In Year 7, a guy in my class called Anthony had been to New Zealand during the Christmas holidays. He arrived at his new high school with a slight New Zulland accent. It was so slight that a real New Zealander like me didn’t even really notice it, but it was enough to get him hassled by his new classmates. Not the full-on rotten-mango-pelting hassle that I experienced as a newly arrived Kiwi in Australia – but he was mocked. The thing the boys most picked up on was that funny phenomenon of Australian accented e’s being pronounced as what sounds like Aussie i’s when spoken in NZ lingo; and i’s become u’s (as in “eatung fush and chups un the shower”). And the word that most stuck in the teenaged popular imagination was Anthony’s pronunciation of “bist” (meaning best).
That one word became the cornerstone in a shared language which evolved over our 6 years at high school. For example, “full bistness” was the highest compliment you could pay. That’s the “viry bist” was said with a knowing wag of a finger in the air, and usually applied to some witticism or another. ‘Bist’ set the tone. Although there was a mocking quality to how the word became famous, having the foundation word of a language be something inherently positive, meant that the language itself was very benevolent (for teenagers at least).
It was a very masculine language at first, but us girls also made a big contribution. For example, the boys referred to a girl’s period as her “rigs” (as in rags given the ol’ NZ vowel treatment), and us girls called tampons “jeam reig tichnologies” (jam rag technologies). In fact, that was the other cornerstone – most things had a “tich” added, as in technology. Wood tech was probably the reason for this. So it was miths-tich (maths), wood-tich (wood tech) and I was Bithtich.
The unnamed language’s speakers were mainly confined to our class of 30 or so students, but it did spread a bit to other people in our year. After Year 12 I took it upon myself to write down all of the sayings and words we’d made up/repurposed in what I called Every Pinzy Mutant’s Dictionary of Full Bistness (below). In all I recorded 257 words and sayings, not counting nicknames.
In retrospect, although it all started with Anthony’s holiday-acquired accent, the language evolved due to cross fertilisation (this week’s theme is combining) from many language gene pools:
- English, obviously, is the main one.
- Other language backgrounds (we had classmates from Hong Kong, Denmark, Bulgaria and California)
- Northern beaches slang. We were the second ‘selective’ year at our high school, and the older years were pretty rough surfies. They looked straight out of Puberty Blues.
- Internet bulletin board slang (Adventurer’s Realm)
- Popular culture: lots of the sayings were lifted or adapted from movies like Clueless and Sixteen Candles, TV shows like The Late Show – “like a tiiiiiger”, computer games, music, and texts we studied in school e.g. Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
I write about this because I was driving home from Ikea with Jeff and Leo last night. It was peak hour and, unimpressed by a big line of traffic, I suddenly had the urge to shout out: “bit me off with ya bum cheeks ya maggot cunts!” (to “bit off” means to wank) A standard insult you’d yell at someone who was bigger than you as you ran away from them. It made me laugh out loud uncontrollably to have this memory flood back to me. I tried to explain it to Jeff but he was left as bemused as you probably are dear reader. Although Jeff and I were friends at high school, we weren’t in the same group, so all these words and sayings are new to him.
Many of the funnier and more colourful sayings were based on things we’d heard some older surfie say (mainly when drunk or off their face). For example “schmell dis, you have to lick it off”, “you get the nirra boys, you schlip ’em off the rails, and you schlap ’em in the vin”, “don’t be shy, show us your pie”, and “bit me off with your bum cheeks…”
Looking back at the words, you can see our shared preoccupations: sex, masturbation, swearing, distrust of authority, and ways of hassling or insulting people without getting beaten up, but most of all, through the act of its creation, it was about belonging.