What is an ocker?

ockerWho or what is an ocker?

In Australia, there is a cultural stereotype of a working-class Aussie who might be found at the pub, at a barbecue, working on his V8, or sitting at home in front of the television watching the footy (football).

He – for the archetypal ocker is usually a bloke – has a beer belly bulging out of his blue singlet (tank). He wears a pair of shorts and thongs (flip-flops), and he always has a tinnie (beer) in hand. He may even wear a cork hat to ward off the flies.

He is a colorful character who is common and uncultured. He is cheerful and has a good sense of humor, but he’s probably a little bit sexist. He uses lots of Aussie slang and he speaks with a broad Australian English accent.

In previous posts we’ve talked about the three main types of Australian accents: cultivated (the posh type), general (the most common type), and broad (the working class type). We have also discussed Strine, an exaggerated broad Australian English accent. This accent is best exemplified by crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee, Barry Humphries’ character Sir Les Patterson, and the accents portrayed in the Australian comedy Kath & Kim.

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A cork hat

Ocker is often used as a pejorative term, like the Aussie equivalent of U.S. redneck.

The ocker can be a cringe-worthy character although Australians have some affection for him because he embodies all of the quintessential Aussie virtues, like being a good mate (friend) and a hard worker who is down to earth and never “up himself” (i.e., unpretentious).

His way of talking signals his identity (this is called covert prestige) like a football t-shirt or a baseball cap.

A woman can be an ocker too. She may be called an ockerina or an ockerette instead, although these terms are mostly archaic.

Where did the name ocker come from? In Australia during the early 20th Century, the Irish name Oscar was very popular. (Compare the Irish female name “Sheila”, which was a common name that became a derogatory term for a woman, and exactly the kind of word an ocker would use.) Ocker was often a nickname for anyone named Oscar.

Ginger Meggs, an Australian comic strip that began in the 1920s, featured a character called Oscar Stevens who was nicknamed “Ocker”.

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Ron Frazer as the original Ocker.

In the 1960s television comedy The Mavis Bramston Show, actor and writer Ron Frazer played the role of a characteristically Australian man named “Ocker” (Oscar). Ocker was best remembered leaning against a bar, sinking a beer and speaking with a broad Aussie accent.

And so, ocker came to be a name for people who embodied this stereotype.

Some say the ocker is dead or dying.

Others believe the ocker is alive and well today and still represents our Australian values and identity, but he’s changed a little over time.

Perhaps there is a little ocker in all Aussies…

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Karen Stollznow

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist with a background in history and anthropology, and is the author of the best-selling book God Bless America. Her other titles include Hits & Mrs., Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic and Haunting America. Her forthcoming books include Missed Conceptions and Not What The Doctor Ordered.

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