In the age of spellcheckers, why do children still need a dictionary or thesaurus?

Today’s children never need to make a mistake. Before they even know they have misspelt (or should that be ‘misspelled’*?) something, it has been corrected by a spellchecker.

And so, why would they continue to need a dictionary?

Here are some points explaining why dictionaries continue to be important learning tools in the digital age.

  • To get spelling right

A dictionary will help to clear up those spelling issues which will cost children valuable marks. Confusable words, like ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ are highlighted, with additional help in children’s dictionaries.

complement NOUN complements 1 the quantity needed to fill or complete something –The ship had its full complement of sailors. 2 the word or words used after verbs such as be and become to complete the sense. In She was brave and He became king of England, the complements are brave and King of England.

  • To understand meaning

Oxford’s children’s dictionaries define words using a context that is familiar to and appropriate for each child’s age, with example sentences to illustrate how these words can be used at their best. Where a word has more than one meaning, each one is numbered.

Dictionaries will help to extend and enrich their vocabulary, which at school can help move them towards the top grades.

irony (say I-ron-ee) NOUN ironies 1 saying the opposite of what you mean in order to emphasize it, e.g. saying ‘What a lovely day’ when it is pouring with rain. 2 an oddly contradictory situation –The irony of it is that I tripped while telling someone else to be careful. [from Greek eiron = someone who pretends not to know]

  • To understand how language works, including punctuation and grammar

Dictionaries help a child to develop children’s writing skills by showing relationships between words, and how you can use grammar and punctuation to greater effect. Extra help is included on how to avoid common mistakes, for example in using an apostrophe correctly.

less ADJECTIVE & ADVERB  smaller in amount; not so much – Make less noise. It is less important.
USAGE Do not use less when you mean fewer. You should use fewer when you are talking about a number of individual things, and less when you are talking about a quantity or mass of something: –The less batter you make, the fewer pancakes you’ll get.

Why do children need a thesaurus?

A thesaurus will help to improve a child’s writing, whether it is writing reports, essays, or creatively for stories or poetry. They can be a further reference for help on punctuation and grammar, in addition to providing the right word for every occasion. A thesaurus can:

Find an alternative or more interesting word, for example, why use ‘walk’, when you could use ‘stroll’, ‘ramble’, or ‘saunter’?

Provide help on particularly overused words, such as ‘go’, ‘say’, and ‘get’.

Find the right word, specific person, place or thing’ for example, if you look up ‘shop’, you will find that someone who sells sweets is called a ‘confectioner’.

nice ADJECTIVE This word is often overused. Here are some alternatives:
1 We had a nice time in Greece.
– pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, marvellous, wonderful, delightful, splendid
2 They are such nice people.
– pleasant, likeable, agreeable, personable, friendly, congenial, genial
3 That’s rather a nice distinction.
–  fine, subtle, delicate, fastidious


*according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘misspelt’ and ‘misspelled’ are both acceptable. ‘Misspelt’ is more usual in British English and ‘misspelled’ in American English.


A guide to Kwaussie slang

We all know that, at times, Australians speak their own language, ‘Strine. But what about our neighbours in New Zealand?

It turns out that the language of New Zealanders can be just as confusing for outsiders.

So, after Kwaussie was named the Australian Word of the Year in 2017, in the spirit of neighbourly understanding, we thought it was time to learn New Zealand.

Hopefully, our Australian and New Zealand slang guide will  help us bridge the Kwaussie divide.

Kwaussie slang


New Zealand slang


Aussie slang




corner dairy


milk bar


A small grocery shop

jandals thongs Known as flip-flops in the UK, defined in the Australian National Dictionary as: A flat-soled sandal held on the foot by a bifurcated thong passing between the first and second toes.
puku belly/pot A person’s stomach or belly, is from Maori
bach beach shack/bush shack Short for ‘bachelor’, the verb means to live alone and to do one’s own cooking and housekeeping, but the noun denotes a small holiday house
munted stuffed In a state of disastrous disintegration; broken or ruined
kai tucker Kai, meaning food, is from Maori
tramp bushwalk While tramp means ‘to walk heavily’ in many varieties of English, only in New Zealand is someone likely to use the word to mean ‘walk for long distances in rough country for recreation’. The term ‘bushwalk’ is more commonly used in Australia.
wop wops woop woop A remote town or district

Our favourite Aussie books

Our favourite Australian stories take place by the sea, in the outback, in cosmopolitan cities or deep suburbia. Their protagonists range from an Australian of African descent to child learning about her Indigenous heritage; and an elderly German professor to a magic pudding.

Such is the variety of Australian literature that it is difficult to place Australian books in a single category.

In a list of OUP staff members’ favourite Aussie books, many that might be considered Australian classics were missing – while there was no Cloudstreet, a different Tim Winton book was mentioned; there was no Picnic at Hanging Rock, but another Lindsay made an appearance; and My Brilliant Career and The Getting of Wisdom were replaced by more contemporary visions of Australian life from Jennifer Down and Maxine Beneba Clarke.

In fact, such is the breadth of Australian literature that no single book or author appeared twice.

Here are some of our top Aussie books – we’d love to hear about yours.

Jordan Irving

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner – One of my favourite books. A shimmering, stream of consciousness narrative that makes you feel like you’re sitting poolside and riding around the streets of Fitzroy and Carlton – JUST like the characters! Ostensibly a love story about Nora (VERY much based on Garner) and her heroin-addicted sometimes-boyfriend Javo, this book also functions as a depiction of the share house/theatre/artist community culture in Melbourne in the ‘80s. Was originally published without much editing/tweaking to the manuscript which is a pretty impressive feat for a debut novelist!

The Strays by Emily Bitto – Another debut. Set in Melbourne in the 1930s. Centred around two young best friends, Lily and Eva, and told from Lily’s perspective. Eva is the daughter of fictional avant-garde painter Evan Trentham, whose home becomes a refuge for “stray” artists who can’t afford to paint and work and live otherwise. Lily and Eva are inseparable and Lily spends her childhood at the Trentham home, becoming more and more enamoured with the artists’ and their way of life… until something TERRIBLE happens, leaving the characters scattered and causing a decades-long rift between Lily and Eva. Pretty good, quick read!

Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down – Yet another debut! About a young woman reeling from the suicide of her closest female friend. Really great meditation on friendship, love, relationships and grief. Similar to Monkey Grip in that it’s meandering and without much plot but it’s very evocative and beautifully written.

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke – Very engaging and hard to read autobiography about Beneba Clarke’s childhood and adolescence growing up in Australia after her parents emigrated from England. Born to British-born, Afro-Caribbean parents Beneba Clarke was one of the few non-white children in her school, and was ruthlessly and relentlessly targeted and bullied by the other kids – and unfortunately a few of the teachers too. A really good insight into the pervasiveness of racism in Australian culture and a really important book to read, especially in our current unfortunate political climate.

Caly James

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Alex Miller.  Each novel is different to the last and they are stories that stay with you long after you’ve finished the last page. Landscape of Farewell charts the journey of a chance friendship between an unlikely duo:  Max, a visiting elderly professor from Germany and Dougald, an Aboriginal elder from outback Queensland.  Tenderly written this is a story of coming to terms with one’s past but also of forgiveness and reconciliation.

My favourite Tim Winton is The Turning – a collection of 17 interlinked short stories. I marvel at the frugality of Winton’s writing and his ability to say so much with so little.

The Women in Black by Madeline St John is an absolute treat.  Set in Sydney circa 1950’s, we meet Lisa, Miss Baines, Mrs Williams and Magda, all are shop assistants serving in the  frock department at Goode’s – Sydney’s premier department store (aka David Jones).  There’s a good deal of humour along with  sharp observation of everyday detail making this a delightful read as we traverse the ordinary and the extraordinary witnessing both disappointment as well as hopes and possibilities.

Fleur Morrison

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld – I just finished reading this book, written by an ex-pat Australian and set between the UK and Australia. It is about a woman whose terrible decision forced her to take flight from her past life – into a harsh and masculine world. Wyld sets the scene beautifully, and portrays a frightened, troubled, but strong character trying to survive.

All that I Am by Anna Funder – while this book isn’t based in Australia, the author is Australian. Based on real events, it follows a group of characters effected by the Nazi regime in Britain and Germany. The story is built around a nonagenarian  in Sydney and a renowned playwright living in New York in 1939.  I love Funder’s way with words and the story is haunting.

My Place by Sally Morgan – When I read this in my teens, and I really loved it. The story is a memoir about family, place and the histories that are unspoken. Many parts of the story were familiar, yet others were completely new to me, introducing me to parts of the experience of Indigenous Australians, in a very accessible way.

Alex Chambers (and his dad)

My favourite is The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay. I loved this one when I was growing up! (Bonus: I asked my dad and he said Voss by Patrick White.)

Marta Malachowski

My fave Aussie author is Bryce Courtenay. I haven’t yet read his whole collection, but one of my favourite titles is The Family Frying Pan. It details the journey through Siberia made by his grandma and includes stories from those that trekked with her, AND it includes recipes that relate to each person’s personal journey/ story.

Another author I’ve recently grown to love is Liane Moriarty. I equally love her books The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies – I never knew I could be so drawn to a story!

What are your favourite Aussie books or writers?

Celebrating 110 years of OUP in Australia

In 2018, Oxford University Press is celebrating 110 years in Australia. To give that some context, when the office was opened in 1908:

  • Women had just won the right to vote in Victoria
  • Canberra didn’t exist
  • The recorded Australian population was 4,232,278, around 20 million fewer people than today.

The Australian branch now employs over 100 staff and publishes a vast array of educational books and dictionaries. The original purpose of the office, however, was to make life easier for a travelling book salesman.

The salesman was E. R. Bartholomew (initials were very big in those days), who had been recruited into the book trade from the YMCA in 1890. E. R. worked for the publisher Hodder & Stoughton (now an imprint of Hachette), selling books throughout England, Wales and Ireland in a single ‘autumn journey’.

Hodder had their sights set on a more exotic market – Australia. This faraway land was usually avoided by English publishers, mainly because it took six weeks by ship to get there. Hodder decided to minimise this problem by sending their salesman to Australia for a six-month stint, every two years. They also partnered with another publisher to share the cost of the long sea voyage. The other publisher, of course, was Oxford University Press.

So that was that. Every two years E. R. Bartholomew would set out to Australia with his supply of Hodder and Oxford books. And at the start of each trip, his boss at Hodder would bid him farewell with the words, ‘Mind you get back in good time for the autumn journey.’ Bartholomew was almost constantly on the road like this for eighteen years, the final four working just for Oxford. By that time, business was going so well that OUP decided that he should make the trip to Australia every year. E. R., who must have been exhausted by now, drew the line at nearly the whole year away from home and family, and asked if he could move permanently to Australia. The new branch opened in Melbourne in 1908.

The location decided upon was an office in the Cathedral Buildings, next door to St Paul’s Cathedral on Flinders Street. This made sense, since OUP’s main business in 1908 was selling bibles. E. R. was joined in the office by his son, E. E., and they quickly became the best known representatives of British publishing in Australia. E. R.’s sales techniques were more formal than those of 2018: he always wore a top hat while selling his bibles, and insisted that he and his customer begin business by sharing a short prayer.

The only other employees were an office boy who unpacked the boxes of books, and E. R.’s sister, Elsie. OUP’s business manager Henry Frowde employed no women in England, and looked upon Elsie quite unkindly, referring to her as ‘our typewriter’.

By 1914, the Australian branch was publishing its own books. The first was probably the Australasian School Atlas, intended for schools in New South Wales. This was followed by works such as A Short History of Australia, the Oxford Book of Australian Verse and the succinctly titled Physiographic and Economic Geography of Australia. This last book was banned in Western Australia because the author mentioned for the first time in print that Australia was mainly desert (bad for immigration apparently). The branch also had the rights to sell the books of the Australian publisher Angus & Robertson, including the classics Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and The Man from Snowy River.

E. R. Bartholomew retired in 1922, and was succeeded as manager by E. E., who stayed on until 1949. Between father and son, they were in charge of OUP’s Australian operations for almost 60 years. They’d be happy to know that the Australian branch is still going strong in 2018 and still publishing school atlases.


Eyre, F. (1978). Oxford in Australia: 1890–1978. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). ‘Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2014’. Accessed from

Oxford Word of the Month: January – egg flip

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noun: a kitchen utensil with a broad flat blade for lifting and turning food.


The history of egg flip is an interesting one. In standard English use, dating back to the 1830s, it is a sweetened milk drink containing beaten egg, with rum, brandy, or other flavouring. Many, perhaps older, Australians will know a tame version without alcohol from childhood. (It used to be recommended as food for invalids.) The second element in this sense of egg flip may derive from flip in the sense ‘to whip up’.

The first exclusively Australian meaning occurs in the 1950s, when egg flip is recorded as rhyming slang for a racing ‘tip’:

As a horse was led close to them, the Wrecker, eager for information, addressed the trainer: ‘Ah Doc, how about givin’ a bloke d’egg flip?’ (J. Alard, He Who Shoots Last, 1968)

Since this time, another Australian meaning of egg flip has become much more common than the rhyming slang sense. It refers to the long-handled kitchen utensil with the broad, flat blade, used for turning and lifting food such as fried eggs, rissoles, and pancakes. (The same thing is called a fish slice in British English.) Australians have several names for this utensil, with spatula perhaps the most common, but egg flip is also widely used.

It is unclear whether this sense of egg flip is related to the earlier egg and milk drink. Perhaps it was influenced by the existence of the older term, but with a different understanding of the second element. Anyone flipping pancakes with this utensil is likely to interpret the flip in egg flip as meaning ‘to turn over’.

Recorded evidence is fairly recent, dating back to this report of a recipe for ‘Egg Toast’:

Fry the … slices in the frying pan with the margarine. …Turn the toast over with the egg flip, fry that side too. (Canberra Times, 26 July 1985)

However, anecdotal evidence suggests the name egg flip for the utensil is likely to be found earlier than the 1980s. The following editorial comment in a Western Australian newspaper is tantalising as possible early evidence:

Many thanks for the item, which I handed to ‘Virgilia’ as suitable for her pages. ‘Sonny Boy’ apparently did not appreciate your method of applying the egg flip. (Perth Western Mail, 13 January 1938)

‘Virgilia’ was the name of the editor of the ‘Virgilians’ Friendly Corner’ section of the newspaper, which published letters from women about their lives and families. In this context, the reference to ‘applying the egg flip’ to ‘Sonny Boy’ may (unfortunately) point to the punishment of a child with the utensil.

Egg flip will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

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