That’s how my mum used to describe me when I was 11 or 12 or so, and shooting up like a beanstalk. You don’t hear the word cranky these days. It was a word of the 1940s and 1950s – a word of a bygone era. You don’t hear lanky much these days either. Or cobber or bonzer.
They’ve gone, or all but gone. Like zac and bob and two bob and florin and quid and twopence and ha’panny and tray and deena – all words that have lost their currency.
Johnny: Sure, Teacher. De light was out, de pot was full, so I did it in de fender.
Dosh and spondoola have also gone, and no one calls anyone a bot any more. For a time bots and botting were transformed into scabs and scabbing, but they too have disappeared – slid out of the language like a kid slipping out of side gate to wag school for the afternoon. Nowadays, if I want to read Kay Arthur’s story Wagging to a group of kids I have to explain what the term means; they understand the concept, of course; it’s just the term they don’t know. Kids don’t ‘nick off’ or ‘play hookey’ or play truant any more. I never once wagged school – I was never game, never had the guts to wag school.
Wag also had other connotations too that no longer have currency. Once you might say of someone: ‘He’s a bit of a wag’ – meaning that he’s a card, or a trick. A wag was someone who could make you laugh at their antics – a practical joker, a trickster.
Then there was chin wag. – or as my dad called it, jawing. A chin wag was a chat, a talk.
I was born in 1953, and grew up at a time when Australians spoke of Japs and Krauts, when the only kind of spaghetti you could buy in a cafe was Kiaora brand tinned spaghetti’ – spaghetti in a thick tomato sauce, and usually served on toast.
I was certainly lanky. At 14 I was already taller than both my father and my mother – the second tallest boy in my class at school. My mother was five foot two ... Being five foot two – petite – was fashionable back then.
Five foot two, eyes of blue
But oh what those five feet can do
Has anybody seen my gal?
Five foot two – I don’t even know what that is in metric.
Dad wasn’t much taller; five foot four.
Dad was 14 when he left school. His full name was Herbert Garibaldi Carozzi. When Dad left the Catholic school in Coburg he was in Grade 5. He’d been ‘kept down’ several times, and could neither read nor write when he left.