Words, words, and humour!

By Alan Tristram

Welcome to our newest page looking at the wonderful world of words and even-more wonderful humour.

We’ll bring you news of the latest in the changing world of our language — as well as the latest startling ideas from our cartoonists…


Horse and trolley needed for our drunken word collection

Kiwis are fascinated by words and word usage. So we are pleased to welcome our newest columnist, Dr Dianne Bardsley, who is a leading expert on NZ words and usages.

Dr Bardsley is director of the NZ Dictionary Centre, based at Victoria University. She writes a column for the Dompost and also regularly joins Chris Laidlaw in his Sunday morning programme on National Radio.

In the first of her monthly columns for the Kapiti Independent, Dr Bardsley looks at a subject dear to the hearts of most adults in the country – alcohol.

Who’s for a spot?

Recently there has been much media discussion about New Zealand’s drinking culture, in particular the present demonstration of drunkenness amongst young people and the need for a permanent ‘drunk tank’ to carry out triage in Courtenay Place on Friday and Saturday nights.

Like all culture, there is a vocabulary around drinking, in New Zealand’s case a vast vocabulary, and the common view is that New Zealanders are particularly unsophisticated when it comes to drinking attitudes.

Is this lack of sophistication reflected in the vocabulary around drinking?

At the New Zealand Dictionary Centre at Victoria University we are interested in the historical aspect of New Zealand words and usages in every domain, and alcohol is no exception for, as dictionary editor Harry Orsman attested, it has produced an extensive and creative lexis, much of it being slang and remaining in the lexicon for many years.

From the earliest days of European discovery and settlement, whalers and sealers brought alcohol.

Whites and whiskey

In fact, in Cook’s Voyages (1889) Kippis claimed “The white man and the whiskey bottle came together.”

Alcohol was the single man’s salvo to the isolation of early rural life. Boundary shepherds and out-station managers were amongst those who succumbed, and alcoholism was commonly referred to as “runholders’ disease”.

Shepherds, station hands, and shearers would rush to town to “lamb down” their pay cheques, i.e., spend it at the nearest public house.

As prohibition took hold, a unique use of the term “dry area” developed in New Zealand English.

In the New Zealand Dictionary Centre database we have a total of just over seventy New Zealand English synonyms for the term ‘drunk’, both historical and recent.

‘Trolleyed, horsed and nana’d’

Trolleyed, horsed, and nana’d are among the most recent.  Societies reflect in their national vocabularies that which is culturally significant, and this can be assessed by the number of terms they might have for such items, habits, or mores.  It can be assumed that if drunkenness features highly in our lexicon, it is culturally significant.

The more New Zealanders drank, the more “mullocked”, “munted”, “shickered”, “wasted”, or “steamed” they would become.

We left the “six o’clock swill” in the 1960s, in the attempt to make our drinking culture more “civilised”.

Perhaps you can sense the “Tui moments”, hear the apposite response, and visualise the headshakes.

We can certainly not claim that alcohol has been a dry area in terms of word generation in New Zealand English.


A little note re language

From Tom Aitken in  London

Two related, in some ways puzzling locutions, ‘unfit for purpose’ and ‘systemic failure’, both seem to have come into fashion in 2005.

Both suggest that a military and/or political system dreamed up in the recent past by someone other than the speaker (usually a political opponent) is misconceived, cannot be made to work.

It must therefore be abolished (at huge expense but on our behalf) by the speaker, who will thereupon have earned our gratitude––until the moment, surely not far ahead, when the replacement system is itself found ‘unfit for purpose’ by some future crusader devotedly defending our interests.

Simon Hoggart, The Guardian’s political sketch writer (son of Richard Hoggart, author of The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life, which we were all reading when I was a student) is a keen observer of this sort of linguistic neologism.

On June 21st 2005, he wrote this:
‘It did not make sense, the Prime Minister [Tony Blair] said, for 40 per cent of all the EU’s spending to go on 2 per cent of its output. The budget was not ‘fit for purpose’––a phrase new to me, which manages to sound both resonant and ungrammatical.’


The Brush-Off, Courteous (as Shakespeare didn’t quite say).

In a recent poll to discover what phrase caused most irritation in customers dealing with businesses, the winner by a country mile was ‘Your comments are very important to us’.

Like all such groupings of anodyne words it begs the question, ‘What is this utterance intended to achieve?’ What should not be supposed is that the call centre employee has immediately rung the managing director to report that ‘Disappointed of West London thinks you are all incompetent scroungers.’

The usage relates to another two phrases much used by the British middle classes. These are ‘If you say so,’ and ‘I hear what you say.’ Both sound polite, and are, indeed a great deal more polite than what is really meant.

This lies somewhere between ‘What a load of claptrap!’ and ‘If I had the time and patience I could explain to you how it is you manage to be wrong in every particular… Best not to say anything, really.’


Key tea vow

(From Blog by Denis Welch)

The dashing young New Zealand prime minister John Key told a news conference
this morning that he knows he has a problem with tea, but he’s vowing to
give up drinking it and to get his election campaign back on track.

Mr Key says he doesn’t remember exactly what happened when he had a cup of tea with Act candidate John Banks but he knows it was not the behaviour expected of a professional politician.

‘I have to accept that tea and myself don’t mix,’ Mr Key says. ‘It switches
something inside my head. I think I’ve got it under control and then things
just get out of hand.’

It’s alleged Mr Key ran into an Auckland café naked and attempted to have
sex with Mr Banks while drinking copious quantities of tea.

The gifted politician with the boyish smile admits the occasion was ‘a bit
of a blur.’

‘I thought John was Liz Hurley,’ he confesses. ‘It’s a mistake anyone could
have made.’

Health experts blame New Zealand’s rampantgo-on-have-another-cuppa-another-one-won’t-harm-you tea-bingeing culture and say public figures must do more to promote responsible tea-drinking. Choysa has withdrawn its bid to sponsor the All Blacks at the next Rugby World Cup.


New usages from the UK

Tom Aitken reports on ‘Idioms I have noticed recently’


1:  ‘It’s not been top-of-mind’ —  Kevin Murdoch (could mean ‘I’d forgotten all

about it’ or ‘It hasn’t seemed important.’)


2:  ‘I happen to believe’  — (PM Cameron & lots of others). This is used to preface

possibly unpopular moral convictions re protesters pitching tents, etc. (In this case

meaning that the protest should take place for an hour or so, then be abandoned)


3:  ‘Help us grow the protest/petition,’ etc. — Used on line and elsewhere by people who want you (when you’ve signed up to some petition or protest yourself) to pass the word on to all your friends and acquaintances.



Kapiti Independent Cartoonist Julia

Forbes Winby

illustrates the benefits of New

Zealand’s policy of

opening our coasts to all comers

in the shipping world…






A word or two from London —

Our correspondent Tom Aitken reports:

‘The British Prime Minister, young David Cameron, is found of sentences like

this: ‘I am being and always have been very clear about this.’

Well and good, except that it is seldom clear what he is being clear about.

One thing he says he is being clear about is his wish to build something

called ‘The Big Society’. What this might be has never been made clear, let

along very clear.

Whatever it is, the one thing that is fairly clear is that it is supposed to

be better than whatever society we have now.

And from New York…..

A cartoon from the New Yorker shows a waiter with two diners looking at menus.
The waiter is saying: ‘We have a couple of items that are trending this evening…’






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