More fun with Kiwi slang

Decades ago, when I was ‘flatting’, one of my flatmates (roomies) was American – direct from Brattleboro, Vermont, in fact – and took huge delight in making jokes about the differences between American English and New Zild slang.

Needless to say the Kiwi contingent of the flat (apartment) joined with great glee. Phrases like ‘can I borrow a rubber’ (eraser) suddenly became hilarious. And some Kiwi terms are pretty funny anyway when you think about them. Here’s a sample:

Sweet as. Not actually a complement about someone’s bottom. It’s a contraction of ‘Sweet as a nut’, meaning ‘it’s good’ or ‘I’m happy with that’.
Up the duff. Scatological, inherited from Britain. Means ‘pregnant’.
Hottie. A hot water bottle, used to pre-warm a bed in pre-electric blanket days.
Having a quiet one. Drinking only one or two bottles of beer instead of the usual 48.
Eh. Filler word used to end a phrase, similar to the Canadian ‘Eh’, but in origins probably a borrow word from Te Reo Maori.
She’ll be right. ‘I’m happy with that’.
Yeah, right. Means the previous statement was sarcastic and meant the opposite. Focus of a major beer advertising campaign.

English is such a funny language sometimes. Do you have any quirky terms you’d like to share?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: Writing tips, geekery, humour and more. Watch this space.

Hair today…gone tomorrow…

The other day my wife went to her hairdresser. A regular occurrence. As, indeed, was our conversation:

[INTERIOR: house, morning]
She Who Must Be Obeyed: I’m off to the hairdresser.
Me [OS]: If it’s a longer bob-cut, can I call it a robert?
[SFX: loud groans and jeers]

MJWright2011Yup, the long winter evenings just FLY by in our household. Though from my perspective, the reason why women spend afternoons in the salon at hundreds of dollars per visit, complete with bleaches, dyes and styling, has always been a mystery. I usually try to relieve She Who Must Be Obeyed’s likely boredom while she’s there by sending helpful texts like “I double dog dare ya to get a mullet”.

I really can’t understand it. I mean, money’s actually earned to be spent on beer, stuff for the toolshed, and over-powered cars. I go to the barber on a necessity basis, and it takes four minutes. What’s more, my style hasn’t changed since I was eight, viz:

1970 – Ed Straker
1980 – Ed Straker
1990 – Ed Straker
2000 – Ed Straker
2010 – Ed Straker

I would say “2020 – Ed Straker”, but it’s likely to have all fallen out by then. You know…hair today, gone tomorrow… (groan).

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: Writing tips, geekery and more. Watch this space.

Four top questions that sort of defy answers

Today I thought I’d share a few conundrums…

Matthew Wright1. Why is it that for the whole history of humanity, we’ve had no problem surviving on ordinary water. But in the last ten years we’ve only been able to survive with water-and-salt ‘hydration’ mixes sold for absurd prices in designer bottles?

2. Why do we have to buy ‘detox’ products and get pushed to go on ‘detox’ diets when we have functioning liver and kidneys?

3. How do astrologers get by now Pluto’s been demoted from planet status?

4. In 1555, the apothecary (pharmacist) Michel de Nostredam (Nostradamus) predicted the world would end in 1987. Why are we still here?


 Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing tips, science geekery and general blogging mayhem. Watch this space.

The top ten lame excuses for writers not writing

You know you want to write, but…

1. The dishes need doing.
2. I just have to finish this Angry Birds level.
3. The day has a “y” in it.
4. It’s sunny outside.
5. The garden needs weeding.
6. You won’t believe this, but three weeks ago I was kidnapped by aliens and I’ve only just got back and it was, well, so traumatising that I really can’t get any writing inspiration.
7. No reason.
8. It’s time to go to the supermarket.
9. See (1).
10. Can’t be assed.

 Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: Serious tips on how to prod writing into gear, more NaNo writing tips, more about how to write…more fun stuff, and more…

Write it now, part 27: when badder is better

There’s been a storm this week about Sharknado - Asylum’s latest ‘so bad it’s good’ take on big-budget disaster movies. Global warming causes uber-tornadoes that send sharks plunging into the streets of Los Angeles. Chomp.

Photo: Mentis Fugit

Pictures at a Dr Grordbort exhibition, Wellington 2012; fantastic art, a brilliant riff on Golden Age B-movie sci-fi, and a wonderful satire of Britain’s Edwardian-age social militarism. Photo: Mentis Fugit

The physics of it don’t work out. But hey…

Asylum make ‘mockbusters’ like last year’s Nazis at the Centre of the Earth. It seems to have everything – an Evil Secret Antarctic Base, a Nazi UFO, zombie stormtroopers, even (spoiler alert, I suspect) Evil Robo-Hitler, Wolfenstein-style. You know the trope - ‘Nazi Super-Science. For when regular Super-Science isn’t evil enough’.

Extreme silliness. Of course, movies so bad they’re good have been around a while. Frank Zappa wrote songs about them (‘Cheepnis‘). Troma released some masterful parodies decades ago (remember Toxic Avenger?) And there’s the grand-daddy of them all – Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes. Saw it. Laughed. As intended.

The Roxy cinema, Miramar, Wellington - restored to fabulous 1930s art deco condition by Peter Jackson. A photo I took in 2011.

The Roxy cinema, Miramar, Wellington – restored to fabulous 1930s art deco condition by Peter Jackson. A photo I took in 2011.

The best are deliberately bad, and inevitable deadpan delivery is part of not taking themselves seriously. Deadpan is smart humour. The makers know it. We know it. And we all have a great time.

The best I’ve seen was Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, which was utterly brilliant.

Can writers learn from this? Already have. Take Harry Harrison’s Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers – a deadpan pastiche of totally bad space opera. Though that genre was self-mocking enough; E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith was lambasted for tripe, but actually knew precisely what he was doing – and by the end of it was sending himself up. Quite consciously.

Don’t get me started on how good the Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings is. A comic novel in its own right, even if it wasn’t sending up You Know What.

What it tells us is that ‘deliberately funny bad’ sells. But only if it’s good. It demands more skill than serious ‘good’ writing  - getting that deadpan irony right is difficult. Like the movie makers, the writer has to be able to do ‘bad’ without appearing ‘incompetent’ – to wink at the reader and get them to laugh with them – not at them. The tongue has to be planted firmly in the cheek.

Harking back to the movies for a moment – the master at this sort of thing remains Vincent Price (1911-1993). A very fine dramatic actor, but also a great comedian. Check out Champagne for Caesar (1950). Very funny. He got the balance spot on.

Your thoughts? And have you seen Sharknado yet?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Don’t complain about reported US internet surveillance. Use it to sell beer.

This is a hoarding half way down one of the motorways in Wellington, New Zealand. You can’t miss it. It’s a beer advertisement.


Tui is one of our major national brands, made in Mangatainoka, not far from the southern Hawke’s Bay town of Woodville. They’ve been running the ‘yeah right’ campaign for years. The slogan changes topically. The payoff line – with all its understated sarcasm – doesn’t.

Laconic irony. It’s a Kiwi thing.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Son of return of the wandering apostrophe, part 486

I spotted a sign down Wellington’s Lambton Quay last week that I just had to photograph and share. In four lines it had not one but three epic fail apostrophe errors. Three.

And the winner of the Egregious Random Apostrophe Award 2013 is...

And the winner of the Egregious Random Apostrophe Award 2013 is…

The thing is, this wasn’t a cheap sign. Not by any stretch. And now, someone’s going to have to pay again, to get it fixed…maybe.

What gets me are the number of signs that end up this way. A friend of mine calls them ‘dyspostrophes’. Apt.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Sneaking a peek at a character from the second Hobbit movie

Today New Line Cinema revealed Tauriel, an elf warrior from Mirkwood, part of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit cast.

Yes, like a geeky Tolkien fan I had to pose in the entrance, such as it was - you could circle it, just like the door Aslan made to get rid of the Telmarines in .Prince Caspian'.

Me at the Hobbit Artisan Market in December 2012. Yes, I am a geeky fan, kind of.

It’s part of the build-up to the new movie, but the character never existed in any of Tolkien’s works, and  when I add that to the rather loose adaptation of the first movie, I can’t help thinking that the liberties apparently taken with Tolkien’s charming childrens’ tale have turned it into something else.

I do kind of wonder. But I’ve been a Jackson fan for years, and a Tolkien fan for even longer.So in the interests of helping a fellow Kiwi I thought I might provide a list of characters I’ve invented that never appeared in The Hobbit but who might – perhaps – be suitable for the movie version. I hope I’m not too late.

Tyhmä Nimi – legendary King of the Dwarfs and part-time truck driver known for making magic rings disappear, only to have them ‘reappear’ about 48 hours later.

Sierain Sormella – northern Elf who wields the legendary Sword of Cutting, named Kauttaviiva, known to the Dwarfs as Khlunk, also called ‘Erittäin terävä teräväkärkiset laite‘ on alternate Wednesdays.

Wendy – escaped from another kids’ book after being kidnapped in Hyde Park. (Actually, I didn’t invent this character.)

Glugg – large CGI-style Orc with a big nose. Has no obvious story function.

Kala Kalakauppias – an Elvish fisherman who could appear on the far left in Scene 3.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Frank Zappa was my “Elvis”. Was he yours?

This December it’ll be 20 years since Frank Zappa died. He was a truly great American composer. You can still get his albums – and a lot of stuff released since from his legendary ‘Vault’.

The panel of one of my analog synths... dusty, a bit scratched, but still workable.

Zappa’s stuff is copyrighted (including his moustache silhouette, which is trademarked) so you’ll have to make do with a photo I took of my own synthesiser.

Popularly, Zappa was the potty-mouth wild man of rock whose songs provoked offence – especially ‘Catholic Girls’ and ‘Jewish Princess’. He always considered himself more an anthropologist, exposing the sordid heart of the music business in the sixties and seventies. Much of it was driven by his finely honed sense of the absurd; he was a satirist. He lampooned politicians, groupies, minorities and majorities alike. He ragged the music business and went to war with televangelists. He skewered rock stars, especially Peter Frampton whose subtle ‘I’m in you’ was thoroughly done over by Zappa’s ‘I have been in you’.

He also wrote songs about the importance of eating vegetables (‘Mr Green Genes’), dental hygiene (‘Montana’), B-movies (‘Cheepnis’), life on the road (‘Babette’, ‘Road Ladies’), and the dangers of living with huskies (‘Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow’).

Less well known was the fact that he was also one of the best producers of his day. His repute within the music industry was second to none. His compositions were pure genius, spanning the gamut from musiqe concrete to doowop, big-band jazz to rock, funk to orchestral. He wrote rock operas and musicals. He mixed and matched time signatures in ways that nobody before – or since – has matched. He invented xenochrony – one piece of music juxtaposed against another. He even released an album of synth baroque music, Wendy Carlos style. In Zappa’s case, it was his eighteenth century namesake Francesco Zappa.

By the time of his death he was recognised in Europe as a leading modern orchestral composer.

The musicians Zappa hired were the top of their profession. If you got a job with Zappa, you were guaranteed a job with anyone. Because you were one of the best around.

His secret? I think Zappa was dada-esque; his music flowed from collisions – collisions of rhythm, collisions of tone, and collisions of ideas. He transcended genre and medium to create an emotional experience for listeners. He  showed us a way of approaching things that was not only different, but it provoked – provoked us to think, provoked emotion, provoked a response.

It is these collisions that artists strive for – to give life and meaning to their work, to give their work a dynamic, to lead people into it. Zappa was an absolute master.

That’s something all artists – as in, anybody who works in the arts – can learn from.

Matt Groening once referred to Zappa as his ‘Elvis’. He’s mine too.

Who’s your Elvis?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

What’s your hottest Google Gotcha?

The other day, as far as I can tell from the analytics, someone tried to Google translate one of my blog pages from English to English.

MJWright2011Cool. Uh…I think. Ever had your blog found by something odd? Happens to me so often I swear I’m being Google-bombed. Here are the top strings people typed to land on my blog this week:

“writing tips from jk rowling” [actually, on my blog, you get writing tips from ME, bwahahaha!]

“”debbie harwood” chills” [Coincidentally, Debbie's a singer from my home town. She  was in "When The Cat's Away" ...and I was at high school with her brother.]

“how did tokien influence the world” [I think you mean J R R Tolkien. And lots, but not as much as I am going to...mwaahaha! ...Oh wait, I already did the Evil Laugh joke...]

“ma hot” [say what?]

“down studie books on the treay of waitangi day 2013″ [you get an F in my spelling class]

“discomfit, public domain” [am I being google-bombed?]

“hotbook mj” [OK, I AM being google-bombed]

What’s your weirdest “Google gotcha”?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013