A language – by Beth

21 Jun

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).

Inside leaf of my folder, Year 8, featuring a spiral of bistness and also “monkey womunn” – an endearing way of telling someone they were driving you nuts.

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:

  1. English, obviously, is the main one.
  2. Other language backgrounds (we had classmates from Hong Kong, Denmark, Bulgaria and California)
  3. 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.
  4. Internet bulletin board slang (Adventurer’s Realm)
  5. 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.


5 Responses to “A language – by Beth”

  1. Justyna June 21, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    That’s brilliant Beth. I actually did burst out laughing at the “bit me off…” cry. Very amused. I can’t believe you compiled a dictionary with it all! Woa. And the fact that you’ve kept year 8 work stuff. Mental.

    Started to think of all the Penners High slang we also had circling around. Wooza (girlfriend) was a major one and it continues to thrive amongst the Penners peers. There was a group of friends who were strong in making up lingo that spread throughout. I don’t think it was as well developed as your efforts though.

    • Beth June 21, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      It’s all in the way you say it too Justyna! I should record some of them. They were said with such feeling. I was amazed that I can still hear one guy (Pie Head) yelling the “bit me off” cry – it’s etched in my memory forever!

      I remember you saying Wooza actually! There are some that become classics in your life forever.

      Funny that the teenaged years are when these languages tend to happen, but it turns out that as adults we don’t have the ability to play with language in the same way. Have you heard of the story of the deaf Nicaraguan teens who made up their own sign language? That’s amazing: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3662928.stm
      From the article:
      “…children instinctively break information down into small chunks so they can have the flexibility to string them back together, to form sentences with a range of meanings.
      Interestingly, adults lose this talent, which also suggests there is an innate element to the language learning process.
      “We lose the ability to break information into discrete elements as we age,” said Dr Senghas. “It is not just that children can do it, but adults can’t do it.”

  2. Tabitha June 23, 2012 at 4:11 am #

    Loved this post, Beth! I absolutely CAN believe you made a dictionary of the lingo – ever the documenter! I remember a lot of this vocabulary and also the Penrith High words too, but am sorry to report that I never had a tight enough high school group to develop my own. I’m sure I would have been above it all, anyway. Sigh.

    I remember learning in linguistics the difference between a pidgin and a creole: a pidgin is not really a proper language, it’s a shorthand that adults who speak different languages cobble together when they need to communicate with each other; a creole is the fully-fledged language the children of pidgin speakers create themselves, with a complex grammar and everything. Children seem to have an instinct not just to learn languages, but to create them! Truly amazeballs.

    • Karen June 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      I had an incredibly close-knit group of friends in years 5&6. We came up with this complex mythology – not just a language but also personas, part animal, part person, planets, songs and much much more that I’ve forgotten. Our resident documenter has fallen out of touch. Hope to find her again some day.

      Top post Beth. You’re the viry bist (someone had to).

      • Suzysiu September 11, 2012 at 5:06 am #

        Ooh, intriguing. What creative kids 🙂

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