The Australian 2014 Word of the Year: ‘Shirtfront’

ShirtfrontEach year the Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC) looks for a word that has come to prominence in the Australian social and cultural landscape; this year the ANDC Word of the Year is:

 shirtfront – in figurative use, to challenge or confront a person. It is transferred from a term used in Australian Rules football, where it refers to a type of hip-and-shoulder bump of an opponent, and is also found in Rugby, where it refers to grabbing an opponent’s jersey. Prime Minister Tony Abbott used it in a press conference when asked whether he would raise the issue of the downing of flight MH17 with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The term was little known outside of its sporting context, although the figurative use has been around for some years, and Abbott’s threat to shirtfront Putin, and the word itself, was widely discussed and satirised in the Australian and international media. After the G20 summit took place British Prime Minister David Cameron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi both used the term in jest in their speeches to the Australian Parliament. Whether the figurative use of the term becomes more popular remains to be seen.

Shirtfront is not the only word that has stood out in Australian politics and the media: we also saw Tony Abbott’s new government contribute Team Australia to the lexicon (as well as a number of other terms that didn’t make our shortlist, such as budget emergency and lifters and leaners). This year also saw the emergence of the man-bun and the Ned Kelly beard, reflecting social and cultural trends. Unusually, new technology- or social media-related terms were less prevalent, although metadata and data retention appeared more often in public debate.

The words shortlisted for 2014 are:

Team Australia – another term brought to prominence by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. In the 1980s, Team Australia was used to refer to various national sports teams; in the 1990s, it was used in business contexts. Abbott first brought the term into political discourse this year when he used it in reference to the Racial Discrimination Act and the need to combat terrorism, but he uses it more broadly to refer to people who support Australia and its values.

man-bun – a hairstyle worn by a man where hair is drawn into a coil at the back of the head. This style became popular in 2014, especially among young urban men and hipsters. Notable celebrities to have sported the man-bun recently include Chris Hemsworth and Harry Styles. Man-bun is sometimes shortened to mun.

Ned Kelly beard – a full beard reminiscent of that worn by the bushranger Ned Kelly. Wearing full beards has become fashionable once again and, like the man-bun, is popular with young men. The term gets its inspiration from the famous image of Ned Kelly taken the day before his execution in 1880.

coward punch – a knock-out punch or blow, especially an unfair punch delivered from behind. This term had considerable prominence earlier in the year when, after a series of tragic incidents, there was a campaign to replace the Australian English term king-hit (which dates to the early twentieth century) with a term that more accurately conveys the cowardly nature of the attack. Whether coward punch will successfully replace king-hit in Australian English will be interesting to see.

The 2014 Word of the Year and shortlist are selected by the editorial staff of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and are based on extensive research as well as public suggestions. The ANDC undertakes research into Australian English and edits Australian dictionaries for Oxford University Press.

More information about the 2014 Word of the Year can be found at the ANDC blog, OzWorders.

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