larrikins and ratbags

Jun 11, 2010

Words of cultural significance in Australian English can be words which reflect a national character like larrikin and ratbag

A larrikin in the late 1800s was described as follows in a book called Jonah by Louis Stone:

They were dressed in the height of larrikin fashion -- tight-fitting suits of dark cloth, soft black felt hats, and soft white shirts with new black mufflers round their necks in place of collars -- for the larrikin taste in dress runs to a surprising neatness. But their boots were remarkable, fitting like a glove, with high heels and a wonderful ornament of perforated toe-caps and brass eyelet-holes on the uppers.

There were larrikins in both Sydney (Darlo and the Rocks) and Melbourne (Collingwood). They were also usually on the wrong side of the law  the hoodlums of their day. 

Of course today's larrikin is rather different but the word seems to have kept the sense of being cool and nonconformist. Today to be described as a bit of a larrikin is a good thing, whereas today, as ever, to be described as a ratbag is a bad thing. Ratbags are also nonconformist but in ways that we fear rather than admire. They are odd, eccentric, unreliable. 

What do you think, do we still admire larrikins and avoid ratbags?

(Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia)

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