These days everyone seems to know about the Australian fetish for giving things short, pithy nicknames. It's a national obsession. You see, there are a lot of flies in Australia, it being such a wide brown land an' that, so if you open your mouth for more than the absolute minimum time neccessary to speak, the little bastards1 will fly right in and make themselves at home.
This explanation also goes a long way towards understanding why Australians don't move their lips when they talk, and thus the Australian accent. You, too, would say "Aeryagowen?" for "How are you going?" if current fashions meant you couldn't wear your cork hat2 any more, and you lived in a place where summer flies wax biblical. Of course I've given the game away there - no true Australian3 would say wax unless they were talking about ears or a surfboard.
- Any word with three syllables or more is far too dangerous to have laying around where you might have to say it whilst significantly lubricated, and must therefore be shortened.
- Maximum irony, or failing that sarcasm, must be employed at all times.
- The endings "o" "y" and "a" are preferred above all others, but are not exclusive.
- The words thus formed must be frequently used in conjuction with swear words found offensive in every other English speaking culture4.
Now you've got the rules, let's see about the application. Here are a couple of non-exhaustive lists of words or concepts and their Australian equivalents.
- David, Steven, John, Benjamin etc. become Davo ("dave-o"), Stevo ("Steve-o"), Johnno, Benno etc. Note that "Johnny" is a term of utter contempt and never used except as such.
- Darren, Warren, Lauren etc. become Dazza, Wazza, Lozza etc. The "a" ending sound is always drawn out for dramatic effect. Wazzaaaaa! This may seem like a contradiction of the "shorter" rule - until you think about the ease of drunken pronunciation of the modified versions.
- Peter, Robert, Kimberly etc. are always Pete, Bob, Kim etc.
- Simon, Mason, Morgan etc. are never Simo (but can be Simmo - see above) or Maso or Morgy (of course!) but Sime and Mase and Morg etc.
- If a non Anglo-Saxon name is given an ending, it is a term of great affection, because it's hard to find "regular" endings for these names. Examples I have encountered include Mohammed becoming Moey and Gunzel becoming Gunzy.
- If a name already has a "favoured" ending, this will be exchanged for another ending. Examples include the variation on Kimberly, Kimbo and Chrissy which becomes Chrisco (notice the addition of the "c").
- If adding a favoured ending produces a name, another will be chosen or none given. Fred does not become Fredo or Freddy, and Laurette does not become Laura, Laury or Lauro, but rather Rette or Retto, for example.
- MacDonald's becomes Maccas.
As you can see some basic pattern
s can be seen, but like giving yourself a name in another language
, you must always always always ask a local
, as a self-chosen name may have negative connotation
s or simply be "wrong".
- Barbeque becomes Barby. This is probably the most famous of all, but please, I beg you, it sounds nothing like the children's toy Barbie - unless you are Australian, in which case it sounds the same.
- Bottle Shop (a liquor store) becomes Bottle-o. Note this is pronounced with two syllables, "bot-lo".
- Afternoon becomes Arvo.
- Firefighter becomes Firey, Politician becomes Polly.
Please remember the general three syllable rule! Thus there is no short version of "car" or "cow" etc. Or words like "police" (except to be pronounced "pleass" or "plod" or "plonk" or "cops" or "pigs" but we borrowed the last two from our friends
Australians either choose exact descriptions (Great Sandy Desert, Shark Bay, The Sydney Harbour Bridge, etc. etc.) or exact opposites if we are naming people.
- Every red-headed person is called "Blue" or Bluey. Monty Python6 was right, if this wasn't the case it would be awfully confusing.
- Every tall male is called "Shorty", or if being talked about in the third person "that little bloke over there".
- All obese people are called "Slim".
You get the idea. While this may seem cruel
to outsiders, I have always been too tall
, and have, since I was a child, worn "Shorty" like a badge
. People who will call you a nickname like these to your face are generally the kind of folk you can trust with your life.
The Scientific / Literary View
Roland Sussex, Professor of Applied Language Studies at the Centre for Language, University of Queensland, has recorded 2,500 hypocoristics in use in Australian English, (the technical term for saying "pressie" instead of present) far more than any other form of English. This "2,500" does NOT include the names I mention above, making the "real" total even higher.
Like most linguistic traditions, the creation of these hypocoristics has few hard and fast rules, plenty of exceptions, and the locals navigate them all flawlessly. I'd like to end with a quote from Douglas Adams, which I think sums up this and a few other Australian customs quite well:
Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent 35 year old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson. It comes right up to you and laughs very hard in your face in a highly threatening and engaging manner. In fact it's not so much a country as such, more a sort of thin crust of semi-demented civilisation caked around the edge of a vast, raw wilderness, full of heat and dust and hopping things.7
I think he's got us pegged exactly right. Oh, and if you want to know what your fair dinkum
would be, then just /msg me
- "Bastard" is one of the words of highest affection in Australian English, "bugger" and "wanker" are two others. They are also words of severe derision - tone of delivery being the only difference.
- A "cork hat" or "swagman's hat" is traditional Australian headgear - a wide brimmed hat with wine corks hanging at intervals from the brim. Remarkably effective at keeping the flies off, utterly stupid looking.
- It's a feature of Australian political life that who and who isn't a "true Australian" is constantly being redefined by whoever has a microphone in front of them at the time. Hopefully this will pass. Surely if "Australian" is to mean something good then we are all true Aussies? I mean, fair suck of the sav, mate.
- Confusing foreigners, especially those who speak English, is an Australian national passtime equalled in popularity only by cricket, Aussie Rules Football, and drinking beer. No, not Fosters. Australians would mostly rather die than drink that shit.
- Actually, police are often called "the wallopers". This one harks back to our legendary, mythical origins as a bunch of convicts, when the police (The Rum Corps) were very free with the lash. To "wallop" means to "hit".
- The British have always understood Australians far better than we'd like to admit. In World War One for example, British soldiers said of their Australian counterparts: "Australian born, Australian bred / Long in the leg, and thick in the head." It's a bit too true to be tolerated, really, so we still call them "whinging Poms"9 in revenge.
- Riding the Rays, The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams, Pan Books 2003. ISBN 0 330 321312 1
- A Noder Example: There is a noder who has the real life name "Haje". This is pronounced, I am assured, "higher" but without the final r. This noder is also 190+ (6 foot 3). His Australian nickname would be "Lowey". It's that simple.
- To "whinge" is to complain too much. How can a blind person tell if a British Airways jet has landed at Kingsford-Smith? They've turned off the engines, and you can still hear the whining...