Monday, March 29, 2010

Meaning of Australian English - such is life

I am still feeling bored with being serious! My last post, Meaning of Australian English - around the traps, garnered a comment from cousin Jamie that I have brought up in the main post simply because I liked it. I had forgotten what those rabbit traps were like!

Given my mood, I decided to continue with the meaning of Australian English.

One of the phrases I sometimes use is "such is life", usually accompanied by a shrug. For example, say that you have just lost a job or something else unexpected happens and you are telling friends: downplaying the whole thing, you say "such is life" and then shrug.

In an Australian context, the phrase was reportedly used by bush ranger Ned Kelly as he was about to be hung. Then Tom Collin (Joseph Furphy) used Such is Life for an 1897 book. Wikipedia  comments:

The book is full of mordant irony from start to finish, not least from the contrast between the narration and the action—the narrator at times employing extremely high blown language (and displaying Furphy's almost freakish degree of book-learning) in humorous contrast to the extremely low characters and mundane events he is describing.

I had thought that the phrase was uniquely Australian. Apparently, not so.

The Phrase Finder defines the phrase as meaning an acceptance of the unpredictable fortunes of existence, often spoken with an air of weary resignation. It also says:

The early uses of this phrase date from the mid 18th century. For example, Joseph Baretti's A Grammar of the Italian Language, 1762, translates "Cosi va'l mondo!" as "Such is life" and continues:

"Such is life, that whatever is proposed, it is much easier to find reasons for rejecting than embracing."

'Such is life', of course, mirrors the French 'C'est la vie', which equates to the English 'that's life', or 'life's like that'. Modern variants are 'that's the way it goes', 'that's the way the ball bounces', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles' etc.

Whether uniquely Australian or not, the phrase does capture the Australian sense of irony and sometimes understatement, as well as the desire to avoid emotion on an issue.


Rummuser said...

Jim, I enjoyed the post and am particularly grateful for the link to the phrase finder. Thank you.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, Ramana. Always glad to be of help!