My grandmother (who was of Irish descent) was born in the New England area of NSW, Australia. She used an idiom that she "ought to have been a wheelbarrow". I think it meant something about a lack of intelligence, but I'm not sure; can anyone give me a source and meaning for it?


1 Answer 1


I don't know whether this is related or not, but Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, fifth edition (1961) has this entry for an Australian slang meaning for wheelbarrow:

wheelbarrow. 'A bullock waggon laden with supplies for convicts working in the bush or country.' [Sidney] B[aker, Australian Slang], 1942: Australian: ca. 1820–70.

Presumably being (metaphorically) a wheelbarrow in this sense would have entailed having a rather thankless, demeaning, and arduous existence. If this is the association that your grandmother was making, she might have meant, "As hard as I work for so little reward, I might as well be a supply wagon for bush convicts."

On the other hand, the farther the lifespan of your grandmother (or her parents) is from 1870, the less likely it becomes that there is any connection between her expression and the slang sense of wheelbarrow that Partridge cites.

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