Reflections

As I See It (And Hear It) Australia Edition – Idioms and Language

Visiting a country whose unofficial national anthem is Waltzing Matilda, I expected to run into some words I wasn’t familiar with.

For those of you unacquainted with Matilda and how she dances in 3/4 time, here is a video you really should take the time to watch. It will be a thoroughly enjoyable 3 minutes and 23 seconds. You might want to follow along with the words below. Be warned, though, it’s a catchy tune that you might be humming all day.

Verse 1:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong

Under the shade of a coolibah tree,

And he sang as he watched and waited till his “Billy” boiled

“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Chorus:

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda

You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me,

And he sang as he watched and waited till his “Billy”boiled

“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Verse 2:

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong,

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,

And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

(Chorus)

Verse 3:

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.

Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.

“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?

You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

(Chorus)

Verse 4:

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.

“You’ll never catch me alive!” said he

And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:

“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Songwriters : Adriaan Van Landschoot / A B Banjo Paterson / James

If you understood all that, well, you understood a lot more than me. If you’d like to know more, wait until the end of the blog and I’ll give you some more explanation.

But I’ve gotten off track.

I heard many wonderful idioms during my time in Australia that I thought you might enjoy and maybe even find useful. I think some of them are also used in England, and I’m sure some came from other places too. I would not be surprised if someone commented “That saying actually came from New Zealand” as it seems (at least to hear the Kiwis tell it) that the Aussies get credited with all sorts of things that came from New Zealand. Pavlova and Ugg boots for example. By the way, I don’t know whether Ugg boots come from Australia or New Zealand, but in the land of their origin they are worn in the house, not out to the shops. But again, I digress.

So here are some idioms and words I heard in my month Down Under. I may not have them all quite right as many I heard only once and for some of them, Google wasn’t much help.

As different as chalk and cheese – two totally different things. This one kind of explains itself. It’s used to talk about two things that are completely different. The context I heard it in was describing two sisters who were “as different as chalk and cheese.”

As happy as Larry – very happy. I don’t know who Larry is or why he’s so happy, but since he has his own idiom, I guess he was very happy. This website has a couple of ideas as to its origin: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/as-happy-as-larry.html

Larrikin – an uncultivated, care-free person. One possibility for who the above-named Larry is comes this word. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larrikin

Bogan – an unrefined person. While we’re talking about adjectives describing people we should talk about bogans. As one friend put it, bogans are people who wear their Uggs to the shops. We might call them rednecks. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogan

Whinging – (pronounced win’-jing) whining or complaining. This one isn’t very complicated. Something about its sound makes it quite a nice description of what it is. I think I may start telling my children to “stop whinging.” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/whinging

Sling your hook – a polite way of telling someone to go away. For example, if Benjamin Franklin had been Down Under he might have said along with his “fish and visitors stink after 3 days” something about “after that, sling your hook.” https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sling%20your%20hook

I don’t know him from a bar of soap – similar to our “I don’t know him from Adam.” https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/don%27t+know+me+from+a+bar+of+soap

Making a dog’s breakfast of (something) – to totally mess it up. For example if I tried some of the Pinterest ideas I have seen, I would make a dog’s breakfast of it. https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/make+a+dog%27s+breakfast

Money for jam – a quick and easy way to earn money. If you get paid a lot of money for a simple quick job, it’s money for jam. https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/money_for_jam

Woop Woop – an isolated place – in a country with a population density of 7 people per square mile (with the Northern Territory having about .5 people per square mile) there are lots of places that are considered woop woop. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woop_Woop

Sheila – a woman – She might be a smart sheila or a mean sheila or a pretty sheila. Just about anywhere you would use the word “woman” you can also use “sheila.”

Op Shop – short of opportunity shop – a resale shop, usually for the benefit of a charity – similar to our “Goodwill” but a little higher quality.

Gridiron – in a land with about kinds of football, this is the word you want to use if you want American football. Otherwise you might end up with soccer or one of several kinds of rugby. The Aussies love their sports. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_in_Australia

And the best, most often-used saying which I think pretty much sums up Australia, is…

No worries – This multi-purpose phrase of agreement means ok, no problem, and sure thing all wrapped up in one little phrase. You order a chicken and leek meat pie? No worries. You need more water brought to your table? No worries. Want to meet someone at 2 o’clock? No worries. I guess living in a country with 20 of the top 25 most venomous snakes in the world and most dangerous jellyfish in the world (the box jellyfish) just of the coast, saying “no worries” is a good thing.

A note about pronunciation. The Australians treat their R’s differently than we Yankees do. (I hate to break it to my southern friends, but when you go abroad, you’ll be considered “Yankees” too.) They totally ignore some R’s, like the ones in Cairns, pronounced “cans” and Melbourne, pronounced “Mellbohn.” Other times, such as when a word ends with an “ah” or “aw” sound they supply an R to the end of the word. So “saw” sounds like “sar” and “Ella” sounds like “Eller.” To say “The tuna is mine” you’d say “The tuner is mine.” It’s quite charming, really.

So maybe you’ll want to spice up your American English with a phrase or two from Down Under. If you do you’ll be happy as Larry. Just don’t make a Dog’s breakfast of it. Ok?

No worries.

And if you’re still curious about what Waltzing Matilda is talking about, here’s some more information from the National Library of Australia

Matilda is an old Teutonic female name meaning “mighty battle maid”. This may have informed the use of “Matilda” as a slang term to mean a de facto wife who accompanied a wanderer. In the Australian bush a man’s swag was regarded as a sleeping partner, hence his “Matilda”. (Letter to Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill, KG from Harry Hastings Pearce, 19 February 1958. Harry Pearce Papers, NLA Manuscript Collection, MS2765)[27]

swagman

a man who travelled the country looking for work. The swagman’s “swag” was a bed roll that bundled his belongings.

billabong

an oxbow lake (a cut-off river bend) found alongside a meandering river

coolibah tree

a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabongs

jumbuck

a sheep[27]

billy

a can for boiling water in, usually 1–1.5 litres (2–3 pints)

tucker bag

a bag for carrying food

troopers

policemen

squatter

Australian squatters started as early farmers who raised livestock on land which they did not legally have the legal title to use; in many cases they later gained legal use of the land even though they did not have full possession, and became wealthy thanks to these large land holdings. The squatter’s claim to the land may be as uncertain as the swagman’s claim to the jumbuck

Just for the fun of it, you might want to go back and spend another 3 minutes 23 seconds listening to the song and you just might be able to figure out what in the world it’s talking about

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