Friday, August 22, 2003

Australian junkie argot

I am proud to consider myself as a generalist, rather than a specialist – a skill-set which came in handy yesterday, when I was put on the spot (at my front door, no less) to translate some Australian junkie argot.

The background here is that about noon, I happened to notice a face peering over my high front-and-side fence. I went outside to investigate, and looking through the somewhat decrepit said fence, saw a man aged about 18 ringing the bell of my next-door neighbours (whom I’ve never met, and in true inner-city style “know” only by the car they drive, or more accurately, park). I watched this guy ringing the neighbour’s bell, again and again, for about a minute. It was obvious that no one was home. He then turned to me and said:

“What are you doing, mate – Why are you being such a gig?”

A most unfair question, in more than one way. Indeed, I couldn’t squarely answer it, and the guy soon left, leaving me to wonder about what exactly a “gig” was.

Then it hit me – for reasons to do mainly with growing up in Ballarat, I have a pretty good grasp on Australian goldfields history. “Gig” was surely a contraction of “fizgig” [also fizzgig, fizz-gig, fisgig and phizzgig], meaning – but only in Australia – a police informer. And not just any sort of casual snitch or dobber, either; this definition makes the 1850s goldfields origin of the word – and therefore its contemptibility – very clear:

A fizgig is a police informer, often in the employ of a single policeman – either paid for each piece of information separately, or they are kept on a weekly wage*

Ouch! You surely can’t get any lower in the Australian social strata that to be a paid, trusted police informer. And the term is no idle archaism, either, I was called it only yesterday, and by a burglarising junkie to boot! And just for the record, I distrust the cops as much as the next Irish-Australian – but to be lectured to by a burglarising junkie – What the?

* The specific URL is this:
(which in turn attributes However, I found the former to be readable as HTML only, and the latter to be a paid-subscription site. Definitely *free* to browse, though is the Macquarie Dictionary’s slang site – oh what schoolboy joy this must be! This site seems an immensely-rich trove of both rude words and editorial anomalies – e.g. “fag hag” is duly noted to be a derogatory term, but not so “fag” or “faggot”, with the latter receiving a bizarre (in such a context) note that it was “originally a term of abuse applied to a woman”. If so, isn’t it about time that the Sisterhood of Faggots (in the archaic sense) reclaimed “fag hag” as a loud’n’proud term for a female, platonic best-friend of a woman?

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