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The Preferred Nomenclature

June 22, 2013 Comments off

As an Australian, I’m accustomed to being quizzed on some of the bizarre slang and abbreviations that pepper the Aussie version of English. I’ve heard stories of new arrivals to Australia being utterly confounded by our verbal manglings. Fair enough, too.

“Johnno’s on compo, his car’s out of rego, so I’ll pick him up for Davo’s barbie on Sat’di arvo.”

(John is on worker’s compensation, his vehicle registration has expired, so I’ll pick him up for Dave’s barbecue on Saturday afternoon.)

The most bizarre example I can think of in Australian slang is “Arie”. It sounds similar to RE, which is an abbreviation used mostly in Brisbane for the Royal Exchange Hotel. I’ve heard Sydney folk talking about having a few beers at the Arie, but I couldn’t think of any Royal Exchange Hotels in Sydney. After a while, I figured out that they were referring to RSL, or Returned & Services League, a club first formed in 1916 for military personnel who’d returned from war, which now has branches scattered throughout Australia.

Upon realising this, my first thought was, “You’re abbreviating an acronym! You lazy bastards!” I once heard someone referring to the “Granny Arie” instead of the Granville RSL, and I thought he was taking the piss.

The one that amuses and mystifies me more than most, however, is the abbreviation or malicious mangling with intent of foreign place names. I’m not talking about the Anglofication of city names like Mumbai or Beijing, but the somewhat childish diminutives extracted from the various place names.

I’ve heard ‘Honkers’ used as a substitute for Hong Kong many times over the years, but it wasn’t until I spent most of 2010 in Southeast Asia that I started hearing odd terms for cities in the region. Like ‘Bangers’ for Bangkok[1], or ‘the Penh’ for Phnom Penh.

(The latter convention seems to apply when referring to Cambodia; I’ve never heard anyone say they were in ‘Cambers’, it’s usually ‘the Bodia’ or, more often, ‘the Bodge’.)

While living in Cambodia in 2010, I overheard one English guy planning a December trip to Thailand, telling a friend that he would be “in Changers by Crimbo”. I eventually had this translated to mean that he’d be in Chiang Mai by Christmas.

I know I shouldn’t throw stones, given my country’s predilection for silly and often redundant abbreviation. At the time, I wrote to a friend about this, saying, “By that measure, I grew up in Griffers before moving to Sydders. I’m in Phnommers right now & might head to Reapers next week.”

When I visited San Francisco last April, I was told that the locals dislike hearing the city referred to as ‘Frisco’, and that saying ‘San Fran’ may get you lynched.

I’ve been bugged by this habit of shortening for some time, but then found examples of it in a book first published in 1977. When I read the below extract in Dispatches by Michael Herr last night, I laughed out loud.

When I got back to Vietnam in early July, [Tim Page] and I spent ten days in Delta with the Special Forces, and then went to Danang to meet [Sean] Flynn. (Page called Danang ‘Dangers’, with a hard g. In a war where people quite seriously referred to Hong Kong as ‘Hongers’ and spoke of running over to Pnompers to interview Sukie, a British correspondent named Don Wise made up a Vietnam itinerary: Canters, Saigers, Nharters, Quinners, Pleikers, Quangers, Dangers, and Hyoo-beside-the-sea.)

Seems it’s a much less recent phenomenon than I’d thought.

So if you’re heading to the Bodge, I can recommend Phnommers, Siemmers, Batters, Kampers and Sinners[2], but Anlers and Pailers might not suit everyone.

———-
[1] Admittedly, Bangkok isn’t the proper name for the city either. Unless speaking with foreigners, Thai people call it Krung Thep, which is a shortened form of Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, which is in turn a shortened form of the official ceremonial name for the city, that being Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. So abbreviating this one is fair enough.

[2] ‘Sinners’ being the Wise-ified version of Sihanoukville which, given the town’s reputation, is quite apt.