[Preliminary note: I have transcribed the newspaper articles as they were published, including the typographical errors.]
The Australian-English phrase Emma Chisit is the Strine 1 equivalent of how much is it?.
—Cf. also “wedding vowels”, “tongue and cheek” and other eggcorns.
1 Imitative of the alleged Australian pronunciation of Australian, Strine:
– as an adjective, means relating to Australian English or to Australians;
– as a mass noun, designates the English language as spoken by Australians;
– as a count noun, designates an Australian.
According to the following from Column 8, published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Monday 30th November 1964, this is how the phrase Emma Chisit was coined:
OUR ACCENT. Monica Dickens 2, busily autographing her hooks in a city store, signed one handed her by a woman shopper. Miss Dickens THOUGHT that the lady then said, “Emma Chisit.”
“Oh,” said Miss Dickens brightly, “You’d like me to write your name it [misprint for ‘in’] it?” And she scrawled, “To Emma Chisit.”
“I asked,” the lady said crossly, “HOW MUCH IS IT?”
2 Monica Dickens (1915-1992) was an English author; she was the great-granddaughter of the English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870).
The phrase then occurs in the following from Column 8, published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Thursday 3rd December 1964:
LANGUAGE TEST. Miss Monica Dickens’ bafflement by our slang (she thought that a lady who asked “How much is it?” was announcing her name, Emma Chisit) has moved a Harbord Beach resident to carry out a small test among his local shops.
“The fruiterer, a son of Hong Kong, when I said Emma Chisit, at once replied, ‘tlee and tuppence.’ He knew,” says the Harbord man. “So did the storekeeper who, to my Emma Chisit, replied smartly, ‘Five and eleven’. The butcher was just as au fait.”
The coinage of the phrase Emma Chisit is indissociable from that of the word Strine. The latter word first occurs in the following from The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 19th December 1964:
New light on the Strine language
By Afferbeck Lauder 3, Professor of Strine Studies, University of Sinny.
A distinguished visitor, Miss Monica Dickens, reported recently (“S.M.H.,” November 30, Column 8) that the phrase “Emma Chisit” had, apparently after some initial difficulty, been correctly translated into English as “How much is it?”
The writer is surprised that any difficulty should have been encountered in the translation as “Emma Chisit” (Plural: Hammer Charthay) is in common usage along the central coast, and inland as far west as Annandale and parts of Ryde. Miss Dickens subsequently reported (“S.M.H.” December 3, Column 8) that the term is understood even in such a remote area as Harbord.
The Institute for the Study of the Strine Language recently (1953) commissioned the author to compile a comprehensive glossary of the language as it was felt that a permanent record should be made, not only of such well-known words and phrases as “Emma Chisit,” “Laidan” and “Hip Ride,” but also of more obscure terms, such as “Bim-Bye” and “Jareedna” and of place names such as “Naw Sinny” and “Slennets.”
The publication of this work has, however, been temporarily postponed, and the institute has, therefore, authorised the release of the following selected translations of everyday words and phrases in the hope that these will be of interest not only to the general public and to all stewnce of the Strine language, but also to overseas vistas and to the many New Strines in our mist.
Assprad: (Adj., Fem.) Excessively preoccupied with domestic order and cleanliness. As in: She’s very assprad: she keeps Rome looking lovely.”
Bim-Bye: (Also, pedantically: Bin-Bye) Meaning: To have been attacked, as in: “Marm, I’ve bin bim-bye a bull-joe” or “He was having a laidan when he was bim-bye a fahl-web spider.”
Harps: Thirty minutes past the hour. As: Harps two, harps four, harps tait, etc. (Related words are: Fipes, Temps and Corpse—Fipes One, Temps Two, etc.)
Hip Ride: Popular Radio Music Note: Any tune played more than twice becomes known as “Heather Hip Ride.”
Jareedna, Wairtsed, Sorten: These terms, relating to the dissemination of news, cannot be translated individually as they always occur in close juxaposition in conversations such as the following.
Q. “Jareedna paper wairtsed about the bushfires? (or “. . . about the University stewnce?”
A. “Nar, I sorten T.V.” (or “I sorten Woomz Day.”
Laidan: A short rest after the midday meal: a siesta.
Naw Shaw: A district of suburban Sinney, extending from Kiahra [Kiabra?] to Waitara.
New Strine: An immigrant from Europe.
Rare Wick: A Sinny suburb; also a race-course.
Weird: Electric railway station near Hunner Street. Trains leave Weird for Naw Sinny, Slennets and the Naw Shaw.
Yeggowan: Do you intend travelling to . . . as: “Yeggowan Rare Wick Sady?”
3 The Australian graphic artist and author Alistair Morrison (1911-1998) used the pseudonym Afferbeck Lauder, Strine pronunciation of alphabetical order.
The following is from The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 26th December 1964:
In response to an unprecedented demand, the “Herald” herewith prints further extracts from the glossary of the Strine Language translated and annotated by Afferbeck Lauder, Professor of Strine Studies, University of Sinny.
Baked Necks: A popular breakfast dish. Others include Emma Necks and Scremblex.
Dimension: The usual polite response to “Thank you” or “Thanks, mite.”
Dingo: A word with two separate unrelated meanings, When intoned with equal emphasis on the syllables it is the negative response to the question, “Jeggoda,” as: Q.: “Jeggoda the tennis?”. A. “Nar, dingo, I sorten T.V.” When, however, the emphasis is on the first syllable Dingo becomes a parliamentary term of mild reproof.
Foo Fairies: Characters in a popular television commercial, “Woo, Worse, Foo Fairies, the happy way to shop.”
Laze and Gem: Usual beginning of a public speech. Often combined with Miss Gem, as in: “Miss Gem. Laze and Gem. It gives me grey pleasure . . .”
Sack Laws: Father Christmas.
Airpsly Fair Billis: (archaic). A Naw Shaw exclamation indicating mild approval. Now, fortunately, rarely heard.
Gissa: “Please give me a . . .” (As in: “Gissa Lookcha algebra”). This word, the subject of a curious sexual taboo, may be use only by males. The feminine equivalent is Gimmie, or Gimmier.
Gonnie: Do you have any . . .” As in: “Gonnie Apples?”, “Gonnie X?”, “Gonnie newsa Bev?”
Hop Eyes: Pastry cases, containing gravy, and heated. The singular is: Hoppye, or Hoppine sauce.
Money: The day following Sunny. (Friday, Saddy, Sunny, Money, etc.)
Rep Bairg: An irresponsible person.
Didgerie: A curious prefix, the exact meaning of which will depend on the suffix which follows. This suffix is usually: Do, Dabbatt; or Lee-Meenit.
(a) Man, he plays the didgerie doo real good.
(b) Didgerie dabbat it in the paper yesterday?
(c) Didgerie lee-meenit, or were you kidding?
Dismal Guernsey: Dollars and cents.
Sag Rapes: Anything which one wants but cannot reach.
Scona: A meterological term. Scona rain; scona clear up, etc.)
Semmitch: Two slices of bread with a filling in between. (M-semmitch; Semmon Semmitch; Chee semmitch, etc.). When ordering semmitches the following responses are indicated: A. Sell semmitches? B. Air. Emeny jiwant? A. Gimme utter martyr and an airman pickle (Pause) Emma chisit? B. Toon forms, lady. (Or: “Threen forms, mate”—Men usually pay more for food than women do.).