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Your 'China' May Take You for a 'Galah' If You Don't Know What 'Swish' Means

By "Mr Micawber"

WHILE there's language

there'll be slang. While there's an Army it will be pic- turesque. It grows from no- where, overnight, is turbulently popular for a few days, then mostly dies out and is forgotten in a week.

Yet some of the words remain and become part of the soldier's every- day language. Take "Wouldn't it," for example. No phrase coined in the last 50 years has enjoyed more uniyersal popularity, and it is used even more freely today than it was back in '39, when some overtaxed rookie used it to give vent to his tor-

"A Galah is a soldier of doubtful

brain capacity . . ."

tured feelings. There have been "Wouldn't it" jokes, "Wouldn't it" poems, even a "Wouldn't it" song that became a hit. To the soldier it   is still a priority 1 job.

There I go! A "priority 1 job" was, originally, a fatigue to be done at once. By the devious process of evo- lution it came to mean "important," and now anything of importance is a "priority 1 job," irrespective of its urgency. So leave is "priority 1," though not due for another 10 months, while getting back for evening dismissal is "priority 1" to a wood-gathering party marching off to duty just after midday munga.

"Munga" is another of the basic words. Some say it's derived from the French "manger," which the first AIF called "mangy." Others derive it from the Gyppo "mungaree," but at all events meals in the Army are invariably "munga," have been for the last 2 years, and look like being until the war ends. It's a DP 1 word.

D P 1? Translated it means "Draft

Priority 1." You must be DP 1 be- fore going to a battle station: which means physically and dentally fit, fully trained, neither too young nor too old, and in possession of a full kit right down to and including an enamel mug and a black-handled pocket knife. If you're DP 1 you're a soldier par excellence. So, natur- ally, when you're feeling fit and well you feel DP 1. When the mail ar- rives you're DP 1 for letters. The parcel from home makes you DP 1 for a cake. When you're hungry you're DP 1 for munga, when tired DP 1 forsmoke-oh, when feeling fed up with the Army you're DP 1 for


It has finer shades of meaning, too. The photo of your best girl displays a decidedly comely wench - she's a DP 1 lass. Your pyjamas are green with a flaring red dragon, and

"A No-Mater will . . . whisper nasty things about you in the

sergeant's ear . . ."

they're definitely DP 1 pyjamas, though you must have been a "galah" to have bought them in the first place. A "galah" is a soldier of doubtful brain capacity. Back in '39 we called him a "drone," but "drone" is definitely out. It's archaic. "Pea- nut" is a substitute for "galah," but it's mostly used in that very expres- sive phrase "How are these peanuts?" Like "Wouldn't it?," it's an escapist relief from being messed about by the powers that be. At 0600 hours, which is reveille, you're told there'll be an address by the CO at 0900 hours, dress to, be worn being shirt, slacks, gaiters. ' At 0630, when you're fully dressed, shorts and long socks are substituted for slacks. At 0715 shorts are out, and service dress be- comes the order. At 0830 shirts and slacks are in again, and at 0850 the parade is cancelled. The unfortunate soldier casts his eyes to heaven, breathes heavily, and mutters, "How are these peanuts!" His "china," standing next to him, makes the

formal antiphonal response "How ARE they!" and work proceeds as


The "china," by the way, is short for "china plate," equals "mate." Wouldn't that one! Mostly your china is a "no-hoper." Which doesn't mean he despairs, or is a pessimist, but that he's a hard case, for whom there's no hope of salvation. For- tunately he's not a "no-mater." A "no-mater" will put your weights up, toady to the officers, crawl to the sergeant-major, whisper nasty things about you in the sergeant's ear. and generally "get on" by "no mating" you. He's not a nice type, and deservedly gets "done," which is short for "done over," and means "beaten up." While he's being "done" he frantically protests it was some- body else who told the sergeant you were "swish" last night.

"Swish" means AWL, and has quite replaced "ack willie." In its turn it is being ousted by the most pictur- esque phrase of this or any war: "Go

through." To go AWL is to "go through the fog," or, more shortly, to "go through." But it has other shades of meaning, too, even finer than DP 1. You put your cigarettes down for 5 minutes-and find they're gone. Somebody has gone through on them. Your car breaks down miles from anywhere - the carburetter has gone through on you. You've ar- ranged to meet your china for a couple of grogs, and he doesn't turn up. He, too, has gone through on you.

Its meanings are quite limitless, and decidedly expressive. No phrase was ever more pliable, or easily moulded to your mood. Even the sergeant-major, who promised a free day Sunday, goes through on you and hands out a fatigue, after you'd "teed up" a pretty little AWAS for the day. Being overwrought, you tell him to pull his head in - and 10 seconds later you're "under," which is "under arrest." "Pull your head in" is the bright retort of this war. It's "don't be an ass," and has got more belligerent soldiers into strife than all other slang put together. For your cobbers it is magnificent, but for the sar-major . . .!

WELL, you get fined a dollar, and

for a while you rankle and "give the game away," or else "give it back to the blacks." Your heart's not in your work, but soon you brighten up, and once again "soldier on." Your china reminds you, as he has been this last 4 years, "You gotta laugh, doncher?" And you laugh. ."Yes, sport," you answer, "yer gotta laugh." "Sport" is the normal form of address from one ranker to another, although "George" is popular and you sometimes hear "Joe Blue."

The Air Force and Navy boys speak a different language from us. We've borrowed "browned off" from the fliers, to imply we're fed up, and "flat spin" too, although our own word, "panic," for dithering, is even better. But when the "drongoes" start "shooting a line" we're a bit bewil- dered.

The Navy has us completely tossed. We don't even try to make sense

from their expressions, though they certainly sound DP 1. We give them right away.

No mention of semi-permanent slang would be complete without "ho-ho-ho." The 9th Divvy in- vented it, and it's THE call for all occasions of excitement. You don't say it, you yell it, to express ap- proval or disapproval or nothing in particular. When the lights fail at the outdoor pictures a chorus of "ho-ho-hos" beats against the stars. When a kangaroo rat bounds out of the jungle "ho-ho-hos" echo through the undergrowth. When mess parade is held up the men "Ho ho-ho" their annoyance. The officer supervising grins, mutters something about galahs, but, deciding that going through for his own meal is a priority 1 job, he enjoins the cooks to "Snap out of it." They obey. Hungry men file through and collect their DP 1 munga.

Soon slang is stilled: it's hard to talk with your mouth full.

"... A chorus of 'ho-ho-hos'

beats against the stars . . ?