As an Irishman, of course I’m the living incarnation of all that’s good, honest and right with the world. We all have the wit of Wilde. The gift of the gab. Mighty and flighty with our choice of words in conversation. Long days and even longer nights spent honing our craft in the public house, while the rest of the world enjoyed the sunshine and got on with more manly pursuits. People often ask why the Irish are such good talkers. Honestly? It’s because all our lives, we’ve essentially done little else other than order pints of Uncle Arthur and talk shite to each other. I’m overwhelmingly proud of this. But now that I’m a true-blue, ridgy-didge Aussie, I must mend my ways. I must be less of a blowhard, less of a bullshitter. Get straighter to the point. And, yes, although it hurts, I have to learn the lingo.
The language that I’m talking about isn’t the cliched postcard Aussie speak, g’day cobber, no wukkas, fair suck of the sauce bottle and more of its ilk. That stuff's easy, and makes it easy to spot people who haven’t made it out to the Lucky Country, as they really have no idea what they’re talking about – but at least g’day is something to cling on to. (Correction – ‘good on yer’ has been used, not ironically but not by me, and has been noted in civilised conversation) I’m talking about proper English words that the Aussies use – and/or mispronounce – in everyday speak that have nothing to do with colloquialism or slang. There’s great phrases like ‘Mate, you’ve got Buckley’s chance’ - meaning none at all, for reasons that have remained obscure - and the marvellous ‘Dorothy Dixer’ – a ‘lobbed up’ simple question so that the answer can be knocked out of the park. See Bill Bryson for more on these. It’s really a language, all of its own, which more often than not needs absolutely no explanation – but there are, happily, multiple oddities in the language to luxuriate in if you’re a slightly obsessive word nerd like me.
I was told, for example, on a Christmas Day* when I landed in Melbourne, that such a thing was ‘unlikely to eventuate.’ I keeled over laughing, only to be met with preturbed faces. ‘Eventuate, mate. It’s a real word.’ Well I’m sure it is. But only in Aussie. Most of the world would be much happier and keener on ‘happen’. I quickly dismissed the guy as a linguistic oddity, as obviously nobody speaks like that. And then read it throughout the newspapers. It’s everywhere. It’s bizarre. And yet, who’s to say I’m right and my adopted nation is wrong? Perhaps the word ‘happen’ is doomed. Then again, hopefully that won’t eventuate.
More strange things. At home, teams are plural, so Shamrock Rovers ‘are’ playing at home tonight. Here in Aussie, Richmond ‘is’ playing away. The team is singular. Hmmm. Not like that where I’m from, again, but absolutely understandable and excusable. More upsetting, both in context and crime, are the State of Origin rugby league games, fanatically followed in NSW and QLD and featuring matches between the New South Welshmen and the Queenslanders, colloquially known as the Maroons. Which on the face of it, is all very well, especially if you enjoy joke sports. Except they don’t rhyme maroon with moon or balloon. Oh no sirree Bob. they pronounce it – well, the only example I can think of is to rhyme it with Capone, as in Al Capone, of De Niro and baseball bat fame. This worries me. I’m not sure why. But then again, I’m not sure I care, because, after all, it is only rugby league.
The one that genuinely upsets me, and makes me gnash my bockety Irish teeth, wail and want to rend the veil of the temple in twain, is how Australia pronounces ‘ton’ – the weight. Or tonne, I suppose, in this most obsessively metric of countries. To all intents and purposes , the two words are pronounced the same. Or. So. You. Would. Have. Thought. Down under, they pronounce tonne to rhyme with ‘bone’, or ‘phone’, and it sounds so awkward, so childish, so hellishly wrong – particularly when used in the context of a straight-faced news broadcast – that the level of righteous indignation in our house, anyway reaches epic proportions. ‘Tone.’ Grrr. Still, I suppose worse things eventuate at sea.
* It’s also important for me to point out that the following day, Boxing Day, saw my debut at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the blokey institution that is the Boxing Day Test match, on this occasion, versus the POMengranates themselves. I will say this: never before, or since, have I seen such levels of drunkenness as I saw that day. Besuited gentlemen with their faces stuck in the urinals of the Members, giggling so wildly that they were splashing spent wee-wee and dribble over the shoes of their friends. Charming stuff. Still, a marvellous day all round. Bring on the next home Ashes series and we’ll see what we can do.