Words from Western Australia


I read Tim Winton’s latest novel, The Shepherd’s Hut, twice. The first time to experience a wonderful novel. The second time to pull out the words that were new to me. Winton has captured the voice of the teenage boy narrator perfectly, so there was a mix of general colloquialism and WA regionalism that came very naturally to Jaxie but not to me.


It’s not surprising, I suppose, that Jaxie, cynic and unbeliever as he is, would use the slightly pejorative term baby sprinkling for a baptism. This term survives from the argument in the US that disparaged the sprinkling of babies who had no understanding of what was going on and favoured the total immersion of adults who knew what they were getting into.


Jaxie also uses corry-iron for ‘corrugated iron’, binocs for ‘binoculars’, and the rez for ‘the reservoir’. He has the trick of pushing words into a slightly altered meaning by the addition of a particle, as in cop on to understand, gob off at to yell and scream at, steel up to make oneself emotionally strong, sleaze away to creep away, spaz up to get up awkwardly, hate on (someone) to indulge in a prolonged fit of loathing (for someone).


He also uses colourful expressions such as rare as rocking horse turds (an old favourite), and stick out like a rat on a birthday cake (a new one on me), and with extreme prejudice (a take on the US expression). Jaxie is inclined to beat people out with extreme prejudice if they cross him, at which point things are in the toilet.


Some of his abbreviated words (hyponyms) puzzled me.  I did finally realise that the rez referred to the reservoir.  It took a little longer to find out that the effie is a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, and that azzie is short for asbestos as in sheets of azzie used as a building material.


Green’s Dictionary of Slang gives numpty meaning ‘an idiot’ as American slang of the 1980s,  borrowed from UK underworld slang and ultimately from Scottish dialect.  The term gooney, also meaning ‘an idiot’, is also from American English but from the early 1900s. It is thought to be ultimately from British dialect.  Browntooth drunk is I think a comment on the discoloured teeth that comes with alcoholism.


Fortunately, because of the work that we did at the Macquarie Dictionary last year on West Australian plants and animals, jam tree was already in as a crossreference to the raspberry-jam tree, a kind of acacia. And the York gum and salmon gum were covered. So too was the twenty-eight, a parrot given that name because it is thought to be imitative of the bird’s call.


So I am finding as much interest in the second read as I did in the first, but in a different way. And I am only half way through!