Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On Larrikins and Wowsers

**

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.

37 comments:

paz said...

What I want to know is who would have benn the larrikin in the novel? A new character?

Glad to know you are doing better!

Jessica said...

I do that too...occasionally I use a word or expression I picked up in Australia, and it's not until the silence in the conversation that I realize no one has a clue what I said.

There are some great Aussie words and phrases though!!

Charles Gramlich said...

hum, never heard that word but I like it!

Jan Power said...

I scrolled down quickly and thought you had posted a snap of Lizzie Borden in her dotage. lol

Larrikin is beautiful, I will suggest it to my niece who breeds Quarter Horses and is always hunting for new names.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm....yes. I can really see the usefullness of a word like wowser in America today, unfortunately. Sabena

cs harris said...

Paz, not a character who will be around long. And, thanks.

Jessica, where in Australia did you live?

Charles, it's a great word.

Jan, it would be a great name for a horse.

Sabena, they've long been with us, but in some eras they seem to become more powerful than in others.

Firefly said...

Having lived in Australia for 30 years and, only recently moved to this part of the world, I find the terminology here in north America like chalk & cheese!!
I keep promising myself that one of these days, I shall write a book on the differences.

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