Put down the semi-colon and let the participle dangle

When I started my old job working in the production of closed captions for the telly, I was fairly confident of my knowledge of the English language. I knew the difference between it’s and its, who’s and whose, and other sorts of things that Lynn Truss wailed about in “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”.

And I knew that my job would involve getting all my work edited and corrected, and that I’d receive a list of all the mistakes I’d made with explanations of what I did wrong. I figured I’d maybe make one or two mistakes per episode, and that would be it.

But then I got back the edit notes to the very first episode of Shortie I’d captioned and… it was three pages long. I felt dumb and illiterate. I was sure someone would soon drag me into their office and tell me it had been a terrible mistake and it was back to the dole for me.

However, that didn’t happen. Instead I got better and better. I learned about comma splices and attributive hyphens and the difference between “my pimp Carlos” and “my pimp, Carlos”. But I still got things wrong; I still made mistakes.

What I came to realise is that English is hard. It’s a bastard mongrel of a language. It has all these bits and pieces from all over the place, so while there are lots of rules that children quickly pick up really quickly, there are all these annoying exceptions that you have to memorise – like that the plural of child is children, not childs.

But then there’s the curious thing about English – you can mess with it and it still makes sense. Having excellent grammar and spelling is just a bit of oil to lubricate the works and make the message flow out clearly. But if you don’t oil it, the message is sill there and it still makes sense… eventually.

As much fun as it is to laugh at the poorly constructed ‘about me’ statements on NZDating.com, if I read that HuGGGy1 says he “enjoy sports like dinner concerts im reliable watching videos”, it might take me a while to work out what he’s trying (oh, he’s trying) to say, but eventually I can get the message.

To be really good at English, you have to be a total nerd. You have to practise, practise and practise and train your brain to do things in a certain way. You know how really good musicians have got that way because they’ve spent hours and hours practising? It’s the same thing with English.

And I’ve come out the other side of it realising that it’s more fun being the guy in a punk band who can’t really play his guitar but is having heaps of fun bashing out some tunes with his friends, rather than the lone guitarist spending hours in his room practising a lightning-fast guitar solo but missing out on life.

After I left captioning and returned to a world where I wasn’t surrounded by professional word nerds, I had to tame myself. I was back in a reality where people don’t always like having their spelling or grammar corrected. I’m sure they fear it makes them seem stupid or illiterate, so I want to say, “No! It’s not you! We’re all like this! Perfect English is really hard!”

Free your semi-colon and your arse will follow.

Che-che, bro? Chur, mate.

I recently did a bit of research at work to help figure out how to spell the New Zealand slang word chur (and, yeah, that’s the spelling we settled on).

It’s a hard one to look into because it’s the sort of word that’s never used in any sort of formal writing. Online it’s most likely to be found in blogs, forums, social networking websites, but never stuff like newspaper articles or things written by reputable writers.

The first time I heard chur was probably in the mid 1980s, and yet it doesn’t appear to have made it into any Kiwi slang lists. Instead those are chocker with the kind of words that probably only your great-uncle and his cobbers down at the RSA use non-ironically.

So I guess it falls upon me – oh the burden – to get something down in writing. This is what I’ve found – there are two separate words – chur and che.

chur (tʃɜː)

  • Chur is pronounced with the ‘ch’ in ‘chop’ and the long vowel sound in ‘bird’.
  • It could also be spelt cher, but I don’t like this because it’s confusing with Cher the singer (pronounced ‘Sheer’)
  • Use 1. Chur is used appreciatively, in the way that someone might say “awesome” or “excellent”. Eg “They had a two-for-one special on Tim Tams at the supermarket!” “Chur!”
  • Use 2. Chur is used to show thanks. “Do you want this packet of Tim Tams? We bought too many.” “Oh, chur!”
  • Chur is often coupled with a vocative term, eg, “Chur, bro.”
  • The vowel sound in chur can be drawn out to emphasise the appreciation. “Chuuuuur! That’s awesome!”

che (tʃɛ)

  • Che is also pronounced with the ‘ch’ in ‘chop’, but takes the shorter vowel sound in ‘bed’.
  • Che is a shorter-sounding word.
  • Use 1. Che can be used to mean an affirmative, like “OK” or “yep”. Eg “I’m off to the supermarket.” “Che.”
  • Use 2. Che is often doubled as che-che. This used about the same as Use 1 of chur – to show appreciation or praise.

Origins

So where did this interesting word/s come from? I dunno… But I did pick up a few theories:

  • It’s short for cheers.
  • It’s short for choice.
  • It’s short for true.
  • It’s short for Christchurch.
  • There was this guy in Rotorua who had a speech defect and when he tried to say “choice” it came out as “chuuuuu”.
  • Howard Morrison invented it.*

I’m sure that it originates from Maori English, but how it got there is less certain. It seems that chur and che probably have the same root, but it could also be argued that they might be from two separate sources.

As a disclaimer, I should note that I did a couple of first-year linguistics papers and I have vague hobbyist interest in New Zealand English, but that’s about it.

Most of this is speculation. I just want to get what is in my brain out on the interwebs. If anyone has any more information or theories about chur/che, do share!

* Here’s a clip from Eating Media Lunch, where Howard Morrison claims to have invented chur in 1960:

Update: May 2010

I’ve heard a really compelling theory of the origins of chur from Te Rau Kupenga. He says it’s an East Coast term that came about through subtle changes over time and the influence of English on Maori.

In the beginning was parekareka, meaning “sweet as!”. This was shortened to kareka, then mutated into kelega via regional consonants. That then became chalega, which was shortened to cha, and finally turned into chur.

Update: January 2014

Legendary entertainer Toni Williams shared his story of the origin of chur with Sean Plunket on Radio Live. Listen here.

To summarise: in the 1960s, Toni (who was part of Maori showband the Tremellos) was touring with the Howard Morrison Quartet, ventriloquist John Zealando and others. (I think this was hugely popular the Showtime Spectacular tour.) From being on the road together for so long, the lads started to form their own in-jokes and language, particularly a way of closed-jaw speaking that was inspired by the way John Zealando talked doing his ventriloquist act. This led to the birth of “chur” as a stiff-jawed pronunciation of “cool”. Toni says that Howard Morrison Quartet member Gerry Merito was the one who came up with it. This new slang term spread throughout the showband community, eventually coming into common use decades later. This also led to the creation of “chur doy”, with “doy” being the stiff-jawed pronunciation of “boy”. Toni added that musician Carl Doy was called “the original doy”.

As far as theories go, this one sounds very plausible – a bunch of young dudes in bands making up funny slang. It also ties in with Howard Morrison’s claim that he invented chur.

What I’m most interested now is how chur seems to have come into use in East Coast communities – Ngati Porou country – before moving to the rest of New Zealand. If the Toni Williams story is true (or at least truthy), then how did chur move from the showband community to the East Coast? Any ideas? Share them below!

Wii rule

My favourite conversational trick at the moment is to append “grandma” or “grandpa” to the end of any response to a question.

For example.

X: Did you get horribly drunk at the Christmas party?
Y: No way.
(Implication: Y is a sensible yet dull person.)

X: Did you get horribly drunk at the Christmas party?
Y: No way, grandma.
(Implication: X is out-of-touch with youth culture and is attempting to appear down with the kids, but is just demonstrating even more how hopelessly out of touch she is.)

Teh Matt has one of those newfangled Nintendo Wii things, so I went over to his bachelor pad to play with it. (“Hey, Matt, can I play with your Wii?” = lolz!!!!) It’s really really choice. It sounds like Nintendo have deliberately made it so it appeals to a broader audience than just teenage boys.

I like that’s it’s not just about finger and wrist movements. It makes you get off the couch and throw your arms about in all sorts of directions in order to play the games. It kind of seems like a response of all that obesity epidemic lifestyle stuff.

Already I’m rather good at the 10-pin bowling game, and I even got a silver medal for shooting. I’m not quite at the point of wanting to go out and buy one for myself (, grandpa), but I’m sure the price will eventually come down and then I’ll have yet another excuse to never leave the house.

Ride

On the way to the bus stop after work this evening, a slightly dishevelled gentleman holding a cellphone stopped me. He said:

“Excuse me, miss. I don’t know how to spell properly. Can you tell me how to spell ‘ride’?”

I gave him an R, I, D and E, and he thanked me and continued writing his text message.

Real life

Re the old people who want to see a commercial-free TV channel and TV programming just like the olden days.

I look back fondly upon Beverly Hills 90210. I don’t watch The OC cos it seems kinda dull. But not going to insist that 15-year-olds should get 90210 on DVD and stop watching Mischa Barton being all skinny and messed up. Likewise, I would not trade Eating Media Lunch for McPhail and Gadsby, nor Shortland Street for Close To Home. Contrary to what our rose-tinted hindsight will have us believe television today is actually more sophisticated and complex than it was 30 years ago.

It sounds like the nostalgic oldies would appreciate a digital channel playing the greatest hits of New Zealand television. I know I’d tune in (or download) if Peppermint Twist were to be made available for the first time since 1987.

I’ve seen the future, and it’s on my iBook.

Re Girls Aloud

I was walking down K Road and saw a nightclub was advertising that Girls Aloud would be playing there on Monday. First I got really excited, then I wept bitter tears of disappointment.

See, while The Aloud are my favourite pop group at the moment, sadly, tragically, I won’t be around on Monday to go. Nor will I be here for their Top of the Pops taping.

I saw a press release asking for audience members for TOPT. Interestingly, the group was described as “indie-pop”. I’m guessing this description is being used because there would be near rioting if the awful truth were to emerge – Girls Aloud were formed in a Popstars TV series.

It was Popstars – The Rivals, in late 2003. But unlike the boyband, One True Voice, not only have The Aloud not split up, but they’re on to their third album (fourth if you count the Christmas CD). Their secret to success isn’t hair straighteners, it’s that they work with really good song writers. It takes good songs, not dance moves, to get to number one.

But meanwhile in Aotearoa, there’s still this aversion to people who don’t write their own songs. ‘Tis a pity. There are a lot of talented songwriters out there who’d rather not have to diet and spend weeks away from their families in order to get their lovely pop songs heard.

I envy the lucky people who will get to see Girls Aloud live.

Re re.

A lot of people think re is short for regarding. It’s actually Latinese and is short for res, which means thing. This is what happens when you spend your days looking up words in the dictionary, ow.

Obvious to whom?

I’ve noticed lately that the word obviously is used a lot. Someone will be talking about something and they’ll insert ‘obviously’ before they describe it, as if it’s so painfully obvious that they shouldn’t really have to mention it at all, but, you know, there might be one or two people out there who have lived simple sheltered lives and don’t actually know it.

Here’s an example from a hilarious news item. A BBC3 researcher sent the Bob Marley Foundation an email requesting an interview with Mr Marley, not realising he’d been dead for 24 years. They wrote:

…The Story of No Woman No Cry” would obviously only work with some participation from Bob Marley himself.

Popbitch put it in their weekly email and soon it was all around the interweb and in the papers. The BBC issued an apology, saying:

We are obviously very embarrassed that we didn’t realise that the letter to the Marley Foundation did not acknowledge that Mr Marley is no longer with us.

It seems to me that if they’d stopped considering all that stuff as being obvious and had instead questioned it and looked a little closer, then perhaps this kerfuffle would have not happened.

The Tszarina of Tszuj

The shorts I wear to the gym are getting to be too big for me. It’s ok when I’m doing weights, but when I’m on the treadmill they start to slip down. First it was just down at the front a little, but now they’re starting to slip down over my arse. I know that one day soon I’ll be on the treadmill and my pants will fall down. I’ve been looking for some new shorts, scouring the athletic selections from the Warehouse to Dressmart to Farmers to Rebel Sports, to Game Dame and even to Nike, but I can not find any shorts that meet my needs. I think I will have to make use of a few strategically placed safety pins when I do Round The Bays.

On Sandringham Road, by the rail overbridge, someone has graffitied “Nitschkes” and “Unix Windows”. As a member of the N.O.T.O.R.I.O.U.S centralside crew, I do not take kindly to this geeky invasion of my territory.

I was in Whitcoulls today and noticed that a tie-in book for “Queer Eye” has been released. I briefly looked through it, and it looks like it’s full of really useful information, and not just for straight guys. But above all I was excited and delighted to finally get the spelling for that word. You know when Carson is talking about adding or doing something to an outfit to give it a little something extra? Well, that’s tszujing. He tszjues. It’s all very tszujy and most definitely all about the tszuj. I was spelling it zhoozh, but tszuj is so much better because it has three consonants in a row.

My cellphone is dying. Even when the battery is fully charged, it doesn’t even have enough power to stay on for a whole day. But even if I have it plugged into the charger, it randomly decides that it can’t pick up the network. It’s probably more inconvenient than not having a phone. I think I need to start, like pimping or dealing or something so I can buy a new phone. And some tszujy running shorts. Urgh. Modern life.

Spice up ya life

Some people use words to stall for time while they’re thinking. Um, I used “um” quite a lot. “Um” is ok because it’s essentially meaningless. I was down at the local kebab shop tonight and there was a fellow kebab shop customer whose word was “yeah”. So when the kebab guy asked what he wanted, the conversation went like this:

Kebab guy: Yes.
Yeah guy: Yeah, a doner kebab, thanks.

Ok, so that’s nothing out of the ordinary, but then this happened:

Kebab guy: Would you like chilli sauce?
Yeah guy: Yeah, just yoghurt thanks.

So as soon as he said “yeah” the kebab guy picked up the chili sauce bottle and squirted chilli sauce all over the kebab. The yeah guy paused to object, but then seemed to realise that he’d just agreed to it and shut up.

Novelist

One day in late October, while doing the daily web page rounds, I read on Moira’s web page that she was going to write a novel the next month. I was intrigued and clicked on the link and discovered the wonderful world of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it gets shortened to.

The basic idea behind it is that participants write a 50,000 word novel entirely in the month of November. This works out to an average of about 1666 words a day. The motto of NaNoWriMo (“No plot? No problem!”) means that instead of labouring over contructing meaningful sentences of literary genius, just sitting down and banging out whatever works come in to your head is ok.

In theory, participating in NaNoWriMo is a way of making yourself write that novel you’ve always felt you could write. The thing is, I’ve never felt compelled to write a novel. But NaNoWriMo sounded like a bloody silly and rather fun thing to do, so I signed up and became part of NaNoWriMo 2001.

Shortly after midnight on 1 November I started writing. I had a basic premise in mind – I was going to write about a chick who worked at a movie theatre – but I had no idea what I was going to write. I thought back to the last time I’d written fiction. It was ten years ago, when I was at school (unless you want to count Doreen McKay’s romantic fiction). I sat in front of my computer and wrote a bunch of complete arse. It was great.

Most days I wrote about 2000 words. One day I only wrote about 1000 because I had concussion, another day I managed about 60 words because I couldn’t be bothered. I had no idea what I was going to write about. There was no beginning, middle or end. I’d just sit down and start writing and would usually manage to come up with enough plot that I didn’t have to resort to dumb filler tricks.

Sometimes (i.e. most of the time) I got lazy and started writing in pre-existing characters. The McKay Family, Dr Kraw, Bob and Karen, Keith Flinton all made appearances, as well as Ronny Xiang’s Golden Lucky Horse Oriental Emporium.

About a week into it things got a lot easier when my lovely new iBook arrived. Instead of being trapped sitting in front of the crappy old slow computer, I had a nice, fast, portable laptop. It meant that when I went to the beach for a weekend I could still write.

There was a discussion board set up for people doing NaNoWriMo. I avoided it because it seemed to be mainly used by really mental people. The kind of people who would post about how their inner voice had instructed them to make their main character an alien. Other people would angst about suffering from writer’s block. Like it’s hard to write shit.

As the month went on I noticed that I was able to write a lot faster. Where in the beginning 2000 words would have taken me about five hours, I was now able to do it in only two. And I didn’t keep delaying so much that I’d be up ’til three o’clock in the morning.

I also noticed that my perception of film and TV stories changed. It was like when I learned to play the guitar – suddenly rock music was demystified. I could recognise really easy-to-play chord progressions and no longer was in awe of someone playing a guitar. It was the same with films and TV programs. Storylines and plots were no longer decided by some divine guidance, instead I knew that there was someone, somewhere sitting in front of a blank piece of paper thinking how on earth they were going to end it, then coming up with some half-arsed idea and somehow making it fit.

Along the way I was interviewed as part of the daily profiles of people doing NaNoWriMo. It was a funny interview, giving a rather interesting profile of me as a seductress. It’s probably my fault. Being in a creative, making-stuff-up mood, I kind of made up a bunch of stuff when I was answering the interviewer’s questions.

Eventually I hit 50,000 words on 25 November. I was so glad, so very glad to have finished it. My attempt at being dark, gritty and alcoholic in tone didn’t work and I found myself writing a reasonably upbeat and life-affirming ending. I’d discuss what I wrote in more detail, only I can’t really remember what I wrote.

So now I have a 50,000+ word novel sitting on my hard drive. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m planning on printing it out, reading it and if I’m not too disgusted with it, I may stick it up online.

I guess now I can say that I’m a novelist (“Soy un novelista!”), albiet a shit one. Like many things I do, it was some thing that I did so that I could say that I did it. So here we go. I wrote a 50,000 word novel in a month. Choice, eh?

Choice

One of my favourite words is choice. Not as in, “you have a choice between red or purple.” Not as in, “choice apples! 50c a kilo!” But rather choice as in “choice, bro.”

The first time I heard the word choice being used with this meaning was in 1984. One day one of the bad-arse Maori boys, who knew all the rad breakdancing moves, started saying it. At first I thought he was saying “Joyce” (who’s Joyce?), but as soon as I figured out that it was choice, I too started describing things as being choice.

Any good Kiwi slangtionary will have choice amongst its list. Various synonyms are given to help define it. Words such as excellent, nice, cool, awesome, and very good are usually suggested, but none of them really define the true spirit that choiceness is. The meaning of choice is a classic example of, “if you have to ask, you’ll never know.” Choice is choice.

Choice is really part of life as a New Zealander. It’s almost like it’s part of the genetic make up. Almost that you can’t help say it, and sometimes you say it and you’re not even aware of it. I found these two examples of the ingrained effect of choice.

This is from a discussion on benbrown.com, where someone had accused Ben of fabricating a discussion between him and Ani:

KMB: I don’t know if Ani (a Kiwi) would really say “Swell!” Maybe “neat!” or “choice!”, but “swell”?

animoller: Hahahaha, you people are morons. Of course he didn’t fake it. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard all day. I do say swell. I do not say “choice”.

benbrown: You do so say “choice!”

dakota: Yeah, I’ll have to side with Ben. You say choice.

And this is from deangray.org, where he describes doing a skydive:

Before I could gather my bearings or muster my senses back into order, my instructor carefully pulled the goggles from my eyes.

My instructor: “How was that?”
Me: “It was.. uh.. choice.”

“Choice” was the only superlative my brain and mouth could manage at that particular point.

See? Choice is there, whether you like it or not. Choiceness flows through your veins, it is in the air that you breathe! Choice is everywhere.

But there have been times where I’ve felt self-conscious about saying choice a lot. I’ve tried to stop, but somehow it just wasn’t possible.

So I eventually realised that choice is part of me and my cultural heritage. I don’t have folk dancing, weaving or pottery to define who I am culturally, but I have choice and all its associated choiceness. Yes, choice is choice.