This week at work I was discussing the throw-in in soccer with a colleague (we work at night and we were watching the World Cup) when I had a memory. Growing up in Maitland through the 1990s, when I played soccer either as a junior or at school, the throw in was invariably described as a “shy”. After leaving Maitland at 15 (for Newcastle), I never heard the term again. When I mentioned this another colleague quickly proposed that it may be related to the term “coconut shy”, and several dictionaries give “a quick throw” as a definition of the word. Nonetheless, it is remarkable that a term could be ubiquitous in one town and unheard of in one 20 minutes away.
Then I started thinking of several other terms used by my classmates [fn1]. I was the only child who ate dinner, where everyone else, in the British fashion, had “tea”. I was the only child with a grandma or a grandfather, everyone else had a “nan” or a “pop”. Intriguingly some used “learn” to me “teach”. My dad told me that when he moved there in the 1970s, a bag was still referred to as a “port”, something unheard of elsewhere in NSW (but apparently common in QLD).
This is all presumably due to the history of the place, with miners coming from Northern England and Ireland (I believe this use of “learn” is Geordie) – which may also explain the great avalability of black beer on tap in the Hunter Valley compared to Sydney – and a strangely strong identity to the town. As dad said once of Maitland “It was different. You didn’t have to like it, but at least it was different”.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Maitland is currently booming, with a large influx of new residents, so I doubt what Maitland English exists will long survive. Which is a pity. There’s precious little regional variation in Australian English as it is. I don’t see much point in promoting the retention of the varieties, change is a part of life, but I would like to see them at least remembered. It’s simply interesting.
The relevant Wikipedia article is not, and is unlikely to be, much help. Wikipedia in its current state is likely to delete anything added based on personal experience, but personal experience is the only valid source for this kind of knowledge. Unless we happen to have access to a linguist (who’d write something tolerable to the wikirati as a citation), this kind of variation will be lost forever.
So this post may have to suffice. What small variations have you found between towns and places in Australia? Record them now lest they be lost, or uncover the variations that are now developing.
[fn1] My parents were not from Maitland, which may explain why I didn’t use them, but the class mates that did use them came from a number of backgrounds, many non-English speaking