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The Write Way

29 October 2004

X Marks the Spot!


I had a lovely visit last week from a couple of our 'Murkin cousins who are doing the Grand Tour of Australia. They left their camper parked out the front, and we all walked down to the water to have fish and chips for lunch. As we were sitting waiting for our order, we were gazing at the beach, as you do, and one friend asked what the large white cross on the beach was for; I explained that this was where the sky divers landed.

"What? Right on that very spot?" 

"Yes," says I, "right on the X ... every time."

I noticed the small glance they exchanged, hinting that both suspected this was probably another of those Aussie tall stories they'd been warned about. You know, like the one about the truckie who picked up a load in his dodgy old van and had to deliver it to a town up on the top of the Range.

The quickest route was up a winding, narrow road, and he managed to get about a quarter of the way up then pulled over and ran out with a spanner, banged on the side of the truck, then jumped back in and drove on.

Another few hundred metres, and he pulled over again, got out, banged on the side of the truck before jumping back in and driving off.

This happened another three or four times, till a chap who'd been in a car stuck behind him couldn't stand it any longer. As the truckie jumped down from the cab, the bloke in the car leapt out of his seat and ran up, "What's going on? Why do you keep stopping? Don't you know you've got cars banked up behind you?"

"Crikey! Sorry mate," says the truckie, gazing back at the line of cars waiting for an overtaking lane Too Far Away. "You see," says he, gesturing to his truck, "the old girl's not much chop now, and I have to kid her a long a bit. I've got two ton of canaries in the back and she can only carry one and half ton. So I have to keep half a ton of the little buggers flying so I can get up the hill!"

What? Of course it's true ...


I've been lax of late in not bringing your education about life Down Under up to date, so here are some handy tips for those of you who may be visiting during summer. As you know, we Aussies like to spend a lot of time outside - at the beach, at sporting events, having barbies, going on bush picnics, messing about in boats or just generally pottering in the great outdoors ...

What you need to know to enjoy an Aussie summer:

It's not summer until the steering wheel is too hot to hold.

Whether it's the opening of Parliament, the launch of a new art gallery or a visit to the local hardware shop, there is no Australian event that cannot be improved by a sausage sizzle.

The chief test of manhood is the ability to put up a beach umbrella in high winds. 

On the beach, all Australians hide their keys and wallet by placing them inside their shoes. No thief has ever worked this out. We might have very stupid thieves ... or really stinky shoes. 

On picnics, the Esky is always too small, creating a food versus grog battle problem that can only ever be resolved by leaving the salad at home. 

The phrase "a simple picnic" is not known  or at least not acted upon. You should take everything. If you don't need to make three trips back to the car, you're not trying. 

The wise man chooses a partner who is attractive not only to himself, but also to neighbourhood mosquitoes.

The alpha male in any group is he who takes the barbecue tongs from the hands of the host and blithely begins turning the snags.

You've read the story of the Tong Master, haven't you? No? Then quick, I'll wait ... 

The Cultural Tips above are common lore, but I found this particular version of them.  

If you enjoy satire and poking fun at everyone who matters, as well as those who think they do, you'll get a giggle from The Chaser.  I have a soft spot for The Chaser because one of the boys ... er ... fellows who's behind it went to school with my daughter. Ha! How's that for a claim to fame, eh?

Here's something we can all relate to - it's a nifty little online calculator so you can work out how long it takes one of our richest citizens to earn what you and I earn in a year:  To help you use this wherever you live, let me point out that according to the latest figures quoted on The Chaser's site, Kerry Packer made a mere $1 billion last year ... That gives you a comparison scale to use for your own billionaires! (Read more about K. P.)

Now ... ummm ... What was I telling you? 

Oh, that's right ... We were sitting enjoying our fish and chips when what should appear, floating in the sky above us, but four seemingly disembodied legs. As my friends reached for their cameras, the legs were joined by bodies and then strings and then parachutes, and the sum of the parts hovered effortlessly above us for a second or two before making a gentle turn to the beach and landing, shiny side up, smack-bang in the centre of the cross!

The first pair were joined by four more intrepid jumpers, all of whom landed on their feet and right on the drop zone. 

I can see why it could be a tad disconcerting for people not familiar with the area. To be midway through a mouthful of fish and be suddenly confronted with the sight of people dangling in the sky does tend to take your mind off other things. But for those of us who live here, it's a diurnal occurrence. 

First we hear the drone of the plane as it climbs higher and higher ... I think it's something like 10,000 feet. Then we hear the engine change, followed soon after by either screams of terror or squeals of delight. "Yee-ha-a-a-a!" seems to be the call of choice. A few seconds later we're relieved to hear the Pop as the chute opens. Then it's all fun as they swoop overhead taking in the sights on their way to the beach and terra firma.


Yes, that was just showing off, I agree. Why use an unfamiliar word like diurnal when there's a perfectly good ordinary word that means exactly the same? 

Our word 'daily' comes from the Old English daeg, meaning 'day,' and diurnal comes from the Latin diurnus, meaning ... ummm ... 'day.'

Which brings us, all weak at the knees from hurling ourselves from a perfectly good aeroplane, to our topic - synonyms. 

Just why do we have such a surfeit of riches when it comes to words? Because, boys and girls, we've nicked 'em from everywhere we could get our hot little hands on them! Never mind that we had a word from Old English to name the time between sun-up and sun-down. When those Romans came, someone obviously thought, "Ooh. That's a good word. I want one of them," and thus it came to pass that we have words from Old English, from Latin, from Greek and lots of places in between that all mean the same thing.

Here are some examples that came from a wonderful book one of my 'Murkin friends gave me. (Thanks, Ray!) It's a Manual of Composition and Rhetoric, by a chap called John S. Hart, who was Professor of Rhetoric and the English Language and Literature in the College of New Jersey, and it was published in 1877!

As well as two words to describe a 24-hour period, we also have a couple of words to describe the weekly time span:

weekly comes from the Old English wicu originally meaning 'a succession or change.'

hebdomadally comes from the Latin hebdomadalis meaning 'consisting of seven days, or occurring at intervals of seven days; weekly.'

nightly - comes from the Old English niht 'night'

nocturnal - comes from the Latin nocturnus 'night'

This next pair is interesting. We use both to refer to a lack of colour and often yoke them as in "she looked pale and wan." But while the Latin derived word means 'pale' and lacking in colour, the Old English version originally was used to describe something that was dark ... Don't ask me, I'm just telling the story.

pale - from Latin pallidus 'to be pale'

wan - from the Old English wann meaning 'gloomy, dark'

So there you are, we leapt out of planes, we ate fish and chips at the beach, we met up with chums from overseas and still had time for a bit of a delve into the origins of words ... Phew! Don't know about you, but I'm all tuckered out!

Time to lie under a tree and read a good book, I think. Have you got a book buzzing around in your head, desperate to break free? Then let it out ... Here's where you can get a free report and a mini course on how to write your book.  

This week's quiz:

Here are some more words I found in Hart's book - match 'em up (I've made it easy for you with one word ... No, I'm not saying any more, but you'll find out if you're paying attention):

pernicious, tapis, surtout, alamode, periculous, mulierosity, amende, soidisant, thirster, insulse

1. self-styled; so-called 

2. a person with a strong desire for something 

3. a fondness for women 

4. tending to cause death or serious injury; deadly; causing great harm; destructive 

5. pecuniary punishment or fine; a reparation or recantation 

6. dangerous 

7. insipid; dull; stupid 

8. a lustrous plain-weave silk fabric for head coverings and scarfs 

9. a man's over coat in the form of a frock coat, fitting closely 

10. tapestry or comparable material used for draperies, carpeting, and furniture covering 

Aren't there some beauties in there?

Since we've spent part of our time flying this week, I thought you'd enjoy these entries from aircraft maintenance logs (Real ones? But of course!):

Discrepancy: "Left inside main tire almost needs replacement." 

Corrective Action: "Almost replaced left inside main tire."  

Discrepancy: "Something loose in cockpit." 

Corrective Action: "Something tightened in cockpit." 

Discrepancy: "Evidence of hydraulic leak on right main landing gear." 

Corrective Action: "Evidence removed." 

Discrepancy: "Number three engine missing." 

Corrective Action: "Engine found on right wing after brief search." 

And for anyone who's ever eaten on a plane ...

It was mealtime on a small airline and the flight attendant asked the passenger if he would like dinner.

"What are my choices?" he asked.

She replied, "Yes or No."

Last week's quiz:

bedizen, bootless, caliginous, compleat, cotquean, hebdomadal, helpmeet, logorrhea, quondam, wont

1. a man who busies himself with affairs which properly belong to women - COTQUEAN

2. appearing or occurring every seven days - HEBDOMADAL

3. dress up garishly and tastelessly; decorate tastelessly - BEDIZEN

4. having been formerly; former; sometime; person dismissed from a post - QUONDAM

5. dark and misty and gloomy - CALIGINOUS

6. pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking - LOGORRHEA

7. a helpful partner - HELPMEET

8. unproductive of success - BOOTLESS

9. a pattern of behavior acquired through frequent repetition - WONT

10.of or characterized by a highly developed or wide-ranging skill or proficiency; being an outstanding example of a kind; quintessential - COMPLEAT

Thanks again for all the great comments on our Map of the World. Drop by if you haven't been back for some time and don't forget to read the messages. (Just click List) :  

A Little Something Extra

Even though the Internet has shown that our basic human interests and needs are the same wherever we live (we all want our kids to be safe and to be happy; we want to love and be loved; we want to enjoy life in peace ...) there are some cultural differences. And discovering these differences and learning about them is what makes the Internet the wonderful medium it is.

Here are some short articles about what makes us different, so we can see what we share!

"What do you do when a new Japanese business associate hands you his card? Why should you never send carnations to a German? What is the most common way to greet a Latin?

"When you conduct business overseas or play host to international visitors, it makes good business sense to understand and appreciate their cultural differences. By making an effort to close the culture gap, you'll gain respect, increase credibility and foster healthy business relationships." 

"It is prudent to try and ascertain some facts about the dining etiquette of any country you plan to visit on business. By doing so you present yourself to the best of your ability and maximise the potential of your business trip." Read exactly how to conduct yourself over dinner here: 

"Businesses to research their target country's holidays, suitable business or formal attire, gift-giving practices, business hours, acceptable subjects of conversation, greeting practices, meeting formalities and acceptable venues, time sensitivities, body language, and other aspects of etiquette. These differ widely across cultures." 

And this site has a useful list of salutations for different countries: 

Word of the week: Circumambient (adj) encompassing on all sides; surrounding. (from the Latin circum 'around' and ambire 'to go around').

And while we're on Latin words derived from circum, you knew that Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100 foot clipper, didn't you? More wonderful fractured History here: 

Oxymoron of the weekSince we've been looking at culture this week, what could be more natural than to dust off this cultural oxymoron? Australian culture

And a Latin phrase for when you're stuck next to an ancient Roman on your next plane trip:

Nonne alicubi prius convenimus? (Haven't we met somewhere before?)



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