Language · News media

The Language Always Changes Department: #1754


Radio New Zealand reporters have been talking about cracks discovered in “semi-trailer” towing bars this week; cracks that could cause the trailer to come free while the truck is moving. A “semi-trailer” is what Australians call the truck-and-trailer unit New Zealanders have traditionally called an “articulated truck” or “artic”.

Just as some Kiwis decades back called a truck a “lorry” — the British word for a truck; truck came from America — it seems our artics are becoming semis. Just as railway stations are now “train stations” — the American term — not only here but also in Australia and England, where they also used to be called railway stations.

Is this a language rort? A “rort” is a vulgar Australian term for a scam, which crept into New Zealand English in the 1990s when it was used colourfully by former Aussie PM Paul Keating when he unilaterally stopped Air NZ flying domestic routes in Australia. I don’t much like “rort” but it is part of the language now and the language always adopts, adapts and changes.

The one change I won’t accept is the vowel shift in the way many Kiwis — including some RNZ reporters — say “women”. They pronounce it the same way they say “woman” which forces people who still know the difference to guess whether they mean one woman or two or more women. I’ve not heard this vowel shift anywhere else English is widely used, whether in Australia, England, Ireland, the US, Canada, or even Fiji or India for that matter.

Meanwhile, my top photo shows that some truck driver has parked his semi on the grass verge in Parararaumu. Or is that the berm? In Australia it would be called the nature strip. Whatever, it’s a fair dinkum parking rort. And below, the engraved name above the entrance to what is now called the Wellington train station.