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A word of difference

"Pashing" and other New Zealandisms get the kiss-off in this dictionary but there is still much to enjoy.

In 1958, I came to New Zealand, which was, supposedly, "more English than the English". Not so, in all sorts of ways. One of the things I noted in my autobiography, Bums on Seats, was that "there was a new language to learn. There were baches and baching, Karitane and Plunket nurses; 'pashing' instead of 'snogging'. There was the TAB and the DIC. Men talked about off-course substitutes, bits of No 8 and two-by-fours. Ladies brought plates and did something extraordinary: they luxed Venetians."

How many of these words new to me in 1958 have made it into The Oxford Dictionary of New Zealandisms, this "collection of some six and a half thousand distinctive New Zealand words and usages, with around half of that number in actual use"?

Most are in but not the DIC (Drapery Importing Company) or "pashing". (But lo and behold, from Steph Walker's recent Theatreview review of the Court Theatre's Cabaret, there it is: "everyone gets a pash".)

The Oxford Dictionary of New Zealandisms is, in a sense, a compact and more up-to-date version of Harry Orsman's wonderful Dictionary of New Zealand English of 1997 (which I inexplicably didn't buy - does anyone have a copy they can sell me?).

Rather than plod through every page, I dipped. When I saw the word fa'afafine (a Samoan male transvestite or transsexual), which I hadn't heard of until seeing the play A Frigate Bird Sings by Oscar Kightley and Dave Fane in the late 1990s, I thought this would be the source. But no, it was a 2002 article in the Sunday Star-Times.

I worked myself up into a fine lather of indignation that the researchers hadn't gone to plays as a source. Novels, of course (even though when it comes to dialogue many authors have tin ears).

But when I came across "glide time" and found my play was the source, I had to change my tune. Playwright David Geary is also used, and the movie Skin Deep. There may be more playwrights and films quoted, but without an index of sources (surely not that hard to produce and the Orsman supplied such a list), I couldn't check. And in this day and age, the printed word surely should not be the only authority. One imagines a great source of New Zealandisms could be found in Outrageous Fortune.

Not so much out of vanity but because I had a copy at hand, I reread Glide Time to see what other words should perhaps qualify for inclusion. None of the following from the play is in: Big Ben (pies), Best Bets, Gay Lib, McKenzies, GSB (Government Stores Board), SPCS (Society for Promotion of Community Standards), the latter being especially surprising, considering how much media attention Patricia Bartlett gained in her time. But one other word did make it from the play and is acknowledged: "a naughty" (sexual intercourse).

Also not making the cut was the only word the English cast of Middle Age Spread needed an explanation for: "Jaycee".

Many of the attributions are infuriating in their lack of detail. More than once there is an attribution to Six Pack Three, a collection of new Kiwi writing published in 2008 - eg "fobby", an adjective from FOB (fresh off the boat). Surely the actual writer should be named (in this case almost certainly Samoan Marisa Maepu). "Choice" (excellent, splendid) is taken from the 2007 Huia Short Stories 7. Which author, for heaven's sake? For "half-g": "In our day we would get a half-g and head down to the river and drink it thinking we were terribly naughty." The source is a 2008 Hansard, but which MP?

But for all that I found it irritating, this is a great book to have around, dip into and be reminded of the richness of our language. Here's a sort of history just from evocative words in the book: fonged, thermette, the murder house, the dosing strip, procesh, beige brigade, waka-jumping, Remuera tractor, zorbing and SOOB (single owner-operated brothel).

Keep a copy on the bedside table; then you can have a little touch of Harry (Orsman) in the night.

THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF NEW ZEALANDISMS, compiled by Tony Deverson (Oxford, $39.99).