That extra-cerebral post on books I’ve been meaning to make has taken longer than expected. When reading is one of those things you’ve enjoyed all your life, but also sort of taken for granted, when you turn around to look back at all that it’s done for you, it’s actually kind of overwhelming! Like opening a closet in the back of your mind, thinking you’ll only see a few short piles of your favorite tomes, only to see towering stacks looming overhead, threatening to topple and crush you. My husband and I once tried to remember and log all the books we’ve ever read into a list on his website; I should try and find it. I know we both topped at least a thousand titles, and that’s just what we could remember.
While I work on that, I’ll share some of my favorite New Zealand slang. I’ve lived here about two years now, and I waver between maintaining the “Americanness” of my speech, and blunting it with the adoption of some shortened vowels, mild non-rhoticity, and of course slang terms. I have a natural inclination to adopt the speech patterns of those around me, which I think some people don’t realize isn’t just me being pretentious (I defend Madonna based on that—sure she could be pretentious, or she could be a natural mimic!). Anyway, three of my favorite Kiwi slang bits lie below:
manky – (origin: UK) gross, dirty. I heard this early on when we first moved into our flat with our two native Kiwi flatmates. There was a cat, presumably stray, that kept getting into our flat through open windows*, running up into our attic to poo, and then scampering when we caught and hollered at it. Flatmates dubbed it “Manky Cat”, appropriately, and we’d use this pseudonym to note when we’d seen it about. Oddball that I am, I somehow grew to like the sound of “manky”, and even though I dislike having things about me that could be called “manky”, it’s still fun to say.
munted – (origin: UK, again) drunk (according to Wiktionary, haven’t heard it used that way), broken, damaged, utterly unusable (that’s what I know it as). One would normally apply such a word to some minor object, like a mug that’s dropped and cracked, but Kiwis are not above applying understatement to staggering tragic events in an attempt to blunt the impact, so “munted” became a very popular word when discussing the wreckage of Christchurch following the series of major earthquakes last year. Again, I shouldn’t like such a word just for the sound of it, but I do. (EDIT: I have just been informed that “munted” may in fact have racist origins. Pity, that. If someone can confirm this with linked citations, that’d be great. So far I just have this snippet from a former flatmate, also a NZ native: ““Munt” was white Zimbabwean slang for black people (probably comes from “Monomatapa”, the pre-colonial African state in what’s now Zimbabwe), so “munted” means “badly done, as if it had been made/worked on by a black person”.“)
box of birds – (origin: NZ, I think) cheerful, happy, good, nothing to complain about. I’ve never actually heard this one spoken. I think it’s archaic (as archaic as anything about the Anglosphere aspect of NZ can be). My husband claims to have read it, and used it once in reply to a workmate who asked, “How you going?” “Oh, box of birds.” “Oh! Well, box of fluffy ducks!” came the prompt reply. So it’s an adorable saying, with an even cuter superlative form. How can you not be charmed, really?
Being the bird nerd I am, I also imagine said “box of birds” being a general grab bag of native New Zealand fauna, mostly the types I see around Karori Wildlife Sanctuary when I go there for a stroll on nice days: tui, fantails, silvereyes, robins, saddlebacks, kaka, kereru, and maybe a kingfisher if lucky.
Moving on from language babble, there are two events around town this week that I’m planning to drop in on. The first struck me as a bit giggle-worthy—a debate entitled “Do we wear too much black?”—but I am genuinely curious what fashion folks have to say about the fact that, on any given day in Wellington, the street appears to be full of people prepared to hold (as one onlooker said) a “flash mob funeral”. And it’s not that we have a huge goth population, either. I think I met the entire goth population last weekend at an alt-fashion show. Regardless, I’ll be there, possibly wearing as much black as I can muster just to amuse myself.
The second event is more urgent in my view: a panel being held in protest of Germaine Greer’s upcoming book tour. Why protest a prominent women’s rights activist, especially one who’s also done work with indigenous Australians? Because she’s cost at least one woman her job at university, and been cruel and insulting to countless other women, all because those women were male-assigned-at-birth. The panel discussion is intended to bridge the unfortunate gap between the feminist community and the transgender community, and is being chaired by the fabulous Brooklynne Kennedy.
That’s all for now. I’ll keep working on that lit post. It may take a while, so expect another filler post or two, and more notices about other upcoming events in the Wellington region that are worth attending.
*Window screens are not really a thing in NZ. At least not in Wellington, at least not in houses of a certain age.