Oxford Word of the Month: February – Black Caviar odds

WotM header

nounvery short odds; strong favouritism.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

Black Caviar odds first appears in print in 2011 referring to a possible Reserve Bank cut in the official interest rate on Melbourne Cup Day:

We are now headed for a Cup Day official interest rate cut and the banks will pass it on in full and quickly to borrowers. Both these predictions are at Black Caviar odds and just as certain. (Melbourne Herald Sun, 7 October)

The term refers to the champion racehorse Black Caviar, undefeated in 25 races between 2008 and 2013. Betting on Black Caviar entailed very short odds. This first evidence clearly links the transfer of the literal odds on a horse to anything that is likely to be strongly favoured, and hence not likely to bring in a good return on a bet.

In 2013 the Coalition was seen as the likely winner of the Australian federal election, with the Gold Coast Bulletin reporting that the Coalition was ‘getting into Black Caviar odds of $1.16 to take government in September’. (19 February) Although the term appears here in reference to an election—many Australians are keen to bet on the outcome of any contest—it is more often found in the sporting and horse racing worlds, as in the following examples.

In 2015, Australia faced Afghanistan in a World Cup cricket match and were strongly favoured to win:

Australia will start at Black Caviar odds but have been impressed by Afghanistan’s performances this tournament, most notably pace duo Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran. (Canberra Times, 4 March)

And in 2016 we see it in a horse racing context:

[Trainer Stephen] Lee would be Black Caviar odds to lead in at least one winner from his five starters at his home meeting with every chance the triumph will come early. (Sydney Daily Telegraph 30 April)

Black Caviar odds is a variation of an older Australian English term with the same meaning, Phar Lap odds: ‘Whichever is successful will carry the proverbial ton of money and start at “Phar Lap” odds.’ (Cessnock Eagle, 23 November 1933). Phar Lap is Australia’s most famous racehorse. He won numerous races including the Melbourne Cup, and his success captured Australia’s imagination during the Great Depression. We will have to wait and see if the term Black Caviar odds has the staying power of Phar Lap.

Black Caviar odds will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

WotM footer

WotM signature

Oxford Word of the Month: January – turbo chook

WotM header

noun: a jocular name for the Tasmanian native hen, Tribonyx mortierii.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

The Tasmanian native hen is a flightless moorhen endemic to the island of Tasmania. Although it is unrelated to the domestic hen, it was named a ‘native hen’ by the early European settlers, who applied the epithet ‘native’ to many Australian indigenous animals where they saw a resemblance to a familiar European species—hence terms such as native bear (koala), native hedgehog (echidna), and native pheasant (lyrebird).

In 1924 a scientific work gave this description of the Tasmanian native hen: ‘Runs exceeding fast, and many native dogs cannot catch a native hen even in open country.’ (Lord & Scott, A Synopsis of the Vertebrate Animals of Tasmania, 1924) A similar observation was made in 2004: ‘Despite their plump, chicken-like appearance, the Tasmanian Native Hen is estimated to reach speeds up to 50 kmh when its little legs wind up.’ (Launceston Examiner, 17 July) The comments about its speed and appearance suggest why it has recently been given the colloquial name turbo chook.

The first evidence for turbo chook occurs in a 2003 travel article about Maria Island, Tasmania, in which the writer mentions that native hens are called turbo chooks, ‘though these ones seem to have lost a few revs’. (Australian, 1 March) The turbo element of turbo chook is an abbreviation of turbocharged, referring to something that operates at an accelerated speed or goes at a fast pace. The second element, chook, is an Australian colloquial term for a domestic fowl dating from the 1850s. It is derived from a British dialect word, chuck(y), with the same meaning. There is some evidence from the early 20th century of the term chook being applied to other birds, including the emu, but this is rare.

In recent years the term turbo chook has become more widely known in Tasmania, as these examples show:

Tasmania now has its own official flower and animal emblems. May I suggest the black currawong as our bird. It is large and robust, a great image, but also friendly. The only other contender in my opinion is the native hen or ‘turbo chook’ but it hasn’t quite got the image or what it takes. (Launceston Examiner, 15 June 2015)

I just dodged a turbo chook and hit a telegraph pole after eating some crayfish and flatties. (Hobart Mercury, 4 September 2016)

Turbo chook was probably used informally in Tasmania for some time before it occurred in the written record in the early 2000s. Although usage is largely confined to Tasmania where the bird is found, its appearance in the title of a popular 2013 children’s picture book, Sonia Strong’s Tazzie the Turbo Chook Finds Her Feet, indicates that the term may become more generally known in Australian English.

Turbo chook will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

WotM footer

WotM signature

Australian Word of the Year 2016

Democracy sausage has been named Australian Word of the Year 2016.
he_word_of_the_year_infograpihc_sausageDemocracy sausage: A barbecued sausage served on a slice of bread, bought at a polling booth sausage sizzle on election day.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre, based at The Australian National University, selected democracy sausage because of its increased prominence in Australia in a year of election campaigns.

Democracy sausage was chosen from a shortlist which included census fail, smashed avo, shoey, deplorables and Ausexit.

For more information on the Australian Word of the Year click here.

The 2016 Word of the Year and shortlist are selected by the editorial staff of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, who with Oxford University Press publishes the Australian National Dictionary of words and phrases unique to Australia.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre undertakes research into Australian English in partnership with Oxford University Press, and edits Australian dictionaries for Oxford University Press.

The Word of the Year is based on extensive research as well as public suggestions. Vote for your 2016 Australian Word of the Year:


Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth. For more information read their blog post.

View the previous Words of the Year on the ANDC blog page:

2015 – sharing economy
2014 – shirtfront
2013 – bitcoin
2012 – green-on-blue

he_word_of_the_year_infographic_shortlist

The National Party

The enduring strength of a rural-based party in Australia—the National Party—has been rightly judged ‘unique’ (Costar and Woodward 1985, p. 2). Other developed countries have had rural-based parties, but none continued to prosper into the second post-war generation. In the 1920s ‘farmers’ parties’ burgeoned in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, but in the post 1945 period all discarded their rural identity, adopted Centre Party monikers, and, in some cases, underwent total ideological metamorphoses. In 1920s Canada, a United Farmers Party reigned in some provinces, and the Progressive Party had some successes at the federal level. But these elements ultimately subsumed themselves within the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, or the New Democratic Party. In New Zealand a small Country Party existed from 1925 to 1935 before disappearing.

But Australia’s National Party endures. It and its earlier incarnations (the Country Party, and the National Country Party) have provided one of Australia’s prime ministers, and seven of her sixteen deputy prime ministers. The party has, in the past, secured the premiership of Australia’s most industrialized state; has ruled in its own right in the fastest-growing state; and on occasion has won more seats than the Liberal Party in the largest state. Its share of the vote has fallen significantly since the 1980s. But in spite of the massive contraction of the relative importance of primary industries (from about 25 per cent of gross domestic product in the years of the party’s origin to only 2.5 per cent in 2013/14) one tenth of MPs elected to the 2013 House of Representatives caucused with the National Party.

shutterstock_85527103-1

Continue reading

Oxford Word of the Month: December – koala diplomacy

WotM header

noun: Australia’s use of koalas as diplomatic gifts to other countries; a form of Australian soft power diplomacy.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

In May 1994, Australia arranged for a koala called Blinky Bill (named after a famous koala in Australian children’s fiction) and his younger half-brother, Kupala, to spend some time on extended loan at a zoo in the German city of Bonn. The koalas came from San Diego Zoo (rather than Australia), but were nevertheless Australian ambassadors. Their display in Bonn Zoo was complemented by the broadcasting of the Australian television show Blinky Bill, the sale of koala t-shirts, and the chance to win a trip to Australia.

An Australian embassy representative said: ‘Australia could benefit from the koala diplomacy.’ (Canberra Times, 18 May 1994) The koala visit would raise Australia’s profile in Germany and encourage German tourism to Australia. It also had an unexpected result: the Australian embassy received unsolicited donations to support organisations helping injured wildlife after a recent Sydney bushfire. As it turned out, when the media events took place at the zoo, a didgeridoo performance upset the koalas:

Zaine Flynn, an Aborigine who is playing a didgeridoo in a modern production of Hamlet in Stuttgart, provided an additional Australian flavour to the koala diplomacy. He played inside the koala house until zoo authorities asked him to leave because the noise seemed to be upsetting the residents. (Canberra Times, 29 May 1994)

One of the first instances of koala diplomacy occurred in 1984 with the gifting of two koalas to Japan by the Queensland Premier; several other instances have occurred since, including the 1994 German event. The term is modelled on China’s panda diplomacy—where pandas are sent to other countries to facilitate diplomatic relations between China and other countries (starting in the modern era in the 1950s).

One of the most notable recent instances of koala diplomacy was during the G20 summit in Brisbane in 2014 when world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were photographed cuddling koalas. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop commented that:

koala diplomacy should not be underestimated as ‘it portrays Australia in a soft light and promotes our values as an open, free, tolerant democracy’. The koala’s diplomatic sway was crystallised for Ms Bishop at a retreat she held this year for a number of foreign ambassadors in West Australia. During a visit to the Sandalford Winery native animals were brought from a nearby wildlife sanctuary for the diplomats to meet, with a koala proving the most popular. (Melbourne Age, 27 December 2014)

The effectiveness of koala diplomacy as a form of soft diplomacy has seen the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade producing what is referred to as a ‘koala diplomacy manual’. The approach has been criticised by some commentators:

In historical efforts at cultivating soft power—Australia’s public image overseas—we’ve leaned pretty heavily on wildlife (DFAT has reportedly produced a 600-page koala diplomacy manual). It’s hard not to see the koalas as another outing in the line of dumbed-down Paul Hogan-inspired Australiana kitsch we’ve been flogging to the world for decades: g’arn maaate, c’mon down unda! (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2015)

Despite this criticism, it seems very likely that Australia will continue to engage in koala diplomacy in the future.

Koala diplomacy will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

WotM footer

WotM signature

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year

woty-1616x468

After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Why was this chosen?

The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford Dictionaries has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. It has also become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics. 

post-truth_20graph

Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.

The term has moved from being relatively new to being widely understood in the course of a year – demonstrating its impact on the national and international consciousness. The concept of post-truth has been simmering for the past decade, but Oxford shows the word spiking in frequency this year in the context of the Brexit referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the US, and becoming associated overwhelmingly with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics.

A brief history of post-truth

The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix  in post-truthhas a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’. This nuance seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971).

Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world’. There is evidence of the phrase ‘post-truth’ being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.

A book, The Post-truth Era, by Ralph Keyes appeared in 2004, and in 2005 American comedian Stephen Colbert popularized an informal word relating to the same concept: truthiness, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true’. Post-truth extends that notion from an isolated quality of particular assertions to a general characteristic of our age.

The shortlist

odo_woty_742px_pictographic_nov16_5

Here are the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year shortlist choices, and definitions:

adulting, n. [mass noun] informal the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.

alt-right, n. (in the US) an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content.

Brexiteer, n. British informal a person who is in favour of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union.

chatbot, n. a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

coulrophobia, n. [mass noun] rare extreme or irrational fear of clowns.

glass cliff,  n. used with reference to a situation in which a woman or member of a minority group ascends to a leadership position in challenging circumstances where the risk of failure is high.

hygge, n. [mass noun] a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture):

Latinx, n. (plural Latinxs or same) and adj. a person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina); relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina).

woke, adj. (woker, wokest) US informal alert to injustice in society, especially racism.

This article was originally shared on OxfordDictionaries.com on Wednesday 16th November.

[Image source: oxforddictionaries.com]

Health Ageing and Aged Care: An Introduction

Healthy Ageing and Aged Care takes an inter-disciplinary approach to supporting older people within the community and in care. It represents current Australian and New Zealand policies and practices and takes a holistic view of the older person, and emphasises the positive aspects of the ageing process, maintaining that people age in healthy ways and continue to be an integral part of their families and communities. This is one of the rewarding aspects of working with older people—assessing accurately and collaboratively putting in place strategies that can maintain the person’s quality of life. The goal is for you to be able to develop those skills by engaging with the material in this book.

Accompanying videos and audio recordings on www.oxfordascend.com give life to case studies in the text. They enhance the learning experience for the student audience by providing an opportunity to see the complexities and idiosyncrasies of situations relevant to older people and their carers.

Want to know more? Watch Maree and Denise introduce the text and discuss their motivations in creating this blended learning experience.

Australian Foreign Policy and the New International Disorder

9780195596243Australia’s foreign policy elites could be forgiven for thinking that they live in especially challenging times. The current international order appears to throw up a number of problems that not only defy easy resolution but also threaten to overturn many of the ideas and principles that have underpinned policy-making in Australia for many decades. To be sure, the challenges of the past – especially the two World Wars and the Cold War’s proxy conflicts in Asia – should not be belittled; indeed, they seem to dwarf many of thechallenges confronting contemporary policy-makers. Yet what appears to have been lost, to quote British sociologist Anthony Giddens (1991), is Australian foreign policy–makers’ sense of ‘ontological security’: the knowledge of what to expect in a rapidly changing world where established structures and institutions seem to be crumbling. This anxiety is a significant phenomenon of our time, whether or not the developments we now observe in international politics prove to be epochal.

Perhaps the most obvious transformation worrying Australian foreign policy–makers is the apparent weakening of the US-centred security order in East Asia and the re-emergence of China as a major power in the region. As Nick Bisley’s chapter argues, in the period 2011–15 we have seen the first expressions of a growing Chinese willingness to challenge the status quo, most notably in the East and South China Seas, unsettling Japan, several Southeast Asian states and others in the process. Challenges to the Western- dominated international order have also emerged in Europe, where Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea, taking it from the Ukraine in March 2014, despite strong protests from the European Union (EU) and the United States. Although Australia has cleaved ever closer to its long-standing ally, some commentators have argued that the dissonance between the US alliance and Australia’s close economic relationship with China will grow (White 2015), potentially forcing tougher choices in the future.

Also disconcerting to policy-makers has been the emergence or intensification of a range of transnational, ‘non-traditional’ security problems, including terrorist groups such as Islamic State, climate change, environmental degradation, pandemics and even, for some, irregular migration. These problems are rarely the result of intentional aggression from another state, but are either the undesirable externalities of economic development or are associated with the activities of non-state groups. They are usually not seen to threaten the state’s very survival, but do undermine its real or perceived capacity to protect national populations. Traditional security responses, such as deterrence or alliance- formation, are usually seen as no longer appropriate for these issues, and nor are responses focusing strictly on intergovernmental diplomatic relations. As a result, Australian foreign policy–making has expanded beyond the traditional ‘three Ds’ – diplomacy, defence and development assistance – to include a range of new departments which previously had a more restricted domestic role. The most significant example from the last five years is the fast-evolving and internationalising Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). Meanwhile, as Michael Wesley’s chapter shows, traditional foreign policy actors in Australia, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), have had to acquire new ways of implementing and developing policy, as well as establishing new relationships with other agencies inside and outside the Australian bureaucracy, producing new challenges of coordination.

Adding to the broader sense of volatility and uncertainty in Australian foreign policy– making circles in recent years has been the rapid turnover at the top: in the five years since 2010, Australia has had five prime ministers and four foreign ministers. To be sure, there has been considerable continuity in how Australian governments of both the centre-left (the Australian Labor Party) and the centre-right (the Liberal–National Coalition) have approached key foreign policy issues, most notably the US alliance and the treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat. Even where policy differences between the major parties have been small in practice, however public debate has often been sharply polarised, as Lorraine Elliott explains in regard to climate change. Traditionally, foreign policy–making in Australia was seen as an elite pursuit, dominated by a handful of policy-makers and bureaucrats with limited scrutiny, even by Parliament (Firth 2005). Yet, increasingly the public discourse surrounding foreign policy issues has taken on populist tones, as the issues, and the way they are managed, are seen as having implications for Australians’ everyday lives. This, we argue, reflects the blurring of the distinction between domestic and foreign policies wrought by the growing complexity associated with public policy-making in an interconnected, globalised world. It is, in other words, another manifestation of the same processes that have made foreign policy–making appear more challenging in general.

Specifically, the tighter interplay between the domestic and foreign policy arenas has broadened the range of interests and groups with a stake in the way many foreign policy issues are managed. This has two important and interrelated implications: first, it is clear that attaining coherent, ‘national’ positions on most issues of consequence is becoming more difficult in practice than in the past. Second, from a normative perspective, governments’ claims to be acting in the ‘national interest’ internationally are becoming even more problematic. As Ramesh Thakur’s chapter in this volume outlines, in reality the idea of a distinctive national interest has always reflected contested choices and preferences,

manifesting political and normative differences over what could or should be done. As Andrew Phillips’ chapter reminds us, foreign policy has been part of the construction of particular national identities and social relations within Australia since before Federation. Yet the relationship between foreign policy and identity-construction at home is becoming more contentious, as it is increasingly apparent that acting in the national interest actually advances only some interests within Australian society.

Mindful of these developments, we have decided to break with tradition and make this the first edition of Australia in World Affairs since the series began in 1950 to be organised around key themes and issues in Australia’s international relations and foreign policy, rather than around Australia’s bilateral relations. The most important issues today encompass a set of processes and relations that cannot be simply or adequately captured through an emphasis on the relations between two or more governments. For example, Australia’s bilateral relations with Indonesia were obviously affected by its policy of unilaterally towing boats carrying asylum seekers back into Indonesian waters from late 2013. But it clearly makes more sense to examine this development and its implications in the context of Australia’s broader response to irregular migration, which encompasses domestic debates and policy changes, international legal aspects, and relations with several countries, including Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Nauru; to name but a few. Sara Davies’ chapter takes on this challenge.

Nonetheless, conscious of our duty to produce a journal of record and a reference tool for diverse readerships, we provide a chronology of important events in Australia’s international relations and foreign policy for the period 2011–15 and a list of prime ministers and relevant ministers. We also encourage readers interested in Australia’s relations with particular countries or regions, such as Southeast Asia, to make use of the detailed index.

In this introductory chapter, we trace some of the key elements of the emerging new international disorder that Australian foreign policy–makers are learning to navigate. We then consider how Australian governments have understood and responded to these changes and the normative implications of these policy responses.

A LESS PREDICTABLE WORLD ORDER

Australia now seems to be facing a more uncertain international environment than it has done for decades. Serious transnational threats that are beyond the capacity of Australian policy-makers to alleviate single-handedly seem to be multiplying, while the rise of China appears to challenge the long-standing US-led security order in Asia. Both potentially undermine traditional approaches to foreign policy–making in Australia.

Although the emerging international order has multiple sources, particularly important are the effects of the end of the Cold War and the deepening and intensification of a range of processes subsumed under the rubric of ‘globalisation’ (see Held et al. 1999). The end of the Cold War had been seen by some observers as reflecting the triumph of liberal capitalism as ‘the end of history’ (Fukuyama 1992). As non-capitalist alternatives were weakened and the threat of large-scale war between the superpowers receded, many states, especially the United States, were able to refocus their foreign policies towards opening up markets for ‘their’ corporations in other countries (Smith 2005).Thus, during the 1990s there was a noteworthy, though partial, shift in the priorities of policy-makers around the world, from geopolitics to geoeconomics (Luttwak 1990). Geoeconomics is distinguished from geopolitics in that the latter emphasises power in the context of a territorially demarcated state system, whereas the former emphasises power underpinned by control over trans-border flows and markets (Cowen and Smith 2009). The shift to geoeconomics has also entailed a change in the way security is understood, from a near- exclusive focus on the threat posed by powerful states towards a more comprehensive view of security that includes a range of border-spanning, often non-state, security problems, such as environmental degradation, climate change, organised crime, terrorism, infectious disease and even irregular migration (Cowen and Smith 2009; Hameiri and Jones 2015b).

In short, what we have seen is a partial change both in policy-makers’ perceptions of the international economic and security environments and in the ways in which they seek to deal with these issues. This process of globalisation continues today, despite the apparent decoupling of emerging economies from the traditional centres in the North Atlantic since the onset of global financial crisis. First, the perception of transnational vulnerability to new security problems is now firmly established and not subject to the ebb and flow of interstate economic relations. Second, the winding down of the US Federal Reserve’s program of quantitative easing appears to have affected investment in emerging economies, leading to significant economic downturn, especially in Brazil, which has seen its gross domestic product (GDP) go into negative territory. In China, meanwhile, current economic wobbles and a long-term crisis of over-capacity suggest that the government stimulus program could not forever defy the downward pressures on economic growth wrought by declining demand in the West. Andrew Walter’s chapter outlines some of these issues.

As Cold War strictures dissolved, however, the relationship between what we might describe as ‘structure’ and ‘agency’ in international politics also changed. Traditionally, international relations scholars and policy-makers have understood both structure and agency in world politics as constituted by inter-state relations. Now, however, internal and external transformations associated with globalisation have eroded the neat separation of the world into territorialised ‘power containers’, which the Cold War had reinforced (Giddens 1985; Agnew 1994). As a result, even for the most powerful states, the outputs of foreign policy decisions have become more complex and unpredictable. A clear example is provided by the second Iraq war, widely regarded as one of the most catastrophic failures of US foreign policy of recent times, possibly ever (Stiglitz and Bilmes 2008). Although US and allied forces were far superior militarily to their rivals, the US goal of establishing a liberal democracy in Iraq has proven elusive. This conflict has spilled over into a more generalised regional instability, involving new actors such as the Islamic State, which defies obvious means of resolution.

The United States’ inability to attain key foreign policy objectives, or even to contain the negative consequences of earlier failures, amplifies the challenges and dilemmas facing Australian policy-makers.

navigating-the-new-international-disorder

This extract is taken from Navigating the New International Disorder, the latest volume in the Australia In World Affairs series.

Edited by:

Mark Beeson, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia.
Shahar Hameiri, Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Graduate Centre in Governance and International Affairs, School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland.

Australian Institute of International Affairs

The Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) is an independent, non-profit organisation promoting interest in, and understanding of, international affairs in Australia.

It provides a forum for discussion and debate but does not develop or promote its own institutional views. Each year, the AIIA stages more than 200 public and specialist lectures, seminars and other events around Australia. It also sponsors leading research and publications, including the Australian Journal of International Affairs and the Australian Outlook blog. Established in 1924, it is the only nationwide organisation of its kind in Australia and has been recognised as one of the leading think tanks in Southeast Asia.

The AIIA is financed by members’ contributions, a small government subvention and taxdeductible donations from individuals and businesses. For further information, contact (02) 6282 2133 or visit.internationalaffairs.org.au.

Oxford Word of the Month: November – Melbourne Cup field

WotM header

noun: 1. a very large and open field of applicants for a job, contract, etc. 2. a pool of highly-qualified competitors.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s most famous horse race, run annually on the first Tuesday in November at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. The large amount of prize money, massive crowds, and long history of the event have made it a special part of the Australian sporting and cultural landscape—it is quite literally the race that stops a nation.

Since 1861 the Melbourne Cup has been a handicap race run over two miles (now 3,200m) for horses aged three years and over. The handicap nature of the race sees horses allocated particular weights based on the combined weight of the horse and jockey, the age of the horse, and its previous performance. The allocation of weights aims at evening out the field of entrants so that, theoretically, any horse can win the race.

The first evidence for the term Melbourne Cup field is descriptive, meaning ‘the field of horses participating in the Melbourne Cup’. This literal sense is found in records soon after the inaugural event:

I cannot have the little horse in a Melbourne Cup field, seeing that a numerous company is not to his liking. Were there but a dozen at the post we should see the little horse in the first flight at the finish; but as the probability is that there will be nearer forty starters than twelve, I feel compelled to overlook the pretentions of the good little son of Boiardo. (Melbourne Australasian, 10 October 1868)

This report also points to the large field of entrants in the race, although in recent times the number is nearer twenty than forty.

The first evidence for the transferred meaning of Melbourne Cup field from equine to human competitors is found in the 1930s:

The number of candidates who have announced their intention to nominate for the Coburg Council has been described as a ‘Melbourne Cup field’. The total so far is 27. (Melbourne Argus, 27 July 1938)

Here the writer highlights the large number of nominees for the council election with no reference to the quality of the candidates. This sense of Melbourne Cup field, ‘a very large and open field of applicants’, is often found in a political context, sometimes with the implication that many applicants are keen to get their snouts in the trough:

Any vacancy that occurs for a Federal seat of Parliament will always attract a Melbourne Cup field of candidates. But is the field full of moderate handicappers with not too many entries from weight-for-age performers? (Chipp and Larkin, Chipp, 1987)

While the transferred use of Melbourne Cup field usually refers to the large number of applicants for a position, there is also recent evidence for a more positive meaning, ‘a pool of highly-qualified competitors’:

The contract to renew the NSW Government’s telecommunications systems was won against a ‘Melbourne Cup field’ of Australian and overseas bidders … Telecom did not even run second. (Canberra Times, 25 July 1990)

‘A large number of applicants’ remains the central meaning of the transferred use of Melbourne Cup field.

Both senses of Melbourne Cup field are included in the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (2016).

WotM footer

WotM signature

Spanner crabs, platform 27, and a one-duck duck farm

We had some interesting and entertaining correspondence from readers in response to our articles on Australian idioms in the last issue. In her article, Julia Miller was puzzled about the logic of the idiom mad as a box of spanners, asking ‘how can an inanimate spanner be angry or crazy?’ One reader, C. Roe (Qld), has an ingenious theory: perhaps spanners is an abbreviation of spanner crabs, the edible crustacean Ranina ranina. We haven’t seen a box of spanner crabs, but it’s possible they would be more than a little annoyed about being thus detained. T. Bowden (NSW) is also concerned about crustaceans: ‘Off like a bucket of prawns makes no real sense. I always knew it as off like a bucket of prawns in the sun.’

Some of the expressions sent to us were variants on established Australian English idioms. C. Papps tweeted: ‘My dad used to say he was so unlucky he couldn’t win a kick in a street fight.’ This is one of a number of similar Australian expressions on the theme of bad luck or incompetence, such as couldn’t win a chook raffle, couldn’t train a choko vine over a country dunny, and, used chiefly in AFL contexts, couldn’t get a kick in a stampede. T. Brook left a message on Facebook along the same lines: ‘It was an excellent article in the most recent
Ozwords. My favourite [idiom] was missing, but it came and went so quickly in the 1990s it was easy to miss: He’s so stupid he couldn’t run a one-duck duck farm. I can’t explain the appeal.’

Blind Freddy is familiar to many of us as an allusion to something extremely obvious, as in ‘Blind Freddy could see that the deal was shonky’ and ‘Blind Freddy himself could have picked the winner’. One reader, J. Smith (NSW) had a twist on this: Blind Freddy without his guide dog could see that. The inclusion of the guide dog, perhaps a logical extension of the idiom, was new to us. In Amanda Laugesen’s lead article on idioms, she mentioned the special place the bandicoot has in Australia as an emblem of deprivation or desolation. J. Smith added to our stock of bandicoot expressions: the country was so poor that even the bandicoots had to take cut lunches.

One reader sent us some early anecdotal evidence of the Australian term more arse than class (‘to be very cheeky; to be very lucky’). Our own evidence in the new Australian National Dictionary dates from the title of the 1974 album ‘More Arse Than Class’ by Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. However D. Aitkin (ACT) remembers the expression being ‘common in (male) squash-playing circles in Canberra in the early 1960s’, in reference to ‘a brilliant shot that was not intended at all’.

There are a number of idioms based on the formula an X short of a Y that mean ‘very foolish’ or ‘mad’. Some of the better-known are a stubby short of a six-pack, a sandwich short of a picnic, and a sausage short of a barbie. T. Hackett (SA) sent us two dogs short of a dingo, and two bob short of a quid, the latter known to him from pub talk in the 1950s. Of course two bob (two shillings), the predecimal equivalent of twenty cents, has form in Australian idioms. Not the full two bob means ‘not in full possession of one’s faculties’ or ‘not the genuine article’. Two-bob is also used to refer to something cheap, inferior, or of little consequence, as in ‘it’s a two-bob hamburger joint masquerading as fine dining’.

Burke (NSW) sent us an expression with a very local application. Some years ago at Central Station, Sydney, a query to a railway worker as to someone’s whereabouts might elicit the response ‘he’s gone to platform 27’. There was no platform 27. Our reader tells us that the last platform was number 26, and that the answer was code for ‘he’s gone to the pub’ (there was a hotel nearby). A current map of Central Station now shows only 25 railway platforms. Has the pub been extended?

Another response to a question was sent in by A. Horsfield (Qld). ‘In the 1940s whenever we asked what’s for tea (now called dinner) Dad would say bread and duck under the table. Took me ages to work that one out.’ Presumably Dad was exploiting two meanings of duck for comic effect. There is some evidence for this saying, the earliest in a letter published in March 1917 in the Don Dorrigo Gazette & Guy Fawkes Advocate. Nancy Keesing also notes it in her book on Australian domestic slang, Lily on the Dustbin, published in 1982. She writes: ‘“What’s for lunch/dinner/tea?” “Stewed roodleums”, “Bread and duck under the table—or duck under the table and bread and pullet”.’ Other Ozworders will have their own family expressions for this. W & S (for wait and see) was my own mother’s invariable reply.

Finally, we enjoyed this story, also from A. Horsfield, about the origin of his family’s catchphrase good thinking Mary, used when ‘someone said something simply obvious or far out. Many years ago a teaching friend was working hard to put on a Nativity play for a school concert … . The actors with limited recall tended to improvise a lot. On the night of the solemn production Mary and Joseph looked for a place for the birth of baby Jesus and found there was no room at the inn. Joseph: “What shall we do?” Mary: “We could use the stable.” To which Joseph replied very thoughtfully: “Good thinking Mary.” We have used this ad nauseam as a point of mild ridicule.’

Julia-RobinsonJulia Robinson is a researcher and editor at the Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC). She has contributed to a number of Australian Oxford dictionaries and ANDC publications, and is one of the editorial team who worked on the second edition of The Australian National Dictionary.

ozwords-logoOur biannual newsletter Ozwords contains articles on various aspects of English, especially Australian English, in partnership with the Australian National Dictionary Centre. If you are interested in reading more on Australian English and hearing news from the Australian National Dictionary Centre, why not subscribe?

Find previous volumes of OzWords here.