Come the Raw Prawn: a dozen of my favourite Australian colloquialisms
Posted on January 17th, 2012
There are several websites you can peruse, and books you can buy, to learn Australian slang. While these tend to vary in breadth, depth, and quality, most are certainly worth a quick squiz (i.e. a brief look).
What keeps Aussie colloquialisms fresh and lively, to me, are not only the terms themselves, but also the way they are mixed and matched by various individuals and groups of people. Of course, as in any country, phrases and their usage will differ from region to region.
When I visit some new place whilst travelling round the country, or when I attend a local dinner with a few fresh faces in the crowd, I carry a small notebook and pen in my handbag. This is because, even after eight years living here, I still catch people saying things I haven’t heard before – things that often leave me laughing, even days later.
Here are a dozen of my favourite Australian phrases, with definitions and examples of usage given after each one.
1. A few sheep short in the top paddock – a bit stupid. Example: “Once you get to know ‘im, you can tell he’s a few sheep short in the top paddock.”
2. To fall off the perch (also, to cark it) – to die. Example: “Good to see ya, mate. Glad to see ya didn’t fall off the perch yet!” “You, too, mate. Thought you might’ve carked it y’self by now!”
3. To spit the dummy – to get upset, especially if accompanied by a tantrum. Example: “She quit! Just spat the dummy, then stormed off in a huff! Bloody hell, was she spewing!” (Spewing also means to express anger or rage).
4. Shag on a rock – This sounds sexier than it is, if one imagines being shagged on or near rocks at the beach (because we all know from Austin Powers that a shag is sex). But, in this case, shag refers to a kind of bird, and the phrase means to be abandoned. Example: “Awww, mate, it was pretty bad. She left me shag on a rock, after I’d bought all the food for dinner and cleaned up the flat and everything. I felt like such a dill.” (Dill = stupid person).
5. Fang it – to drive fast. Example: ‘”Buckle up tight! If we’re going to make the opera on time, we’ll have to fang it!”
6. Sticks out like dogs’ balls - excessively conspicuous; lacking in subtlety. Example: “I enjoyed that performance of Turandot overall, but that note the tenor cracked at the end of Nessun Dorma stuck out like dogs’ balls.”
7. To come the raw prawn – to lie, in a disingenuous way (i.e. to feign naivete, or – as we say in Texas – to downright bullshit someone).
Thanks to my friend Loscha for correcting me on this one, and providing this perfectly apt example: Jilly says, “I never slept with Daveo.” Johnny replies, “Don’t come the raw prawn with me, I’ve known for ages.”
I had thought this meant to be to be disagreeable, confrontational, or aggressive – as in “Don’t you come the raw prawn with me, mate! I’ll bash your bloody head in!” Fortunately, I haven’t been threatening to do this, so I’ve not shamed myself by getting it wrong on the street.