The sauce bottle saga

Can you believe it?  Here we are having public discourse about Kevin Rudd’s use of the phrase ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ – used three times in the one interview!!!!

First there is an academic argument about what the phrase really is.  Is it ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ or ‘fair suck of the sauce bottle’?  As an ex-Queenslander, I’ve heard both, but an academic, Sue Butler, whom I understand has something to do with the Macquarie Dictionary of Slang, insists the latter is correct, and patronisingly explains that Rudd has mixed two expressions ‘fair suck of the sauce bottle’ and one of the following: ‘fair shake of the dice’ or ‘more than one can shake a stick at’.  Her subtheme was that poor Kevin has got so much going on in his head running the country, he got his expressions mixed up.  [more]

When the term 'sh-t storm' tumbled from his mouth on Channel Seven TV a couple of months ago, there was an uproar.  Rudd was called ‘potty mouth’ and generally upbraided by the media.  But judging by his continued popularity in the subsequent opinion polls the public didn’t care.  Now it’s ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ – I wonder how many will care about this either?

The media seems determined to squeeze as much out of this as it can.  We’re in the midst of the GFC, there has been a spate of figures in the last week or two, many of which are encouraging, including today’s unemployment figures, but the ‘sauce bottle’ episode fills the talkback and serious columns, like, for example, that by George Megalogenis in The Australian, This bloke act is doing our head in.  George assures us his piece was 'all tongue in cheek', but it was pleasing to see Rudd hitting back in similar style with “fair crack of the whip, don't come the raw prawn with me George. Or coming from Queensland I'd say you'd get the rough end of the pineapple."  Rudd should do this more often.

There seems to be quite a degree of groupthink going on in the media over the sauce bottle; there are several others on the same theme.  I guess we readers will just have to endure this until the fad passes. In Crikey, Bernard Keane writes Fair shake of that sauteed tomato preserve in a bottle (available only to Crikey subscribers).  He seems to be attempting to be witty, but he’s not much of a humorist.  Keane is one of the media’s most obsessive ‘counters’ – he counted and graphed how many times Rudd had said ‘working families’.  Now he’s counting how many times he used ‘sauce bottle’, and reveals that it began well before the recent Sky News interview, back in last June – how come we missed it then?

Then there was even a segment today on The World Today on ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ in which most interviewed supported Rudd’s use of Queensland-style colloquialisms; nobody seemed upset. Then Richard Stubbs on ABC 774 Melbourne afternoon radio took up the story.  You'll be disturbed to know that Stubbs doesn't feel comfortable with that expression. If such a luminary as Stubbs, so representative of public opinion, is uncomfortable, clearly Rudd is doomed.

Much of the media still seems unable to grasp that Rudd and his ministers are not talking to them.  They are talking to tired workers and harassed mothers at the end of a long day catching fragments of news from the radio or TV while driving home or preparing and eating the evening meal.  They are not sitting there with their counters checking how many times a word or phrase is uttered.  It would be fortunate if they heard them but once.  That is why they are repeated over and again; it’s only the journalists who are irritated and make fun of the repetition.  That the media thinks this matter deserves attention at all portrays the parlous state of political journalism in this country.

Moreover, why is it that columnists feel they have authority to pontificate on what colloquialisms politicians should use?  They might benefit from reflecting on the admonition of Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their book In Search of Excellence: 'stick to the knitting'.

I’ve a message for political journalists.  John Howard famously said: "we shall determine who comes to this country and the manner in which they come", which paraphrased to address this issue, would read: 'I, and all Australians, shall decide what we think about our PM's style and the manner in which we arrive at that decision'.  We don't need gratuitous advice from bored journalists scratching around for something new to tickle their fancy.

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Just Me

12/06/2009[i]Is it ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ or ‘fair suck of the sauce bottle’?[/i] It was 'fair suck on the sav' where I grew up, and it had absolutely no unsavoury suggestion about it at all. (Pun intended.) It simply meant giving somebody, or something, a fair go, keeping a sense of fair play about the proceedings. (For the cultural heathens here, 'sav' = battered saveloy. Look it up.)

Bushfire Bill

12/06/2009What I found amusing was that Tony Abbot's two bob each way - first Rudd was a "toxic bore" for using nerdy Diplo-speak, and then he was phoneying it up trying to be Bazza McKenzie. Well, which one is he Mr. Abbott? A nerd or a fake Ocker? Poor Abbott. His hatred of Rudd for cornering the Religion franchise knows no bounds. According to the media we have Nerd English, Bazza English and Approved English, the latter of which Rudd must conform to if he is to be treated at all seriously by the adjudicators of proprietry who fancy themselves as the Political Commentariat. They recognize not one whit the notion that usage depends upon circumstances. In my recent employment I had to deal with construction managers in charge of millions of dollars worth of projects. I found myself, as I got to know these people, tailoring my language to suit my interlocutor. Some were foul-mouthed ex-builders who (you could tell) would rather be back on site doing the work they were supervising themselves (as that would be the only way it could be done properly). Others were fresh-faced recent graduates marking time until a better opportunity came along. One or two were ex-company directors topping up their superannuation. Their reaction to the concrete pour being late, or a fire door not installed on time varied, as did the way they expressed their frustration... as did my language vary to the concretor or the electrician in attempting to get them finish the job. Somehow or other we all got along, got the job done and moved on to the next crisis in good spirits. In his related blog post, Megalogenis wrote that he was as nonplussed as many of his readers as to why Rudd is so popular. He ventured that this was because Rudd is "something new". He doesn't fit the mould of a proper Prime Minister. This was a throwaway line, but I think should have been the main thrust of the article. The rest of it was astoundingly, (for Megalogenis) inane. He admitted that he has only two modes of behavior himself: tracky-dack and professional journalist. This seems to me to be a limitation in Megalogenis, but perhaps one that he might be trying to turn into a virtue. Hence the critique of Rudd for having more than two modes of communication. Although the whole issue is about a trivial matter, at its heart is a serious question: the role of communication, of language in politics. Henry Higgins's claim to fame was that he could indentify to the street where someone was born by their language. The latter day Henry Higginses claim to be able to determine the position in the hierarchy that someone else occupies by the words they use in press conferences. Rudd annoys them for deviating from [i]their[/i] cosy demarcations. While critics rush to their Macquarie Dictionaries Of Australian Slang to see what is the approved usage of "sauce bottle" in conjunction with a plea for fairness (is it a shake or a suck?), the message from the Prime Minister is clear: fair go, mate, leave my wife alone. While Tony Abbott cries, "Phoney!" at Rudd's nerdiness [i]and[/i] at his ockerness almost simultaneously, Rudd cuts through to the people who want to hear that things might not be so bad after all. The obsessive concentration on Prime Ministerial utterances is more a problem of those who wish they were as popular as Rudd, not of Rudd himself. Megalogenis in his lonely world comprising precisely two modes of behavior; Tony Abbott in his irrelevant universe where not only does he have no job, but it seems even God has deserted him for someone else. It is they who can't be many things to many people. It is therefore they who invent the rule which says you have to decide who you are and stick to it, no matter what the context. That is why they are not the Prime Minister... and why Rudd is.

janice

12/06/2009It is they who can't be many things to many people. It is therefore they who invent the rule which says you have to decide who you are and stick to it, no matter what the context. That is why they are not the Prime Minister... and why Rudd is. ..... Exactly, Bushfire Bill. Conform to the image we have formed of you and keep within the boundaries of the box we've put you in. I seem to remember someone telling me a long time ago that people judge others by themselves and are jealous when their judgments prove to be incorrect.

Bushfire Bill

12/06/2009Re-reading Megalogenis' blog responses I saw that just about every Rudd Hater in Australia (and one or two from overseas) came out of the woodwork baying for blood. As AA pointed out elsewhere, the response from the public has been benign, even supportive. Yet the opinionistas fly to their dictionaries for the proper usage, ignoring the main tenet of language: communication. Could anyone, reading Rudd's comments or seeing them on TV, have been in any doubt as to what he meant? The answer is, of course, no. The only criticism was that Rudd was a phoney because he didn't use the "correct" verb with the object nominated. They forget that the vernacular is full of seeming malapropisms - "flat as a SAO", "lower than a lizard drinking", "full as a State school". One of my favourites was the brilliant juxtaposition a friend of mine once used. The well-known phrase "as thick as two short planks" (why are short planks thick, and why two of them?) to "as short as two thick planks". The former was an artificially coined phrase invented by Barry Humphries to put in the mouth of one of his Earl's Court characters (as, most likely, are many of these allegedly "folk" sayings). The latter was a switching of sense that to me was more hilarious than the original. How many out there have shaken a sauce bottle to get the last little bit of dregs out and onto their meat pie. The stuff is so clingy that the bottle does indeed need a "fair shake" to effect the desired outcome. How many have actually [i]sucked[/i] a sauce bottle to get sauce out? Not me, and I venture not many others either. Surely the end result of sucking a sauce bottle would be to fill your mouth with the contents. When the real aim of the exercise is to get the sauce onto your pie, sucking a sauce bottle seems stupid. So Rudd's phrase was not only perhaps a novel new use of a common vernacular phrase, but also a more realistic one than sucking on a sauce bottle. But is "fair suck of the sauce bottle" even a common vernacular phrase? Perhaps not... I suspect that the actual phrase most critics have in mind is "fair suck of the sav", which by now would have had calls for Rudd to resign ringing around the land, as it conjures up connotations of fellatio. Even on a usage or semantic level the criticisms of Rudd's use of the particular phrase are on shaky ground. Coupled with the clear meaning of its use, Rudd's version (which for all I know may well be in common usage in Queensland anyway) got the message across clearly. That so many seem surprised that the Prime Minister has more than one way of expressing himself (some are outraged that in private he uses four letter words... who [i]doesn't[/i]?) is in itself surprising to me. They have put Rudd in a box and are outraged he won't stay there. They call him a phoney for doing [i]exactly what they (and we all) do themselves.[/i] That so much time is spent on this merry-go-round of navel gazing is disappointing. That so many have fallen for Rudd's ploy - I mean, everyone's talking about it, about Rudd, aren't they? - is in some ways a more pleasant result. The only thing that didn't catch me out was that Wowserism is alive and well in Australia. That, unfortunately, is a given.

Ad astra reply

12/06/2009Just Me, janice, BB, Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I’ve looked today through the online papers and my RSS feeds but can find no articles on the Labor Force figures that emerged yesterday; the comments in yesterday’s media were apparently all that were needed to be made on this much-anticipated statistic. I suppose because unemployment showed but a modest rise, bringing it to the level two months ago, the media rapidly lost interest – no startling revelations to beat up. But the sauce bottle saga continues unabated. That such trivia could engage our journalists is disturbing but not surprising. Today, in the [i]Roy Morgan poll[/i] on [i]Image of 23/29 Professions[/i], http://www.roymorgan.com/news/polls/2009/4387/ journalists score a rating of 9% (only advertising people and car salesmen were lower) which is consistent with their current performance. Talkback radio announcers (15%) and TV reporters (14%) fared little better. If you have access to [i]Crikey[/i], Possum's [i]Pollytics[/i] has a neat automated graph that gives the ratings for these professions since 1979. So what illumination did we see in the media today about the sauce bottle? There was [i]PM, Aussies don’t like being conned[/i] by Tony Abbott in [i]The Daily Telegraph[/i] http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/yoursay/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/pm_aussies_dont_like_being_conned/ Then in [i]The Courier Mail[/i] there was Robert MacDonald, billed as a senior journalist, with [i]Kevin Rudd spelt backwards is "Ddur Nivek", a good alien name[/i] http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,25620647-27197,00.html For reasons that are not obvious, he included a picture gallery [i]Pictures: A day in the life of Kevin Rudd[/i]. If you can work out what message that was supposed to transmit, please enlighten us. Andrew Bolt couldn’t pass up this opportunity to bag Rudd in his piece in the [i]Herald Sun: Easy on the sauce, Kevin Rudd[/i] http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,25622579-5000117,00.html Tony Wright, not to be left out, wrote: [i]His Mandarin is fine, but struggles with Strine[/i] in [i]The Age[/i] http://www.theage.com.au/national/his-mandarin-is-fine-but-struggles-with-strine-20090610-c3ng.html Jack the Insider was on the same theme in his blog [i]The linguistic adventures of Kevvy Ruddenzie[/i] http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/jacktheinsider/index.php/theaustralian/comments/the_linguistic_adventures_of_kevvy_ruddenzie Like George Megalogenis the day before, Jack was somewhat tongue in cheek. I posted the following comment: [quote]Let's salute the sauce bottle Jack. It has given light relief to journalists bored stiff with matters that really count such as the GFC, the National Accounts, yesterday's Labor Force figures, the IR changes that have upset the unions and climate change that is agitating almost everybody. Yesterday George, today you, Andrew Bolt, Tony Abbott and Robert MacDonald - all sucking on the same sauce bottle. It would be a mildly amusing interlude if such sinister conclusions were not being drawn from Kevin's shaking of the sauce bottle. To some, Abbott and Bolt among them, it portrays a deep flaw. Who is this man Kevin Rudd? What is behind his finely honed exterior, his profoundly spun facade? In fact is there anything genuine about him at all? Is he a heartless robot after all, and a calculating one at that? There are two responses one reads: to his permanent detractors he is through and through a fraud, and every event in his life reinforces that view; those who have not written him off offer a cornucopia of gratuitous pseudo-psychological advice which may be intended to be helpful, but is likely way off the mark. Those who attempt to interpret the actions of others, and particularly their motives, walk on dangerous ground. Yet there seems to be no shortage of fools walking where angels fear to tread. Could it be that the Kevin Rudd we see, that we’ve seen all along, is the real Kevin Rudd? In other words, ‘what you see is what you get’ - the way he behaves, the way he talks, his language, his colloquiums, and his mannerisms are the real Rudd. Those who don't like what they see would be well advised to get used to it. All who seek to psychoanalyse him would be wise to focus on more important matters, such as how well he and his Government are governing the country. Let's put the sauce bottle back in the cupboard.[/quote] Who knows how much longer journalists will find something to suck from the sauce bottle, but expect some more comment in the weekend papers, and on Channel Ten’s [i]Meet the Press[/i], Channel Seven’s [i]Riley Diary[/i], and the ABC’s [i]Insiders[/i] on Sunday. With luck the media will be bored with it all by next week, but it will be stored in the archives alongside the Brian Burke story, the Scores episode, the sh-t storm drama, abusing the RAAF hostess ‘scandal’, and any other trivia, to be trotted out [i]en masse[/i] whenever the media feels it needs another Rudd beat-up. What have we decent, innocent citizens done to deserve the media we have in this country?

Macca

12/06/2009In my veiw, the Prime Minister comes across as an inherently honest man. The opposition and the Murdoch hacks can't understand this. After all isn't honesty something you just pay lip service to? Mr Rudd will always be a step or three ahead of them. To use another Australianism, He's got them fair dinkum buggered and they haven't got the nouse to realise it.

Bushfire Bill

13/06/2009They were still on about it on Sydney ABC AM radio this morning. One of the commentators (it was one of those "That Wat The Week That Was" round-tale shows with ABC journalists, hosts and so on from around NSW) said straight-out that Rudd got it wrong. That the saying was unprecedented, not in the lexicon etc. etc. This is despite the fact that Rudd has used the same words many times, Rod Kemp's use of it 14 years ago in a Senate Committee hearing (which they did not know about), and numerous testimonies that in Queensland it is a common phrase. One said it was part of the Australian way to juxtapose words in colloquial sayings to make them funnier (e.g. "thick as two short planks" v. "short as two thick planks"), but she was howled down. Rudd was wrong. He was a nerd. He should stick to being a toxic bore. He was taking too much advice from spin doctors, and so on. What I think I was hearing was a bunch of supposedly educated and broad-minded people firstly not realising that [i]their[/i] experience is not the only one that rules the behavior of others (e.g. the word suck "suck" not "shake" in their experiences), and who were presuming to be the sole arbiters of actual morality (in that Rudd clumsily "pretending" to be a "bloke" was therefore immoral and false). I really couldn't believe my ears that people, some of whom, like Mark colvin, I respect in ordinary circumstances, could be so narrow-minded. And this is just a criticism on the facts, on whether the actual words (versus meaning) matters, and whether they had been used before. Separate to this is whether they should have been spending so much time on the msubject [i]at all[/i], what with all the other momentous events happening in the world right now. This is eliteism - of the likes of George Megalogenis who is proud of always behaving "professionally", Mark Colvin who runs one of the most listened to current affairs programs in the country and who is always deadly serious about his output - judging negatively the most consistently popular Prime Minister the country has ever seen, not only popular, but successful, for using a slang term that everybody understood anyway (despite their elite's claim to have never heard of it, therefore it did not exist). It got to absurd levels a couple of days ago when Michael Brissended said outright that "no-one under 70 would understand what Rudd was saying ([i]heh, heh...[/i], Brissenden's trademark cynical guffaw). I found myself shouting at the radio (something I do only rarely, thank God) for the person interviewing him (who was also on the panel this morning) to point out to him that Brissenden is under 70, so how come [i]he[/i] understood it? This is one of the absolute top ABC political reporters, stating [i]as a fact[/i] something which is clearly and unequivocally [i]not[/i] a fact at all. Brissenden was just winging it, making stuff up to fill in air-time. Not a good look for a top journalist at all. No wonder Costello was so disparaging when Brissenden got his dates wrong concerning [i]that[/i] dinner where Costello supposedly waxed lyrical against Howard, back in 2006. How can we believe anything this man Brissenden says when he just invents "facts" that aren't facts at all? When he exaggerates news reporting for dramatic effect? When everything he says about almost any politician is disparaging, followed by that guffaw of his? He is a fool, as are the rest of them who joined in, not only to Sauce Gate, but Ute Gate, Hostie Gate, Long Tan Gate, Scores Gate, Therese Rein Gate, Eumundie Farm Gate, Brian Burke Gate and all the rest of the fake "scandals" they have tried to foist on Rudd. They simply report that something is being reported, and claim that this is "balance". Stories made of nothing [i]become[/i] the story in themselves, in that "everyone's talking about them so why shouldn't we report [i]that[/i]?". How often do we hear, "These are allegations which Kevin Rudd will have to respond to..." starting out a story, with none (or almost no) analysis of the facts themselves. All someone has to do today is start a rumour, or crack a joke in the pub where journalists drink for the story to become - by mutual, consensual group-think - front page "news" the next day. If even Mark cClvin and George Megalogenis put in their two-bob's worth, what hope do we have of getting anything useful as news at all from the rest of the pack? No wonder AA runs this blog. I hope some of these self-styled "opinion leaders" read it and think about what they write next time there's a witch hunt on.

Ad astra reply

13/06/2009BB, Thank you for yet another superb post. It is exasperating, and it's so getting on my quince, if I may be permitted a colloqialism, that I've spent the afternoon writing a satirical piece about the media: [i]The media to the PM - we have a problem[/i]. I hope you enjoy it. I enjoyed writing it - it got a lot of annoyance off my chest, so to speak.

Dick

13/06/2009Even accepting that Rudd's choice of language isn't newsworthy - and going the extra step and accepting that "tired workers and harassed mothers at the end of a long day" want to hear their leaders spout hokey Australianisms - isn't it still significant that Rudd, being interviewed about imporant decisions of government, chooses to answer in these kind of terms? "Fair shake of the sauce bottle" is not an answer to the question of why he promoted factional heavies in the latest Cabinet reshuffle - moreover, it's an obfuscation. Surely there's a story there? On a more humorous and related note, check out: http://dullsvillain.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/introducing-rudd-roasts/

Ad astra reply

13/06/2009Dick, I suggest you read today's post [i]The media to the PM - we have a problem[/i] to see what I think about this media nonsense. Let's put the sauce bottle back in the cupboard where it belongs. It's entertained our poor journalists for far too long. They need a break. Then they can get back to what's important, boring though they might find it.

Steve

18/07/2009These things can really publicize a person who is in limelight.some of them may even be blown out of proportion by the media.
How many umbrellas are there if I start with two and take 2 away?