'Woke' or alt-right? Insta, Twitter or your own blog template?
Sometimes I wonder how I'll ever keep up with the pace of change in my mother tongue, the language spoken most widely around the world. I'm talking the common language, English, so helpful at breaking down barriers when people of different ethnicities meet and greet, mostly online in the shadow of the pandemic.
Tiktok used to mean the sound a clock makes - but it wasn't spelt that way. Download, upload ... mashup, delete. How to choose, or even whether to choose, is the question when it comes to a face mask vs a mud mask, a face lift vs booster serum, and even skin hydration vs moisturiser. And don't get me started on Schnoodles, Labradoodles, Border Aussies and Pomskies.
If you're still up to speed, here's what some of SSOA's writers think of descriptive language - some words oldies, others goodies ...
Sheilas and Blokes (Pub Talk)
We were having a drink after work on Friday arvo. It was Poets' Day so we had left work earlier than usual.
I had spent the majority of the afternoon dealing with this HR Consultant trying to get her to see reason about the negative effects of performance objectives on customer service, but she wouldn’t budge.
Anyway, there were a few of us at the pub including Margaret, who’s probably about my age. She was from Queensland but I didn’t necessarily hold it against her.
So, I’m having a whinge and moan about my day, and I say, 'This sheila is a real piece of work. She reckons it's good customer service to sell people things that they don’t want.'
Margaret pipes up and says, 'I find that word offensive.'
'What?' I say.
'Sheila, it’s a derogatory term.'
'No it isn’t,' I protest, 'not down here anyway. Is bloke a derogatory term as well?' I add.
But she’d already written me off as some sexist slob and I'd written her off as a bit backward.
Anyway, a week later I was chatting with my Mum on the phone and she confirmed that yes, indeed, sheila had been used as a term for loose women back in the olden days.
'You’d never call someone that back then,' Mum said, “unless they were one, of course. But I wouldn’t do that.'
She said she didn’t know if bloke used to be offensive, but she agreed that sheila definitely went with bloke. Which I took as a victory, for what it was worth. Pyrrhic, I guess.
Language Fads and Fashion - Bygone days
‘How ya goin’, mate’?
‘She’ll be right, mate’.
‘What are ya doin’ this arvo’?
‘Prob'ly have a barbie in the backyard’.
‘Any good sheilas comin’ over? I heard Linda’s a corker with big tits on 'er’!
‘Not sure yet but come on over. I’ve got some good snags and tinnies in the esky’.
‘No worries, mate - see ya later’.
‘I think it’s going to rain, Bruce’.
‘Fair dinkum, I think you’re right there’.
‘Those cockies on the wire are screeching, but I brought my Dryzabone anyway’.
‘Where’s your dunny, Bruce’?
‘Down the back. Watch the flies’.
‘Won’t touch me with my cork hat’.
‘Good on ya, mate’.
‘Ta-ra - see ya later’.
Mr L was a legend for his misuse of the English language. You’d think for a man who had lived in Australia for nearly 60 years, his English would have been better, if not his accent, then at least his vocabulary or use of grammar.
But to us, his students, young and immature as we were, his ruin of the English language was a great source of amusement, something we parroted incessantly.
When we were cold, we had 'goose bubbles'; the bumper bar of a car became 'bumping cars'; Avoca, on the Central Coast, became Avocado.
We’d spend entire evenings smoking weed and repeating Mr L’s slaughtered English words and phrases.
No change - nihil se mutare
Language fads and fashions
are just not to my taste.
I like the words of ancient times
not new words coined in haste.
Pray keep your neologisms
and terms of modern age -
if Chaucer didn’t write them
they won’t go on my page.
There’s no need, in my view,
the dictionary to fatten,
for if I had my way
we’d still all write in Latin.
Copyright: texts to the authors cited above & Intro to cvwilliams; photos Wix.
These SSOA posts by emerging writers are made possible through City of Sydney assistance.