January 26 is Australia Day.

If you’re fair dinkum, you knew that five minutes after you were born. If you’re anyone else, though, count it as fair warning.

Look, I was in Whistler just by chance on January 26 one year. Whistler, as you may know, is not in Australia, but, as you may also know, it’s a ski resort in western Canada, which means a lot of its staff are Aussies. Now, in Australia, January 26 is not a cold day. Neither (in most of the country, if you ask a Canadian) are 364 other days of the year. But in Canada, it’s a day you may consider wearing a jacket. Unless you’re Australian. In which case it’s a great day to stand on a picnic table at the base of a ski area wrapped in the Australian flag and not much else. And make a lot of noise.

Well, hey, they’d already done a hard day’s work. They had their fair income, and they were going to spend it celebrating their home continent. Fair dinkum.

What, in fact, is fair dinkum? If you’ve seen it, you know it’s generally used to mean ‘authentically Australian’, at least in marketing material and similar self-promotions. (Apparently it’s also used in New Zealand, although when I was in NZ the term I repeatedly saw there was Kiwi as. “Kiwi as what?” you ask. “What do you think?” they answer.) But, more broadly, fair dinkum means ‘the real deal’ or ‘an honest effort’.

The origin of the term is… unclear. It seems to have started out as referring to a decent day’s work, and by extension an appropriate day’s pay (faired income? There is no evidence for that as an origin. A word from a Chinese pidgin has been suggested). But the first known use of dinkum is in the phrase fair dinkum and referred to a racehorse that had done a true solid honest effort. All senses thereafter extend from that: legitimate, fair, authentic, honest, earned. If you’re fair dinkum, you’re not taking the piss. It must be legitimate, because it has the gravitas of Latin –um with the earthy authenticity of the letter k.

All of which means if you’re a fair dinkum Aussie, you’re the real deal from the antipodes. And on Australia Day, you’re still not taking the piss, but you might – at least if you’re in Canada – be getting pisstanked. Well, if so… Cheers, mate!

One response to “dinkum

  1. David Milne-Ives

    Not where I thought you were going with this, when I read the first sentence, between the ‘first five minutes after you were born’ and the colloquial term for penis (at least, in the corner of rural Ontario where I spent my childhood…)

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