When I was working at the Minerva Book Shop in Auckland back in the sixties I came across a newly published and runaway best-selling book called “Let Stalk Strine” by Afferbeck Lauder*. I was immediately taken back in my mind a couple of decades or more to another country. I was a recent arrival from Japan where I spoke only Japanese and English, but suddenly, in the new country, I was having to cope with a new, strange language – Australian.
I was used to culture shock, and to adapting to my surroundings. After all, at seven I had already lived in several towns and cities in two different countries and had attended at least four schools. How hard could it be to pay attention and deal with the new surroundings and the new language? It wasn’t long before the reality hit. In the first of three Australian schools I came up against a young student teacher who, under supervision, was let loose on our class with a spelling test.
No problem – I was good at spelling, mainly because I was already an avid reader. All went well enough with most of the kids until Miss Thing pointed at me, smiled a hopeful smile, and said “Tible.” Assuming that this was an unknown Australian word, I fell back on phonetics and spelt out “T-I-B-L-E.”
“Wrong!” said Miss Thing.
I was furious. “You said tible so I spelt tible!” How else, after all?
“Oy didn’t sigh toible, Oy said tible!”
A battle ensued as they say (probably somewhere in a Shakespeare play) and I went home bewildered and in a roaring temper. Of course, as children do, I soon learned to speak Strine, and even now, when I pop across The Ditch, I drift seamlessly into Strine when in the company of other Strine speakers.
Mr Lauder would have understood my problem. He published other books including “Nose Tone Unturned” and a couple of books that made fun of poncy upper class English: “Fraffly Well Spoken” and “Fraffly Suite”. He even wrote a song: “With Air Chew” (as in “I can't win, I can't reign, I will never win this game, with air chew…”). He was an Australian himself and he knew how Australians talk. He was responsible for the introduction of several Strinisms that have lasted the distance, such as “dismal guernsey” “egg nishner” and “Emma Chisit” – reputedly the reply of a woman asked by a writer at a book signing what her name was so he could personalise the autograph.
Where was Afferbeck Lauder way back then, when I really needed him?
*The confused should try reading the Strine examples aloud