July 31, 2014

Mangling language

It's that time again: I have enough lists of weird words and phrases in my notebooks of the last couple of years to put together another words blog (see also, It's only words, December 2011). There are still frequent occasions when my friend and I turn to each other and say, 'Eh? What does he mean?' We may laugh, but we still can't speak Strine.

A few months ago, our rental agency, in an email informing us that we had a new property manager, explained that this was 'following the termination of…' the previous one. Poor soul. I hope they farewelled her well. A couple of weeks ago, in the Senate, the Speaker announced the defeat of the bill to repeal the carbon price: it 'has been negatived,' he said.

Using verbs where no verb has gone before is common here. A friend in Sydney sent me this a while back. She is not a native English speaker, but her English is excellent. She couldn't find examples of trespass used like this in any English dictionary. Neither could I.
You can't trespass something or someone: you need a preposition with an object – he was trespassing on private land. Neither can you protest a bauxite mine; but you can protest about it, to someone. Ever heard of an intransitive verb? Thought not. Australians do seem to suffer from preposition dyslexia: so they'll say 'to the moment' rather than 'at the moment'; and 'caught up to a friend' rather than 'with a friend'. 

During a child abduction case last year, the accused was said to have deployed the 'inducement of mateship', which is a rather quaint usage of a uniquely Australian concept that is believed to occur nowhere else on earth. When my friend's pepper grinder spilled all its contents over his bacon and eggs, the breakfast was removed to be 're-plated'. A fire in a Victorian mine that displaced nearby residents and took weeks to be brought under control was described as a 'brown coal opencut event'. Understatement or euphemism, this was a gem. And, good people of Beaudesert, there is no such verb as to interest free.
Over-complication is a common feature of the Australian way of doing things, anything. So it's no surprise to find it in the use of language. Why use four words when you can use 14? 'Printed in Australia on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper using vegetable based inks'. 'He has a series of injuries on his person' (to be said in a police voice). Complication is often linked to repetition…
…which leads to confusion…
 …and…
(The last is one of several joke signs by the Powerhouse in Brisbane.)

Food is a particularly complicated area. Last weekend my friend fancied some toast for breakfast in a cafe in Torquay on the Great Ocean Road. On offer was Zeally Bay seed and sprout toast – the waitress could not explain exactly what the sprout bit was – with a choice of jams including rhubarb and cinnamon, mango and saffron, peppered plum, or apricot and cardamom. In a famous chocolate bar, we ordered plain croissants that arrived with unannounced strawberries and cream on the side. In my favourite coffee shop there is a daily muffin menu. The combinations of fruits, different coloured chocolate bits, nuts and ingredients I normally associate with savoury dishes are limitless. I'm not a muffin fan otherwise this list would be a source of constant awesomeness.
Tautology is another consequence of over-elaboration, whether goat chevre on a menu, or Waters Creek in the bush.
Signage in Australia is a big issue. Often there are forests of signs where a couple would have been perfectly adequate or several signs could have shared one post. The barrage of signs on the approach to Brisbane Airport's domestic terminal has to be seen to be believed; and a serious challenge to a photographer. (I will try, however, and add at a later date.) After four and a half years, I still find it hard to decide which of the six lanes I should be in by the traffic lights. Often – especially when following a route – signs just discontinue, leaving you high and dry and disconcerted. They are often too close to junctions so you can't react fast enough without risking life and limb. And some roads have multiple names and numbers which seem to be randomly interchangeable. That's always fun.

I don't understand some signs at all.
 I understand the small print, but who is changing places with whom?
Totally baffled about the above; and fairly clueless about the following:
Instructive signs using stick figures provide a lot of entertainment.
Would it ever have occurred to you to ride a segway on a CityCat?

And there are fine examples of overkill. I am still puzzled about why the people with half a leg (or maybe they're in a hurry and running) can't use the disabled toilet. (Click to enlarge, for maximum appreciation.)
Over-elaborateness often manifests itself in signage. This list of rules applies to a pocket-handkerchief-sized patch of green in Sydney's Darlinghurst.  
In Far North Queensland, the vegetation will probably have regenerated by the time people have finished reading this sign. (Which also doubles as an eye test.)
And then there are the signs that are very Aussie, and make up with humour what they lose in clarity.
There are lots of signs displaying rules about alcohol.
I'm not sure I understand the difference between an area that is free of alcohol and one where it is prohibited. And this could be construed as meaning you've got to fish to get a drink. 
There are even more signs about behaviour…
 A tad optimistic for a venue where the Ashes are played.
Really, I don't need telling what to do during a storm.
I suppose there'll always be new shortforms to learn – maggies (magpies), wharfies, truckies, vollies (volunteers), shockies (shock absorbers) – and new words: 
drug dogs – sniffer dogs
hard yakka – strenuous labour
middies – half pints, or thereabouts
pool noodle – a foam flotation aid
open slather – a free rein
geoblocked – prevented from watching European tv clips in Australasia
sledger – a layabout, often inebriated, with limited social skills
bludger – a lazy or idle person; a scrounger
reverse garbage – waste industrial materials 'upcycled' into handmade
  crafts
(cow) cocky – a (one-man) dairy farmer
ramping – describing patients who aren't transferred quickly enough
  from ambulance to A&E
witlof – a salad leaf vegetable aka chicory, endive or radicchio
wowser – one who tries to impose their own morality on others
furphy – a rumour or improbable story

On the pronunciation front, if you don't pronounce the letter H properly then the AHA (Australian Hotels Association) is really difficult to say, and takes longer. I may be repeating myself, but there really is no H at the beginning of aitch. I know, I know: language evolves, and I don't mind that, but there are two things that I will never accept. This is from the BBC Pronunciation Unit and disturbs me greatly.
British English dictionaries give aytch as the standard pronunciation for the letter H. However, the pronunciation haytch is also attested as a legitimate variant. We also do not ask broadcasters who naturally say haytch to change their pronunciation but if a broadcaster contacted to ask us, we would tell them that aytch is regarded as the standard pronunciation in British English, people can feel very strongly about this and this pronunciation is less likely to attract audience complaints.

Haytch is a standard pronunciation in Irish English and is increasingly being used by native English-speaking people all across the country, irrespective of geographical provenance or social standing. Polls have shown that the uptake of haytch by younger native speakers is on the rise. Schoolchildren repeatedly being told not to drop Hs may cause them to hyper-correct and insert them where they don't exist.
And the other thing? Myself instead of me. I myself prefer cats to dogs. Please call myself if you want to discuss cats versus dogs. Noooooo. Please call me.

The insertion of an extra syllable is usually the result of Australian non-rhoticity (see other 'Words' blog), as in owah (or), low-ah (law), see-queue-ah (secure). Knowan instead of known I can't explain.

Bad grammar, bloodymindedness and spelling mistakes are fairly common: you are advised to 'drive safe' on the Gateway Bridge over the Brisbane River. I tell bare-faced lies; you tell bald-faced lies. This sign wasn't proofread and it's confusing.
And as for this…
I think we'll do people's names this time. It's all very well creating something unique for your precious offspring, but a lifetime of spelling it for others is a tiresome sentence. Unsurprisingly, there's a bogan element to some of these: others just don't sound quite right, as if you've used the wrong vowel. Abbey Leigh, Jahde, Haleenna, Kristeen, Schapelle, Sharelle, Mikayla, Mikhalyn, Petrina, Indiana, Narelle, Lurline, Lorelle, Liahona, Adriania, Merinda, Ashlynne, Robynne, Evalina (& Dean, seen across the top of a windscreen).

But let's sneak in the place-name winner, which is Koombooloomba in Far North Queensland. It's a dam – that's a lake, or reservoir, to anyone outside Australia. Runner-up was Ugly Gully (near Rathdowney). And my favourite saying of late: when describing someone's character, he was lower than a snake's armpit.

Finally, here are some that may or may not fit into a category, but just made me smile.

this post was last edited on 1 August 2014


5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Finally someone distinguishes alcohol FREE (for those free of the desire to drink alcohol) from alcohol prohibited (for those who abstain from drinking only out of fear of being trespassed as a consequence of breaking the rule). Where is this amazing place, Jude? I must go there.

    "No public ablutions available" is my No. 1 :-) It's almost like Joey from Friends using Thesaurus.

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  3. hi Emilia
    sorry for the long delay in replying. we have been roadtripping in the Outback.
    thank you for explaining the difference between alcohol free and alcohol prohibited. your comment prompted me to do some research, which i should have done before writing the post, of course. these are designated areas in New South Wales.
    an alcohol free zone (AFZ) covers roads, footpaths and carparks. if you are found there with alcohol, it will be taken confiscated.
    if you are found with alcohol in a prohibited area (APA) then you will be fined. APAs cover parks, beaches, ovals and reserves.
    this particular sign was in Byron Bay :)

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  4. Definitions unknown to anyone are extremely useful.
    I will stick to my definition though. I dare to claim it's more imaginative.

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  5. i agree that your definition is much more creative. however, it's probably a little too 'free' for this rule-bound nation :)

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