Jonathon Green – visit his website here - is the English language’s leading lexicographer of slang. His Green’s Dictionary of Slang is quite simply the most comprehensive and authorative work on slang ever published. Now whatever you do, don’t read today’s post on a full stomach…
This week I’d like to start with a little audience participation. Take the following words and phrases. Please say them out loud. Savour them. Roll them around the mouth. Then regurgitate them, using plenty of throat on the vowels.
Bark, barf, bison, boke, boot, burp, calf, cark, flash, holler, hook, hoop, ook, perk, put, New York, splag, whocko, whoopsie, whoop, woof, yack, yawp, yank, yarf, yuck, yuke, zool, zuke.
Onomatopoeia. It means ‘the making of words’ in the original Greek, but is currently known as making of words that mimic the sound they describe. In this case the sound is vomiting. Playing the whale (another one), tossing the tiger (qualifies too), speaking Welsh (another for enunciation). Shouting at your shoes. Or those foolishly over-indulgent pals Ruth, Hughie, Ralph (not pronounced Rafe) and Earl. And indeed their Buick. We can call Earl, cry for Ralph, shout for Ruth and talk to Hughie. We can go to Europe with Ralph and Earl in the Buick. While they’re away we can talk to Ralph on the big white telephone. Perhaps, sick this time for home, it is Ruth who is calling Charles and Herb.
The words for vomiting, itself rooted in an Avesta root meaning spit, are rich and varied. Slang, which gives us thousands of drunks, does not flinch from the effects of their debauchery. As well as the echoic varieties there are a variety of monosyllables, and some of them too, if pronounced correctly, may be seen as echoic. They include cascade, cat, chirp, chuck, chummy, chunk, cough, croak, hack, heave, honk, hunk, and hurl. Rhyming slang, always keen to join in, offers Wallace and Gromit.
There is an over-riding image of speech. Mis-directed, slurred speech, speech that comes freighted with what we shall euphemise as the extra burdens that we gratefully deposit elsewhere, but definitely speech. One calls, sometimes for dogs, and again echoic, for seals or dinosaurs; one chuckles, flobs, throws one’s voice, laughs at the ground, the carpet or the grass, one yodels. Nor is it only Ralph who can talk on the big white telephone.
There is much to dispose of and we hurl, we chuck our biscuits, our Cheerios (presumably since this cereal first appeared in 1941), and our cookies. We are disdainful of our cookies: we also flip, pop, shoot, toss and throw them. We also chuck a seven and a sixer. We throw a map (of our last meal, now soiling the floor), we clean house (and paint the walls or, nautically, pump ship). Naturally we spit (and go for the big spit) and spew, sometimes our guts or our beef. We sling or throw the cat, that unfortunate creature who we also whip, jerk and shoot. No species is spared: we feed the fishes, chum the fish and flay the fox.
Food, while rejected, cannot be excluded. We float an air biscuit. We upset the shopping cart and after that we blow doughnuts and indeed donuts and with them oats; we blow lunch, dinner, chow and those hapless cookies. We blow chunks, grits, and groceries. We cheese and chew the cheese. We flash the hash, guzzle the grass and lose our lollies. We wear our lunch if we do not lose, drop or shoot it, along with our breakfast. There is also the phenomenon of the reverse lunch. We uneat, as well as unspit, unswallow and unload. We reverse gears.
All this done we can air our paunch, boil off the stomach, bring up our ring, cast up our accounts, turn up our guts, and throw up our boots, toes and toenails. We can also shit through our teeth. Nasty, but we are not at our best. Gazing down we see we have parked a custard, or perhaps a tiger, images of the ‘spotted’ or ‘striped’ nature of the material that is congealing.
Not every sufferer feels constrained to decorate the pavement. Perhaps he or she has had sufficient self-control to find the lavatory. Hooray. Let us drive or ride the porcelain bus, worship at the white altar or make love to the lav. What a deity Mr Crapper’s invention is to be sure. The porcelain god or goddess. And so, bent over, kneeling, or just aiming from on high, we kiss the porcelain god or porcelain goddess, bow to these same idols, and variously hug, make love to, pray to, and worship them. We may synonymously pray on the porcelain altar, pray to the enamel god, hug the porcelain, hug or worship the throne. Shriven, we stagger away. Unfortunately, the hair of the dog being what it is, we shall undoubtedly sin some more.
And last, but not least: chunder. Most Brits, at least those of a certain age, will have encountered this glorious, but seemingly incomprehensible word amidst the adventures of the Aussie ex-pat Barry Mackenzie, hymned in cartoon strip format in the pages of Private Eye from 1964-73, and featured in a couple of films.
As laid down by Bazza’s creator Barry Humphries (in non-Dame Edna mode ), the term comes from the nautical shout of warning ‘watch under!’. Thus in The Collected Barry Mackenzie (1988) our hero intones, ‘Jeez I’m sorry lady — I forget to yell watch under’. Humphries also offers a more elaborate etymology, based on rhyming slang. In this case the word comes from Chunder Loo of Akim Foo, which rhymes with spew. Chunder Loo featured in a long-running series of advertisements for Cobra boot polish (c.1910–29), drawn by Norman Lindsay (1879–1969) (and occasionally by his brother Lionel). These were featured in the Sydney Bulletin. Thence it moved from public school slang to surf jargon to popular use. A final suggestion is that of Australian lexicographer Brian Moore, whose Lexicon of Cadet Language (1993), adds a possible link to UK dialect chounter/chunter/chunder, to grumble.
Slang lists some 147 terms for ‘to vomit’. The fact that 57 of these, i.e. approximately 38%, come from or are primarily used in Australia and that of the world’s population of 6,895,600,000 Australians, some 22,568,000, represent just 0.33% of the whole, is simply a means of finishing this post
Do you have a question for Mr Slang? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send it on to Jonathon.
image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.