March 3, 2011 / 9:04 AM / 8 years ago

Shark bait to OMG: a fight to save Aussie English

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Australian author Hugh Lunn remembers a time when a red-haired man was called Bluey, a silly person was compared to a parrot and “mooning” over a woman was something romantic.

A race-goer cheers as jockey Gerald Mosse of France rides Americain to victory in the Melbourne Cup at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne November 2, 2010. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

But Lunn now fears all local color is vanishing and the Australian language is dying, giving way to the “in your dreams” and “get real” of U.S. television and the internet.

“American television has basically taken over our lives,” Lunn told Reuters.

“While we’re getting their shows we’re losing our language — we never said ‘24/7,’ ‘OMG’ and ‘whatever.’”

In his fight to save the words and phrases of yore, such as when an Aussie bloke would stand back to let a lady walk in front of him and say “ladies case of snakes,” Lunn has collected many unique Aussie-isms into a book, “Words Fail Me.”

Recalling a time when television’s role in life was smaller, Lunn takes readers on a nostalgic journey from the 1950s to the 1970s, when “the blower” was a phone and a bachelor might be described as a “man who never finds out how many faults he has.”

A former wire and newspaper journalist, Lunn has written several non-fiction tales of life in Australia’s northeastern Queensland state and his time as a correspondent covering the Vietnam War.

He says he learned early in his writing career that the secret to capturing somebody’s character was not to describe how they looked, but what they said — and how.

“To recapture other people and the time, I learned the best way to do that was describing how they talked,” he said.

During the course of research into other books, Lunn would often wake up in the middle of the night and scribble a saying down in his bedside notepad, or raise a hand to stop someone in mid sentence because they had reminded him of a word from the past. He ended up with a school case packed with handwritten notes and scribbles on napkins.

“Language comes from the world around you and today it’s TV or social media,” he said.

“The language around you used to be a hell of a lot of language about horses and snakes and the weather and the world around you.”

A forgetful person might say, “I’ve got a head like a peewee’s nest: mud on the outside and straw on the inside.” A silly person might be called “a great galah” (parrot) and “shark bait” was a small dog.

Lund’s first book about Australian language, “Lost for Words,” brought floods of mail from readers who bombarded him with words and phrases from their childhood, making pulling together his latest book an easy task.

“Publishers have told me my books will be a great resource in the future, because you put them (the words) in context so younger people know exactly how they are to be used,” he said.

But the real stamp of approval came from readers, he noted.

“The recurring theme in all the letters I received after my last book... was ‘that’s how my parents/brothers/aunts spoke.’”

Editing by Elaine Lies

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