jesus Christ on a bicycle

Only a couple of weeks ago I had a fun conversation with a backpacker who was taken aback by my hunger for other cultures’ swear words and insults. (My favourite new nugget of knowledge from this cultural exchange was that “peterniklas” is a swedish term of endearment for the male appendage).

I guess what I’m really interested in isn’t just the crassness, but the words and expressions that grow out of different communities and experiences. And so often they’ve grown out of working class or rural backgrounds, and they come up with these clever, complex, witty concepts that use language masterfully. Quirks that some beret wearing poet in the inner-west might never even come close to penning – and yet some storyteller in a shearing shed or worksite would never consider themself “literary” or creative. They just know what makes their mates laugh.

Such is the beauty of words.

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