Caroline Marcus has an entertaining report on Aussie cussing in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The University of Queensland’s Roly Sussex, a professor of applied language studies, said that in terms of attitudes to swearing, the US and Australia were on opposite ends of the spectrum, with Britain in the middle.
He pointed to the Prime Minister’s dropping of the word “shitstorm” on national television in March as a reflection of Australian mores. “The sort of words that Mr Rudd has been using in the media are completely unacceptable for President Barack Obama to be using,” Professor Sussex said. “Some people even thought the Prime Minister’s use of the S-word in the media made him sound more like an everyday person.”
So, too, Tourism Australia’s 2006 campaign, “Where the Bloody Hell Are You?” “That had trouble in England because of the word ‘bloody’ and it had trouble in Canada because of the word ‘hell’,” Professor Sussex said. “Neither caused the slightest trouble in Australia.”

Now, that’s what I call a healthy attitude.


  1. Shades of Douglas Adams. Ahem-hem:

    In today’s modern Galaxy there is of course very little still held to be unspeakable. Many words and expressions which only a matter of decades ago were considered so distastefully explicit that were they merely to be breathed in public, the perpetrator would be shunned, barred from polite society, and in extreme cases shot through the lungs, are now thought to be very healthy and proper, and their use in everyday speech is seen as evidence of a well-adjusted, relaxed, and totally un*BEEP*ed up personality.
    So for instance, when in a recent national speech the Financial Minister of the Royal World Estate of Quarlvista actually dared to say that due to one thing and another and the fact that no one had made any food for a while and the King seemed to have died and that most of the population had been on holiday now for over three years, the economy was now in what he called ‘one whole joojooflop situation’, everyone was so pleased he felt able to come out and say it that they quite failed to notice that their five thousand year old civilization had just collapsed overnight.
    But though even words like joojooflop, swut, and turlingdrome are now perfectly acceptable in common usage there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the Galaxy, except one where they don’t know what it means. The word is ‘belgium’ and it is only ever used by loose tongued people like Zaphod Beeblebrox in situations of dire provocation.

  2. As most people are aware, Australia was first populated by convicts from Britain. As a result, there’s a strong egalitarian tradition in Australia, one that doesn’t take too kindly to anyone seemingly lofty or highfalutin, and a love of the larrikin (Aussie slang for the fun-loving jokester or the common man’s smart arse).
    These values are reflected in the Australian Parliament, which is renowned for its invective and gutter language.
    Paul Keating, a former prime minister, had a particularly fine way with words, and especially those of the sharper variety.
    Many of his insults can be found here: http://www.webcity.com.au/keating/
    (My favourite: Costello (a political opponent) is all tip and no iceberg)
    Famously too, when a government minister told the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, that it was time for him to move on, he said it with the words “Pull out digger, the dogs are pissing on your swag.”
    In Australia, a digger is a soldier (I think the term started back when soldiers dug trenches in WWI), and the word has expanded its sense to mean something akin to comrade, but without the communist connotations.
    A swag is a bag of belongings tied to the end of a stick that Australian itinerants used to carry around with them over their shoulder.
    So that phrase, in less colourful language, means “It’s time for you to move along”.

  3. Manolis,
    oh man, thanks so much, what a treasure trove that one is!
    “I’m sticking to you two like shit to a blanket” is pretty awesome, but I am so stealing the “intellectual rust bucket.”

  4. Paul Keating: “Where you all come aguster is, over here we think we’re born to rule you. And let me tell you this, it’s been ingrained in me from childhood, I think my mission in life is to run you.”
    I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘to come aguster’ before, and it doesn’t come up if I google it.

  5. “Digger” and “the Dirty Digger” have long been nicknames for Rupert Murdoch. Private Eye was calling him Digger in the ‘sixties.

  6. Niels G., on that quote, this is an interesting little factoid.

  7. An Adelaide estate agent offered us a house to rent and then said “Oh but the yard’s too dinky-winky for your littly”. Curse-worthy, don’t you think?

  8. A.J.P. Crown, that Paul Keating snip is a misquote.
    It should be “come a gutser”: see here. I doubt very much whether the expression is used by many people these days. I only have dim recollections of hearing it during my childhood in the 60s/70s.
    [Also: ‘where the bloody hell are you?’ was a stupid and embarrassing campaign slogan. Sure we’re loose with the swearing, but it’s no reason to cast it as a quasi-national symbol for tourism purposes. Idiots.]

  9. John Emerson says

    Keating’s is not a rapier wit.

  10. I hadn’t heard ‘come a gutser’ either, but it’s easier to understand.

  11. michael farris says

    “As most people are aware, Australia was first populated by convicts from Britain”
    I was certainly not aware of that ….

  12. Although he used the word “shitstorm” in an interview, Kevin Rudd quickly corrected himself. The verbal gaffe caught everyone by surprise and received much coverage on the news as a result. Even though we may be a bit less uptight about swearing than Americans, we still do not expect our prime minister to swear on national TV. Swearing on TV seems to be reserved for the late night timeslot – comedy shows and American movies are by far the biggest offenders.
    On another note, Rudd is more famous for mixing “archaic Australianisms” (as the ABC TV put it) with his convoluted and very boring ex-public service lingo. An example of his archaic Australianism: “Fair shake of the sauce bottle”

  13. I’m with Michael Farris. I was under the strange impression that Australia was first populated about 50,000 years ago.

  14. John Emerson says

    And you’re not “most people” either, but a unique little snowflake!

  15. clodhopper says

    ‘nun’ PC
    The Diggers had a luv hate relationship with the Pommies, when I was assigned to work with them, I had know the difference between Queensbury rules and Queensland rules, and learn the rules of Kings Cross, Au not UK, and of course the dingo lingo.

  16. Staying with (albeit less innovatively) swearing politicians, it may be worth noting that two of the leaders of the British Tories have had to apologize for (inter alia) their use of language in recent weeks:
    The party leader, David Cameron, warned in an interview that “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.” and conceded that the public was rightly “pissed off” about the expenses scandal.
    And the shadow leader of the Commons, Alan Duncan, was caught on hidden camera (around the 4:30 mark) complaining that MP’s are now “living on rations” and “treated like shit”.
    Not terribly interesting, I know, but the media certainly had fun with it.

  17. I was certainly not aware of that ….
    Heh. It’s damnably hard to get rid of the remnants of the old Eurocentric ways of presenting history!

  18. Seriously, “twat” is something you have to apologized for, even if you used it only, um, metaphorically? One of our politicians called a female police officer a c**t to her face on tape and … Nothing.

  19. (michael: I deleted all three, so rest easy. But that’s why it’s not generally a good idea to reply to spam comments, because they’re going to get zapped. If the reply is funny enough, though, I sometimes leave the comment while deleting the spam URL.)

  20. bulbulOne of our politicians called a female police officer a c**t to her face on tape and … Nothing.
    Jeremy Clarkson called Gordon Brown a cunt on British television recently, I think, though it wasn’t broadcast. Also a one-eyed Scottish idiot, which was, even though the latter is arguably ruder in some circles.
    Jeremy Clarkson went to Repton, as did Christopher Isherwood and Stuart Hampshire. His great-great-great grandfather invented the Kilner jar.

  21. As to Repton alumni, slightly more significant than the unpleasant Mr Clarkson is C B Fry.

  22. C.B. Fry’s ancestor didn’t invent the Kilner jar, though.

  23. And even more significant than C. B. Fry, Roald Dahl went to Repton. though he too had no Kilner connections.

  24. Cunt ‘fool’ is distinctively British, I think, or most certainly not American. This seems to make it much more acceptable.
    I came a gutser myself back in mid-June, and I’m still paying the price: taking antibiotics, wearing a large and rigid boot jocularly known as Das Boot — [bu:t], of course, not [bo:t] — and working from home.

  25. mollymooly says

    She said: ‘No, it was the twat.’ He said: ‘That’s not a swear word.’ I think he must be posh, where a lot of them don’t think twat is a swear word. His press secretary went: ‘It is.’

  26. I noticed that Cameron said “soundbites have always bin used”, which I don’t think I (aged 56) would say myself.
    John Cowan, I’m sorry you’re wearing a large rigid boot. Do you wear it to bed? I have broken ribs, but bed is the only time it hurts now.
    When I was a child, ‘cunt’ was interchangeable with ‘idiot’, ‘tosser’ and ‘wanker’, but I would have preferred being called a cunt to being called an idiot probably because it was more ambiguous. It could have meant I was powerful but mean.

  27. michael farris says

    I was amazed and horrified when I first heard British guys casually calling each other ‘cunt’ in a joking way.
    In the states it’s one of the biggest taboo words there is and calling a guy a cunt is liable to provoke a violent reaction.
    On the other hand, I’d always thought that ‘wanker’ was a cute, jokey kind of word and was surprised to learn just how insulting it can be in British usage.

  28. calling a guy a cunt is liable to provoke a violent reaction
    Really? I think calling an American guy a cunt is liable to provoke simple befuddlement in a lot of men. It’s a very taboo word, but one that is almost never used, in my experience, by a man to insult another man. Just like calling a man a “bitch” would be odd in most contexts. Calling a woman a cunt is liable to provoke a violent reaction, I agree.

  29. I’d always thought that ‘wanker’ was a cute, jokey kind of word and was surprised to learn just how insulting it can be
    Yes, ‘wanker’ usually means inept, an incompetent blowhard.
    ‘Wally’ is a good word for idiot, I think.

  30. clodhopper says

    I ‘tort’ the words were twit and cute in heavy muddied accent.

  31. Crown: To sleep, no. To rest, yes, but only on practical grounds (it’s exhausting to walk around with it, and I spend a few hours a day lying flat), because it’s hard to put back on. It serves to keep pressure off an infection on the sole of my foot that isn’t healing quickly.

  32. That sounds much worse than my ribs. Sneezing is painful with broken ribs, I’ve found.

  33. John Emerson says

    I could have told you that, but you had to go find out for yourself.

  34. Nij tells me it helps to squeeze a teddy bear or a cushion, but I just pinch my nose if I feel one coming on.

Speak Your Mind