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.