05 August 2010

orang biskut

Playful language can be lots of fun. One of the best known collections of playful language is Cockney Rhyming Slang, which originated in London. For example, people there might say "I am going up the apples for a cup of rosie", which means "I am going up the stairs for a cup of tea". The origin of this is as follows: apples and pears rhymes with stairs, and then it gets shortened to apples; and Rosie Lea rhymes with tea, which gets shortened to rosie. Not surprisingly, people not familiar with this usage can be totally baffled!

Some instances even get established as (semi-)standard, and people are generally not aware of the origins. For example, we say "to blow a raspberry", and this comes from raspberry tart, which rhymes with fart; people sometimes talk about "a load of cobblers", and this originates from cobbler's awls which rhymes with balls; and in England, it is common to refer to someone disparagingly as a "right berk", and berk derives from Berkeley Hunt which rhymes with ..... I'll let you work that one out.

But it is probable that all languages have some form of playful usage. One of my UDB colleagues told me that when she was studying in London, Malaysians called Bruneians orang minyak ('oil people'), in reference to the main source of wealth in Brunei; in retaliation, Bruneians referred to Malaysians as orang tin, as tin mining was historically a highly lucrative industry in Malaya. This then got converted to orang biskut (as an abbreviated from of biscuit tin). It is fascinating to see how similar this process is to Cockney Rhyming Slang, though I suspect it is common in playful language usage throughout the world and was not influenced by the fact that they were in London at the time.