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Entry from December 17, 2022
Chookas (“good luck” in Australian theatre)

“Chookas” is an expression meaning “good luck” that is used in Australian theatre. The origin is unknown, but there are several theories.
 
The first citations appear in the 1980s. “It is bad luck to say ‘Good luck’, so you utter meaningless little incantations like ‘Chookas’” was printed in The Age (Melbourne, Victoria) on February 14, 1981. “There are more good-luck wishes, more ‘chookas’” was printed in The Age on April 12, 1984. “Chookas Zoe…for what must be one of the most demanding roles ever” was printed in The Age on May 10, 1984.
 
“By the way, in Australia we don’t say ‘break a leg’ we say ‘chookas’. During the halcyon days of the touring J.C. Williamson Theatre Company in the early 1900s, actors hoped that full houses might be enjoyed for all their performances. If the house were full and all the seats sold, they might be paid enough to afford a chicken dinner with all the trimmings. Actors would, on hearing of a full house, call out ‘chook it is’ (Australians have called chicken chook since the late 1800s), which eventually became the good wish of ‘chookas’” was printed in the Townsville (Queensland) Bulletin on March 25, 2019. This is a popular explanation. However, “chookas” was not cited in print in the early 1900s, but in 1981. Chicken was not a rare dish in the 1980s.
 
“I learnt it back in the 80s. Originally pronounced Choogas, it’s a derived and typically Aussie abbreviated version of ‘Cheers and good wishes’. Nothing to do with chicken” was posted by Simon Peppercorn on the site StackExhange: English Language and Usage on September 13, 2018. However, citations of “cheers and good wishes” have not been found in print associated with the Australian theatre. It’s regarded as bad luck to wish someone “good luck.”
 
“But that (the derivation from “chook it is”—ed.) makes chookas a positive wish for good fortune, and so very unusual: not one of the ‘break a leg’ expressions. Unless it derives from some breaking of chook bones. Or perhaps from the venerable Australian expression ‘may your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down’. In which case it really is part of the spiritual reverse psychology family of good/bad wishes” from “Good luck a game of reverse psychology” by Roly Sussex was printed in The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Queensland) on November 22, 2008.
   
“May your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down” (roughly translated as “May an emu destroy your outhouse”) is from the Australian comedy film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) and was also used in the sequel, Barry McKenie Holds His Own (1974). “May your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down” was a popular slang phrase in Australia in the 1970s. It’s very possible that it was used for “good luck” in the Australian theatre, and then shortened to “chookas.”
 
       
Wikipedia: Break a leg
Alternative terms
In Australia, the term “chookas” has been used also. According to one oral tradition, one of the company 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 “chook” —Australian slang for chicken— for dinner. Therefore, if it was a full house, the performer would call out “Chook it is!”, which became abbreviated to “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.
       
(Oxford Dictionary of English, third edition)   
chookas
▶ exclamation Australian used to wish a performer good luck: a big chookas to all involved in tomorrow’s show | chookas for a fantastic run and a brilliant season.
– origin 1990s: probably from chook, although the precise origin is unclear. It is often popularly explained as an alteration of chook it is, from a time when chicken was considered an expensive delicacy: if a play was successful the actors would be paid well, and could eat well.
 
Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms
chook
A domestic fowl; a chicken. Chook comes from British dialect chuck(y) ‘a chicken; a fowl’ which is a variant of chick. Chook is the common term for the live bird, although chook raffles, held in Australian clubs and pubs, have ready-to-cook chooks as prizes. The term has also been transferred to refer to other birds, and often in the form old chook it can refer to a woman. See our Word of the Month articles ‘chook run’ and ‘chook lit’ for further uses of chook. First recorded as chuckey in 1855.
(...)
chook: may your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down
A jocular curse. This expression recalls an earlier time when many Australians kept chooks (domestic chickens) in the backyard and the dunny was a separate outhouse. A similar comic exaggeration is seen in the phrase he couldn’t train a choko vine over a country dunny - a comment on a person’s incompetence. First recorded in the 1970s.
 
YouTube
I Hope All Your Chooks Turn to Emus - Barry McKenzie
Mr Cherry
May 19, 2015
Couldn’t find the song anywhere on YouTube and thought it was too good not to have… I do not own this! From Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)
 
Newspapers.com
14 February 1981, The Age (Melbourne, Victoria), “First Night” by Jane Sullivan, pg. 19, cols. 6-7:
“Beginners, this is your half-hour call. Thank you, chookas.
 
That is one of those theatre superstitions. It is bad luck to say “Good luck”, so you utter meaningless little incantations like “Chookas”, “Toy toy” or “Break a leg” instead. Mona is also nervous about people who whistle in the theatre. “I reckon we don’t need any extra bad luck,” she says.
 
Newpspaers.com
12 April 1984, The Age (Melbourne, Victoria), “Behind the logies, there’s life” by Michael Shmith and Brian Courtis, Green Guide, pg. 12, col. 2:
“On time,” says Faiman, at 8:22, “we’re going to be right on time. Chookas, everyone!”
 
There are more good-luck wishes, more ‘chookas’.
     
Newspapers.com
10 May 1984, The Age (Melbourne, Victoria), pg. 9 full page ad:
‘You’re great under any roof, but chookas for Zoe’s Art Centre debut!’
DERRYN HINCH
(...)
‘Chookas Zoe…for what must be one of the most demanding roles ever.’
DARUL SOMERS
(Zoe Caldwell in Medea.—ed.)
 
Urban Dictionary
chookas
Used in theatre as an alternative to “Good luck”.
“I’m about to go on stage.”
“Alright, chookas!”

by Anonymous September 7, 2003
 
Urban Dictionary
chookas
Theatrical slang used mainly in Australia to wish performer good luck. Synonymous to “break a leg”.
Actors, this is your 5 minute call. Chookas, everyone!
by LenSensei June 21, 2006
         
Google Books
The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
By Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor
New York, NY: Routledge
2008
Pg. 139:
chookas! used for wishing an actor good luck. Actors are, by tradition, superstitious, and to actually wish an actor ‘good luck’ in so many words is thought to be tempting fate; this abstract (derivation unknown) or surreal benediction was used by Evan Dunston, and Australian theatrical agent in London during the 1980s. AUSTRALIA, 1984
   
22 November 2008, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Queensland),  “Good luck a game of reverse psychology” by Roly Sussex, pg. M24L
Back to chookas. There are various attempts at a folk etymology (a plausible explanation of how it might have come about).
 
Maccas is McDonald’s, after all, so chookas could have been a wish for much chicken on the table. This would have made more sense 50 years ago, when chicken was a delicacy rather than a staple. Such is one slightly plausible explanation offered by an actor colleague.
 
But that makes chookas a positive wish for good fortune, and so very unusual: not one of the “break a leg” expressions. Unless it derives from some breaking of chook bones. Or perhaps from the venerable Australian expression “may your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down”. In which case it really is part of the spiritual reverse psychology family of good/bad wishes.
 
StackExchange: English Language and Usage
As per this post from 2006 in an Aussie theatre forum, Joe McCabe provides a similar story:
 
I first came across it at the old firm of JCW’s way back in a prestroke life.
 
There was a poem that went with it, but I can’t remember it now. The bit I do recollect is the complete term is ‘Tio Tio Tio Chookas’ loosely meaning ‘With hear & sole. May you always play to a full house’
 
Also the actions which go with the poem, were using your right hand, pat your left heart 3 times with the words ‘tio’ & jump up on ‘Chookas’.

(...)
answered Aug 29, 2012 at 5:23
coleopterist
 
WhatsOnStage
10 things you didn’t know about Australian theatre
It’s not just Kangaroos and
Neighbours, the theatre scene down-under is more important than you may have previously thought
Guest Contributor London 14 May 2014
(...)
3. To wish someone luck you say ‘Chookas’
Australian actors share their British counterparts’ superstitions about wishing one another good luck, instead, they say ‘chookas’. This dates to the 1900s, when a full house meant that the cast would be given chicken to eat after the show. Before curtain up, someone would count how many people were in the audience. If there were a lot, the counter would yell ‘CHOOKAS!’ to let the cast know they wouldn’t go hungry. So ‘chookas’ came to mean ‘good luck’.
   
StageMilk 
Actor’s Dictionary
Written by StageMilk Team on May, 10th 2016 | Acting Dictionary Resources
(...)
Chookas: (CHOOK-US) In the vein of “break a leg”, “chookas” is an Australian good luck well wishing without saying the phrase “good luck” (which is superstitiously considered bad luck to say in a theatre). It’s precise origins are unclear, but it is typically believed to be derivative of “chook it is” which was said in ye oldie time when chicken was an expensive delicacy – if a playhouse was successful and full it meant the actors would be paid well and then could eat well.
 
1 August 2018, The Border Mail (Albury-Wodonga, NSW), “It’s chookas, butterflies and Bam-ba-Lam as eisteddfod rolls back around” by Jodie Bruton, pg. ?:
Chookas first came up for me seven years ago around the same time my oldest daughter started doing annual dance concerts in Albury.
 
Turns out it is a uniquely Australian expression which dancers and performers say to one another backstage just as the performance is about to start.
 
It loosely translates as break a leg or good luck, but the origins of the word are rarely thought about as it has passed into everyday language.
 
StackExchange: English Language and Usage
I learnt it back in the 80s. Originally pronounced Choogas, it’s a derived and typically Aussie abbreviated version of “Cheers and good wishes”.
Nothing to do with chicken.
answered Sep 13, 2018 at 23:08
Simon Peppercorn
     
25 March 2019, Townsville (Queensland) Bulletin, “Ask Sue-Belinda” by Sue-Belinda Meehan, pg. 16:
By the way, in Australia we don’t say ‘break a leg’ we say ‘chookas’. During the halcyon days of the touring J.C. Williamson Theatre Company in the early 1900s, actors hoped that full houses might be enjoyed for all their performances. If the house were full and all the seats sold, they might be paid enough to afford a chicken dinner with all the trimmings. Actors would, on hearing of a full house, call out ‘chook it is’ (Australians have called chicken chook since the late 1800s), which eventually became the good wish of ‘chookas’. So my friends, whatever you do this week, may I wish you success, chookas or break a leg … whichever story you might choose.
   
Google Books
Magpies & Red Skies:
The enchanting origins of 100 superstitions

By Willow Winsham
Sydney, Australia: Wellbeck Publishing Group
2022
Pg. 69:
In Australia, a cry of “chookas!” is often exchanged between performers before the curtain goes up. Some say it is derived from “chook it is!” and thus chicken for the post-performance meal, or from the more mundane “cheers and good luck”.
 
Twitter
OperaGarb
@OperaGarb
It’s Bad Luck to say Good Luck on Opening Night!
Instead, say it with this new mug!
#newproduct #operagarb #mug #printondemand #printful #goodluck #superstition #toitoitoi #opera #performer #operasinger #theatre #tradition #breakaleg #chookas #instatheatre #performing
6:00 AM · Jun 4, 2022

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film/Circus • Saturday, December 17, 2022 • Permalink


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