Speaking as a graduate of Frenchs Forest Primary, I can report that early mark was common parlance. Miss Britten, our bling-spangled bohemian in Grade 4, was a devotee of early marks, often accompanied with a game of softball as our reward for being exceptional. Or tractable, at least.
Even in high school, the phrase recurred. Still in Sydney, the benefit was granted by a certain economics teacher late on Fridays. Bob Menzies – his real name I promise – was a big fan of poets, otherwise known as ‘piss off early, tomorrow’s Saturday’.
Patrick Stokes on the other hand, a lecturer in philosophy at Deakin University, has never met the phrase. His tweet said so: “Is ‘early mark’ actually an expression? Not mocking Morrison, I’ve just genuinely never heard it before.”
I happen to know Patrick. He’s a genial scholar with a bent for Kierkegaard, and I first suspected he was playing dumb. Who hasn’t heard of early mark? It is what it is. You finish your in-class exercise and fly the coop before the bell.
The Macquarie defines the phrase as “permission for pupils, usually in infants’ or primary school, to leave a class a little early as a reward for good behaviour or work.” But then the small print struck me: “Also SA, Tasmania – early minute”. That’s right – doona may be a blanket term, a continental quilt for our continent, but early mark is a vernacular shibboleth.
Early minute makes sense, or early minutes if you can extort more freedom. In parts of England, the term is early dart, either an allusion to more pub-time or a premature fag in the hallway. Hall, in fact, is used by the American equivalent, specifically a hall pass bestowing a student licence to roam. So what do Victorians say?
“Leaving early,” says Stokes. “We are a deceptively straightforward people.” Deeper in the same Twitter thread, an eye surgeon named Dr Peter Sumich stole the words from my mouth: “Isn’t it amazing in life, how sometimes we uncover a blind spot that we never knew! And then you wonder – ‘how many other blind spots do I have?’ and ‘how did I miss that …?’.”
Baloney I know about – the numerous variants for cold meat across this country. Devon in Sydney or a baron sausage in Nambucca Heads equates to a pork fritz in Busselton. If I was PM, I’d invoke my Strasbourg with care, knowing how my choice would only alienate one slice of the audience. But early mark? A state-splitter? Where have I been all this time? Hiding under a bloody doona?