My piece for Daily Life, 20 June 2012…
So, bogan is actually a word. A bona fide, fully certified, 100 per cent pure, paid-up, proper word in the actual Oxford English Dictionary.
Well, it’s about bloody time. Deliciously peculiar to Australia, the word is a sublime moniker for a social stratum of a nation that loves to pretend it is classless and blind to social snobbery.
As much as we may revel in pointing the finger and having a good laugh at the Kath & Kims amongst us, bogans are our siblings, cousins, colleagues, best mates and worst enemies. Their hair is questionable, their drinks are predictable and you could wager your annual income on their footwear choice. Like lime green utes, bogans are a species native to these fair shores and these fair shores alone.
But, like it or not, it’s become an unstoppable export, too, the word bogan. Close cousin (legal or otherwise, as the case may be) to the English chav or the American redneck, bogan is instantly and simply translated when it comes to other English-speaking cultures. Married, in the international conscience, with another great export, Fosters, bogans are immediately recognisable on the world stage by the national dress of thongs and singlet. (As an aside, sausage sizzles are surely a contender for a national dish?) The truth is that overseas, bogans are part of an unhelpful stereotype so unhelpfully perpetuated by none other than the mandarins behind Lara Bingle.
But it strikes me that bogan is an acolyte worth celebrating, too: It is a word, new or otherwise, that is a proud part of ever-evolving Australian English.
It sits aside a group of words that I had never come across until I moved here from London two years ago. Words that here, for whatever reason, have been given place on a stage and have elsewhere faded – and of that important slither of colourful linguistic diversity, Aussies should be genuinely grateful.
So, bogan, you are nestled amongst a host of Antipodean beauties. To wit:
Stoush – This should, I can’t help thinking, be pronounced ‘stoosh’ but has somehow wound up with far harsher (and thus more to-the-point, I suspect) phonetics. No other politicians in the world engage in stoushes with the opposition, in the same way that no other international leader would say “Delegates, in these coming days I want us to have a fair dinkum Labor Party conference.” They just wouldn’t.
Rort – As in, rip-off or defraud. Again, an onomatopaeic word (and again, a word that seems to be associated with politicians) for something that is horribly unfair – its meaning is as ugly as it sounds.
Doona – An oldie, but a goodie. A two fingers up at the finessed Frenchness of duvet. Not sure of the etymology of this one, but perhaps related to down, as in feathers?
Spruik – My personal favourite, and now that I have discovered this gem, I wonder how I survived without it before. I suppose we pedal or our wares in the UK? A stand-up comedian friend of mine used to canvas for business (?) and market (?) his tickets outside venues in England – and he’d be the first to admit that it came across as, well, a little desperate. At Melbourne Comedy Festival he was out and about spruiking… and his eccentric sales technique was suddenly, totally, brilliantly, acceptable.
Bash – Granted, ‘to bash’ is common the world over, but I haven’t come across it in the formal setting of news coverage before. As in, “a vulnerable young man who had already been bashed once in detention was bashed again in another facility”. It’s a tricky one to pull off for an adult newscaster and not to be attempted on BBC Radio 4.
And there are many more where those came from. (Not least, a whole lexicon of farming and cattle terms that merit their own thesis – something I don’t dare dip my toe into here.
Note that all of those words are short, unfussy, harsh-sounding – even a little clunky – and heavy on the dipthongs that Kath & Kim are so darned adroit at exploiting. These aren’t verbs and nouns that are trying to be elegant, polite or delicate. They’re ballsy and brave and unapologetic. They belong.
And they sound far, far more effective when delivered with an unsullied bogan accent from the window of a moving, lime green ute. Or in Prime Minister’s question time.
And two other pieces for Daily Life…