Sitting at the next table to us in a expensive restaurant in a major tourist area was a young person of Asian appearance wearing a t-shirt/sweatshirt/windcheater with the words NOY THE RIENT.
This made no sense to me in any language I am familiar with. Later, I asked my Facebook friends, but none of their suggestions were convincing. I have encountered ’rents as slang for parents, and noy could similarly be annoy, which I haven’t encountered. If this is the meaning, then the next question is why a presumably Chinese clothing company would put it on its product.
I’ll put a break here to give you time to think about it.
I had never previously said totes amazeballs and don’t ever expect to again, and in fact the sooner it dies the better, but a lesson on ‘extreme adjectives’ was too good an opportunity. The textbook had several synonyms for ‘very good’ and I elicited several more, then mentioned that people make up their own, including totes amazeballs. (Another is fantabulous.) One student expressed great doubt that such an expression exists, but I was able to show her on Google. (Most sources on the internet cast scorn on the expression and the people who use it.) She couldn’t figure out how a word ending with ‘balls’ can be an adjective. Basically, it can be an adjective because people use it as an adjective.
Another point is that terrific, terrifying and terrible, and horrific, horrifying and horrible should mean the same thing each, but don’t. I didn’t mention Latin – I just said “Be careful about these words – they are different”. (Horrific didn’t occur in the lesson – I just mention it for the sake of completeness here.
I’m not quite sure exactly how I know this expression. No-one I know uses it. I’ve just read it on the internet enough times for it to sink in. The downside of being passionately interested in language.
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.
The tv comedy Mind your language ran from 1977 to 1979. I use it occasionally in class to illustrate vocabulary, grammar and communication. One episode (“Many happy returns”) is largely about money. It starts with Sid the college caretaker asking Gladys the tea lady for a free cup of tea, because he’s (something). She replies “You’re always skint, Sid!”. The subtitles (whether auto-generated or created by a human – some episodes are better than others) have “I’m a bit glacier mint”, but audibly that’s not what he says. I had always guessed that it is rhyming slang, as several other episodes show him using that, and even attempting to teach it to the students (one of whom refers to it as “cockeyed slanging rhyme”).
Fast-forward to a few days ago, when I was browsing through a book which I’ll donate or throw away soon. It has a section on Cockney rhyming slang, and one of the items is boracic lint. That is indeed what Sid says, but what is it? Wikipedia explains, quoting its entire article:
Boracic lint was a type of medical dressing made from surgical lint that was soaked in a hot, saturated solution of boracic acid and glycerine and then left to dry.
It has been in use since at least the 19th century, but is now less commonly used. When in use, boracic lint proved to be very valuable in the treatment of leg ulcers.
The term “boracic”, pronounced “brassic”, is also used as Cockney rhyming slang for having no money – “boracic lint” → “skint”.
Two days ago the textbook had a reading about a course for “speedaholics”. I started simply by writing speedaholic on the board and asking them what they thought it meant. They quickly figured out that it was somehow analogous to alcoholic. One student guessed it referred to cars – a car provides speed in the same way that a drink provides alcohol.
The suffix -(a)holic means “a person who has an addiction to or obsession with some object or activity”. When you think about, it really should be –ic, because alcoholic is alcohol+ic, but no-one would understand speedic etc. Continue reading →
Acronyms can mean different things in different contexts, which is not surprising because many words can mean different things in different contexts. Many years ago I worked as an editor for a legal publishing company, and ASIC always meant the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian government’s corporate regulator.
My manager and I flew to Melbourne for business several times, and walking through Tullamarine airport on one occasion I saw a door obviously leading “outside”, with a large sign saying “Have you got your ASIC?”. I guessed that it meant “airport security identity card”. I found out accidentally today that it actually means “aviation security identification card”, so I was close enough.
Sometimes I’m not as close. A few months ago, I saw a young woman wearing a t-shirt with the letters YMCMB. I speculated on Facebook as to the meaning, suggesting “young men covet my booty” (I had less context). Someone who either knew or did some actual research told me that it’s a hip-hop record company formed by the amalgamation of Young Money Entertainment and Cash Money Records. No-one on the internet is quite sure what the B stands for. There are a number of other suggestions – search at your own risk. Please don’t search on the Urban Dictionary.
On a wet weekend, while recovering from a perfectly ordinary but nonetheless annoying cold, I was catching up on some language and linguistics blogs I rarely read, possibly because those bloggers are far less active these days than previously. One of those is David Crystal. One of his posts relates the story of Gerard Manley Hopkins contributing Irish words and phrases for the English Dialect Dictionary, published between 1898 and 1905. Some of the items don’t sound dialectal at all, some are amply attested elsewhere, and some were new to me.
My eye was caught by
bodach, sb, an old man; a churl
Ireland. GMH [no example]
I immediately flashed back 40 years to my last year or two of primary school in country Victoria, when and where the word bodack (however spelled – it was rarely written) was used as a one-word reply to express disbelief or derision at someone else’s statement. (The exact level of disbelief or derision depended on the exact amount of inflection in the pronunciation.) Are the two words connected? It’s impossible to say now.