Greg Dickson writes:
Barnaby Joyce, Queensland Senator for the Liberal National Party, has been havin a bit of a Barry of late, getting a bit of a kicking for being a tad too outspoken. But one area in which he beats other pollies hands down is his talent for wedging Australian English right there smack bang in the middle of Aussie politics. A few weeks back, after being shuffled about by the Coalition powers-that-be, Barnaby told Laurie Oakes on national telly that he’d be telling porky pies if he said he wasn’t disappointed. Ten points for fluent use of rhyming slang on national TV, Barnaby! (Much more convincing than any Australianisms K-Rudd or Julia might choose to bandy about).
Rhyming slang seems to be one of those keystone traits of Australian English. (No matter that Cockney folk were doing it first and probably do it better). But unlike tacky words like bonza and cobber that have become virtually obsolete in Australian English, rhyming slang is still creeping along and reasonably relevant. I have to admit, I don’t use it much myself. My friends’ mum mystified me when she talked of Joe Blakes and while I know what my Dad is on about when he talks of hitting the frog and toad, I just wouldn’t ever say that myself.
Yet I am totally happy that there’s one bit of rhyming slang that could only have entered Australian English in the past couple of decades. Many of my age-group (early 30s) wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you referred to someone as Havin a Barry. Actually, I wonder just how many people who use this phrase don’t even realise (a) that it is rhyming slang, (b) could tell you what it’s supposed to rhyme with and/or (c) could tell you who the Barry it refers to is? And I would love to know how Mr. Crocker feels about being immortalised in one of Australian English’s keystone curiosities by a whole generation who probably cringe at the more antiquated rhyming slangs used by our parents. Does anyone know of any more rhyming slang that was created in the past couple of decades, refers to someone still living and has infiltrated the vocabulary of entire generation? Barry, you should be proud. And Barnaby, you might be havin a Barry in the party room at the moment but you’re doing a fine job of promoting one of the awesomest features of Aussie English around.
PS. Mum, I realised I’m dropping my Gs, but really, would anyone ever say that they are Having a Barry?
Greg Dickson contributes to Australian society and is no longer on the rock’n’roll.