Who here has shied a football? Dialects of Australian English.

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

About Richard Tsukamasa Green

Richard Tsukamasa Green is an economist. Public employment means he can't post on policy much anymore. Also found at @RHTGreen on twitter.
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Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

The term “Shy” is used commonly in cricket commentary to describe a quick throw (usually at the stumps).

pablo
11 years ago

Any discerning visitor to Maitland would not be surprised by any particularly english vernacular. I was a latecomer (1992) and can’t recall any language peculiarities but the layout and architecture was pure english provincial to me.
The old town or Maitland proper has an almost medieval layout high on a bend in the Hunter River. Go west toward Oakhampton and the ramparts rising from the Hunter floodplain with Maitland Hospital on one headland matches the mock tudor and georgian architecture of the old town above the river. Follow the river and you are in pure Thomas Hardy country of maize and hay fields. Little wonder the first settlers named it Greenhills. Problems with the natives saw a British garrison posted here in the 1820’s. Streetcapes and names must have appealed to English migrants. Unlike the nearby coalfields towns there isn’t a whiff of the welsh influence. But you have to look for it, beyond the suburban sprawl and brutality of highway rationalisations.

Glen
Glen
11 years ago

I grew up in Lake Macquarie (about an hour from Maitland) and remember the throw-in being called a shy in the early 1990’s. Completely forgot about it until i read this post, haven’t heard it used in a long time.

I moved down to Canberra a few years ago. With people coming in for work from all around the country, i had a few fun dinner party conversations where we were surprised how many local words exist. What we thought were universal words are only understood in a small part of the country.

Matt D
Matt D
11 years ago

Can’t tell you anything about shy, but can add to the discussion on port.

My grandmother, who grew up around the Grafton area in Northern NSW, always called her suitcase a port as did her relatives. It is also a Queensland usage as you say, but it extended down the coast at least some distance based on this.

My Newcastle rellies never called it a port however. I also hever heard them refer to a shy, and they were big soccer participants.

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

Growing up around Eden, I never heard the term “shy” for a “throw-in”. As for some of the other examples you cite, I wonder whether some a due to family-based usage, which is retained irrespective of location.

E.g. in our family, from my mother’s side, “tea” was the evening meal, whilst “dinner” was the Sunday (roast) lunch.
E.g. my maternal grandparents were “grandma” and “grandad”, whilst my fraternal grandparents were “nanna” and “pa”. This seems to have been a family tradition.

As for Eden itself, the only apparent linguistic curiosity(?) was the common usage of some Aboriginal words and slang by school kids: shamejob, gubba, bundi, deadly, fesh’nal, gamm’n.

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

Richard:

Growing up around Eden on the Far South Coast of NSW, understandably if your geographical specificity thesis is right, I never heard the term “shy” for a “throw-in”.

As for some of the other examples you cite, I wonder whether some a due to family-based usage, which is retained irrespective of location.

E.g. in our family, from my mother’s side, “tea” was the evening meal, whilst “dinner” was the Sunday (roast) lunch.
E.g. my maternal grandparents were “grandma” and “grandad”, whilst my fraternal grandparents were “nanna” and “pa”. This seems to have been a family tradition.

As for Eden itself, the only apparent linguistic curiosity(?) was the common usage of some Aboriginal words and slang by school kids: shamejob, gubba, bundi, deadly, fesh’nal, gamm’n. Perhaps this is a more wide-spread phenomenon than I imagine.

Dave Bath
11 years ago

I once read a book on the Englishes, which included a taxonomy by a German scholar (cannot remember the name, or how old the analysis). There was Australian, Aboriginal (basolect), Carpentarian, and “Melbourne” (acrolect). Melbourne English was not wholly geographical, nor wholly phonetic, but to a reasonable extent based on a significant population group in southern states (presumably broadsheet readers and ABC viewers) with a lexicon (both latinate and germanic) that was much larger than “normal” Australian, with greater grammatical complexity. (I’m guessing few would be skeptical, and many sceptical, about that analysis.)

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

Richard,

Re the use of Aboriginal words & slang, it was entirely due to Aboriginal kids in our (primary) school using the terms. The use of the terms pretty much disappeared in high school. It may have had something to do with the high school having a higher Anglo-to-Aboriginal ratio.

As for the words themselves:

Shamejob – from shameful act, doing something embarrasing; could also be a description of a person committing the act.
Gubba – white person.
Deadly – excellent.
Fesh’nal – from professional, doing something well.
Gamm’n – joking, taking the piss.
Bundi – [don’t remember the meaning, but recall it was used as a joking kind of insult, as in “Hey, ya bundi”. Looking around on the internets, a possible original meaning is a club or stick.]

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
11 years ago

One aspect of the examples you use is that they seem to have some class resonance. Grandma and Grandpa were higher class terms than pop and nan. Grandmother and Grandfather even moreso. Likewise dinner is higher class than tea. And ‘learn’ to mean teach would be regarded as just ignorant by many, like saying “I done this”.

Christopher Owen
11 years ago

I grew up in a working class suburb of Newcastle (Mayfield) during the 80’s and 90’s and we were certainly using the term ‘shy’ almost exclusively for a Soccer throw-in

Tim Quilty
Tim Quilty
11 years ago

Port was what everyone used to describe our bags at primary school in the early 80s in our little town in SW NSW. There were probably more words like it, but I had to live a double life, using this language at school and a different vocabulary at home. If my mother caught me speaking gutter slang she would hit me with a stick. Literally, but she was part of the tattered remnants of squatocracy, suffering delusions of grandeur. While talking too posh at school was a recipe to get beaten up in the scrub behind the footy field at lunchtime. I walked a fine line…

MsLaurie
MsLaurie
11 years ago

My main encounter with regionalisms was “Dirt Tin”, “Slippery Dip”, and “Cossies” (used by my Sydney-raised Nan) compared to “Rubbish Bin”, “Slide” and “Bathers” used by my Melbourne-raised Mum.

When living in the Canberra area I noticed that “Sloppy Joe” was used for a casual fleecy jumper, compared to “Windcheater” which I’d always used.

TimT
11 years ago

Hey, Dad calls them ports all the time. Also he often calls women ‘lass’. Not often to their face though!

Dave Bath
11 years ago

TimT@15:

I’ll still use “lass” (a bit more than “lad”) – but like the rest of my clan (we’re an inbred lot from SW Vic – 20 years ago EVERYONE in towns like Inverleigh were somehow related – I’m the only one still unfortunately trapped in Melb), it’s usually prefaced with “nice” or “good”. I’ve /never/ heard it prefaced with “bad”/”naughty”/”horrible” etc, nor used for pre-tweens, nor over-25s.

But then, I’m 50 – almost old enough (certainly within the law) to be TimT’s dad.

The thing that I can’t pin down exactly is more subtle usage in past participles. “Sank/Sunk”, “Drank/Drunk”, “Swam/Swum”, “Swang/Swung” – there certainly seems to be a variation in prevalence between city and agricultural areas, at least in Vic. (No difference in pronunciation if you are a kiwi though). I suspect the “u” form is a bit more common in rural areas – reflecting the age of the families here and where they came from originally.