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.
8. Got a head like a bashed crab – spectacularly unattractive. Example: “Since ya already got a head like a bashed crab, you really want to watch what ya say!”
9. Hung like a rogue elephant – a big bloke. Example: “Of course we know why she’s hooked up with him, and it’s not for his brains. From what I hear, he’s hung like a rogue elephant!”
10. To chuck a wobbly – pitch a fit, throw a tantrum (i.e. to express anger). Example: “I tried to explain that I only ate the last of the chocolate to help her keep her weight down, but she chucked a major wobbly, mate. I’ll never understand women.”
11. Ankle biters – small children. Example: “They already have a bevy of ankle biters, but I guess you can never have too many, huh?”
12. To be hungry enough to eat the crutch off a low flying duck – to be very hungry indeed. Example: “I am starving! I could eat the crutch off a low-flying duck!” (Note: crutch = crotch).
I do not advise yelling out this phrase in polite company, no matter how hungry you are. Frankly, even in impolite company, people will stare at you, and possibly think less respectfully of you than ever before (unless you are so low in their esteem already that you have hit rock bottom). Do you really want everyone imaging you in the middle of such an act? I don’t think so.
And, while we are on the subject of intimate body parts …
The term fanny, in Australia (as well as parts of the UK) refers to the vulva or vagina, rather than to the bottocks (as in the U.S.). So be aware of that before you use the word, in order to avoid awkward social moments.
Under no circumstances should you relocate to Australia, have a child, and name him or her after Fanny Brice; Fanny Hill; Fanny Price; Lord Fanny; Madame Fanny La Fan; Aunt Fanny from Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five; or even – I am sorry to say – Edgar Allan Poe’s Fanny from his romantic and beautiful poem.
Though it is a lovely, delicate-sounding moniker, the days when it was fashionable, or even remotely acceptable, are long gone. Nowadays, people would just think “Wow, she named her kid Vagina. What kind of person does that?” And no one would let their kid play with your kid. Besides that, no child needs the kind of attention on the playground that being called Fanny would invite. (Though personally, I sort of love the way “Madame Fanny La Fan” sounds).
Of course, the real beauty and fun of these colloquial phrases is hearing them used by real Aussies, in their natural habitat (i.e. at a barbecue, with a drink in hand) whilst relaxing with friends. That’s when all the good stuff comes out. But you will have to visit us to hear that for yourself.
Text by td Whittle.
Image source links are provided, except in cases of generic photos found in multiple places on the internet.