Saturday, May 19, 2012

Shooting the breakers with Germaine Greer ...

(Above: a 1905 Manly postcard).

There's no doubt about it - Germaine Greer has always been perverse, but it seems perversity grows exponentially with age.

Recently various possums got agitated about her comments about the size of Julia Gillard's bum.

You know: Germaine "You lost me at "big arse" ..., and What was she thinking? and dozens of other places on the full to overflowing intertubes.

The crime was compounded by a brain snap by Tony Abbott, who made the mistake of endorsing Greer's remarks, as noted in Abbott hits a bum note on pollie pedal.

Naturally the Bolter leapt to the only imaginable conclusion in Criticism all right on the Left (paywall applies, Google the words to get the good oil):

Lesson: women can criticise women's clothing, but men must watch out.
The Left may criticise a woman's appearance, but a conservative had better be careful.

The Bolter is truly, unimaginably weird. What must it be like to view the world as the ancient one-eyed monster did (no silly we're not talking about a penis, we're talking about the Cyclops, though if you point out that the cyclops had its one eye in the centre, and the Bolter's one eye is so far over to the far right that he must walk with a permanent tilt, we'll happily withdraw the metaphor).

Anyhoo, as someone who's commented on Julia Gillard's occasionally wayward dress sense - in much the same way as the pond has had great fun with budgie smugglers - it would be unwise to throw the first stone, or perhaps thrust the first stick into the eye of the cyclops, but we must wax and wane a little over the Greerian eccentricities on view in Macquarie's mitts all over our supposed Strine.

Cop this one cobbers, as Greer talks about acquiring a copy of Sidney J. Baker's The Australian Language, a favourite book handed down to the pond as about the only thing left in the estate, and seemingly a favourite of Richie Benaud. But immediately Greer takes umbrage, which is perhaps better than taking potshots at bums:

The first was published in 1945, the second in 1966, but even then I doubt whether surfies talked about ''shooting the breakers''.

Surfies perhaps, but shooting the breakers was still fresh and relevant lingo in the bush, as was taking a dump (no not that sort of dump silly, it was about getting dumped, and no we don't mean getting dumped by a conservative when a woman refuses to display the brain and spine of a jelly fish):

Shooting the Breakers.
One of the great items of sport is "shooting the breakers," that is to swim out to where the waves are breaking and turn with the wave when it breaks and let its force carry you in.
This is a real pleasure to those who are expert, and it is quite suprising at what rate the waves will carry a person in.
But there is an art in "shooting the breakers" and it is not every one who can catch a wave at the right moment.
If the bather is a moment too late in reaching the crest of the wave, he is what is called "dumped," that is to say, he gets under the wave and is curled up like piece of paper, and if the sea is running high he will receive a severe knocking about.

Oh okay that was written in 1913 for the Religious Tract Society (The Boy's Own Book of Outdoor Games and Pastimes) and can be found here.

But things move at a glacial pace in the bush, and the term always appealed to the pond because of the notion of getting out the trusty .22 and shooting the breakers. That said, is it so wrong for a book of slang to record interesting slang whose time might have passed? Is currency, and up to dateness and freshness and relevance the only guide?

Greer also seems to find the bland hand of the Macquarie Dictionary onerous and burdensome:

... the Macquarie Dictionary, which has become the sacred text which I must consult and obey in every instance, still lists ''bonzer'' as meaning ''excellent, attractive, pleasing'' and cites ''bonz, bonze, bonza, boshter and bosker'' as synonyms — synonyms that I have never heard any Australian use. (I have heard two of them in the East End of London.)

This is pedantry at its silliest and a clear indication that Greer has gone Pommy native. Bonza when given the Australian slur and drawl, is indistinguishable from bonzer, a bit like Aus and Oz, and bonza has routinely turned up for years as a gimmick spelling ...

(not to worry, it only ran eight issues, as recorded here).

... just as bonz and bonze are typical shortenings of the kind designed to indicate a tradesman is about to give you a right royal screwing. Okay darl, it's bonz, but that elbow will cost ya a quid.

Boshter and bosker might have expired, but back in Gallipoli days they had some currency.

Should a dictionary cease to list words because they're no longer familiar and lack currency? By golly, the pond could make the shorter Oxford a damn sight shorter.

It is of course just Greer being grumpy for the sake of being grumpy, and when in this mood it's easy to get agitated about Gerry Wilkes proposing that Bazza McKenzie's language was out of date in 1978 - when the whole point of the joke was that the hysterical piling on of retro daggy slang and invented boorishness was surreally out of date in its own timeless the moment that Humphries deployed it (though it has to be said that you could still hear Stone the flaming crows in the bush).

And when you've done with that brooding, you can brood about the use of capital letters:

Wilkes thought ''cobber'' was obsolete too, and described McKenzie's vocabulary as ''borrowed from a diversity of national types'', noting bizarrely that ''words like 'cobber' and 'bonzer' still intrude as a sop to Pommy readers''. Note the capital for Pommy, apparently de rigueur, even though the expression is derogatory. In the Macquarie Dictionary ''Yid'', ''Hun'', ''Itie'', ''Nip'', ''Paddy'', ''Yank'' and ''Kanaka'' are all capitalised too, in the same strange typographic combination of contempt and soft-soap - oops, I mean, of course, soft soap.

Say what? You shouldn't capitalise a word because it's derogatory? How about Bazza's strategy of capitalising the whole word?

It's simple really. You can speak of pommy bastards in general, but if speaking of a Pommy bastard like Captain Cook, he deserves the dignity of a capital. And if the Captain thinks it's derogatory, well, hell's bells, pigs' and Gillard's arse to that.

But what was that other glitch? Soft-soap v. soft soap?

Well Greer gets her knickers in a terrible knot on the subject of hyphens, and when you might use them, and when not (as well as sundry other agitations like how to say the word Queensland, when these days the toads might well just settle for chanting "'lander". Foolish toads).

Somehow all the crimes and sins of commission and omission end up with Greer getting upset about the "latest generation of word police" as if the average Australian pays any attention to dictionaries, academics, the Macquarie or toffs, or gives a flying fuck when it comes to sounding off like a bogan or a bushie or an inner city elitist. Larrikins unite and speak how you will ...

The giveaway that Greer is just stirring the pot?

Wilson also speaks of ''writing for someone other than them''. In my English this should be ''other than they'', ''are'' being understood.

In my English? How prim and proper, and how very thought police, a bare sentence away from Greer rabbiting on about the latest generation of word police.

The poor dear's gone British class conscious in a gratingly pommie way, and yet seems completely unaware of it. Imagine going into a public bar, as Greer was wont to do in the old days, and advise all and sundry that she's going to buy a beer for "other than they" ...

Then there's a snarky addendum to the argument:

Professor Peters tells me that: ''Australian English does not seem to have diverged in its grammar from that of standard English elsewhere.''

Hung drawn and quartered, not for stealing a jumbuck in a tucker bag and making off with it, but for misusing "them" when "they" would suit ...

Lordy lordy, whatever does she make of the great vowel shift that makes New Zealanders sound like they've invented suxty sux new ways to speak English?

Anyhoo - yes I use the word to be grating - Greer wraps it all up with another capital crime that proves conclusively that Australia is now full of manglers of English and deviants who've diverged from standard English elsewhere, and does it with that hoary old device, the indefinite pronoun and the question of their singularity ... or plurality.

Somehow she wangles sex into the affair as she broods about the indecent way Australians use someone, anyone, everyone, anybody, somebody and everybody:

All and each of these must now be treated incorrectly as a plural, because the corresponding parts of speech are all gendered. The choice is either to abandon the use of the ungendered singular pronoun altogether or to ditch grammar and its indwelling logic for yet another lump of hypocritical fudge. Our language is gendered; we are sexed.

Oh dear, the older generation of word police are on the prowl. Or should that be the older generation of word police is on the prowl?

Surely it's fair to say that everyone hates subject-verb agreement, and if you think everybody's got problems in Australia, take a look at everyone in the United States. (Yes, you can cheat and read Everybody: Singular or Plural).

So there we go, with Greer trying to get the punters lathered up about Macquarie Dictionary and the forty buck charge for accessing it online and its brave but ultimately futile and barely visible attempt to put its mitts all over strine and slang - when the whole point of slang is to be subversive, eternally mutating and underground until it bubbles to the surface and mutates again.

She ends up sounding like a member of the raw prawn police ...

Iff Greer is feeling alienated from Australia, but still wants to stir the possum, perhaps she should stick to shafting Julia Gillard's bum ... she can always rely on Tony Abbott and Andrew 'the Bolter' Bolt to bite ...

Take it away Bazza ...

(Below: click to enlarge and get the good oil).

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