Monday, August 23, 2004

Garn

In the interests of global harmony and the reduction of inter-cultural frictions caused by misunderstandings and the common lack of shared knowledge and awareness of differing social and cultural morés, I will purge the earth of all nonbelievers offer the following insight into the mindset of your Australian brethren, and a jumpstart in everyone's earnest studies of the esoterica of Strine.

"Strine," there, may need some explanation.


Tough.

So, I...

Ow!

Oh, all right. OK.
OK.

I said OK! Stop your bloody whining. You sound like a girl.

"Strine" is "English as she is spoke" in Australia. To understand its etymology, you should ideally be three sheets to the wind and laughing fit to bust a gut, as in fact these are ideal conditions for almost any situation in life. So while you're attending to that, I'll get on with a bit of background fleshingouty stuff and you can come back to me in your own time.

The term "Strine" is the fiction of an English journalist, as are, sadly, most things desperately touted by Sydney as True-Blue Australianisms or Traditions/Facts. E.g. "Waltzing Matilda," "They're a Queer Mob," "Songlines," "Sheila," and so on. Some of them, though, struck a chord with the Australians and were remorselessly adopted.

Actually, "adopted" might be too restrained a word there. It might be more accurate to say these concepts were "kidnapped by a pack of laughing lunatics and driven at speed to places and purposes and lifestyles and contexts literally undreamed of by their puling limited spawners, now forgotten by said concept as essentially irrelevant to their current life." Heartless little bastards that they are, those concepts. ALL concepts. My advice: never have a concept. You'll get no thanks for it, and will suffer only heartache and loss.
*Strikes noble distance-gazing pose with air of ineffable sadness alloyed by dutious self-sacrificial striving upwards ever upwards*
*pauses to recover as that's quite a pose(r)*


Waltzing Matilda for example is the only song any Australian will acknowledge as national anthem. You might think various features of the song would argue against this. The music's nicked from an old Irish folktune; the lyrics were written by an essentially English poet as part of a points-scoring exercise in a public shitfight with another essentially English poet; neither writer ever got far out of Sydney but both sought street cred by one-upping each other in terms of just how much more THEY loved the virtues of the stolid real bush-living Aussie battler; and in fine Marx-vs-Engels fashion neither writer would EVER be seen to associate in public with said cherished and lauded and squabbled-over battlers.

But in shruggingly pragmatic fashion (we don't care where you came from, we care what you do), this is happily ignored by all Australians as not terribly relevant to what's important in a song:
  • it's got a guy having a cup of tea
  • he eats a sheep
  • he's out in the bush somewhere
  • he's a loser
Fantastic.

It really just doesn't get much better than that as far as we're concerned.

You know, an ambition I've had grow over the last year or so, is to become the world's fastest motorcycle racer just so's I could stand on the podium and as they play the winner's (me) (Australian) (a winner) national anthem, the $20 and special custom mix-tape I'd've slipped the guy in charge of the P.A. earlier would kick in and "Advance Australia Fair" would squawk and rip then "Waltzing Matilda" would roar out over the crowd, who, actually recognising the song --OK I've clearly here just quickly switched to only talking about the Aussies in the crowd-- would laugh and cheer and roar it back for more verses than the tape had. And, probably, throw a few inflatable kangaroos. And things. While falling over. And scaring the Italians.

For those becoming confused, I'm still talking about the Aussies in the crowd. Just in case that wasn't fairly obvious. And, really, if it wasn't, you might want to consider another website. This one may not be for you.
Just a thought.
You should try to have them, just every so often, they're good for you. Doctors recommend, etc.

So this English author was on this book tour in Oz, right, signing books in a suburban bookshop somewhere, when the next woman in line handed him his book and when he looked up askance for the name to whom he should make out his imprimatur, she replied "Emma Chizzet." He duly wrote "To Emma Chizzet" and signed his name with a flourish and handed back the book to the woman. She stood dumbfounded for a moment then looked at him like the lunatic he'd so neatly proved himself to be and repeated, clearly and carefully and precisely for the poor slow dim Englishman, "No-ooo... Emma Chizzet?"

How much is it?

It was at this point he realised Australians have actually created not so much a dialect ("Ex-ter-min-ate! Exterminate!") (ah, sweet memories of childhood) so much as a separate language. Its name is "Australian" or, as we say it, with our voice box placed firmly in the bridge of the nose, the lips clamped stiff and unmoving a tenth of an inch apart, and an ABSOLUTE MINIMUM of movement or effort in terms of tongue or mouth or vocal chords or mind: "'Strine."

If you can't get it, try saying "australian" faster and faster and faster, until the "L" starts to disappear and it sounds like "strain." There ya go. Good onya. Not hard, was it. Now whack it up in your nose and get 90% of the effort into the first micro-second, and then trail off suddenly in case something else comes up that you need to turn your attention to that you'd like to be able to attend to without seriously compromising the essence of your communication so far.

"Strine."

Welcome to Australia, mate, here's your complimentary fly.
Hell, have two.

Various words collapse variously in similar manner. The essence of Strine is that any word can get cut off mid-way by any one of a range of intervening emergencies without seriously compromising oh wait I already said that. These circumstances can indicatively include:
  • nuclear war
  • someone lunging for the last beer in the esky
  • pretty sure these are not in the right order
  • someone interrupting with something useful to say
  • losing interest 'cos it's too bloody hot

General patterns include:
  • any word, regardless of length, can be "contracted" by putting "o" after the first syllable and eliminating the remainder. This includes the splendid shrinking of "Dave" to "Dave-o".
  • complementary and free fly to the preceding rule is that any word which ends in a vowel --OK, this should not be regarded so much as "complementary" as overriding-- --oh shut your hole. we'll be consistent when we bloody feel like it-- will have an "ee" sound chucked on the end by way of shrinkification. Thus: "Blue Heeler" becomes "Bluie," "Reggie" becomes "Reggie," "Blowfly" becomes "Blowie."
  • short is good
  • short is god

And there you have it. Historical etymology buffs keen on the various processes of pronunciation's smearings for speed over the centuries, will find to their delight that approximately 4,000 years of the patterns seen in ancient chinese and hindo-european can be found in about 150 years of Strine.

Short is god.


Now, for further understanding of traditional Strine, you need to realise that we swear. A lot. Really, a lot. You don't realise just quite how much you fucking swear until you get outside Australia. Wharf-workers and fish-wives quite capable of turning the air blue for 20 paces come over all faint when approached by an Australian grandmother seeking directions. Australian teenagers require a licence to speak in most countries, 4 year olds can kill a bishop at close range, and our drunken sailors are banned under the Geneva Convention.

But it's not all good. Certain loathsome elements, alas, do exist within the Australian kulcha. These are loathed, yet, as in any society globally, they are an ever present concern. To help identify these people, in the day-to-day struggle against such parasitic slime, jobs are found for them in politics and the celebrity media.

They thus form a valid and visible target for jokes. This is not something we're proud of. But, we are not alone in subjecting a small percentage of our population to derision. Other cultures have Irish jokes (England), or Polish jokes (America), or Östi jokes (Germany), or jokes basically about any nearby subset of human beings who weren't here at one point but are now and therefore must be stupid. The logical implication of this thought process never seems to occur to any incumbent population group.
Oh, wait...


One thing Australians ARE proud of, is that we only victimise people who bloody deserve it.
"So, an Australian walks into this bar, right.
And the barman says, 'Is this some kind of joke?' "


An e-friend of mine has recently had the misfortune to come into contact with a group of Australians. Fortunately, her vaccinations have held up, but she is struggling with certain features of their conversation.
"What is arvo, anyways? Matt says it all the time."
"arvo=afternoon"
"how the hell did AFTERNOON become arv-o?"
"F takes you a lot longer to say than V and is vaguer/less susceptible to volume control. same lip movement, roughly the same sound, less effort, better result -- all this adds up via parsimony or "enlightened laziness" as we prefer, to saying arvo not arfo.

also, you sound less like a stupid dog."


She was having particular trouble with "Garn." After a few abortive coping attempts left her with a best effort of "Guam" she sought pharmaceutical help, and once that had worn off asked the experts.

"Garn" is half a sentence, in the same sense that "Tease" is a half a word. It can be separately used, as can Tease, as a quiet calm reference to the whole, but the full sentence, to be uttered for full effect with the head thrown back and mouth agape half-challenging half-grinning, is:
"Garn get fucked."

The more astute among you (g'day) will immediately grasp that "Garn" is short for "Go on," yet has the advantage that, as a single syllable, it can be indefinitely drawn out and/or shouted without needing to worry about which of its various components to emphasise, if any. One in, all in. Essence of Aussie life, essence of Aussie speech.

"Garn, get fucked."

Ah, those happy days of childhood.

She found Garn quite appealing.

So I suggested then that she ask her Aussie friends to explain another word ("Hey! What's's spos-ta-m'n mate?") which doesn't really exist, other than as a self-conscious pisstake on ourselves: "Smee."

But maybe that joke didn't get outside Queensland. Those friends of hers: they knew it not. Drew a blank. Or, as we'd say, "NFI, mate." Maybe they just needed to be in the correct context to remember it: late late late on the tail-end of a small party at a mate's house, with happily drunk friends who've got to the point of trading crap jokes.

So it was just an old joke, right? And this is how it goes:
There's this TV show where contestants have to think up a brand new word, prove that it's brand new and not used anywhere else ever before, then use it in a sentence to show how you use it and why it's a good word. Right?
So. They're doing this show. And a guy in the audience shoves his hand up and goes "Ooh! Ooh! Pick me, pick me! I've got a great word!"

So they haul him down the front and ask him how he's doing and is he having a nice night and what does he think of the show and is his grandmother ok that's nice, and what's his word?

"Garn!" he pronounces, with a simple happy confidence.

"And can you spell it please?"

"G.
  A.
  R.
  N.

 Garn!"

"Garn!?" cries the presenter, "I don't know that one! Let's check!" and off they go and they look it up in all their books and consult their researchers and there's a general shaking of heads and a widespread upping of thumbs and "Well done! No one knows anything about this word: show us how to use it in a sentence!"

And the little man throws back his head with a big happy smile and cries "Garn get fucked!"

Horror! Calamity! And amidst much noise he's picked up and thrown out of the studio.
...
Some weeks go by.
...
So they're filming another show, right? And a guy in the audience with a moustache shoves his hand up and goes "Ooh! Ooh! Pick me, pick me! I've got a great word!"

So they haul him down the front and congratulate him on his great moustache and ask him how he's doing and is he having a nice night and what does he think of the show and is his grandmother ok that's nice, and what's his word?

"Smee!" he pronounces, with a simple happy moustachiod confidence.

"And can you spell it please?"

"S.
  M.
  E.
  E.

 Smee!"

"Smee!?" cries the presenter, "I don't know that one! Let's check!" and off they go and they look it up in all their books and consult their researchers and there's a general shaking of heads and a widespread upping of thumbs and "Well done! No one knows anything about this word: show us how to use it in a sentence!"

And the little man rips off his fake moustache (fake! can you believe it?), throws back his head with a big happy smile, and cries:
"Smee again!!

 Garn get fucked!!"

....

Yeh, all right.

cross-posted: saltation and brisvegas bloggers

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