"Shorten link as Brumby cops beating"?

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Unless you're familiar with Australian English and Australian politics, this one is going to baffle you.

In fact, I'm still somewhat baffled, even after reading (what I think is) the associated story. It may help you to know that Shorten is "federal Labor powerbroker Bill Shorten", Brumby is John Brumby, the premier of Victoria,  cops is a verb form  meaning (I think) "receives" and beating is a reference to the political defeat of an MP named Craig Langdon and/or the consequences of his resignation. Or something like that.

[Hat tip to Dave Ripley]


  1. Carl Burke said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    When I see 'cops' and 'beating' in the same sentence, I do not expect 'cops' to be the verb!

    I think the American usage of 'cop' as a verb is also a bit different than the Australian one, i.e. 'copping a plea'. I don't think the 'admit' interpretation is available to me without 'to', but I'm not an expert on American slang.

  2. Antony Eagle said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

    Actually 'cops' means something more like 'receives' or 'suffers', as in the relatively common expression 'cop some flak', meaning, 'receive some criticism' (example here: http://bit.ly/c0NkId). Here, it is Langdon's decision to resign early which is causing grief for Brumby (prompted by Langdon's losing preselection, an event Langdon blames on Shorten).

    [(myl) Yes, I figured this out by doing a little field research in Australian newspapers, where cops seems to be pretty common as as way of talking about getting something involving public censure, e.g.

    New goalkeeper Michael Petkovic has been under the microscope and copped a measure of criticism for two [goals].
    Deal a victory for chief who copped public scorn
    The now infamous Jumbuck mini-ute copped a caning in 2009 … when the safety spotlight finally shone on the budget-friendly ute's lack of safety equipment…


    In this case, too, interaction of the initial part of the headline with the now familiar phrase 'shorten link' is likely also causing some of the difficulty.

  3. Brian said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

    So what does "link" mean in this context? It doesn't seem to be functioning as a verb, or else it would be "links", no? So this headline no verb?

  4. Xmun said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    Correct. Understand "[There is a] Shorten link . . ."

  5. Mr Fnortner said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

    The headline now appears as: Brumby left reeling as whip quits. This is not much better. (What is a Brumby left? What are whip quits? And do they truly reel in the same was as the Brumby left?)

  6. ?! said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    The tenuous link to Shorten is stuck in there because he is widely tipped to be a future leader of the federal Labour party. Cops in this sense- I think related to Cockney slang and Yiddish zu khappn / 'to beat'. As someone closely aware of this political situation, the headline parsed easily. I think 'inside the beltway' applies.

  7. Ginger Yellow said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

    There was quite a nice garden path headline in the FT yesterday: "US chains beef up meals to lift profits".
    I was momentarily confused to discover, halfway through the sentence, that the United States was not in fact shackling cuts of meat.

  8. Dan T. said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

    The image I get from the headline is that the author is suggesting that I shorten a URL for web linking, perhaps using a service like TinyURL or bit.ly, with the URL somehow relating to an incident of police brutality involving a person or place named Brumby.

  9. George said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

    I found the following interesting: ". . . he is the victim of faceless factional warlords including federal Labor powerbroker Bill Shorten . . ."

    Here he names one of the "faceless factional warlords." In my American dialect, I don't think someone could be both faceless and named. If they are faceless, they would be unidentifiable, indistinguishable, anonymous.

    From this, I assume Australian 'faceless' is sneaky, cowardly, furtive.

  10. Anna Phor said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    From this, I assume Australian 'faceless' is sneaky, cowardly, furtive.

    Nope. (Sorry.) It's an allusion to Tony Abbott's August 21 speech (made after the election had closed; for those who are not keeping up, there is still no clear result of this election) where he refers to the "faceless men of NSW Labor." Abbott knows specifically who he means; most of the media probably also know who he means.

  11. George said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    @Anna: Thanks for the clarification. But, I am still not clear on what he means by 'faceless.'

  12. groki said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

    re: faceless

    like "faceless bureaucrats" maybe? "murkily behind the scenes, hidden within the corridors of power, beyond the reach of the public" (which George's "sneaky" and "furtive" certainly echo).

  13. George said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

    @Groki: My 'faceless' doesn't connote sneaky or furtive. My, "faceless bureaucrats" are indistinguishable, amorphous, indecisive, risk avoiders, but not sneaky.

  14. KevinM said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

    I saw the photo. The cops did look rather brumby.

  15. Anna Phor said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

    Faceless does mean anonymous. But Abbott and the media (although not the general public, necessarily) know who the "faceless men" are. Abbott isn't being entirely literal here–he's conjouring an image of behind-the-scenes kingmakers who are anonymous and also slightly ominous.

  16. groki said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

    George: sorry, I meant as in your "I assume Australian 'faceless'" line above, rather than your own idiolect.

    "faceless bureaucrats" does have chimes with sneaky for me (too much "Yes, Minister" maybe? :). not just that they avoid risk, but that they positively hide behind that posture of risk avoidance to accomplish ends that I, on the outside, might well object to (and they know that).

    but maybe it's the bureaucracy itself that is sneaky here, rather than faceless ones who comprise it. a form of metonymy?

  17. Mr Punch said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

    @ Carl Burke – In my experience of American slang, "cop" here means roughly "to take with some degree of dishonesty or stealth" and occurs mainly in two phrases that survive from earlier times: "cop a plea" and "cop a feel."

  18. groki said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

    Anna Phor: anonymous and also slightly ominous.

    there's recognizing the face (so the faceless are anonymous), but also being able to read on the face the thoughts and motives of the person behind it (so the faceless are blank, remote, unreadable, and therefore threatening).

  19. rpsms said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 4:33 pm

    Right–I am used to cop meaning "to take" rather than "to receive."

    Reminds me of the differing use of "anymore" between Upsate NY and Philadelphia. In Philly, "anymore" can be used for current and future or positive (e.g. "I am such a ditz anymore"), whereas in NY, it is really only used for what you used to but don't or negative (e.g. "I am not a ditz anymore")

  20. John S. Wilkins said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

    The "faceless men" of the Labor party are infamous in Australia: they were widely regarded as running the show from non-elected (and hence not open to public scrutiny) positions of power within the party's structure (and it is therefore a dog whistle for "unionists", who used to control party policy).

    The term arose, if memory serves, in the 1970s as an attack upon Labor by a conservative politician. Possibly then-PM Malcolm Fraser.

  21. Will Steed said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

    It was instantly understandable to this Australian.

    "Shorten is the link as Brumby cops a beating."

    "Copping a beating" is a common enough phrase here, particularly in a sporting context.

    Shorten, link, Brumby and beating are all nouns. Cops is a finite verb.

  22. Alan Walker said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

    This usage of 'cop', meaning to receive (a punishment, etc), doesn't seem to be exclusively Australian. The OED quotes Dorothy Sayers from 1933: 'I'm really fearfully sorry you copped that packet that was meant for me.' It possibly comes from the British-originated expression 'cop it', meaning to be punished or get into trouble.

    (There are some Australian expressions based on this sense of 'cop', such as 'cop it sweet', to accept a punishment, or to enjoy some good fortune, and the exclamation 'cop that', used when launching an attack, similar to 'take that'.)

    In this case, familiarity with Australian English without knowledge of current Australian politics could lead a headline reader astray, since 'brumby' is an Australian term for a wild horse.

    The faceless men label first came to prominence in 1963 when prime minister Robert Menzies referred to the '36 faceless men' of the Labor Party Federal Conference. This was a rhetorical re-working of the more literally accurate phrase coined by journalist Alan Reid, 'virtually unknown men'. See http://www.theaustralian.com.au/politics/red-fox-exposed-partys-faceless-men/story-e6frgczf-1225872615957.

  23. groki said,

    August 27, 2010 @ 3:46 am

    Alan Walker: usage of 'cop', meaning to receive (a punishment, etc)

    prior to this discussion, I had never understood a line in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: the "witch" who gets weighed against a "duck" (goose?) exclaims, when she and the bird balance, "'Tis a fair cop."

  24. kurt said,

    August 27, 2010 @ 6:26 am

    …'cop it sweet' meaning to accept you've done something wrong and accept the punishment. Used through the ages from naughty boys to hardened criminals.

  25. KevinM said,

    August 27, 2010 @ 11:41 am

    Alan Walker:
    To "cop a packet," I believe, was WWI British military slang for being wounded.
    groki: "A fair cop" means "a legitimate arrest." "It's a fair cop" has attained proverbial status for a false inculpatory statement in a police report. See practically any "Rumpole of the Bailey" story.

  26. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 27, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    I've read that "cop a serve" means "get a scolding" in Australia. Yes? I could never have figured it out.

  27. maidhc said,

    August 28, 2010 @ 3:28 am

    groki, there was a theory extant during a large part of the twentieth century that British police did not carry guns because British criminals were exceptionally good sports, and, when apprehended, would invariably exclaim "It's a fair cop" and not put up any resistance.

    I don't know the origin of this cliche, although "good sport" criminals were found in British comic strips in the early 20th century. However, Monty Python made good use of it several times–like in the "Being Hit on the Head Lessons" sketch.

  28. Peter said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

    @Alan Walker: The Brumbies are also a rugby team, with Brumby often used in headlines to refer to a player from that team. That was where my mind first went, since I didn't know about this specific story.

  29. Andrew said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 8:47 pm

    @Jerry Friedman

    You are correct. Perhaps more common in the active voice (just joking, Geoffrey; JUST JOKING!): The coach gave the team a serve at half-time.

  30. Chad said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

    Yeah, I still can't understand it. Finding out that "Shorten" is actually a proper noun helps, but I still have no idea what the word "link" means in that headline.

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