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On the Adrian

Q From Doug Dew: A friend of mine uses a colourful phrase: on the Adrian, meaning crooked or not straight. Any ideas on the origin of these terms?

A Adrian is a well-known bit of Australian slang, dating from the 1970s. I’d always associated it with being drunk; somebody drunk certainly doesn’t always walk straight and there’s probably a link in there somewhere. The word is supposed to originate in the name of the Australian tennis player Adrian Quist, and is a bit of typical Aussie rhyming slang: Quist = pissed, that is, drunk. (Some readers may be surprised that Australians have rhyming slang; many people know only of the Cockney variety, but the Australian variety is colourful and very much alive.)

Mr Quist was a highly successful player, a member of the Australian Davis Cup team at one point, and was presumably so commemorated because he was both very well known and because his name was one of those few that rhymes with pissed. However, Australians tell me that a more usual form of the expression was he was a bit Adrian Quist, as others talk about themselves or others as being Brahms and Liszt. An example appears, I am told, in G A Wilkes’ A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms: “I’m on the turps again — got Adrian Quist somethin’ terrible the other night”. So it’s more likely that your friend’s version is somehow personal to him.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 9 Dec. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 9 December 2000.