Fiona Scott-Norman: Vowel Movement

26 December 2018 Fiona Scott-Norman

Fiona Scott-Norman: Vowel Movement

Fiona by James Braund

Happy New Year fellow Australian! Here’s to 2019! I’m sure it will be fine! Okay, I know. If you’re like me, despite cricket season purportedly lifting our spirits, you’re probably feeling a bit “Whatevs, New Year new schmear, it’s all still a big pile of poo.” You’re possibly grasping for reasons to feel optimistic about the future, what with the climate, your to-do list and the giant manbaby-filled playpen that constitutes our current government still rubbing itself like a hormonal dog up against coal despite the world burning. And I hear you.

It’s a challenge to feel pride and optimism about Australia on the world stage. Our leaders rotate like the tumblers on a pokie machine, and we’re still determined to keep bloody-mindedly celebrating Australia Day on the one date that Indigenous Australians repeatedly inform us hurts them in the face. What a pack of tone-deaf drongos we are, eh.

Still, shoulders back, there’s an election in the wind. And if you want a laugh, it’s worth revisiting the “cease and desist” conga line of fallout from January 2018, when leader of the Australian Conservatives Cory Bernardi took to Spotify to post his “alternative” to Triple J’s Hottest 100 “move the date” Australia Day music playlist. About the only muso listed to not tell Cory to go eff himself was Peter Allen, and he died in 1992.

Australia. Our commitment to a fair go sprouts in the strangest of places. I was heartened by a recent interview on ABC’s Radio National. The host was chatting to two film stunt workers about the usual – adrenalin, which films they’d been in, how many bones they’d broken (like, all of them) – and tripped himself badly over nomenclature. “Stunt man,” he said, then rushed to correct himself before the ABC’s mandatory Political Correctness Detector delivered a jolt of electricity to his testicles. “I mean stunt woman. Or man. And man? Stunt person?” And the awkwardness hung there, twisting sadly in the breeze, until a text popped through from a listener.

“Mate, this is Australia. It’s ‘stuntie’.”

Cue laughter, problem solved. And while I doubt that “stuntie” is actual vernacular (and I don’t run with stunties so can’t confirm one way or the other), I loved that simply applying the rules of Australian slang to a job title instantly rendered it gender neutral. It’s the inadvertent side effect of the Aussie imperative to lop the end off a noun and add an “o” or “ie” sound. Firey, bikie, pollie, ambo, journo, postie, garbo, tradie, hostie, muso. Then there’s copper, sparky and chippy. I’d simply not clocked that the accidental genius of how we casualise our language is inclusivity. No probs with gender fluidity or embedded sexism in Aussie slang. Honestly, who would have thunk?

The best part is this impact is entirely unintended. There are a stack of theories as to why Australians keep their nouns “fun” size. Why we say “bottle-o” rather than bottle shop, “servo” rather than “service station”, “Maccas” rather than “McDonald’s”. Why we’re the country that invented the word “selfie” (of COURSE we did). Suggestions include: we’re an infantalised society, we hate authority, we want to be special, we want to stick it to the British and the upper classes, we like to be friendly and approachable, we’re irreverent, we’re lazy, we have a dry sense of humour. All of these contain a splash of likelihood, but I suspect the reason it’s so entrenched is because it’s good sport. A linguistic game that everyone can play, and once you’ve grasped the rules, off you go. It’s the equivalent of punning in England, a true people’s word game that any idiot can master.

If the powers that be had imposed Aussie slang to create gender neutral terminology, we’d be screaming “political correctness gone mad”. Turns out we’re PC by fun and stealth.

That’s got to be worth a Happy New Year.

Fiona Scott-Norman is a writo and comedianie. ‘Vowel Movement’ is published in The Big Issue Ed#577, on sale 26 December 2018 to 10 January 2019.