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#14959 - 01/07/01 08:00 PM Poking the Borax
Capital Kiwi Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 11/13/00
Posts: 3146
Loc: Northamptonshire, England
I just got asked what this meant. A search (admittedly on Altavista) revealed that it is only mentioned on New Zealand web pages.

Does anyone else understand what it means, and can anybody tell me what its origins are and history is?

Ta!

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#14960 - 01/07/01 10:03 PM Re: Poking the Borax
Jackie Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11605
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Two ideas, neither of which I have time to research:
1.)(dumb, so I'm putting it first)is there such a thing
as a bore ax? That could be used threateningly?
2.) borax is, I think, a soft mineral, so maybe poking the borax might be a mining-related term. Could cause a great stir, and a cloud of confusion could arise.


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#14961 - 01/08/01 12:48 AM Re: Poking the Borax
Capital Kiwi Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 11/13/00
Posts: 3146
Loc: Northamptonshire, England
Found this through googling: http://www.artistwd.com/joyzine/australia/strine/p.htm

It says: poke borack/borax - tease, make fun of, ridicule, especially covertly.

The definition is correct, but it doesn't really help!

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#14962 - 01/08/01 06:22 AM Re: Poking the Borax
NicholasW Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 12/18/00
Posts: 393
Loc: London
Borak is apparently an Aboriginal word for 'fun, ridicule'; so 'to poke borak at'.



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#14963 - 01/08/01 10:36 AM Re: Poking the Borax
Jackie Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11605
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Trust you to think of and find something like that,
Nick-o. Good on yer, as they say. Bet yer right, too!


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#14964 - 01/08/01 11:06 PM Re: Poking the Borax
Capital Kiwi Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 11/13/00
Posts: 3146
Loc: Northamptonshire, England
Trust you to think of and find something like that,
Nick-o. Good on yer, as they say. Bet yer right, too.


No, I don't think he is. I found a similar reference (now lost again and I can't remember the search term that produced it), but the writer felt that it was an unlikely connection. A couple of other things he wrote seemed pretty authoritative to me in relation to Strine.

From memory, the writer believed that it wasn't a word that English-speaking Australians would have picked up from an Aboriginal language. Typically these are words for which there is no existing English equivalent or which are more apt.

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#14965 - 01/09/01 03:32 AM Re: Poking the Borax
NicholasW Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 12/18/00
Posts: 393
Loc: London
I would be inclined to agree with you and your source. Words associated with Aborigines are not necessarily native: tucker, walkabout, damper, and I have grave doubts about gin 'woman' since Aboriginal words aren't monosyllabic. But it is always possible that they could have borrowed a word for 'fun'

My source is the Pocket Oxford Dictionary, which has an appendix of Australian/NZ terms. It laconically marks it "[Ab.]". This is not much use for tracking down which one of two hundred odd languages it might come from.


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#14966 - 01/09/01 03:43 AM Re: Poking the Borax
Capital Kiwi Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 11/13/00
Posts: 3146
Loc: Northamptonshire, England
Well, NicholasW, I still want to know where it came from! So, any other ideas from anyone will be welcome.

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#14967 - 01/09/01 05:01 AM Re: Poking the Borax
NicholasW Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 12/18/00
Posts: 393
Loc: London
Okay, in guise of making a cup of tea I have sneaked on tippy-toe to the library and found some answers and questions.

The word is first cited from 1845, as a definition, borak, gammon, nonsense. This suggests the author is glossing a native word. Then come various instances of 'poking borak', in quotes as a colloquialism. The first occurrence of 'borax' found is only 1945.

The OED suggests a connexion with 'barrack', but I think they're wrong. The earliest uses of 'barrack' are all in the modern sense of 'call out, support', not particularly closer to 'borak'.




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#14968 - 01/09/01 11:40 AM Re: Poking the Borax
stales Offline
old hand

Registered: 11/13/00
Posts: 866
Loc: Perth, Western Australia
Whilst I think the "borak" explanation sounds close to the mark, thought I might cloud the issue while I still could.

A major use of borax is (as Jackie says) in mining or, to be more correct, as a flux for the smelting of mineral ores, particularly gold. It's not impossible to imagine a hopeful prospector poking the borax and mineral concentrate in the crucible to get an idea of how much gold he'll have once it's poured into the mould to make an ingot.

Another idea is that this may have some reference to an old time laboratory process that uses a bead of borax, a blow pipe and a bunsen burner to identify minerals. As I recall from high school chemistry (25 years ago now), a sample of the finely ground mineral is placed on a carbon block next to some borax powder. Air is blown through the flame via the pipe to melt the borax, which is then poked onto the mineral sample, engulfing it. The composite bead thus formed is collected in a loop of fine wire, held to the flame and subjected to an air blast. The colour of the flame that comes off the bead is indicative of the mineral present - the basis of spectroscopy and Fire Assaying (I think).

Phew

stales


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