MAILBAG

We welcome readers’ comments on their recent observations of Australian usage, both positive and negative, and their queries, particularly those not easily answerable from the standard reference books.

================================================================

NEW KILLER

ReaderT.L.of NSW wrote to me recently asking whether the pronunciation /dip-theer-ree-uh/ for the diseasediphtheria was now being accepted by dictionary-makers as an allowable variant. We list this pronunciation in the third edition ofThe Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary (1997), but point out that it is considered incorrect by some people. The ‘correct’ pronunciation is as T.L. implies,/dif-theer-ree-uh/, but the/dip-/ variant is now gaining wide acceptance. ReaderGareth Smithof WA wrote that his dictionary (unspecified) gave the pronunciation of off as/awf/. Gareth commented that he had never heard that pronunciation in Australia. I’m not surprised. It doesn’t exist in Oz, the powers be praised!Awf is an awfully upper-crust toffee pom pronunciation. The Queen, no doubt,awfs all the time, even when she is inAwstralia. I am sure, Gareth, that first, your dictionary is pretty long in the tooth and, secondly, it was intended for poms, even though marketed in Oz.Recent English Oxford dictionaries give the pronunciation/of/ as their preferred pronunciation and relegate/awf/ to second place. While on pronunciation I should mention that I have heard quite a few people pronouncenuclear asnew killer (one of them, sad to say, an ABC announcer). It may well be a new killer, but it is illiterate to pronounce it as such./nyoo-klee-uh/ is the only allowable way to go.Ed.

*****

GETTING FURTHER FROM FARTHER

Please tell me when to use ‘farther’ and when to use ‘further’. This pair may even provide you with stimulus for another article. Thank you.

David Grant
Vic

The distinction betweenfarther andfurther (each can be adjective or adverb) was introduced by grammarians in the nineteenth century. They had a lot to answer for, those grammarians! Prior to their meddling both words had the same meaning and farther was just a spelling variant offurther (as wasferther etc.). Thus inCursor Mundi (c.1300) we find,‘Help him or thu ferther wend’ (‘Help him before you go any further’), and in c.1520 we find Godolphin writing,‘I could not macke no fferder serche’. Our grammarians insisted that farther (adj. and adv.) be used when it acts as if it were the comparative of far (adj. and adv.), thus ‘the farther shore’, ‘I can spit farther than you’, and that further be used when the sensefar is not present at all (‘I need no further hints, I’ll go’). The same is meant to apply to the superlatives farthest and furthest. The rationale behind this thinking, I suppose, is that there was originally a comparative of far and this was farrer. It was displaced by farther (and by further, I need hardly add). By the bye, farther can never now be used in the sense ‘moreover’ (‘Farther, there is the problem of...’) or as a verb (‘She hoped the Victorians would farther her cause’).

My advice is that you use further in all senses and let farther recede into the further distance—it is either fussily literary or prissily pedantic now. Out of idle curiosity I did an Internet search for both words and found that in the UK and Australia there were roughly about 99.4% who ‘furthered’ and only about .06% who ‘farthered’. Oddly (but I can’t quite make sense of the figures), there seem to be many more ‘fartherers’ in the USA. ‘I pray you, beare with me: I cannot goe no further’ (As You Like It). Ed.

*****

IRISH vs COCKNEYS

With regard to your article on Aitch and Haitch in the June 1998 issue of Ozwords... why blame the Irish in Australia? Cockneys drop their whatevers all the time and surely they had more influence in early Australia than Irish nuns and monks?

Sam Weller
Qld

Blessyou, I don’t blame the Irish at all. Perish the thought! (By the bye, is your name really Sam Weller or are you a Pickwickian?) Nor do I blame the Cockneys. The dropping of the letterHis a distinctive marker in the Cockney dialect. This raises the interesting metaphysical question: can one ‘drop’ an /h/ which one didn’t have to begin with? The Oxford Companion to the English Language has a delightful quotation from Robert Barltrop and Jim Wolveridge’s bookThe Muvver Tongue:

Cockneys drop h’s. So do the French.... The teacher’s case is that ‘h’ should be sounded on English words because this is the established practice. So it is—but not among Cockneys. They know that h’s are there and put them in in writing; but to use them in speech is ‘talking posh’. Their omission does not lead to misunderstanding, except by non-Cockneys.... One Sunday morning ... I sat in a bus behind a man who had his little boy of about four on his lap. The child had a picture-alphabet book, and the father was explaining it carefully; when they came to h, the picture was of a hedgehog. The man said: ‘that’s an edgeog. It’s really two words, edge and og. They both start with h. I haven’t a clue as to who had the greater influence on the development of Australian English, the Irish or the Cockneys. I shall research the question and write to you if I unearth anything of interest.Ed.

*****

ANCIENT JEANS

To settle an argument, could you tell me where the word ‘jeans’ for ‘denim trousers’ came from? I say that the garments were first made by an American named Levi whose first name was probably ‘Gene’, but my husband says the trousers were probably invented by a Frenchman called ‘Jean’ whose idea was then pinched by the Yank. I was originally American and my husband was originally French.... We are both old Ozzies now and we both love Ozwords.

Mrs M. C.
NSW

Your husband is wrong. That to begin with. But I’m sorry to have to tell you that he is closer to the truth than you are. Geographically, at least. The word jeans came into English from Genoa via the medieval Latin name for that Italian city, Janua. Genoa manufactured a kind of coarse twilled cotton cloth which the English called jenes fustian, later shortened to jeans etc. Thus, in 1567, the Sarum Churchwardens’ Accounts mention ‘ij yerdes of Jene fustyan’, and in 1577 The Registry of the Archdeaconry of Richmond makes a note of ‘ij yardes of whitt geanes’. Garments, including trousers, made of this material, were also called jeans (variously spelled). I’m delighted that you both love Ozwords.Ed.

*****