Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Y is for yakka

English has many variants around the world, and regional slang within those variants. New Zealand and Australia have their own distinctive versions of English, yet they share some slang words and phrases, one of which is yakka.

Yakka means work, especially physical work, and it’s often used in the phrase “hard yakka” (for “hard work”). Yakka is derived from yaga, which meant “to work” in Yagara, an extinct Aboriginal language from what is now Queensland. Australian English picked up some Aboriginal words, just as NZ English has words from Māori or Pasifika languages. While NZ English has adopted some words of Australian origin, Aussies don’t seem to have picked up any NZ words.

NZ and Australian slang is often intimately associated with the local dry, often wry, sense of humour. That sometimes makes it hard for, say, Americans to pick up the meaning at first, since the slang will often be used with a healthy dose of irony or self-deprecation.

For example, someone might say, “I had day of hard yakka”, when, in fact, they spent it lying on the sofa watching television. It’s said seriously, as if it’s really true. The speaker is unlikely to let on what the true story is without a follow-up question, like “didja now?” or maybe, "Is that right?" This sort of thing is repeated in a lot of Kiwi slang.

It seems to me that yakka isn’t as commonly used as it was even when I arrived in New Zealand, and that’s reflected elsewhere: It’s a brand name for workwear clothing, especially for physical labour (Hard Yakka), but they now includes corporate attire, too. The corporate name has been changed by its not altogether loved current Australian owners, leaving the yakka name behind.

Language evolves and changes, and slang and informal language does so the most quickly. Old words and phrases fall into disuse and new ones come along. Keeping track of it all really is hard yakka.

The image accompanying this post is an editorial cartoon called “Hard Work” by George Herriman, and published Sunday, November 24, 1907 in the LA Examiner. It is in the public domain.


Speaking of hard work/yakka, or having a holiday from it, I wrote this on July 4—Independence Day in the USA. A happy and safe holiday to all my American friends!

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!


Roger Owen Green said...

I'm doing really hard yakka. Reading blog posts!

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Chubskulit Rose said...

I only knew yucca plant but not yakka, thanks for elaborating the word.

Y is for...
Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

Leslie: said...

I love this post - learned a new word! Hope you don't have too much hard yakka!

abcw team

Lisa said...

Sarcasm and cynicism...sounds like my kind of language!