Sunday, February 18, 2007

Aussie cliches

From SMH,

You've no doubt noticed the rise in recent months of a mode of speech we'll have to call "the unfinished simile". People now say things are "smooth as", "boring as", "sick as" or "funny as" without bothering to complete the concept. It's a verbal shorthand which avoids both the embarrassment of repeating a cliche and the challenge of coming up with a fresh comparison.

Labour-saving it might be, but as far as I'm concerned it's unAustralian. Vigorous metaphors and similes are a glorious tradition in this country, as demonstrated recently by Kevin Rudd when he speculated that Sheik Taj el-Hilaly might be "a few sandwiches short of a picnic". Rudd could have taken the lazy course and just called the sheik "mental as", but instead he drew on a treasure trove of imagery that includes "a few bricks short of a load", "lights on but nobody's home", "not playing with a full deck" and "roos loose in the top paddock".

Australians have always been adept at turning a phrase, and the rise of the unfinished simile puts us in danger of losing this part of our heritage. Here's a way to prevent linguistic atrophy: in the same way as we've declared The National Flower (the golden wattle), The National Gemstone (the opal) and National Colours (green and gold), lets declare a National Metaphor and a National Simile.

The National Comparison, prime candidates:

Flash as a rat with a gold tooth
All over her like a cheap suit
As ugly as a hatful of arseholes
Up that like a rat up a drainpipe
Driving the porcelain bus (or technicolour yawn)
Waddya think this is - bush week
A basket case (or cot case)
Putting some zeds in the air
All over the place like a mad woman's knitting (or dog's breakfast)
Bangs like a dunny door in a gale
Hanging around like a bad smell.

All are worthy contenders, but my favourite is a metaphor created in the year 1918 by the artist and writer Norman Lindsay, which became so widely used that it ended up with its own entry in the Macquarie Dictionary (defined as "endlessly renewable resource"). Lindsay said his creation operated on two rules: 1) "The more you eats, the more you gets. Cut and come again is his name, and cut and come again is his nature"; 2) If you want to change his flavour, just whistle three times and turn the basin round. Then he'll encourage you to "eat away, chew away, munch and bolt and guzzle. Never leave the table till you're full up to the muzzle."

We're talking, of course, about The Magic Pudding. The world, said Lindsay, is divided into Puddin' Owners and Puddin' Thieves. Paul Keating used to call John Howard a Puddin' Thief, and accused the Liberal Party of repeatedly using Telstra as a Magic Pudding, "from which they could cut a slice to pay for their election commitments." More recently environmentalists have argued that we treat this continent as if it were a Magic Pudding, and thus are exhausting its resources.

So the phrase "a Magic Pudding" is itself a magic pudding, able to be drawn on again and again whenever a politician needs a rhetorical flourish. Lets declare it The National Metaphor.

Or do you have a better idea? Give us your nominations below.


And from the public:

Vanished like a fart in a fan factory
All hair-oil and no socks
So hungry I could eat the arsehole out of a dead dingo
Sticks to the road like s**t to a blanket
Tight as a shark's arse and that's water-tight (Another person would usually add the corollary).
Flat out like a lizard drinking
Even if he fell into a barrel full of tits he'd come up sucking his thumb.
I'm so hungry I could eat the crotch out of a low flying duck
Mate, I've been busier than a one-armed taxi driver with crabs
I'm full as a fat lady's gumboot
He couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag
He's all bark and no trousers
Couldn't pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel.

Any more?

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