Do you say Brisbane, Brissy, Brisso, Brisvegas, Brisbantinople, or Brisganistan?

by Mark Gwynn
Senior Researcher at the Australian National Dictionary Centre

In August, the ANDC launched the first annual appeal for contributions to our archive of Australian English. As well as supplementing our database, these appeals will help us identify possible new entries for the Australian National Dictionary (AND). Each annual appeal will focus on a different theme.

This year’s appeal asked for the nicknames of Australian places: the informal names we use for our regions, cities, towns, and suburbs. The Gazetteer of Australia provides information about official and formal names, with over 370,000 geographical names in its database. This vast record is supplemented by the Australian National Placenames Survey, which provides further historical and linguistic information. However, information relating to the colloquial forms of Australian placenames is limited.

The AND currently includes a small number of nicknames for places that are well-established or have some historical and linguistic importance. For example, there are a number of entries for states (or former colonies), including: apple island (Tasmania), Banana land (Queensland), cabbage garden (Victoria), Crowland (South Australia), Ma State (New South Wales), and Sandgroperland (Western Australia). Nicknames for cities include: Brisvegas (Brisbane), bush capital (Canberra), city of churches (Adelaide), Emerald City (Sydney), Silver City (Broken Hill), and Smellbourne (Melbourne). There are also a number of terms for Australia, such as: Aussie, Oz, Lucky Country, and land of the long weekend. Names for regions include: dead heart, top end, the mallee, and the mulga.

The appeal was publicised through broadcast media and generated nationwide interest. The response was enthusiastic and demonstrated the large number of colloquial names for places across the country; already we’ve added close to a thousand distinct names to our database.  Many of these were submitted multiple times, revealing the frequency of some of the terms.

Of particular interest to us are the similarities between the patterns of nicknaming and other forms of word generation in Australian English. Here are some initial observations on the contributions.

One of the simplest forms of naming is the basic abbreviation: Bruns (Brunswick), Coffs (Coffs Harbour), Foots (Footscray), Kal (Kalgoorlie), Shep (Shepparton). Other types of abbreviated forms include: Curry (Cloncurry), Melbs (Melbourne), MoPo (Moonee Ponds), Ninsh (Mornington Peninsula), SoHo (South Hobart), Trak (Toorak).

The most common pattern is an abbreviated form of the name with the addition of the -y (-ie) or -o suffix. This is the characteristic feature of Australian English we see in words like arvo (afternoon) and barbie (barbecue). Here is a small sample of the contributions we received: Barky (Barcaldine), Bridgie (Bridgewater), Deni (Deniliquin), Freo (Fremantle), Gero (Geraldton), Goldy (Gold Coast), Paddo (Paddington), Reddy (Redcliffe), and Straddy (Stradbroke Island).

Another common pattern is the use of an abbreviated name preceded by the. This is a particularly Australian form, recorded since the 1880s in names of northern towns such as the Alice (Alice Springs), the Isa (Mount Isa), and the Tennant (Tennant Creek). Examples include: the Berra (Canberra), the Doo (Humpy Doo), the Go (Bendigo), the Gong (Wollongong), the Gun (Gunnedah), the Mount (Mount Gambier), the Rat (Ballarat), and the Reach (Longreach).

The -vegas ending in placenames, as in Brisvegas (Brisbane), proved to be quite common. The allusion to Las Vegas is ironic, comparing a relatively quiet place to the razzamatazz of the casino city. We now have evidence for Ascot Vegas (Ascot Vale), Dubvegas (Dubbo), Gloss Vegas (Glossodia), Moss Vegas (Moss Vale or Mossman), Palmvegas (Palmerston), Prosvegas (Proserpine), Rockvegas (Rockhampton), and Yass Vegas (Yass) to name a few. We give a similar nod to US placenames in Ballafornia (Ballarat), Brisneyland (Brisbane), and Moss Angeles (Mossman).

Two other common nickname patterns, both ironic, are worth noting. In the pattern ‘x’ by the Sea, the name of a coastal town or city is replaced by that of a smaller, more rural, or supposedly less attractive place—as in Townsville being named Broken Hill by the Sea. Other examples are: Dubbo by the Sea (Sydney), Logan by the Sea (Redcliffe), and Mount Druitt by the Sea (Coffs Harbour). Another lengthy nickname pattern is the form People’s Republic of ‘x’, alluding to especially inner-city areas where residents are perceived to be socially progressive. Examples are chiefly Victorian, with the People’s Republic label applied to Brunswick, Coburg, Moreland, and Yarraville. Canberra has the People’s Republic of Ainslie,and a left-leaning federal electorate in New South Wales is the People’s Republic of Grayndler.  

As well as the many derogatory names (often with affixes like crime, ghetto, hole, slum, and stab), we had plenty of tongue-in-cheek contributions. For example, Charlie’s Trousers (Charters Towers), Happy Rock (Gladstone), Marry your Brother (Maryborough), Shagger’s Ridge (Rooty Hill), Sheep Dunny Cow Dunny (Wooloomooloo), and Swinging Pig (Rockingham). Quite a few places had multiple names, such as Woy Woy (Above Ground Cemetery, the Woy, Two Woy, Why Why, Wow Wow, Yow Yow).

The appeal is ongoing so please send in your nicknames for Australian places.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC) is a joint Australian National University (ANU) and Oxford University Press (OUP) project. It was established in 1988 as a centre of excellence and expertise for the study of Australian English. The ANDC has two aims: to conduct research into Australian English, and to provide lexicographical expertise to Oxford University Press Australia.

Image by davodlbnn from Pixabay


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