I was writing along on Sebastian Number Nine the other day and just stopped myself from using the word “larrikin.” I vaguely remembered that it only dates back to the late 19th century, and when I looked it up, I saw that not only was I right, but that it is an Australian term—one of the many that crept into my vocabulary without my noticing during the twelve years I lived there. I asked Steve if Americans use it, and he said, “No.” Which struck me as a real shame, because it’s a great word.
So what is a larrikin? He’s basically your quintessential young Aussie male: wild at heart and frequently rather unruly, he laughs often, lives life to the fullest, and couldn’t care less about rules, authority figures, or what other people think. Probably the best known larrikin, at least to American audiences, is Crocodile Dundee, although Flurry Knox is an even better example, if you’ve ever read the Irish RM books (yes, I know he’s Irish, but he’s one of the greatest larrikins ever created).
The larrikin’s opposite is the wowser. Our friends at Wikipedia describe wowsers as those whose exaggerated sense of morality drives them to believe they have a God-given mission to deprive others of their sinful pleasures, which pretty much nails it. Think Carrie Nation, or that guy (who shall remain nameless) who recently got up on American television and said that sex should only be for purposes of procreation and anything else is a sin. He’s a card-carrying wowser.
Larrikin and wowser: two words that fill a definite niche.