true blue

true blue
The Australian National Dictionary Centre recently received a phone call asking if we had the phrase true blue in The Australian National Dictionary, and if not, why not - because, said the caller, it's a genuine Australian expression. John Williamson's song 'True Blue' proves that it is a dinkie-di Aussie expression, claimed the caller. Is true blue an Australian term? The term itself is certainly not Australian, and its history goes back to the medieval period. At a time when all colours were given symbolic significance, blue was the symbol of loyalty, constancy, faithfulness, and truth - perhaps with regard to the blue of the sky, or to some specially fast dye. This symbolic meaning is common in Chaucer's poetry, and occurs in the late fourteenth century poem (often attributed to Chaucer) Balade against Women Unconstant: 'To newe thinges your lust is euer kene. In stede of blew, thus may ye were al grene' ('Towards new things your pleasure is always eager. Instead of blue [the colour of constancy] you must therefore wear all green [the colour of lack of constancy]'). Very soon thereafter the phrase true blue arose. It meant: 'faithful, staunch and unwavering in one's faith, principles, etc.; genuine, real' (OED). Thus, in 1663, Butler writes in Hudibras: 'For his Religion it was fit To match his Learning and his Wit; 'Twas Presbyterian true Blew'. The phrase was subsequently taken up by various political parties in England before it became the distinctive term for the Conservative party and meant 'staunchly Tory'. Hence Trollope in Framley Parsonage (1860): 'There was no portion of the county more decidedly true blue'. And this is one of the two senses it still has in England - 'true blue adjective extremely loyal or orthodox; Conservative; noun such a person, especially a Conservative' (The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, 1995). Something entirely different happened in Australia: 'sterling' became 'currency'. For the Aussie associations of 'currency' and 'sterling' see, for example: R. Mudie The Picture of Australia (1829): 'Those who are born in the colony are called Currency, and those of English or European birth... are called Sterling.'; Bulletin(August 1895): 'The Australian flag should be more than a defaced British ensign.... "Currency" need pay no deference to "sterling".' Thus in The Worker (Sydney, 1897) we find: Reports from the sheds are cheering, both [Union] reps and men being of the sort called 'true blue'. Of course we find a few of those queer individuals of the brainless, thick-hided, scab-barracker type amongst us. The 'true blues' are the striking workers. Scabs (and, presumably, the wealthy and conservative grazing class) are their antithesis. The contrast drawn between 'true blues' and 'scabs' is clearly not a one-off: The Worker (1896): 'Jim Smith is "true blue" and Bill Muggins is not a scab though Jack Ruggles has called him so'. The working class associations of the term persist. In 1921 a letter to the Editor of Ross's Monthly(Melbourne) says: 'Ever since I arrived at an age capable of thinking I have been an ardent Laborite'. The letter is signed 'True Blue'; Bulletin (April 1975): 'J.B. on the other hand, is a true-blue Labor man'; A.B. Facey A Fortunate Life (1981): 'The unionists were real true blues - loyal and sticking together'. The Australian emphasis is still on loyalty etc., but whereas in England the political associations are with the Conservatives, in Australia they are firmly with the Left. These working class associations of 'true blue' remain, but in a further development of meaning the term came to be applied to any loyal Australian; all 'true Aussies' or all that is 'truly Aussie' are 'true blue': Bulletin(January 1974): 'In the meantime, keep up your true-blue Aussie image'; P. Barton, Bastards I have known(1981): 'that bit of paper says he's not a dinky-di true-blue Aussie'; The Kalgoorlie Miner (1989): 'Eleven Boulder residents became true blue Aussies on Australia Day'. In other words, true blue has widened into a synonym for dinkum or dinky-di, or for its variants fair dinkum and (earlier) straight dinkum. Other citations collected at the Centre indicate that further developments have taken place. The Kalgoorlie Miner (1989) reports: 'Beer belly and pie-eating contests, coupled with the background of the aquatic centre and hot conditions should make the evening a true-blue event to remember'. Here, true-blue is a synonym for the adjective Australian or Aussie. Again, in 1989, the Observer (Narrogin) reports: '[She] became a "true blue" during a naturalisation ceremony'. Here, true blue is a noun meaning an Australian. The term true blue therefore is well within the tradition of turning pommie `sterling' into dinky-di Aussie `currency': its distinctive Australian connotations have separated it from the English sense of the word. On these grounds, it will certainly get a guernsey in the next edition of The Australian National Dictionary.

Australian idioms. 2014.

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