My Word: Chook

Counting chickens: Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s press gatherings were described as feeding the chooks.

Counting chickens: Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s press gatherings were described as feeding the chooks.

May your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down.

Okay, you’ve heard that one, but it was the only one I could think of at the moment.

And it’s Australian.

I suppose they could put in there chicken, or hen, or even rooster.

But it wouldn’t have the same impact.

Chook, according to my big dictionary, is Australian and New Zealand colloquial referring to a domestic fowl and a chicken .

The first entry the big dictionary lists comes from Robbery Under Arms, where it is spelt chuckie. The book was published in 1954.

My Macquarie dictionary says chook is a domestic fowl, Heinemann says it is “informal” for a chicken, Reader’s Digest says it is a domestic fowl, but adds that it was “informal for a girl before bird became more popular”’.

The Oxford Australian National Dictionary says a chook is a domestic fowl and a chicken. The first use appears to be in 1855 when it quotes W Howlett in Land, Labour and Gold as saying ”they tied chuckey up in a handkerchief and rode on”.

Obviously it was a very small chook, even though it was described as large and very fat. Maybe it was a big handkerchief. The word was spelt chuckie until early in the 19th century, when the spelling was changed to chook.

You can play chicken, although I strongly recommend you don’t.

Playing chook doesn’t have that ring about it.

The Bulletin in 1916 referred to a rat and a chook erected beside an inscription – and I suspect it has something to do with the coat of arms.

Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s press gatherings were described as feeding the chooks.

Even politicians have been described as chooks. Cartoonist Larry Pickering in February 1978 described Gough Whitlam as the chook.

I heard once, when a football team was playing badly, that the only way to win would be to play the chooks and raffle the players.

But we still have the chook chaser, or the chook raffle, or a face like a chook’s bum, and a few other expressions that perhaps are better not used in this family newspaper.