Kiwisms target benny-bashers

SIMON DAY
Last updated 05:00 23/09/2012

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Are you a solo, living in a state house struggling on the DPB? Or are you a benny-basher tired of bludgers?

Either way, you must be living in New Zealand.

Our divisive relationship with those on social welfare has created a lexicon of “New Zealandisms” - words used by Kiwis to refer to our support systems.

Eleven words and expressions used only in New Zealand to describe social services have been identified by the annual journal NZ Words, in collaboration with Victoria University linguistics students.

State house, beneficiary, benny (sometimes spelt bennie), benny-bashing, solo, DPB, Winz, jobseeker support, Community Services Card and payment card are all unique New Zealand social welfare references.

Paula Benefit, the blogosphere's nickname for the minister for social development and employment, also made its way into popular use.

“Welfare is a significant political issue in New Zealand,” the article said. “This presence provides a number of opportunities for innovative language use, particularly in the naming of policies and programmes.”

A New Zealandism is defined as the “restricted set of words that are known and used by New Zealanders but rarely, if at all, by other speakers”.

The research surveyed the language used in mainstream media and popular political blogs, taking special interest in the comment sections for more informal data on the public discourse about welfare and unemployment.

“Our lexis [vocabulary] is tied up with our culture and our cultural expectations and attitudes,” said New Zealand Dictionary Centre lexicographer Dianne Bardsley.

“Although we basically have an egalitarian world view, we still sometimes develop stereotypical attitudes, and the expression of some of those is not always complimentary.”

Pop culture reinforced New Zealand's linguistic relationship with social welfare. In hip-hop collective Homebrew's song The Benefit , the group parodies the life of the unemployed, singing of being funded solely by social welfare.

A number of words initially shortlisted were found to be common in Australia, including bludger, a person who "relies on the work of others”.

The journal also found a Kiwi culture happy to laugh at itself, listing marmaggedon and marmapocalypse, references to the Marmite shortage caused by the Christchurch earthquake, as examples of the "irony and self-derision that are features of the New Zealand culture”.

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