Aussie lingo: Mug lair

By Frank Povah 7 November 2013
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Fair dinkum Frank explores the origins of some brutal Aussie insults.

HOON’S A PRETTY GOOD word – with obscure Aussie origins – but it’s losing much of its sting. Once a term for a prostitute’s pimp, hoon seems to have made its first literary appearance in 1938, in Xavier Herbert’s epic Capricornia. It now refers mainly to those hooligans an octane or so below petrol-heads in the Church of Internal Combustion.

Like its older cousin, bludger, hoon was robbed of much of its power by time, and when officialdom got hold of it and made it respectable by enshrining it in anti-hooning legislation and by-laws, its fate was sealed. Its use in headlines, news bulletins and the Summernats in Canberra has made it a rallying call and a symbol of identity. 

Ridicule does as much as anything to stem anti-social behaviour and, if the truth be told, it’s been a long time since hoon was strong enough to do much damage. So let’s resurrect another good old Aussie phrase, one with a lot more venom: mug lair.

You can’t laugh that epithet down and no one, no matter how addicted to infamy, would want to wear it. It’s a terrible expression of scorn from which there’s no escape. You can laugh off ratbag and hoon, dubbo, drongo, dill and galah, but mug lair? Try copping that sweet, sport!

Source: Australian Geographic Issue 82 (Apr – Jun 2006)

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