The word battler has been in the English language for a long time. The word is a borrowing from French in the Middle English period, and meant, literally, `a person who battles or fights', and figuratively `a person who fights against the odds or does not give up easily'. The corresponding English word was feohtan which gives us modern English 'to fight'. English also borrowed the word war from the French in the twelfth century; it's the same word as modern French guerre. But the word battler, at the end of the nineteenth century, starts to acquire some distinctively Australian connotations. For this reason, it gets a guernsey in the Australian National Dictionary. 1. It describes the person with few natural advantages, who works doggedly and with little reward, who struggles for a livelihood (and who displays courage in so doing). Our first citation for this, not surprisingly, comes from Henry Lawson in While the Billy Boils(1896): `I sat on him pretty hard for his pretensions, and paid him out for all the patronage he'd worked off on me.. and told him never to pretend to me again he was a battler'. In 1941 Kylie Tennant writes: `She was a battler, Snow admitted; impudent, hardy, cool, and she could take a "knock-back" as though it didn't matter, and come up to meet the next blow'. In this tradition, K. Smith writes in 1965: `Everybody in Australia has his position. Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of people in this country: the rich, the middle class and the battlers'. 2. It has also been used of an unemployed or irregularly employed person. a: (in the country): a swagman or itinerant worker. This sense is first recorded in the Bulletin in 1898: `I found patch after patch destroyed. Almost everyone I met blamed the unfortunate "battler", and I put it down to some of the Sydney "talent" until... I caught two Chows vigorously destroying melon-vines'. Again in the Bulletin in 1906 we find: `They were old, white-bearded, travel-stained battlers of the track'. The word is not much used in this sense now, but in 1982 Page & Ingpen in Aussie Battlerswrite: `The average Australian's image of a battler does seem to be that of a Henry Lawson character: a bushie of the colonial era, complete with quart pot and swag, down on his luck but still resourceful and cheerful'. b: (in an urban context): an unemployed person who lives by opportunism. Frank Hardy in Tales of Billy Yorker (1965) writes: `Any Footscray battler could get a few quid off Murphy, just for the asking'. S. Weller, Bastards I have met (1976) writes: `He was a battler, into all the lurks about the place and just one jump ahead of the coppers all the time'. 3. A person who frequents racecourses in search of a living, esp. from punting. The word is used in Australia with this sense from the end of the nineteenth century. Cornelius Crowe in his Australian Slang Dictionary (1895) gives: ` Battlers broken-down backers of horses still sticking to the game'. In 1925 A. Wright in The Boy from Bullarah notes: `He betook himself with his few remaining shillings to the home of the battler - Randwick [a racecourse in Sydney]'. 4. A prostitute. In 1898 we find in the Bulletin: `A bludger is about the lowest grade of human thing, and is a brothel bully... A battler is the feminine'. C.W. Chandler in Darkest Adelaide (c.1907) writes: `Prostitution though most terrible and degrading in any shape or form reaches its most forbidding form when married women are found out battling for cash'. And further: `I told him I would not mind taking on a tart myself - an extra good battler preferred'. Meanings 2. 3. and 4 have now disappeared from Australian English, and it is meaning 1 which has become enshrined in the language, especially in the phrase little Aussie battler. This is still the person of the Henry Lawson tradition, who, `with few natural advantages, works doggedly and with little reward, struggles for a livelihood (and displays courage in so doing)'.

Australian idioms. 2014.

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