Strine Review

This is my third encounter with Strine.

My first encounter was when I was 12. I read Let Stalk Strine but missed most of the humour because I hadn't realised it was based on spoken Australian English and meant to be read aloud; I even thought Afferbeck Lauder was the author's real name. (It still sounds vaguely Norwegian or Scottish, but say it aloud three times and it becomes. . . Alphabetical Order.)

My second encounter was 15 years ago when I met an expat American who had fallen in love with the lingo of his adopted country and was buying up secondhand copies of Let Stalk Strine and giving them to everyone he met, as though it were the key to understanding what the heck Australians were talking about.

So to the third encounter. I opened this book with some trepidation. Would it still be funny, or would it go on and on despite itself? The Text edition of Strine collects four slim books written by Professor Lauder, originally published between 1965 and 1969. The first two, Let Stalk Strine and Nose Tone Unturned, skewer Australian English; then Fraffly Well Spoken and Fraffly Suite take a scalpel to British English.

The book varies from the laugh-out-loud funny to the incomprehensible. The “lexicon of modern Strine” is absolutely brilliant:
egg nishner: a mechanical device for cooling and purifying the air of a room
londger ray: women's underclothing

But when Strine is used in conversation without clarification it has to be read aloud if you want to make any sense out of it:
“Euro merli. Wez Jack? I thorty scona gemminer neffer drink.”
Which, once put through the Strine modulator, becomes:
“You're home early. Where's Jack? I thought he was going to come in and have a drink.”

Is this really the way we speak? I kept thinking the Australian accent had changed since these books were first published in the 1960s - given my attempts to read Let Stalk Strine aloud had me sounding like Cartman from South Park might sound if he'd grown up in Christchurch - until a TV promo warned me that I was about to watch a movie that contained “core slang widge”. The next day, someone asked me directions to “the Kram”. “The tram?” I replied. “No”, they said, getting irate, “The KRam!” That's when Professor Lauder came in handy. “Where the fish are?” I asked. They nodded, and I directed them to the aquarium.

There has been some discussion about whether the Text Classics are really classics in the accepted sense. Is Strine a classic? Undoubtedly. Read this book and you'll start noticing Strine speakers everywhere. But beware the next time you go into a bank and the teller calls out, “Nyepyou?” You'll fall on the floor laughing, but you will understand.

Philip Bryan