Welcome to the seventh and latest update to the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang.
As ever, some statistics: research over the last three months has added 311 new slang terms, 319 entries have been predated as to their currently recorded ‘first use’ and 2,839 new citations – including ante-dates, inter-dates and post-dates to reflect the continuing use of many terms – have been uploaded. The database currently offers 55,003 headwords (within which are nested over 133,000 discrete words and phrases, underpinned by approximately 630,000 citations). All of this new material can be seen by subscribers; the changes that are reflected by the predates are also shown in alterations in the approximate dating used in the absence of citations: for instance ‘late 19C’ to ‘early 19C’, ‘1980s+’ back to ‘1940s+’, and so on. But as ever, for those who want or need to access the detailed and continually evolving and expanding heart of the data, we have to recommend a subscription.
For an overview, with the fruits of the last quarter’s research in chronological order, all users of the dictionary can go here. This uses the same software as the Timelines of Slang. As usual the research has focused largely on newspaper databases, notably that held by the British Library, the US Library of Congress and, for Australia, Trove. These, by their nature, tend to look backwards in time, but there is also an on-going accretion of up-to-date slang. Thus there are also a substantial number of terms from UK drill music, state of the art as regards London slang, and, to go back to the other end of slang’s history, some 17th century pamphleteering, often credited to women authors.
New terms are marked in red, ante-dates in blue. The format has been improved: entries now link to the specific part of an entry, its sense and where pertinent its homonym number. Unfortunately the software does not permit click-through access (this is in development) , but users will be able to see which part of an entry has improved.
We also offer another guest blog from GDoS Consulting editor James Lambert. In this case, an overview of the terms that have accrued to that ever-popular Australian pastime: the consumption of beer, and the resulting lexis of words for its glasses, cans, bottles and other measures.
Bush Chooks, Barbed Wire and Vaginal Backwash: The language of Australian beer
Traditionally, Australians are famous for their beer drinking prowess, and in a hot and largely dry land, this makes sense. Many are the tomes devoted to the Australian love of beer, and these usually will have a section explaining some of the intricacies of beer ordering in Australian pubs. In fact, the vocabulary around beer consumption in Australia, for the most part slangy in nature or origin, is a highly complex and varied, and hence requires many dictionary entries. Not only that, as times change, and technologies change, and beers change, and drinking habits change, the lexis of Aussie beer lore continues to evolve.
However, for the most part, it would seem that Australia’s slang dictionaries have not been keeping pace with the growth and development of beer vocabulary. Most of the beer-related entries recently added to GDoS represent the first time these boozy yet hallowed words and expressions have ever been included in any dictionary, standard or slang.
One area of beer-speak, however, had earned lexicographical notice: the names of the great variety of glasses that Australian beer is served in. Most Aussie slang dictionaries have entries for the classic terms: butcher (a South Australian original, of disputed derivation), handle (you guessed it, a beer glass with a handle, though now paradoxically a handleless 10 ounce glass), pony (a small-sized glass, just as a pony is a small horse, or in money slang, a small amount), middy (a mid-sized glass, exactly half a pint), pot (a grandiose name for a middy), and schooner (the largest sized glass other than a pint, commonly slangified to schooie).
Occasional dictionaries will also record some of the less common terms, such as lady’s waist (a slender glass which was thinnest about the middle), and the now-historical Lady Blamey, a beer-drinking vessel made of half a beer bottle with the cut edge rounded by sandpaper, named after Olga Blamey, wife of Sir Thomas Blamey, commander of Allied Land Forces in the southwest Pacific during World War II. Legend has it that Lady Blamey taught soldiers how to cut a beer bottle in two by winding a kerosene-soaked string around it, setting the string alight and then plunging the bottle into cold water, where it broke cleanly. For these, the precise capacity was not part of the term’s meaning.
But for the commonest beer glasses, size does matter and pub patrons paid assiduous attention to any changes in how much beer they were getting for their hard earned shekels, sometimes taking ‘beer strikes’ when they thought they were being ripped off. Part of the problem was that there was no definitive authority regulating who called how much what. Basically it was up to individual publicans. For instance, the capacity of the pony usually varied between 4 and 5 imperial fluid ounces, though in days of yore it might even have been as small as 3 or even 2 fluid ounces, variations which depended on where the pony was and at what point in history we are talking about. Today such small sized glasses are no longer used, but they were a sensible necessity in the days before air-conditioning where the only cold thing in the pub was the fridge: if you had a large beer, such as a schooner, it would inevitably get hot before you could finish it (unless of course you skulled it), and as we all know, beer has to be ice cold in Australia – even in the middle of winter.
Eventually some sort of rough standardization prevailed in each state, usually per local regulation. But, even then all was far from clear and the complexities involved have resulted in such oddities as the fact that in South Australian schooners are 10 fluid ounces while in all other states they are 15 ounces. Even a pint is not a fixed amount: again, South Oz is the odd one out, with a pint being 15 fluid ounces, but elsewhere 20 ounces (if you want a proper pint in South Australia, you need to ask for an imperial pint).
Back in the 1990s I myself, a callow youth no doubt, fell victim to Australia’s weirdly illogical beer glass nomenclature. When visiting Queensland for the first time, I walked into a pub to order a refreshing drop, and fully armed with what I thought was ‘the smarts’, I knew not to ask for a schooner, as that would give me away immediately as a Mexican (i.e. someone from south of the border), so I manfully asked ‘Can I have a middie of Fourex?’ The barman just looked at me and said, ‘Sure, so long as you tell me what a middie is.’ And thus learned I that middies are ‘pots’ in Bananaland. Importantly, the barman was not being a smart alec, he just seriously did not know what the word middie meant.
In response to the problems caused by such an irregular system, the various sized beer glasses could also be ordered from the bar by the amount of imperial fluid ounces of the amber nectar they contained. Thus one could ask for a four, five, six, seven, eight, or ten. But, interestingly, not a nine, which was reserved for a 9 gallon keg of beer, more commonly known as a niner. There is also the fifteen (i.e. a schooner), while an eighteenor eighteener is again a keg (of 18 gallons). The only recent addition to beer glass nomenclature has been the much reviled schmiddie, a glass that while happily more than a middie, is nonetheless deplorably, inexcusably, and unforgivably less than a schooner, fit only for swanky bars with wanky clientele who enjoy sipping overpriced boutique beers.
These days, the complexities of beer glass naming is reducing, the old lines are being blurred and schooners and pints are now available in many Queensland and Victorian pubs where once only pots were served, and this generalization of sizes is underway all over the country.
Of course, beer is also commonly drunk from cans (tinnies or tubes) and variously sized bottles, from the very small throwdowns or throwies (250 ml), so called as they can be thrown down the throat with ease, to the short and squat stubby (375 ml), to the large-sized longnecks or longies (750 ml). Naturally, there are synonyms: throwdowns are sometimes called grenades or hand grenades, comfortably fitting into the hand, stubbies are occasionally curtailed to stubs, and longnecks are also called tallies or king browns, after the name of a large brown-coloured outback snake. Any bottle with a twist-top lid is known as a twistie,and in recycling-minded South Australia, a beer bottle which is returnable in exchange for its small deposit is known as an echo. Finally, in the Northern Territory they make super-huge bottles of beer (e.g. 80 fluid ounces) named in irony the Darwin stubby.
Interestingly, even though the distribution of different beer glasses used to be strongly drawn along state lines, there wasn’t much passion around the issue (with the exception of long-time schooner drinkers from NSW being woefully disappointed upon discovering that the lavish sounding ‘pot’ was only a middie, and that that was the biggest beer on offer).Nor is there any passion associated with the names of bottles. But, once we move onto the specific brand of beer, then passion and state rivalry comes to the fore. So, even though size still matters, what is drunk out of one’s glass is immensely more important.
The irony here is that the most popular beers in Australia, the ones that garner both the most praise and the most vitriol, are all pretty straightforward lagers, light, crisp, more malty than hoppy, and more similar than dissimilar. True, there are noticeable differences and perhaps the average Aussie beer drinker has a more refined palate than I am giving them credit for. That said, the general rule seems to be this: one’s loyalty to a single beer means you automatically assess every other beer to be nothing but kangaroo piss, regardless of the manifest similarities.
Whatever the case, the loyalty that certain beers inspires is the source of a plethora of slang names, both complimentary and scathing, for a great many Aussie beers.
Some of the brands of beer currently available have been stalwart items of the Australian drinking landscape for over a century, others have come and gone, and new beers join the fray each year. However, since the 1980s the king of beers in Australia has been Victoria Bitter, first brewed in 1854 and known colloquially as Vic Bitter or VB.This was originally a Victorian specialty but eventually became ubiquitous countrywide. As such, VB has the attracted both the most fans and the most detractors and this is represented in the vast variety of slang nicknames it has acquired, all based on the initials V and B. Naturally, connoisseurs of VB claim these letters stand for Very Beautiful and Very Best, but also Victory Beer (especially after your team has won a game), or Vitamin B, positioning the beer as an essential dietary item for health and wellbeing. However, VB’s anti-aficionados (i.e. anyone with a loyalty to another brand) have been even more creative, from the somewhat mealy-mouthed Very Bad (beer) and Vile Brew, to the harsher Victorian Bullshit, and the somewhat extreme Vaginal Backwash. But, the vitriol doesn’t end there. Other names focus on the supposed emetic properties (occasioned either directly by the taste or more circuitously by overindulgence), Vomit Beer/Brew and Vomit Bomb/Bucket, or else the effects on the drinker’s behaviour, Violent Beer/Brew, and Violent Bogan, the latter referring to the purported personality type of the stereotypic VB consumer.
Tending more towards the neutral range of the spectrum, we also have Veeb(s), Veeber(s), and Victor Bravo, utilising the radio phonetic alphabet. Other names refer to the colour of the cans or labels, namely, Green, Green one, and disparagingly, Green Devil/Demon, or Green Death. Finally, when VB is drunk in states other than Victoria it may derisively be referred to as Visitor(’s) Beer.
But, it is not only VB that has attracted a slangy handle. In Tasmania an intense rivalry exists between Cascade, drunk in the south of the island, and James Boag’s, the preferred beer of the north. Cascade is known as Two Dogs, a reference to the picture of two thylacines (an extinct dog-like marsupial endemic to Tasmania)pictured on the label, while a serve of Boag’s is known familiarly and affectionately as a Jimmy. In Queensland the beer of choice is Castlemaine XXXX (pronounced ‘four-ex’). This is commonly called Barbed Wire, for obvious visual reasons, with perhaps a wry dig at its ‘rough’ taste. A ubiquitous joke throughout Oz runs along the lines of: “Why do Queenslander’s call their beer XXXX?” “Because they can’t spell beer!” Or, more pointedly, “…they can’t spell piss/shit”.
In NSW, two of the most popular beers have been the bottom-fermented Toohey’s New, a typical pale-coloured lager (re-branded by its critics to Spewhey’s Spew), and the top-fermented Toohey’s Old, a dark-coloured ale; so dark that it is commonly called Black.Both of these beers had separate fanbases, but there were others who preferred to dilute the strong dark Old by adding it in equal measure to New, a drink known as a fifty-fifty, but usually just shortened to fifty. This at-the-tap beer blending was so common that asking a barman or maid for a ‘schooner of fifty’ did not even raise an eyebrow.
Formerly popular in NSW was Resch’s Dinner Ale, or DA, yet another lager, now no longer available. The dire consequences of too much DA led to it being personified as Dirty Annie. Similarly, a can of its sister product, Resch’s Pilsner,was called a Silver Bullet, partly referencing the beer’s effect and partly its unique silver livery. Also defunct is the once-popular KB, the initials of which actually stand for Kent Brewery but were held to signify Kids’ Beer by children who were desirous of staking a claim, ever so feeble as it was, on a purely adult product.
In Western Australia, the favourite tipple is Swan Lager, branded with the state’s majestic emblem the Black Swan, which has been jocularly downgraded to Black Duck. Keeping with the ornithological angle, another popular brand of WA lager is Emu (either Emu Bitter or Emu Export), emblazoned with the iconic flightless bird, and consequentially known as Bush Chook, which may be shortened to simply Bushie or Chook, as you prefer. Emu Export comes in mostly red cans and is also called Red Lead (after the lead-based pigment), or simply Red Can.
However, Red Can is also used as a nickname for Melbourne Bitter, and sticking with this colour theme, we also have Blue Can (Foster’s), Green Can (VB), White Can (either Carlton Draught or Swan Lager),and Yellow Can (XXXX). Sister beer to the last of these is XXXX Gold, also known as a Goldie, or a Milton Mango, after the Brisbane suburb where the beer is brewed.
Foster’s Lager is a worldwide brand promoted as “Australian for beer”, however, while it is exceedingly popular outside of Australia, most Aussies wouldn’t be seen dead drinking it. This is especially so today, though formerly such hatred as now attaches to Fosters did not prevail. In fact, it was regularly drunk in Australia from 1889 onwards, and was quite popular in the 1960s and 1970s, as evinced by the beer-drinking antics of Bazza Mackenzie, who exclusively drank Foster’s. It is known favourably as Vitamin F, using the same metaphorical idea as Vitamin B (Vic Bitter).Strangely, for so widely despised a beer, I could not locate any very derogatory terms for it.
New beers keep appearing in the Australian beer space, and so new names will continue to be invented. Some of the more recent additions are Crown Lager, known as a Crownie, Carlton Cold, known as a Coldie, and Toohey’s Extra Dry, called a TED, or, for those who can’t stand it, Toohey’s Extra Dry-retch. Of course, there are also the ubiquitous homebrews, or homies, and the ever-increasing range of craft beers, or crafties, for which more slangy names are undoubtedly bound to arise.
Certainly, Australians have been linguistically ingenious, resourceful, and seemingly indefatigable, when it comes to discussing beer, and it is pleasing to see that these formerly neglected terms have now been duly recorded by lexicography (over 60 new terms added to GDoS). But it should be remembered that Australians have no monopoly on slang names for beers. In Papua New Guinea, a White Can is a can of South Pacific Export beer, while in the US Green Death refers to Rainier Ale. In Hong Kong, a serve of San Miguel is clipped to a San Mig, and has been so since the 1950s, while New Zealanders call a Steinlager a Steinie, and Stella Artois is universally known as Wifebeater. There are presumably untapped depths to beer slang around the English-speaking world, perhaps hundreds of terms, waiting to be recognised and thus eventually find their rightful place in the dictionary.