CRAZY TALK

FREE DINKUM

There’s not been much dinkum about lately. Poor dinkum, only wheeled out during election campaigns, when one candidate wants to seem more sincere, more fair, and moreover more Australian than their competitors. 

In fact you never hear the word ‘dinkum’ without ‘fair’. Dinkum is apparently always fair.

But what does ‘fair dinkum’ actually mean? ‘Fair’ means ‘fair’, obviously, in that those who are deserving get what they deserve, and ‘dinkum’ apparently means ‘fair’ or ‘true’, making ‘fair dinkum’ either somewhat of a tautology or something along the lines of ‘really fair’ or ‘truly fair’ or perhaps even ‘the true truth’. [1] In other words, it is just a rhetorical flourish to indicate the speaker really really means what they are saying and is hoping you’ll be fooled into believing them by using a phrase that was probably never actually spoken aloud by diggers, battlers or even nineteenth-century shearers, even though it sounds like the sort of thing that could have. Those that use it should really be mocked as soundly as those who use ridiculous expressions like “a fair shake of the sauce bottle”.

Well, it is time to free dinkum from its shackles. Dinkum—the fairest and truest word for all that is fair and truthful in the land—is being tarnished by people who later are found to have been making ‘non-core promises’, and it makes me sad.

Further, I hope to expand dinkum into a true Australianism, one whose precise meaning in any one situation can never truly be defined except by reference to very specific contexts, complex relationship structures and subtle body language, like our use of the word ‘bastard’.

Think of the possibilities! As an exclamation, an expression of bliss, or as a reference to a particularly fine ale—“sweet dinkum!” As an indication of troubled times, witchcraft, or attempts to betray, deceive or sabotage—“what dark dinkum is this?” As an indicator of all that is pure and unaltered, or a harsh truth—“this is the raw dinkum”. (The latter meaning could also be conveyed by the expression “cold, hard dinkum”). A wonderful cacophony or a clever and complex mischief might be referred to as “glorious dinkum”.

The possibilities are endless. Once you have started, you will not be able to stop. Save dinkum from shabby nationalism and embrace it as part of the true language of the people.

ALICE CANNON, MELBOURNE

[1] There are other theories as the etymology of dinkum. Apparently fair dinkum was what ‘fair drinking’ sounded like when said by a somewhat inebriated person, but what does that even mean, really? Various internet commenters who may or may not be fair dinkum have suggested it comes from the Latin ‘Veras de cum’, shortened to ‘ver de cum’, meaning ‘with the truth’. Another theory is that the word came from Chinese gold miners, who said ‘din-gum’ or something similar when they found gold nuggets. But that internet commenter wrote in all-caps, so I doubt their veracity. Slightly more reputable sources (Melvyn Bragg) suggest it came from the English Midlands and meant work, ‘fair dinkum’ meaning a fair day’s work, and subsequently fair play.

Dinkum goes with everything, except perhaps turkey. Tomato sauce wins that round. [Photograph of advertisement for F. Humphris & Sons tomato sauce, Adelaide and Jamestown], ca. 1910-1930. Glass plate negative. State Library of Victoria, H2009.61/59.

Dinkum goes with everything, except perhaps turkey. Tomato sauce wins that round. [Photograph of advertisement for F. Humphris & Sons tomato sauce, Adelaide and Jamestown], ca. 1910-1930. Glass plate negative. State Library of Victoria, H2009.61/59.