Chookas - An Aussie theatrical term for ‘good luck’
Posted: 11 June 2012 04:14 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve just finished a season of Oliver! and was bombarded with good wishes from fellow cast, who all insisted on using the Aussie “Chookas” instead of “Good luck”, “Break a leg” or other encouragement. A bit of Googling found nothing at etymonline, and a raft of stories explaining it, ranging from ‘my dad made it up’ to it being an indication of the size of audience (and therefore the size of pay packet and therefore the sort of meat that could be afforded by a travelling troupe, to the phrase being spelt Chukas and have a likely Sth African variation/origin. No-one has cited any evidence of origin, so I feel impelled to ask my learned colleagues here for assistance in finding something a bit better than folk stories. Does the Big Book have something on that perhaps? Ta.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 04:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Nevereardofit.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Couldn’t find anything in the OED.  If there’s a South African connection, perhaps Eliza can shed some light.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 01:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Doesn’t ring a bell. The nearest match I can think of is Zulu “suga!” = go away.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 02:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Nothing in any of my sources either.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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chookas / chukas

...uniquely Australian. It seems to have come into use during the early days of J.C. Williamson’s dominance of the theatre scene in Australia. In the early 1900s chicken was regarded as a treat (even in my experience ‘chicken in the basket’ was the most expensive dish on a menu). As most shows paid fees depending on the box-office take, a full house meant that the performers would be able to afford a chicken meal. The cry ‘chook it is’ was shortened to ‘chookas’, and eventually used by performers to wish each other a successful show regardless of the number of people in the auditorium....

- from ”Behind Ballet ... the blog of The Australian Ballet.”

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Wikipedia offers:

...In Australia, the term “chookas” can be used instead. According to one oral tradition, one of the performers would check audience numbers. If there were not many in the seats, the performers would have bread to eat following the performance. If the theatre was full they could then have “chooks” — Australian slang for chicken— for dinner. Therefore, if it was a full house, the performer would call out “Chookas!” It is now used by performers prior to a show regardless of the number of patrons; and may be a wish for a successful turnout....

Maybe that sounds a bit too neatly fanciful. But “chook” appears to be an Australian term for at least some domestically raised birds as far back as 1906. From “The Emu: official organ of the Australasian Ornithologists’ Union, Volumes 5-6, by Australasian Ornithologists’ Union, 1905-1906, page 36:

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books?id=j8kgAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA36&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U0WoyOJOMIRxMr0PKzu4dnarUVvag&ci=181,1228,743,235&edge=0

Could “chook” meaning chicken be from the onomatopoetic “chook, chook, chook” = “cluck, cluck, cluck” after the sound of a mother hen leading her brood? Pure speculation on my part.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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But “chook” appears to be an Australian term for at least some domestically raised birds as far back as 1906.

Yep, it remains a very common term.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 08:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Thanks folks. I’m not sure if I’m pleased or not that there is not much evidence beyond the sort of things Sobiest and I have found. The Chook = chicken is certainly well understood in modern Aussie English, so I wouldn’t be surprised by the reference being to a chicken. I remain doubtful of the truth of the connection indicated as I doubt that chicken was an expensive dish at the time. I would have thought it just as prevalent and therefore as (in)expensive as many other meats in Australia in the time. I’m also doubtful that a phrase that was only used when there was a big audience would then transfer across to a general greeting of good luck. If there is a big audience in already, then the good luck has already arrived. Also, the phrase would not have been used each show, since some shows would have smaller audiences. Extra evidence would still be welcome, and thanks for those who have had a crack on my behalf.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 10:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Anything in the Macq about it?
Btw, what role are playing?

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Posted: 11 June 2012 10:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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OP: No etymology in the free online trial of Macquarie. Played “ensemble”, so little bits here and there. Got half a sentence solo as Large Governor in the song ‘Oliver’.

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Posted: 11 June 2012 11:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Ah well. Macquarie’s not famous for its etymological rigour, anyway.

Keep on encouraging others to swallow chooks in gluttony, brad.

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