Shellharbour and Victor Harbor

My wife and I spent a night in the coastal town of Shellharbour. Similar couples spent a similar night in a similar coastal town, Victor Harbor

Australian English overwhelmingly prefers –our spellings to –or (most style guides specify –our and Pages for Mac’s Australian English autocorrect changed Victor Harbor to Harbour), but usage has swung back and forth over the years. Around the time Victor Harbor was officially named, –or spellings were in favour, so that official spelling was given and has been retained; likewise with the Australian Labor Party. (For more about these spellings, see Wikipedia in general, about the Labor Party. Basically, the –or spellings reflect the Latin original and the –our spellings reflect French –eur.)

Note also that Shellharbour is now one word, while Victor Harbor remains two. I guess running four syllables together is just too clunky.


Nice noise – nooice

A Youtuber named Rachel Boyd has  channel mainly of history videos, but also of music videos each featuring works from one period of music history. Most of them have attracted comments intended to be in the language style of that period, with some commenters doing a better job than others. One commenter on a video of works from the Classical period complains the “now the music is just noice”.

I think he means noise, but noice is reasonably common in Australian English as an exaggerated and jocular pronunciation of nice, which would completely change the meaning. But it’s not new, and it’s not Australian. cites Charles Dickens writing “Ye be noice chaps” in Nicholas Nickleby in 1838. And for extra emphasis, there’s also nooice.

Merry holidays

In a comment to my previous post, I mentioned spotting a question on Stack Exchange from a school music teacher whose principal had banned ‘all holiday-related music from our performances’ because one family had chosen not to attend. S/he later refers to ‘Christmas and Chanuka songs’.

From around mid-December, mainstream and social media abound with opinions as to the rights and wrongs of saying ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’, which I won’t weigh into. These reminded me something I’ve had on my ‘ideas for posts’ lists for several months. A document referred to an applicant returning to his country for ‘holyday’. Not holy day or holiday – holyday

Holidays were originally holy days, when most people didn’t work in order to attend church then feast and carouse on the village green. In Australian English, holiday now has probably three related meanings: a public holiday, on which most people don’t work but essential and service personnel do; annual leave, for most full-time, permanent employees, and a travelling vacation. I would not naturally say or write vacation; it sounds American to me, which Google Ngrams confirms. I would have to use either ‘I’m staying at home these holidays’/‘I’m having a holiday at home’ (some people use staycation but it’s still rare) or ‘I’m going away these holidays’. Because Christmas Day and Boxing Day fell on Saturday and Sunday this year, Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 were official public holidays. Most Australian businesses shut down completely between 25 Dec and 3 Jan inclusive, with 3 Jan being an official public holiday because 1 Jan also falls on a Saturday.


TV Tropes’s page on the Shrinking Violet character type gives the real-life example of the Norwegian playwright and theatre director Henrik Ibsen.

It is said that pr 1899, he and his colleague Bjørnson was invited by the king to a diner.

A diner? A small, informal, inexpensive American restaurant? I comfortably assume that’s a typo (see also the unexplained ‘pr’ earlier in the sentence), but it got me thinking about the word diner. Because of American popular culture, I’m familiar with the kind of eatery, but I haven’t encountered either the establishment or the word much in Australia. Either it’s a café or it’s a restaurant, but there used to be fish and chip shops and milk bars, many of which had quick-cooked food and booth-style seating. (Now, if anything, we have kebab shops, which are usually takeaway.)

In fact, searching Google images, one page is ‘The Ten Best American Diners in Sydney’, so the establishments and word exist here. Note that diners is (?has to be) qualified by American. Right next to it is ‘The Best Diners in America’. ‘The Best American Diners in America’ would be redundant. (Though I did go to a ‘Japanese garden’ in Japan (viz, a traditional one, not just any old (or new) one).)

Although TV Tropes explains the Shrinking Violet as “usually but not always female”, all but two of the real-life examples are male.

Abbreviation on the menu

Two items on the menu of almost every Australian pub are schnitzel (veal unless otherwise specified, or chicken) and parmigiana (chicken unless otherwise specified, or veal). Partly because of lack of space on signboards, and partly because Australians abbreviate almost everything we can, these are often abbreviated to schnitz, schnitty or schnittie, and parmi, parmie, or parmy. Google reports:
schnitz 337,000 – schnitty 104,000 – schnittie 5,490
parmi 233,000,000 – parmie 166,000 – parmy 1,990,000

The result for parmi are skewed by the fact that it’s the French word for among. In fact, the translation appeared at the top of Google’s search results, before any reference to food.

For plurals, schnitz must become schnitzes, schnitty can become schnitties or schnittys, and schnittie must become schnitties. Parmi can become parmis or parmies, parmie must become parmies and parmy can become parmies or parmys:
schnitzes 4,5000 – schnittys 4,730 – schnitties 5,190
parmis 200,000,000 (again skewed by the French word) – parmies 241,000,000 (I can’t explain this result) – parmys 1,670,000 (there’s something very strange going on here – the results for plural schnit– are much lower than for the corresponding singulars, but the results for plural parm– are way higher. 

We have to take these numbers with a large amount of caution. I was prompted to write this post because I spent a wet weekend sorting through old documents, and found a piece of note paper with numbers from approx 2(?) years ago, which are way different from these. 

Does anyone know? No (partly because both words are borrowed from other languages). Does it matter? No (but I can imagine some people getting pasDo I have a choice? If I had to stick my neck out, I’d go for -ie(s) in both cases, if only because these spellings are more common in Australian abbreviations.

(By the way /ʃn/ is another initial consonant cluster not found in English which English speakers encounter in other languages. We generally have no trouble with it, partly because of familiarity and partly because it is phonetically very similar to /sn/.)

PS some Facebook friends mentioned parma, which I hadn’t included because I’d never heard or seen it. Google’s numbers for that are skewed by the Italian city. Some of the sources I read while preparing this post also have parm, which is just wrong. The first result for parm is parmesan cheese, which I have never heard or seen, either.

It’s rather hard

I spent my childhood in various country towns in the Australian state of Victoria. My last year there was my first year of high school. Even now I remember that our science teacher pronounced graph as /gra:f/ (with the same vowel as in palm), in contrast to the prevailing pronunciation of /græf/ (with the same vowel as in trap). The next year we moved to a country town in South Australia, where I quickly discovered that absolutely everyone said /gra:f/ and absolutely no-one said /græf/, not even me after a few days.

In my previous post, I said that for words like bath, the pronunciation with /a:/ is more common in Australia. Between trap and palm is a spectrum of words which some people pronounce with /æ/ and others with /a:/. Graph is one example, but not graphic, which everyone pronounces as /græfɪk/, as far as I know. 

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I got a general email from a colleague I don’t personally know, which talked about something going ‘skew if’. The most common spelling is skew-whiff, but given that Wikitionary marks the word as ‘Britain, Australia, New Zealand, colloquial’, I’d better explain it for everyone else. 

It means askew, lopsided, not straight, not going to plan or not working properly, as in the computer systems which were the subject of the email. Wikipedia explains the origin: “The expression ‘skew weft’ dates at least from the 18th century as a term used by handloom weavers, typically in northern England. It was used originally to describe fabric which was out of alignment, and the term survives today in the manufacture of glass fiber cloth.”

I was originally sceptical of that explanation, but Google shows about 296 occurrences of ‘skew weft’ in the context of weaving. I am still moderately sceptical of that explanation.

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A small group of verbs have two past tense forms – an irregular one ending in -t and used more in British English and a regular one ending in -ed and used more in American English. The most common six are burn~burnt/burned, dream~dreamt/dreamed, lean~leant/leaned, learn~learnt/learned, smell~smelt/smelled and spill~spilt/spilled. Note that the pronunciation of the vowel changes with two of these: dream~/drɛmt/ / /dri:md/ and lean~/lɛnt/ / /li:nd/. [For some reason, I missed leap~leaped/leapt.]

In general, my Australian English usage is closer to British than America, but I have consciously decided to write -ed and say /dri:md/ and /li:nd/, probably because students are more likely to understand them.

A few days ago, I was talking to an English-as-a-second-language speaker. He asked me something which required me to use the past simple of lean. Without thinking about it, I found myself saying /lɛnt/. If he is not familiar with that pronunciation, I hope the context made it clear. I said something like “I lent over to pick up a sock and when I stood up, I knocked my head on the door handle”.

Spreading like bushfires

Large amounts of south-eastern Australia are suffering from extensive bushfires. Wikipedia’s most general page is titled Wildfire, but its page relating to Australia is titled Bushfires in Australia. Wildfire can be used countably or uncountably (including the phrase ‘spread like wildfire’), but bushfire can only be used countably. 

Generally speaking, we don’t use ‘wildfire(s)’ in Australia (apart from the phrase ‘spread like wildfire’). Searching for wildfires Australia returned pretty much the same pages as bushfires Australia, except one from CNN title Australia wildfires. Many of the pages simply say ‘fires’. At the moment, there’s no need to specify.

Some of the affected areas have received a small to moderate amount of rain today, but it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. I’m totally safe, sitting in the middle of suburban heartland. If I’m under threat, it means that half of Sydney is alight.

dongas and dongers. This isn’t Sparta!

An article about recent and current developments in the mining industry in Australia mentioned dongas. I’ve never heard or read about dongas, but then I’ve never worked in the mining industry. But the meaning was very clear in context: basic and temporary accommodation for workers. Wiktionary’s definition is: “A transportable building with single rooms, often used on remote work sites or as tourist accommodation.” These are now better quality than they used to be. The origin of the word is obscure. Also, it’s pronounced ‘dong-ga’, as opposed to ‘dong-a’, which is something completely different. Donger appears most often in the phrase “dry as a dead dingo’s donger” (that is, very, very dry). Wiktionary reports that the spelling donger is also used for the basic and temporary accommodation. Hmmm … “My donger’s a bit smaller than I’d like”. The ABC article switches the pronunciation. Maybe they’re both used – pronunciation and spelling of slang words often varies. Speak and write carefully. If in doubt, speak or write something else. 

The article also referred to “spartan accommodation”. The spell-checker on Word for Mac red-underlined that, suggesting “Spartan”. I think there’s a difference between facilities for guests in Lacedaemon (which are “Spartan”, but may be “spartan” as well) and those for workers in the remote areas of Australia (which are “spartan”). The line between retaining upper-case and changing to lower-case is sometimes hazy, but I’m quite prepared to decide that “spartan” in the general sense is lower-case.