Terence Blacker: The pommie bastard's guide to our convict cousins

For readers preparing to head Down Under to see England lose the Ashes, here's how to smooth communication with the locals
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The Independent Online

Another terrible misunderstanding involving the proud nation of Australia has taken place. Within weeks of the negative publicity surrounding an alleged remark by an opposition politician to the effect the John Howard had "got his tongue up Bush's clacker that often the poor guy must think he's got an extra haemorrhoid", there has been an expensive international row about the traditional Australian word "ugg".

For as long as anyone can remember, the ugg, a sort of fur-lined boot, has been part of the local culture. "Oh, mate, can I bludge your uggs?" one cheery jackaroo might say to another. Now all hell has broken loose because an American company has patented uggs and also, to be on the safe side, ugs, uhgs, ugges and uggies. The boots have become highly fashionable and yet Australians are unable to sell them.

It is the kind of linguistic confusion to which the residents of that great country are becoming habituated. All too often, it is assumed that their approach to life is a little rough and ready, a touch lacking in subtlety, simply because their language is being misread. For those readers who are preparing to spend a few weeks in Australia watching our team lose the Ashes, here are just a few of the local phrases which might cause them problems.

As busy as a one-armed taxi-driver with crabs. The second most safety-conscious nation on earth after Sweden, Australia has made it an offence under federal law for drivers of public transport vehicles to have less than the full complement of arms and legs. No one knows where this highly inaccurate phrase originates.

Dry as a dead dingo's donger. Lack of water is now a serious problem in Australia and, just as Inuits are said to have a variety of words for snow, so Australians have developed different ways of describing thirst. Other popular comparative phrases include "dry as a pommie's towel" (the English being famous for not washing) and "dry as a nun's nasty".

Kangaroos loose in the top paddock. Like all civilised nations, Australia takes serious the issue of mental health, and its inhabitants are therefore very reluctant to use inappropriate phraseology for someone who is a fruit loop, a galah, a whacka, a drongo or is not the full quid.

Pommie bastard. Surprisingly shy, Australians sometimes have difficulty expressing their affection for what they like to call "the mother country". English visitors should appreciate that being called a pommie bastard is essentially a compliment and should reply with good-hearted jokes about the country's connection with convicts and its inhabitants' warm relationship with sheep.

Root yer grandma. The gentleman's game of cricket has been immeasurably improved by the Australia's introduction of a verbal element. The practice known as "sledging" involves the wicket-keeper and close fielders making various references to the female members of the batsman's family as the bowler is starting his run-up.

Stands out like a dog's balls. Famous pet-lovers, Australians would never do so indelicate as to refer insultingly, even in jest, to their animals. This widely misunderstood phrase refers to a dog's eyeballs when it is surprised or excited.

Suckholes, a conga line of. When the former Labor leader Mark Latham described MPs supporting the government in these terms, he had in mind the Suckhole Spider, an insect famous for its extravagant courtship ritual.

Who opened their lunch? Another phrase that has caused confusion, this is a straightforward remark that could occur when Australians are enjoying a "cut-lunch" or picnic. How it came to be interpreted as a reference to a person breaking wind remains a mystery.

Miles Kington is away

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