The Oxford English Dictionary celebrates one hundred years of Roald Dahl.

bfgrdLast week marked the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and to celebrate, the Oxford English Dictionary has published a range of revised and newly drafted entries containing references to Roald Dahl’s writing in its latest update.

The words included are recognisably ‘Dahlesque’ and while not all are coined by him, they have magical qualities that instantly evoke the vibrant worlds that have captivated the imaginations of so many.

Dahl was a true wordsmith, a creative man who jumbled up the letters and presented us with words that are fun to say. He offered us a new spin on old words, such as splendiferous, [splendid/marvellous] which was first used more than five hundred years ago to mean resplendent, and revived other words that hadn’t been used for decades, such as scrumdiddlyumptious, [extremely scrumptious; excellent, splendid; (esp. of food) delicious] because sometimes, scrumptious just isn’t enough.

Many children (and parents alike) were delighted when he introduced us to Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the diminutive and musical workers from Loompaland. Who could forget the much coveted golden ticket, an all access pass into the magical world of Willy Wonka himself. We learnt that we’re all human beans thanks to The BFG, the big friendly giant so named for his unusual friendliness, and found out about that magical time called the witching hour, described by Dahl as the ‘special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up [is] in a deep deep sleep’ (although it was actually first mentioned in 1762 in a poem by Elizabeth Carter Keene).

That’s the wonderful thing about Dahl, he understood that language shouldn’t be static or limited to our current understanding, rather, that language can be fun and that we should play with it and delight in its possibilities.

Of the inclusions, Dahl’s grandson Luke Kelly (Managing Director of The Roald Dahl Literary Estate) says: “It’s no secret that my grandfather, Roald Dahl, took particular relish in playing with language and making it his own. Of all the many wonderful tributes being paid to him in his centenary year, the inclusion of his words and phrases within the iconic Oxford English Dictionary feels not only one of the most fitting but one that I know would have made him extremely happy and proud.”


The OED is one of the largest and longest-running language research projects in the world. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over 829,000 words, senses, and compounds – past and present – from across the English-speaking world. As a historical dictionary, the OED is very different from those of current English, in which the focus is on present-day meanings. You’ll still find these in the OED, but you’ll also find the history of individual words, and of the language – traced through over 3.3 million quotations, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books.  For more information about the OED please visit the website.

Words for pie (and why they’re all unappetising)

The humble meat pie is as Aussie as it gets. The iconic fist-sized pastry is light, flaky and golden on the outside, and filled with piping hot minced meat and gravy on the inside – perfect as a frosty winter’s day meal at the footy or a cheap, tasty snack from the servo.

In the 2014 season of The Bachelor Australia, contestant Laurina Fleure precipitated a hashtag frenzy on social media when she bemoaned a date that involved eating a ‘dirty street pie’ from a Sydney pie-cart. Her remark alluded to the pie’s status as food for the working class, and the stereotypical connotations of crudeness and boorishness that come along with it. A pie-eater is a derogatory Australian term used to refer to a small-time or second-rate person, originally of the criminal persuasion:

[The term] arose from the fact that most crims were unwillingly conscripted into the army & at the first opportunity deserted. Having no coupons & identity card & prevented from getting work they managed to live by getting free pies from the army buffet in Hyde Park … so to call a person a pie eater was an assertion that they pretended to have a special status & knowledge when they had neither the qualifications nor the knowledge to justify it. (Ted Hartley in Gary Simes, Dictionary of Australian Underworld Slang, 1993)

It’s no surprise then that slang terms that refer to pies themselves can come across as unrefined. In fact, a number of them are downright nauseating in their association with pests, vermin, and unsavoury animal parts; we have never trusted the dubious contents of a pie. Take maggot bag, for instance. As Kel Richards wrote, ‘to ask the nice lady at the canteen for a “maggot bag and blood, thanks, love” is to ask for a meat pie and tomato sauce’ (Dictionary of Australian Phrase and Fable, 2013). In a similar vein, to ask for a ‘dog’s eye with dead ‘orse’ is to ask for a meat pie with sauce.

Rounding up the animal trifecta is rat coffin, described in a slightly dubious tone by the Sydney Morning Herald as:

A tasteless term for a meat pie that is strangely evocative even though it is completely inaccurate these days. We hope. (Sydney Morning Herald, August 25, 2005)

Interestingly, in their original form in medieval Europe, pies were called ‘coffins’, or ‘coffyns’, simply meaning a box or container. Food historian Janet Clarkson, in her book Pie: A Global History, noted that pie shells were made of thick pastry and were used as cooking vessels for the meat filling. The shell was made of hard, coarse rye flour, and was often several inches thick. Back in a time when refrigerators hadn’t been invented, this sturdy crust had the added benefit of preserving the contents within.

The word ‘pie’ is probably the same word as the archaic term ‘pie’, a name for the Eurasian magpie: the various iingredients of a meat pie being compared to objects randomly collected by a (Eurasian) magpie. It certainly reflects both historical and contemporary meat pie-manufacturing processes, in which fillings are typically minced and derived from multiple animal parts. In medieval times, pies and pasties contained beef, mutton, venison, fowl (or a combination thereof) and in some cases even porpoise meat (Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food).

While modern-day Australians are unlikely to grind up sea mammals for food, the ‘mixed bag’ approach to meat still applies. According to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, meat pies are only required to contain 25% ‘meat flesh’, defined as ‘the skeletal muscle of the carcass of any buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit or sheep … plus any attached animal rind fat, connective tissue, nerve, blood and blood vessels’. The manufacturer is not required to label the type of meat used in the pie, as long as it meets the criteria above. If that’s not enough to make you toy with the idea of becoming a vegetarian, tongue roots, liver, spleen and tripe are also permissible parts to include in a pie (as long as these parts are declared on the label).

With the pie manufacturing process the way it is, it’s no wonder that the Australian slang terms for meat pie are all pretty unpalatable. Just as Aussies have put our own culinary stamp on the dish, we’ve done the same in a linguistic sense too. Maggot bag, dog’s eye and rat coffin, in true Aussie style, are terms that are sardonic, irreverent and doused with a dollop of saucy humour.

Alicia Cheah is a Primary Publisher. Once, in a feeble attempt to increase her vitamin A, iron and selenium intake, she cooked a massive batch of fried chicken livers, sautéed lamb liver and crumbed lamb kidneys. It could only be described as an offal affair.

9780195550269This article was inspired by entries from the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. This dictionary is the only comprehensive, historically-based record of the words and meanings that make up Australian English. It is a unique lexical map of Australian history and culture.

The dictionary was produced at the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University. The Centre, established in 1988, is a joint venture of theAustralian National University and Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand.

Chief Editor: Dr Bruce Moore is a former Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre (1994–2011). He has edited a number of OUP dictionaries, including the Australian Oxford Dictionary.
Managing Editor: Dr Amanda Laugesen
Editors: Mark Gwynn, Julia Robinson

[Image source: Shutterstock ID 3090849]

Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary

rd9780192736451To mark the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth this week we are publishing the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary. Books including Matilda, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Twits have inspired generations to play with language and make up words.

Some Dahlesque words for your everyday:

A word for the weekend…

Hopscotchy – adjective

If you feel hopscotchy, you feel happy and cheerful, as if you have drunk a whole bottle of frobscottle.

‘Whenever I is feeling a bit scrotty,’ the BFG said, ‘a few gollops of frobscottle is always making me hopscotchy again.’ – The BFG.

A term for those you know who let all their hair grow…

Hirsute – adjective

Hirsute is a very useful word to describe The Twits because it means hairy or untrimmed, so Mr Twit is hirsute and so is Mrs Twit’s unweeded garden.

A compliment…

Splendiferous – adjective

Splendid, marvelous.

‘Your grandad,’ he said, ‘my own dad, was a magnificent and splendiferous poacher. It was he who taught me all about it.’ – Danny the Champion of the World.

Did you know? The word splendiferous was not invented by Roald Dahl. It is an old word that was first used more than five hundred years ago. Another old word with the same meaning is splendacious.

A snack…

Snozzberry – noun snozzberries

A type of berry you can eat.

‘Lovely stuff, lickable wallpaper!’ cried Mr Wonka, rushing past. ‘It has pictures of fruits on it – bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, pineapples, strawberries, and snozzberries…’ – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary
From aardvark to zozimus, a real dictionary of everyday and extra-usual words.
RRPA$19.95
9780192736451

Available now from all good bookstores.

Connecting with Law Short Film Competition 2016 Winners

he_connecting_with_law_2016_web_featureboxThe Connecting with Law Short Film Competition is an annual event run by Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand. It is open to all students enrolled in an Australian law degree and has proven itself to be unique way of encouraging Australian law students to connect with their field of study and contribute to legal education in Australia.

This year, the ninth consecutive year of the competition, students were invited to make a two- to five-minute film exploring the 2016 theme, ‘Why study law?’ The winning entry was judged to be the most creative, instructive and original, with the team demonstrating an ability to reflect critically and creatively on the theme.

1st prize winner: Day One
Kit Mun Lee, Liam Hartley, Edward Wong, Quang Ngyuen
(University of Melbourne)

This film humorously attempts to capture the reality of those first few classes in law school where students answer ‘that’ question – why study law? Such a question produces an array of responses, ranging from passion for reading and writing to self-empowerment to the chance to do something interesting.

Though valid reasons, often times these incentives are fallible and even steeped in fantasy – such self-driven motivations for studying law can be unrealistic. Therefore, this film satirises these fantasies and contrasts them to the more meaningful motivation for studying law – helping people and effecting positive change in others.

Please note that we have decided to only award first place this year, as we feel the other entries did not meet the criteria of the submission guidelines and were thus ineligible to place.

It is our hope that the 10th Anniversary of the Short Film Competition will see participants embracing the competition with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.

Thank you for supporting the Connecting with Law Short Film Competition. Please stay tuned to our website for details about next year’s competition in early 2017.

Upcoming events for the Australian National Dictionary Second Edition

To celebrate the publication of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary, there will be events in Sydney and Melbourne this September.

AND2e

Starting on Thursday September 8 at 6 pm Abbey’s Bookshop in Sydney will be hosting an event with AND 2e editors Bruce Moore (former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre) and Amanda Laugesen (current director), along with Abbey’s bookseller Lindy West as moderator and Kel Richards (broadcaster and author of The Story of Australian English) as guest speaker.

This is a free event but you will need to RSVP to attend. Follow the link to RSVP and for more information.

On Tuesday September 13 at 6.30 pm Readings Hawthorn in Melbourne will be hosting Bruce Moore and Amanda Laugesen for a free panel discussion moderated by cryptic crossword maestro David Astle.

Please follow the link to RSVP.

 

We hope to see you there!

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Oxford Word of the Month: September – hip-pocket nerve

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noun: an imaginary nerve that reacts whenever demands are made on one’s money (especially in contexts such as government proposals to increase taxes).

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

The first evidence of the term hip-pocket nerve occurs in a speech by Prime Minister Ben Chifley in 1947. In May of that year, during a tax debate in the House of Representatives, Chifley responded to a comment on aggregate taxation by the member for Fawkner:

The average citizen is not interested in what the whole of the community pays; his sole interest is in what he pays. Accordingly, I shall bring the honourable member for Fawkner right down to earth. As members of Parliament receive an allowance of £1000 a year, I propose to examine the case of a man in receipt of that income, because it will bring home the facts to a very sensitive nerve in the human constitution—the ‘hip-pocket nerve’. (Reported in The Australian Worker, 21 May 1947)

The hip-pocket nerve gets its name from the pocket in the back of a pair of trousers, just behind the hip, that traditionally contains a wallet. Chifley’s point is that we are all sensitive to demands on our wallet, especially those coming from government. Australian governments of all persuasions are acutely aware of this around the time of the annual Federal Budget:

While this year’s Budget will be hitting the hip-pocket nerve, the Government is taking solace in the knowledge that it has up to two years to win over the electorate. (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 August 1986)

Did Ben Chifley coin the term hip-pocket nerve, or was he using a term he already knew? In the absence of earlier evidence we can’t rule out the possibility that it is Chifley’s coinage. What is clear is that its first recorded outing in a tax debate foreshadowed the context of bureaucratic impost in which this Australian term is still chiefly used:

This week’s Geelong city council decision to lift rates an average 8 per cent will leave ratepayers, whacked heavily about the hip pocket nerve in recent years, even more disillusioned. (Geelong Advertiser, 4 June 2005)

Hip-pocket nerve is included in the recently released second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (2016).

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Australian food and drink quiz

Think you know your long blacks from your babyccinos or your cheerios from your chiko rolls? Australian cuisine, as food critic John Newton once wrote, is a bit of a ‘mongrel’, incorporating British, Mediterranean, Asian and native Australian cooking styles and ingredients. The Australian National Dictionary 2e contains a multitude of food-related slang terms, many of which are irreverent and as unpretentious as the fare they describe. To celebrate the release of this new edition, we bring you this quiz to test your knowledge of Australian food and drink.


Alicia Cheah is a Primary Publisher at Oxford University Press Australia. When it comes to food, she is a ‘try-anything-once’ sort of person. She has sampled pig’s stomach, beef pizzle, raw horse meat and fugu (puffer fish) and lives to tell the tale.

9780195550269This quiz was inspired by entries from the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. This dictionary is the only comprehensive, historically-based record of the words and meanings that make up Australian English. It is a unique lexical map of Australian history and culture.

The dictionary was produced at the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University. The Centre, established in 1988, is a joint venture of the Australian National University and Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand.

Chief Editor: Dr Bruce Moore is a former Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre (1994–2011). He has edited a number of OUP dictionaries, including the Australian Oxford Dictionary.
Managing Editor: Dr Amanda Laugesen
Editors: Mark Gwynn, Julia Robinson

Rhyming slang in the Australian National Dictionary

9780195550269The recent publication of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary is the culmination of more than 20 years of research into the history of our unique Australian lexicon. The scope of the dictionary, as defined in the first edition by editor W.S. Ramson, includes ‘words and meanings which have originated in Australia, which have a greater currency here than elsewhere, or which have a special significance in Australia because of their connection with an aspect of the history of the country’. Instead of limiting entries to formal Australian language, the AND embraces a huge variety of colloquialisms from all parts of Australian society. One of the more interesting types of this informal language is Australian rhyming slang.

Rhyming slang is ‘a type of slang that replaces words with rhyming words or phrases, typically with the rhyming element omitted’.[1] It was supposedly first used by cockney East Londoners in the early 19th century, with early examples including joanna (piano) and barnet (from barnet fair, hair). In the late 19th century, this inventive form of slang arrived in Australia and the locals took to it with enthusiasm. John Ayto, in the Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang, notes that rather than just reusing cockney terms, Australians ‘concocted an impressive rhyming vocabulary of their own’. When I was asked to do this blog post, I decided that the best way to find out about Australian rhyming slang would be to talk to the only expert I know on the subject: my grandfather, Morris Chambers. Terms listed in the AND are in bold.

Did your parents use rhyming slang? What about other children at school?

No. My only experience of it was when I went to work at the Forests Commission [a state-run department that managed Victoria’s forests – Morris worked for them as a surveyor]. It was sort of a ‘class distinction signal’, in other words, ‘I’m not going to use the Queen’s English in an appropriate manner; I’m going to do something entirely different.’ It was something that my fellow workers appreciated, the cleverness of it.

You wouldn’t use it with your boss though.

No, you wouldn’t use it with your boss. I didn’t actually use it at work because I was in a position of authority where I had a staff of people working for me.

I’ve read that the original purpose of rhyming slang might have been to get away with saying something rude in polite company.

We just used it for everyday events. If somebody had died, they’d say: ‘Old Joe’s brown bread now’.[2] I don’t know what was so clever about that, instead of saying he was dead. And they referred to the boss as the ‘pitch and toss’.[3]

There’s a bit of humour there, isn’t there?

Yes, there’s a bit of humour and cleverness with language.

Do you have any favourite slang terms?

If someone got sacked, they used to say they’d been ‘tramped’.[4] Englishmen were called ‘to-and-froms’,[5] rhyming with ‘poms’.

Some of the other ones I remember you telling me were ‘Noah’ [Noah’s ark, shark] and ‘butcher’s’.

‘Have a butcher’s hook at this.’ Have a look at it.

Doesn’t it also mean ‘crook’?

Yes, ‘I’m not feeling well, I’m butcher’s.’

Are these terms that came from England or are they specifically Australian?

Even when I was brought up – I was born in 1927 – the things I was taught and the people I was involved with in a lot of instances came from England. My maternal grandma and grandpa were born in England and came out to Australia. In dealing with them [however], I didn’t speak any rhyming slang. And my paternal grandmother – she never spoke in rhyming slang.

Do you think that was to do with class?

I think it was. I think it was the environment in which they were brought up. Rhyming slang was more of a cockney thing. You can take it as an escape mechanism – you don’t have to abide by a set of social rules used by others.

Morris doesn’t use rhyming slang now – he doesn’t talk to people who use it. I reckon it might be time to bring it back. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Australian rhyming slang and the Australian lexicon in general, the Australian National Dictionary is a great place to start.

Alex Chambers is the Editorial Coordinator in Higher Education. He is a keen supporter of the Melbourne Demons, well-placed commas and the communal sweet jar.


[1] Definition from Oxford Dictionaries Online

[2] This is was originally a cockney rhyming slang term, defined in Green’s Dictionary of Slang: brown bread adj. Dead. 1969 S.T. Kendall Up the Frog 22: I opened the Rory and standing there / Was me one ‘n’ t’other called Ted. / ‘E says ‘I’m back from Australia.’ Says I ‘we thought you was brahn bread’.

[3] Again, this may have originally been cockney rhyming slang. Green’s Dictionary of Slang: pitch and toss n. The boss. 1942 Sidney Mirror 14 Oct. in Baker (1945) 269: The pitch and toss has gone down th’ field of wheat.

[4] In the Australian National Dictionary as: tramp v. trans. [Figurative use of tramp ‘to stamp (upon)’ (OED).] To dismiss (a person) from employment. 1914 Bendigo Advertiser 17 July 8/4 There were numerous instances in which men had been sent away to these construction works, but not given a start, while those who had been ‘tramped’—often very good men—after working a day or so, were very many.

[5] In the AND as: to-and-from n. Rhyming slang for pom. 1963 R. McGregor-Hastie Compleat Migrant 16 ‘You a to and from?’ ‘I’m English,’ you say, guessing rightly that a to and from is Aussia [sic] rhyming slang for Pom.

Straight to the poolroom with these Australian idioms

9780195550269The second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (hereafter referred to as AND 2e) published at the start of the month. This new edition includes many new words and idioms. Some of these are words and expressions that have come into usage since the publication of the first edition in 1988; others are those we have since discovered or found more evidence for. Idioms are a highly colloquial aspect of our vocabulary, often reflecting Australian attitudes and values, and they have been given a greater emphasis in the dictionary this time round. In this article, I would like to highlight a selection of the idioms and expressions that we are including in the second edition of our dictionary on historical principles.

Over its history, Australian English has developed a variety of idioms, some of which we use a lot. Chucking a sickie, or describing someone as being like a stunned mullet, form part of our vernacular. Other idioms and expressions are now dated and either forgotten or only vaguely known: we probably rarely describe someone as being as silly as a rabbit or curse someone with may your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down. Yet all of these expressions make up the colourful and fascinating history of Australian English recorded in our forthcoming dictionary.

A number of the new expressions in AND 2e have links to politics, many being coined by a politician. For example, keep the bastards honest is a well-known slogan uttered by Don Chipp (1925-2006), leader of the Australian Democrats, in 1980. He was alluding to the party’s role in holding the balance of power in the Senate. The phrase has since entered popular usage in a transferred sense, although still largely used in a political context. Another expression coined by a politician, in this case Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, is life wasn’t meant to be easy. A different kind of contribution to Australian English comes from Prime Minister Harold Holt, whose mysterious disappearance in 1967 led to the development of the rhyming slang phrase to do a Harold (Holt), ‘to do a bolt’, first recorded in 1984.

Popular culture and literature have also contributed to our range of Australian idioms. For example, the Australian film The Castle (1997) has given us the expression straight to the pool room, ‘a catchphrase used to express the great value of a gift or prize’. The comic strip character Flash Gordon, published in Australia with the name Speed Gordon, is the origin of the expression in more trouble than Speed Gordon, first recorded in 1944. The chocolate bar Violet Crumble has given us the expression that’s the way the violet crumbles (first recorded 1988). On a more literary note, Xavier Herbert’s novel Poor Fellow My Country (1975) popularised the title as an expression of deprivation and loss. The phrase has its origins in Australian Pidgin. And the refrain in John O’Brien’s poem ‘Said Hanrahan’ (1921)— we’ll all be rooned —is surely the ultimate expression of pessimism.

Unsurprisingly, sport is the source of numerous Australian English expressions and idioms. To do a Bradbury, ‘to be the unlikely winner of an event; to win an event coming from well behind’, is one of the most recent sporting-derived idioms in Australian English. It refers to Steven Bradbury, an Australian speed skater who won a gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics after all his opponents were involved in a pile-up during the 1000 metres event. Wally Grout is rhyming slang for ‘shout’; Wally Grout was an Australian test wicketkeeper (1957-66). Although undoubtedly in use earlier, this bit of rhyming slang is only first found in print in 1988.

A number of idioms refer to the harsh Australian environment, some of which have a long history in Australian English but which weren’t included in the first edition of AND. They include where the crows fly backwards (to keep the dust out of their eyes) (first recorded 1899) and wet enough to bog a duck (1948). Australian idioms also include a number that are derogatory or offensive, and that speak to some of the less flattering aspects of Australian society and history: I must have killed a Chinaman, used to refer to bad luck (first recorded 1893); as full as a Pommy complaint box, ‘very full; very drunk’ (first recorded 1985), and wouldn’t serve it to a Jap on Anzac Day, used to designate something that is unacceptable in the extreme (first recorded 1976).

A characteristic Australian bluntness is often in evidence. An ugly person might be described as having a head like a robber’s dog (first recorded 1946) or being as ugly as a hatful of arseholes (also US, but chiefly Australian, and first recorded in 1957). If you’re thirsty, you could describe yourself as being as dry as a kookaburra’s Khyber (first recorded 1971), and something unpopular or offensive might be described as being off like a bucket of prawns (first recorded 1981). Someone who is incompetent might be the target of the disparaging but inventive couldn’t train a choko vine over a country dunny (first recorded 1981).

A concern with laziness also seems to have prompted the creation of a number of idioms – whether this is indicative of a national propensity to avoid hard work is not for us to judge! These expressions include: wouldn’t work in an iron lung (first recorded 1971), Australia as the land of the long weekend (first recorded 1966), to be on a good lurk, ‘to have an easy job; to be engaged in a profitable enterprise’ (first recorded 1906), and of course Australians are notorious for their willingness to chuck a sickie (first recorded 1988).

Australian English also includes a range of idioms referring to people variously considered to be eccentric, stupid, or very angry. Julia Miller discusses some of these on p. 7 of this edition. In addition to the many expressions Julia has collected relating to the forms ‘as mad as’ and ‘as crazy as’, we include the following expressions in AND 2e: to chuck a wobbly (first recorded 1986); to be a stubby short of a six-pack (and variants); mad as a gumtree full of galahs (first recorded 1941); to chuck a mental (first recorded 1979); short of a sheet of bark (first recorded 1885), to chuck a berko (first recorded 1995), and to be not the full dollar (first recorded 1976). As can be seen from this list, which is not exhaustive, the form ‘to chuck a… ’ is also commonly found in Australian English.

Southern Brown Bandicoot

The Southern Brown Bandicoot: Silly, Miserable, Lonely?

A variety of animals inspire Australian idioms, most commonly dingos, crows, chooks, and dogs. But the most ‘productive’ animal for Australian English is surely the bandicoot, an insect-eating Australian marsupial. In AND 2e, we record that one can be as bald, hungry, lonely, lousy, miserable, poor, silly, and crazy as a bandicoot. What did the poor bandicoot do to deserve such a stigma? Perhaps the bandicoot’s long face suggested why he might be miserable or lonely, but some have speculated that we just like the sound of the word ‘bandicoot’. While these bandicoot idioms were recorded in the first edition of AND, they are still around, and attest to the resilience of some of these expressions to persist in our vernacular.

Place names have also inspired a handful of Australian idioms. As crook as Rookwood, ‘very ill, out of sorts; corrupt, dishonest’, first recorded in 1971, alludes to the Sydney suburb of Rookwood where there is a cemetery. The tough working class history of another Sydney suburb is reflected in the stoical expression Balmain boys don’t cry, first recorded in 1983, and coined by NSW Premier Neville Wran. Things are crook in Tallarook is a rhyming catchphrase used to indicate that things are bad or unpleasant.

Finally, here are a selection of colourful favourites. If you don’t already use them, perhaps you might like to!

so windy it would blow a blue (cattle) dog off its chain, ‘extremely windy’. First recorded in 1991.

not to know when it’s Tuesday or Bourke Street, ‘to be in a state of confusion; to be disoriented’. First recorded in 1952.

to have a death adder in one’s pocket, ‘to be extremely miserly; to be stingy’. First recorded 1948.

flash as a rat with a gold tooth, ‘very showy but of dubious character’. First recorded 1978.

wouldn’t shout if a shark bit him, used with reference to someone who wouldn’t buy (‘shout’) a round of drinks; a stingy person. First recorded 1963.

to have more arse than class, ‘to be very cheeky; to be very lucky’. First recorded 1974.

stiffen the wombats, an expression of surprise or exasperation. First recorded in 1940.

like a seagull on a hot chip, ‘very eagerly’. First recorded 1989.

go see a taxidermist, euphemism for ‘get stuffed’. First recorded 1969.

Amanda-LaugesenDr Amanda Laugesen is Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, ANU. She completed her PhD in the History Program at the ANU in 2000, and subsequently worked as a research editor at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, ANU, as well as undertaking teaching in the History Department. Amanda’s research includes publications in the areas of historical memory, the history of reading, libraries and publishing, cultural history (with a particular interest in the cultural history of war), the history of Australian English, and lexicography.

Our 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?

Image source: John O’Neill, Wikipedia Commons

Did you know?

Platypus

The platypus, a.k.a. duck-mole, paradox, water-mole, duck-bill, is the outcast of the Australian animal kingdom: ‘it is like a puppy in the body, with four webbed duck’s feet, two wings, a beaver’s tail, and a goose’s head and bill; now a country that can produce such a monstrosity as this can produce anything’ (J.A. Edwards, Gilbert Gogger, 1876). For centuries, this awkward-looking creature has suffered the jibes of the public while the kangaroo and koala are lauded as national icons. The platypus’s mere existence was questioned, and was considered a taxidermy hoax when naturalists back in England attempted to demonstrate its existence in a far-off land. This ‘half-bird, half-beast’ (F. Cowan, Australia, 1886) ‘has long excited the scepticism and astonishment of naturalists’ (C. Lyon, Narrative and Recollections of Van Dieman’s Land, 1844) for its seemingly impossible amalgamative physical make-up – otter, mole, duck and beaver – that seems to defy the laws of biology.

August is Platypus Month, the time of year when the platypus is most likely to be seen. For too long the unpretentious platypus has been ridiculed with names that read more like insults! Today, the reputation of this exceptional creature has been tarnished across the globe, with some countries singling out the elusive platypus as one of Australia’s dangerous animals (Luke Royes, ‘Australian travel advice and warnings issued by foreign governments’, ABC News, 2016). In 1976, it was noted that ‘it is not generally known that such a delightful animal as a Platypus is venomous’ (E. Worrell, Things that Sting) – a fact that remains today. The male platypus possesses a venomous spur, which can cause those stung some pain and swelling. However, there is really nothing to worry about; the venom is non-lethal, is only present during summer months, and is used to defend against competition during mating season, not as a general protection method – hardly the terrifying creature some would have you believe. So this August, rather than sneering at its peculiarities, let’s take a moment to celebrate the wonder that is the platypus.

 Amanda Louey is an Editor (Secondary Division) at Oxford University Press Australia. She can be identified by the following traits: drinks lots of tea; is a cat person (owns two); and has an indiscriminate love of all things sweet. Unsurprisingly, the latter puts her at odds with her dentist.

9780195550269This article was inspired by entries from the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. This dictionary is the only comprehensive, historically-based record of the words and meanings that make up Australian English. It is a unique lexical map of Australian history and culture.

The dictionary was produced at the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University. The Centre, established in 1988, is a joint venture of theAustralian National University and Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand.

Chief Editor: Dr Bruce Moore is a former Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre (1994–2011). He has edited a number of OUP dictionaries, including the Australian Oxford Dictionary.
Managing Editor: Dr Amanda Laugesen
Editors: Mark Gwynn, Julia Robinson

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