Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Beware the Australandian Language Bandit

A friend and I were chatting at the grocery store register when we noticed that the cashier was laughing at us. He quickly recovered himself and blurted out ‘Sorry, I was enjoying listening to the show’. Show? What show? It suddenly became apparent that as two Australians chatting together within earshot of a Canadian the Australandian Language Bandit had struck again.

The Australandian Language Bandit is a tiny, talented and irrepressibly mischievous creature that takes delight in creating conversation confusion. It preys on the boldest distinction and/or slightest nuance of pronunciation and vocabulary without bias towards Canadians or Australians.

Although not detectable by human eyesight, I envision the Australandian Language Bandit with large pointed ears for listening into any manner of conversation, the face of a raccoon with a glint in its eye (to compliment its bandit persona), and powerful kangaroo haunch-like legs to assist with pouncing into conversations. As it is rather theatrical, it wears a cape, emblazoned with its insignia of a question mark surrounded by clouds. Its ‘weapon’ is an invisible cloud of miscommunication that is able to scramble, contort, delete or reassign the meaning or sound of any word at a moments notice, even in the briefest of verbal interactions. Additionally, if you listen very, very careful you may hear its high-pitched, snigger-like giggle relaying its amusement at its own antics, though it is usually drowned out by his victims’ groans of frustration.

As an Australian living in Canada I am a relatively frequent victim of the Australandian Language Bandit’s trickery that, depending on the situation, has left me amused, baffled and embarrassed. In an attempt to outwit this verbal banditry I undertook a study of the creature’s behavior. As a result I am pleased to share a selection of this trickster’s most frequent ruses divided by pronunciation prey and vocabulary viruses and illustrated by personal examples.

It should also be noted that although its primary purpose is to create bewilderment the Bandit’s actions are also occasionally educational and teach Canadians about Australia and visa versa. I refer to the Australandian Language Bandit merely as the Bandit, as it’s egotistical enough and does require further stroking of its ego with the use of its full name.

Although being forewarned is forearmed, people should always remember that it is impossible to know exactly how or when the Bandit will strike when Australians and Canadians attempt to communicate.


‘I’ or ‘ie’
Some Bandit antics are minor and easily correctable. For example, to an Australian, a person who drives a truck is a ‘Truckie’, and if they ride a motorcycle they are a ‘Bikie’. Replace the ‘ie’ with the Canadian ‘er’ and the confusion evaporates and these words can be translated into ‘Trucker’ and ‘Biker’. However, if you ask a Canadian what it means when an Australian says ‘barbie’, ‘kindi’ or ‘uni’, the Bandit’s cloud of communication distortion will rapidly descend, and the hapless Canuck will be unlikely be able to translate the words into ‘barbeque’, ‘kindergarten’ and ‘university’.

Trick # 1: The Bandit will frequently use a guillotine cloud to shorten Australian words and a glue cloud with a squeaker function to add an ‘ie’ or an ‘i’ sound, reminiscent of a mouse squeaking. The Bandit wanted to be different and not refer directly to the numerousness poisonous snakes in Australia. Therefore, in an unusual act of subtlety, it reminds Canadians, through the squeaking sound, that mice are often lunch for snakes. Therefore the Canadians can make the link and remember that there are a lot of poisonous snakes in Australia.

Personal Example: I once asked a Canadian friend what they had studied at uni, they looked back at me with complete mystification and asked ‘Uni-what? Unicycle? Unilateral?’ Given we hadn’t studied zoology neither mice nor snakes were mentioned.

No matter how much an Australian consciously manipulates their accent one sound will always remain the playground of the Bandit. To test this phenomenon ask any Australian to say the simple negative answer to ‘yes’. As the Australian vocalizes the word, the Bandit will be sure intervene and snatch the end of the word so that to Canadian ears the answer will sound like ‘noooooooooooooooo’.

Trick # 2: The Bandit will steal the end of the Australian ‘o’ and place it in an funnel cloud lengthening the sound to Canadian ears hence reminding them that Australia is a long way away from Canada.

Personal Example: A friend once described the sound of me saying ‘no’ as being like I had grabbed the end of the ‘o’ and ran to the other end of the room with it. She often mentioned how far Australia is from Canada.

I am probably a little more prone to this Bandit trick because my name is Claire. To an Australian listening to a Canadian pronounce my name it sounds like ‘ClairrrrR’. Any word that includes the ‘r’ sound is a joyfully consistent target for the Bandit with this trick.

Trick # 3 – The Bandit utilizes, in homage to bears, the ‘grrrR’ sound so that hearing ‘r’ reminds Australians that there are bears in Canada.

Personal Example: Prior to moving to Canada a cheeky friend took it upon himself to do the Bandit’s work. For weeks in the lead up to my departure I would access messages on my voicemail to hear my name said with a ridiculously over-pronounced and extended ‘r’. This supposedly was to assist my acclimatization to living in Canada. Ironically my friend’s nickname for me is ‘Claire-Bear’ demonstrating that he subconsciously knew that bears belong in Canada.

For this pronunciation folly the Bandit has received some international recognition and to many Australian ears it is the primary sound that distinguishes Americans from Canadians. A Canadian saying ‘out and about’ to an Australian will be rapidly grabbed by the Bandit in a crab pincher shaped cloud to sound like ‘ouuut and abooout’.

Trick# 4 – When Canadians say ‘ou’ the Bandit contorts the sound so that to Australians it sounds as if the speaker’s has been momentarily shocked, mid-word, due to their underwear being pulled too tight unexpectedly. ‘Ab-OOOU-t’.

Personal Experience: During a friendly discussion on distinctly Canadian sounding words I was amazed at my inability to detect even a minimal inflectional difference as a Canadian tried to convince me “We don’t say ‘abooout’, we say ‘abooout’. I couldn’t hear a difference but I did notice that my friend adjusted their underwear frequently during the conversation.


Minor Internationally Renowned Vocabulary Scramblers
The Bandit occasionally extends its targets beyond Canada and Australia by collaborating with the Britimerican Bandit and hence is able to include Britain and America in its realm of trickery. Cell phones or mobile phones; cookies or biscuits and sweaters or jumpers are all examples of minor Bandit collaborative vocabulary substitution misdemeanors. The constant fatigue the bandits endured from having to zoom across both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans in order to muster their mischief across four countries limited their collaborative projects and hence most of their substitutions have become well known and easily corrected.

Vocabulary Catastrophes
There is a small pool of words that exist quite innocently in Canada and Australia that the Bandit, at its cheekiest, manipulates so that their meaning changes completely. These altered meanings are manifested by the Bandit’s definition reassignment cloud. Under most circumstances the use of the word with the alternative meaning can be guaranteed to embarrass people once the substitution has been detected.

To an Australian, thongs are usually made of rubber and are a staple in most people’s summer wardrobes. Worn on the feet they are handy for traversing hot sand on the beach. Enter the naughty Bandit and to a Canadian the idea of ‘thongs’ does not translate into ‘flip-flops’ but brings to mind a very different garment that is worn somewhere else completely.

Trick# 5: The Bandit takes great joy in reassigning the mental image of how and where an item of clothing is worn, especially if it involves references to underwear.

Personal Experience – One summer day I was talking to an Australian friend about our forthcoming trip to Toronto Island. At first we didn’t understand our Canadian friends’ sniggering comment ‘you two are REALLY close friends!’ After a moment of bewildered pondering we recognized the swift Bandit hoax. Her comment that her ‘thongs’ and worn out and my subsequent inquiry as to her size and suggestion that she could borrow mine had been scrambled. Our Canadian friends thought that I was offering to lend her my underpants instead of my shoes.

To a Canadian ‘Roots’ is a beloved clothing label often associated with the Olympics. Enter the Bandit, at its most diabolical, and the same word to an Australian becomes the plural of a term used to describe conjugal relations in a highly uncomplimentary manner. A term considered by Australians to be even more lewd than the ‘f’ word. That the company’s logo is a beaver is an additionally alarming visual trick on the Bandit’s part that only makes the word appear worse and even more lewd to Australians.

Trick# 6: The Bandit is a wicked creature that will happily twist a word like a pretzel so that what is an innocent word in one country is manipulated so that is means something abominable in the other.

Personal Experience: An Australian friend who lives in Canada was shopping for a Canadiana gift to send to his niece. He was horrified at the suggestion and indignant in his absolute refusal to even consider buying a sweater with ‘Roots Athletic’ written in huge letters on it. The shop attendant was further confused when to emphasis his displeasure my Aussie friend snorted “look mate, it isn’t going happen, there is no way in hell my niece is going to be seen to be advertising that she has ‘athletic’ ‘talents’ at such things, she’s ten-years old, you sick bastard’.

Vocabulary mystifications
In contrast to vocabulary catastrophes there are some words that either don’t exist or are never used by either Australians or Canadians until the Bandit meddles to cause confusion.

To an Australian a cougar is a four-legged, furry animal that belongs to the large cat family along with lions and tigers. The Bandit, who delights in a good mix-up, scrambles the word’s meaning, as we do eggs, so that to Canadians the term also suggests a completely different feline predator. Perhaps because Australia has so many unusual animals, such as koalas, and kangaroos, the Bandit felt it should acknowledge some more Canadian creatures.

Trick #7: The Bandit can scramble words with a whisk cloud so that the nuanced meaning in one country is whisked away and hence does not exist in the other.

Personal Experience: Walking into a bar as the sole Australian in a group of Canadians I was confused when my friends started whispering and giggling to each other about the ‘cougar’. I looked around, there were no wild animals in the room, nor were there any pictures of big cats of any kind let alone cougars. Apart from an older woman wearing animal print there was nothing in the slightest to suggest safari animals. After some consideration and feeling perplexed for several minutes and I innocently asked the bartender ‘ I don’t’ like ‘Wild Turkey’ so I doubt I will like ‘Cougar’, but has it been aged longer or have a stronger taste?’ It was a good ten minutes before my friends could recover from their hysterical laughter and compose themselves enough to correct my misinterpretation. The bartender just thought I was an idiot.

To a Canadian, the word ‘bogan’ means absolutely nothing and is an example of the Bandit deleting a word completely. To an Australian the word makes complete sense. It is a jovial term used to describe someone who is considered to be less than the purveyor of great taste and who generally has a penchant for wearing flannelette shirts and very tight acid-wash jeans.

Trick#8: The bandit can use its dense eraser cloud of confusion to delete a word completely from one culture’s vocabulary.

Personal Experience: My cheeky brother sent me a quiz that measured your degree of ‘boganess’. My Canadian friends attempted to take the quiz but were at a loss as to how to answer questions like: Do you have a pair of good going out thongs that you wear down the pub? Have you ever owned a shopping trolley? Have you ever owned a Datsun, an old Monaro or XF Ford? It should be noted that the Bandit refused to take the quiz in fear of its own ‘boganism’.

I hope that these descriptions are of assistance to Canadian/Australian verbal relations and that perhaps with time the Australandian Language Bandit will retire from its mischievous ways. I have noticed that after living in Canada for almost three years the Bandit’s attacks are less frequent than when I was new and shiny to Canada. However, from time-to-time, despite my study providing me with defenses, it makes visitations.

Recently I was preparing breakfast with my Canadian boyfriend. As my boyfriend made a suggestion, the Bandit struck like a bolt of lightening and the cloud of confusion descended just as my boyfriend said ‘How about we make a Western?’ to which I responded utterly confused “A WHAT?????”


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