Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chin-wagging In My Jimjams

By Georgeanne Irvine

G’day, mates! I’m just back from an adventure to a magnificent land that has become like a second home to me over the past 20 years: Australia. I’ve traveled Down Under well over a dozen times for all sorts of reasons, such as learning and writing about koala conservation issues, attending conferences, exploring wild places, and visiting the new friends I’ve met on earlier trips. This latest journey across the Pacific was as leader of a San Diego Zoo WorldWild Tour that focused on the wondrous Aussie wildlife. Whether we were hugging wombats in Tasmania, watching fairy penguins parade up the beach to their nesting burrows on Phillip Island in Victoria, waking up to the giggles of kookaburras in New South Wales, or riding camels on the beach in Queensland, we were always hanging out with some kind of critter.

So, what do I love about Australia besides everything? I’m enchanted with the people as well as fascinated by its unique animals, and as a writer, I’m enamored with the language! Whenever I hear someone speaking “Strine,” it makes me very happy and brightens my day!

Aussies and Americans may both speak English, but it’s amazing how different our everyday expressions are from theirs. Since the grass is always greener on the other side of the ocean, I find Australian words and phrases far more colorful and fun than ours and I love their accent. Each time I return home from Australia, my sentences are peppered with Aussie words, and often, people have no idea what I’m talking about!

In my early years of traveling in Australia, I needed a lot of translations. The first time I went to a bar, my friend said she was going to “shout me” a drink. I whispered that she didn’t need to yell my order to the bartender. I wasn’t desperate for a drink and could most certainly wait for the server to drop by—but she really meant she wanted to buy me a drink!

Another time she mentioned putting the car “in the pozzy,” and I immediately thought of the sheriff and his posse—yet she was really telling me that she parked her car or put the car in position, as they say over there. Many Aussie terms are shortened words: mozzy for mosquito, cocky for cockatoo, kooka for kookaburra, champers for champagne, roo for kangaroo, doco for documentary, and prezzies for presents.

Some words are uniquely Australian to me—we don’t use them regularly in the United States—such as fair dinkum (the real thing), crikey (an exclamation of surprise or amazement made famous worldwide by the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin), billabong (pond), and tucker (food), but there are words we share in common that have totally different meanings. Pissed in Australia means drunk, not angry; a biscuit to them is a cookie to us; and when I ask for potato chips over there, I’m given French fries—so I learned to ask for potato crisps instead. Bloody means very, a billy is a tin can used to boil water over a campfire, a sheila is a woman, and the phrase, get the shits, is not diarrhea, it means getting angry or upset. Also, a jumper to me is a dress—and you might be guessing it’s what the Australians call a kangaroo—but no, it’s really a sweater.

My biggest word blunder occurred when I was telling animal tales from my children’s books to a grade school class in Queensland. At the end of the talk, I said I needed to find my fannypack. The kids giggled and the teacher looked horrified—I later learned that fanny is the Aussie word for vagina. Yikes! I should have been looking for my “bumbag”!

Of the heaps of Aussie phrases, I have an all-time favorite, or at least one that makes me smile the most. A dear friend told me she had spent the morning with her sister “doing a chin-wag in her jimjams.” Translation: she was sitting around in her pajamas having a conversation with her sister!

Now that I’ve been home for nearly two weeks, the Aussie words are slowly fading from my vocabulary, but every once in a while, a crikey still slips out when I’m chin-wagging.


Laurel Corona said...

Georgeanne--I laughed out loud about the fanny pack! Crikey!

Sharon Vanderlip, DVM said...

George, you are such a world-traveler and full of so many great stories! And to think your first overseas trip was decades ago when we went together to bring more Poitou donkeys to San Diego! I'm so glad you mentioned the fanny pack because it might be a common misunderstanding and can save someone from an embarrassing situation. On one of my trips to Australia, a couple told us they "had the shits". I didn't know it meant they had been fighting. I thought they meant they had diarrhea. I also thought they were a bit crude and were sharing more with me than I needed to know. I thought I had some medication on me, and trying to be helpful, I told the woman's husband that I had something to calm the problem in my fanny pack. I offended everyone. Bloody hell!

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