Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Preserving our precious colloquialisms

Recently I contributed an article on Australian colloquialisms to design journal Bbetween issue 4, which was launched on Friday. The format has changed a bit in print, but I thought I'd share my original submission here. Goodonya mates!

When I got hitched, among many bonuses were a father in-law with a penchant for dinky-di discourse, and a husband in possession of an Australian Slang dictionary. Looking through it, I was surprised that it contained so many idioms I'd never heard of — and made me wonder who, if anyone, ever used them in real life.

I was duly informed that my father in-law was keeping the vernacular dream alive. And the very same week I saw evidence of this when, unprompted, he managed to legitimately slip at least three of the phrases in question into a conversation.

It was like attending an accidental master-class in Speaking Australian. And much like when you have your eye on a new car, when you've noticed it once, you begin to see it everywhere you go.

What I also began to see was a 'vernacular gap' between our generations. From that initial exposure I'm not ashamed to admit I've found myself using more of this language in daily conversation. But the number of people in post-boomer generations who do this seems to be dwindling. And as we grow older, it seems more and more of this colourful and unique mode of expression is being relegated to the dusty archives of history. In a world where Western culture seems to grow more homogenous by the minute, language is one of the last bastions of cultural individuality.

So I implore you: help keep our national lingo's heart beating. 

Without these colloquialisms, how will we be able to enjoy a dog's eye and dead horse at the footy? And how will any young hopeful have a successful romantic liaison without first having a dad and dave, before donning his best bag of fruit? Even if he ends up on his Pat Malone, he'll still be able to pick up the dog and bone and call his china plate for some degree of consolation.

It'll be impossible to have a Captain Cook out the window, weighing up the pros and cons of hanging around the house in yesterday's Reg Grundys, or hitting the frog and toad and finding somewhere better to hang around (hopefully not just in aforementioned Grundys).

If you're completely baffled by the last few sentences, the adjacent chart might help make sense of them. But these are just the tip of the locutionary iceberg. It will take a continual cross-generational effort to keep our linguistic fires burning. We can start by trying to incorporate at least one 'Australianism' into our daily conversation, or better still, introduce someone else to the treasures of fair-dinkum Aussie expression. If we all pitch in, one day we won't need a visual reference guide to understand, embrace and avail ourselves of our own precious colloquialisms — and we can avoid the danger of becoming a linguistic facsimile of every other Western culture.


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