Give It Heaps, Mate

The Monkey King Dances is a collection of columns written for two New Zealand newspapers – which don’t archive online – between August 2007 & July 2008. Columns are reprinted as originally published barring any serious grammatical errors. Pictures and links added for fun.

In another of our occasional columns by Chronicle sub-editor JEFF WINKLER from Arkansas, Jeff wraps his tongue around the local lexicon – and finds it to his taste.

I heard the Tv mutter, “We’ve taken 24 real people … ” and was bemused.

Yes, NZ is behind the nuclear bell-curve, but surly the country hasn’t lagged so far as to not have at least one fake human well after all other civilized nations have amassed at least 10 fake persons, three fake dogs and two fake cats at every terrestrial corner.

Then it got worse.

Surly, I thought with trepidation, we haven’t been able to probe into mankind’s psychic-abyss to recreate, through computers, the human characteristic of pure, vapid narcissism. I began to shake uncontrollably in my own self-doubt, rocking back and forth in the chair repeatedly saying, “Paris Hilton is no cyborg. I’ve seen the video. I’ve seen the video!”

Naturally, the commercial was another American important (There’s so many here, you’d think NZ actually made them!). I hadn’t witnessed the English language so viciously abused on air in such a long time that I felt a little bit of voyeuristic guilt. It was almost satisfying in a way, like picking at a deep scab or looking through the good-end of a two-way mirror.

For two month’s now, I’ve been awash in the economic efficiency of Kiwi English and it took a taste of home to realize how much I like the linguistic pool I’ve been drowning in. The most challenging aspect of this colloquial acclimation has been to decode all those wonderful sayings and words that make as much sense, to me, as the Kiwis’ floating dollar.

My Companion, during one difficult exchange bluntly asked, “How much of our conversation do you actually understand.” The answer was close to 50 percent but I tried to respond has honestly as possible.

“I hear everything you say, dearie.”

After that, I began to make a list of all the new words, determined to use them with fluent confidence. The pile of napkins I wrote them on became too overwhelming and I’ve resorted now to a few key words and phrases that seem to creep up most often.

The OED’s first entry of the noun, “heap” says, “A collection of things lying one upon another so as to form an elevated mass often roughly conical in form,” which is precisely how I imagine “heap”.

When I hear the word, I see a sloppy, steaming pile of, well, anything that can be sloppy and steaming. Here, however, it’s an all-encompassing word that can be bent and twisted to anyone’s liking. Since arriving, I’ve heard it used to describe – among other things – talent, time, ideas, money and even sex.

Heaps of sex?!?! You can imagine the horror of picturing a Dante-like tower of undulating flesh.

“There’s something wrong with this culture,” I had thought.

It only got worse when my co-workers tried to describe a hottie to me. “It’s something warm, you take to bed with you,” they said before laughing manically – just as I had suspected; Heathens, each and every one of them.

For me, the best use of “heap” has been to describe that wonderful pile of newspaper-wrapped chips from the fish-n-chips shop. Tear open the package and a steaming pile of grease comes tumbling out. It’s perfect.

Where the chips go from there presents a new – and squeamish – linguistic challenge. I’m of course referring to one’s “Gob” which sounds about as appealing as the words used to describe other activities of the mouth.

I approached My Companion one time to give a little peck of affection and was halted in my tracts when she referred to it as a “Snog”.  Nothing stops an oncoming kiss like the thought of bright mucus bile crawling out of body cavities, which is exactly what came to my mind.

“No, no,” she said. “‘Pashing’ is much more disgusting” before she proceeded to lick my face like a Labrador. “See. Snogging is much better.”

My roommate disagreed. She refrained from demonstrating but thought “pashing” was less intense than “snogging”. I muttered in agreement through the hands shielding my face.

Two phrases, though, every Kiwi seems to agree on is “Ta” and “taking the piss”. Everyone claims “Ta” is a shortening of “Thank you” but no one says it with any kind of confidence. Sure it’s used as “thank you” but almost everyone acknowledged it as a meaningless word spoken to a child.

If that’s all it takes to get a word in the Kiwi lexicon, rest assured, in the coming months I’ll begin a nation-wide campaign through every nursery and childcare centre. In a few years, don’t be surprised if someone acknowledges your gratitude with, “Jeff Winkler.”

As for “taking the piss,” I have nothing but a personal grudge against the phrase. Weeks after my arrival, I tried to fit in by saying I was “taking a piss” before someone was kind enough to laugh in my face. Although the literal rendition of this phrase seems physically impossible, I appreciate its flexible use. I just worry I’ve left people with the impression that American’s have weak bladders and a penchant for urinating on others like a dog.

Well, deadline’s getting close and I’ve still got heaps to do. Before work, I need to stuff some food down my gob and maybe steal a snog from My Companion before work. So I’ll stop taking the piss out of NZ because now I gotta get up and take a piss.

Man I enjoy these articles.

Wanganui Chronicle, Sept. 22, 2007