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Every morning someone comes along and tosses a shrink-wrapped log of a newspaper onto our front steps. I am often up before it arrives, but I have yet to see our delivery person. On Saturday, we receive two logs. The second includes the weekend magazines. I always weed out the sports, real estate and car sections before I bring the rest into the kitchen.

The plastic wrapping machine is very cunning, often taxing my ability to find the edge. Sometimes I give up, resorting to a sharp knife to fillet the newsprint. If I set aside some of the paper for later, I may find that it has disappeared during the day. My wife seems to mistake my lack of instant attention for a total lack of interest.

I was a freshman in college before I realized that my vocabulary needed improvement. I decided to look up every single word that was unfamiliar to me from the plays and prefaces of George Bernard Shaw. There were literally hundreds of unknown terms that I hadn’t realized I didn’t know. I began to look at the Webster’s unabridged with respect.

I would try to insinuate the new words subtly into everyday conversation. Words like proselytize and ubiquitous. Try it sometime. I had trouble with the pronunciation guide, so older adults would often correct me, sending me into despair with their apparent condescension. But Shaw’s staggering vocabulary did work wonders.

Reading the newspaper ‘down under’ is like being back with Shaw. “Spruik,” for example. It leaps off the page at me. Such a strange word. It means: to promote goods and services by addressing people in a public place. John Howard tried to pick up points spruiking at the recent summit.

“Larrakin.” Some members of “The Chaser” TV program managed to gain entry to the APEC security zone by pretending to be a Canadian delegation. They weren’t discovered until one of their presenters, bearded as Osama Bin Laden, began to complain loudly about not having been invited. Larakin, first popularized around 1870, refers to groups of cocky, irreverent, working-class men.

“Fair dinkum.” Someone or something that is really genuine. An Australian airline passenger made the mistake of saying this to an American air hostess not long ago and found herself in the unfriendly arms of security when the plane touched down. No joke.

“galah, ” –a loud, rude person, or an insult. “gibber, — a large rock in the desert. Uluru is a really big gibber. “daggy,”– something that looks really bad. (apparently in reference to manure that hangs off the rear end of sheep.) This is a popular put down in the fashion industry. Not many nationalities would have a word for what hangs off the rear end of a sheep.

Many baffling words come from abbreviations, “arvo” for afternoon, “ute” for utility vehicle, “sanger” for sandwich, and “esky” for cooler. (That one comes from a brand name popular in the 50’s, the Eskimo cooler.)

Some have been handed down from cockney rhyming slang, such as “noah” for shark. The derivation comes from Noah’s Ark. Other oddities stem from the addition of a “y” or an “ie” on a word to make words such as “barbie,” “cossie” (a swimming costume), “sickie” (sick leave), and “sunnie” (sunglasses).

This is the land of the “fair go,” where anyone who takes advantage of other people’s labor is considered a “bludger” (shortened from bludgeoner, a prostitute’s pimp). I may be a stubby short of a six pack, but I’ll give it a burl. “Good on ya, mate,” — keep up the good work.

Stay tuned.

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