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.