Attacking perfectly good authors for fun and profit.

I’m currently re-reading Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue. It’s very entertaining, but if the rest of the book is as bad as his information about Australian English, well, I wouldn’t put much store in any of it.

(Disclaimer: It was published in 1990, so some of the inaccuracy can be attributed to the passage of time. But still.)

Bill confidently asserts that Australians use “labor” rather than “labour”. Well, if he’s talking about the Australian Labor Party then he’s quite correct. But if he’s talking about any other instance of the word, well, sorry Bill, it’s “labour” all the way.

He also brings up that hoary old chestnut “Cobber”. Well, I don’t know, maybe people still call each other “Cobber” deep in the hills of Tasmania (cue albinos plucking at banjos) but the rest of the country abandoned the word in about 1955. The only place you ever hear it is from tourists trying to show how “Aussie” they are, or from comedians being ironic. “Cobber” no. “Mate” yes.

Along with “Cobber”, Bill also mentions “dinky-di”. No one has used this phrase since 1982.

He also misses one of the most important and defining characteristics of regional Australian language – luncheon-meat. It’s possible to determine with reasonable accuracy where an Australian comes from based on what they call a sausage of highly processed pork. I for instance call it ‘polony’. If I was from Queensland however it would be ‘luncheon’. In Tasmania it’s ‘belgium’. In South Australia it’s ‘fritz’ and in Victoria it’s ‘devon’. This distinction is axiomic in any discussion of Australian English, but Bill makes no mention of it.

So yeah. I think that’s enough savaging of a highly entertaining book for today 🙂

PS: How could I forget one of his worst offences against the Australian tongue? We eat biscuits here not f’ing cookies!! Bah!! 🙂

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