From musical flags to beach flags

By MARK GWYNN, editor and researcher at the Australian National Dictionary Centre

In the early 1980s as a surf lifesaving nipper (a junior) I always looked forward to the beach flags event at my local surf lifesaving club. The event started with us lying on our stomachs before scrambling to our feet on the starting gun, turning around, and sprinting some 20 metres to grab one of the ‘flags’ set into the sand. Beach flags is an elimination event so there are always fewer flags (in my day 30cm lengths of hosepipe) than competitors – if you miss out on a flag you are eliminated. The eventual winner beats the runner-up to the last flag. As part of a surf lifesaving carnival the event demonstrates important lifesaver skills including running on sand, hand-eye coordination, and aerobic fitness. However, beach flags had a somewhat less serious origin in the early 20th century when it was known as musical flags.

There is some evidence for the term musical flags in the late 19th century in the context of a school sports carnival, but no details are provided. In 1903 a cycling carnival included a musical flags event, described as ‘an amusing novelty race’ (Australian Star, 7 October). There are frequent references to musical flags as a cycling (and sometimes motorcycling) novelty event up to, and throughout, the First World War period. Like the later beach flags, it was an elimination race; competitors on bikes had to sprint to grab a flag once the music had stopped playing. It is more than likely that the concept for musical flags derived from the older party game ‘musical chairs’ in which a number of players compete in successive rounds for a decreasing number of chairs.

The first evidence for the term musical flags in a beach context is from 1919, although the event is not described. In the 1920s novelty events were quite common in all sporting carnivals, including surf carnivals: ‘A new series of beach events for which entries close… has been arranged. These will consist of march past, beach relay, beach sprint, sack race, pillow fight and musical flags.’ (Newcastle Sun, 26 March 1929) Confirmation that the musical flags event was similar to the one I remember from my childhood comes from a spectacular photograph that shows more than a dozen men sprinting to grab one of several real flags (such as the Australian flag, the Union Jack, etc.) set into the sand. The image captures several men diving, or about to dive, for the flags, and some pushing and shoving. The caption reads: ‘A unique photograph illustrative of the life and virile strength to be seen on Australia’s beaches, taken at Cronulla during a surf carnival. The contest is one known as “Musical Flags”.’ (Sydney Mail, 11 January 1928) It is difficult to pinpoint when music ceased to be played for this event, but it was certainly an element in the early years.

There is some evidence from the 1920s of musical flags also being described as the flag race. Certainly by the 1950s flag race was in common use, although it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the term musical flags became obsolete. The term beach flags is found from the 1970s and is now the official and common name for the event. While beach flags has been in the annual Australian Surf Life Saving Championships since 1947, sadly the pillow fight event was scratched in 1979.

This article first appeared in the April edition of Ozwords.

Don’t argue: how advertising gave us a sporting term


A 2017 article on the AFL Grand Final noted that the don’t argue was ‘one of Dustin Martin’s signature moves, so expect to see the “don’t argue” in full force when Richmond takes on Adelaide’. (Melbourne Herald Sun, 25 September 2017) For those who don’t follow Aussie Rules, Rugby League, or Rugby Union, the classic don’t argue is a straight-arm shove, often to an opponent’s face or head, by the player with the ball. The name of the move expresses its intention perfectly: ‘Get out of my way—and don’t argue!’ But what is the origin of this term?

The Herald Sun notes that the term has its origin in print-media advertisements for Hutton’s ham and bacon that ran for decades. A former employee explains the brand’s ‘logo and labels showed a person shoving his hand into the face of another person, with the expression “don’t argue”’. Some readers may know the image: a smiling man with a hat, bowtie, and cane pushes his hand at arm’s length into the face of a bearded man with an illfitting coat and umbrella. They look like vaudeville figures, and the caption reads: Don’t argue! Hutton’s ham is the best. Over the years the caption varies, but the words ‘don’t argue’ remain.

Further research has revealed more of the story. Hutton’s image and slogan is first found in newspaper advertisements in 1911. The company was probably using it the year before (perhaps as a poster), since independent references to its popularity appear in It gained wide public recognition at the time. Newspaper items alluded to it in many contexts, such as surf lifesaving, banking, boxing, horseracing, politics, and religion. A musical quartet and a lawn tennis team both took the name ‘The Don’t Argues’.

There is early evidence of its sporting use: ‘… two bulky opponents were struggling together at a critical moment near the line, when a big, stentorian voice alongside me on the hill roared out: “Get the “don’t argue” on to him!”’ (Sydney Sunday Times, 16 July 1911) It’s unclear if this means a straight-arm shove, but later evidence is plainer: ‘There is no doubt that Harry Caples has the best ‘don’t argue’ fend in Sydney… .’ (Sydney Sportsman, 9 July 1919) The don’t argue became established in the Australian sporting lexicon around this time.

The image of physical confrontation in the advertisement undoubtedly influenced the adoption of the slogan don’t argue as a name for the straight-arm shove. But the image and slogan have an older story—the Hutton company were not the first to use them.

In 1903 and 1904 a London society entertainer, Mel B. Spurr, toured Australia with a one-man show of comic monologues and songs. It was a huge success. One of his advertising handbills, reproduced here, shows a smiling man with his hand in the face of another man. The caption reads: Don’t argue! Go and see Mel. B. Spurr. There is no record of when the handbill was used, but circumstantial evidence suggests it was here in Australia: Harry Spurr’s memoir of his brother includes it in a chapter on the Australian tour, and a copy of the handbill exists in the State Library of Victoria. The image is unmistakably the same as Hutton’s.

Spurr died in 1904; Hutton’s don’t argue advertisements appeared around 1910. There’s no doubt Hutton used Spurr’s image, and this shows in the Hutton artist’s crude copying of the elegant handbill, down to the style of lettering. The origin of the image as a handbill for a variety theatre act explains its vaudevillian style.

Why did Spurr use the caption don’t argue? As far as we can tell, it is not a catchphrase associated with Spurr, his act, or his published songs and monologues. If the handbill was designed to attract an Australian audience, did don’t argue have a meaning for local audiences? It doesn’t seem so. Spurr first performed in Melbourne, but nothing suggests a Melbourne connection with the term—not even in Melbourne’s love of football. At this time don’t argue doesn’t appear to be associated with any football code, except as advice to players not to argue with the referee.

The phrase does appear in some contemporary advertisements, and perhaps Spurr or the handbill artist knew this. In the years just prior to Spurr’s tour it occurs in Australian newspapers spruiking things such as soap (don’t argue with dirt) and cough mixture (don’t argue the point … but get a bottle). Whatever the inspiration, the handbill was a happy marriage of words and picture, creating an arresting image that, with Hutton’s help, has resonated across a century. According to contemporary reports, Mel B. Spurr died in Melbourne on 24 September 1904 after a short illness, and was buried in St Kilda Cemetery. A trace of him remains in the Australian lexicon.

This article was first published in the April edition of Ozwords.

With thanks to Dr Clay Djubal, an expert on Australian variety theatre, for his comments on Mel B. Spurr and for drawing my attention to the Spurr handbill, and to John Rice-Whetton for alerting us to the term.

Them’s fightin’ words – naming the enemy in wartime


When the Great War broke out in August 1914, the French were already familiar with their enemy. A strong heritage of hatred towards the Germans had existed since the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the Prussian and Austrian armies invading France after Napoleon’s defeat (1814–15), followed by the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). The French had words to call on to depict their enemy, such as the diminutive Prusco (from Prussian), or Teuton (Teutonic), both reminders of the brutality of Prussian troops.

The Australians, however, had no history with the German empire. Furthermore, Australia had a strong German migrant community: by the mid-nineteenth century, Germans were the largest non-British group in Victoria (1861: 10,000). Nevertheless, the Australian volunteers who fought alongside the British Army were quick to use the lexicon of the European Allies, as shown by a study of the trench journal Aussie: the Australian Soldiers’ Magazine.

In 1915, as military operations stabilised in the trenches, multiple unit papers were created by all the national armies. These magazines were produced under the most difficult front-line circumstances, sometimes literally ‘in the trenches’. Many of these trench journals published a limited number of issues of only a few pages, handwritten or typed, and duplicated by makeshift means. Entertainment was their primary aim, in order to engage the bored soldiers during their unoccupied time. These trench publications were regarded benevolently by the French military authorities. Although there was an official Bulletin des armées de la République, this bulletin was considered propaganda. The Poilus (French soldiers) aspired therefore to more authentic and sincere newspapers, written by soldiers for soldiers, produced entirely for consumption by soldiers on active service, and taking into account their state of mind.

Australian troops arrived on the Western Front in 1916, two years after the French had begun fighting there. Soldiers had produced magazines on board troopships, and continued the practice in Europe. Many publications, some very ephemeral, were produced. Aussie: the Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, born on 18 January 1918, was one of the most significant of these trench publications and continued on into the immediate postwar years.

Graham Seal has studied the multiple functions of trench newspapers and noted that ‘these publications sometimes acted as a means of monitoring morale for the officers and as a safety-valve for the gripes and whinges of the ordinary soldier.’ While these trench publications provide an unequalled insight into everyday life and death during the Great War, they are also an invaluable resource for linguists wanting to research language in a time of war. They were seen to capture the real language of the soldiers, as observed by Aussie editor (and former journalist) Phillip Harris: ‘the success of Aussie […] belongs to the Diggers. Aussie was not a paper done for the Diggers, but by them. That’s why it reflects their spirit.’ Harris was particularly adamant about the sincerity and originality of the texts he published in Aussie, as argued in the third issue of the magazine:

AUSSIE is a product of the battlefield, and he wants every item in him to be the work of his cobbers in the field and those in the field only. Should matter that is not original sneak in, it decreases the value of the work of those who go to the trouble to supply the dinkum goods. Therefore, he asks those to whom this is addressed to do the fair thing and send in their own work or none at all. (March 1918)

In my research, the thirteen issues of Aussie printed in France in 1918–19, first in Flêtre, then in Fauquembergues, were explored in order to look at the kinds of words used to describe the enemy. Naming the enemy was a challenging exercise for these amateur journalists, as they had to maintain a fine balance between hate and respect, reality and propaganda, especially in a journal that aimed to be humorous and entertaining.

As indicated by Amanda Laugesen in Diggerspeak: The Language of Australians at War (2005), Fritz was the word most commonly used by the diggers in naming the Germans. Fritz was ‘first recorded in 1915, and in wide usage especially in the early years of the First World War among English-speaking troops, including the Australians. It was a diminutive of the common German male name Friedrich.’ Friedrich was also one of the favorite names of the Hohenzollern dynasty, the emperors of Prussia. ‘Fritz and Co.’, the German enemy, we are told in Aussie, are ‘Purveyors of Blighties to the British Army’ (January 1918). Blighty was military slang for ‘a wound suffered sufficiently serious to cause a soldier to be returned home to Britain or kept away from the front line’. The word Fritz could also be used as part of a collective: Hans and Fritz, as a counterpart to Bill and Jim, an affectionate name for Australian soldiers. Variants included Fritzah: ‘The Billjims had something very painful to pay to the Fritzahs, a hostile tribe’ (March 1918).

Hun was the second most commonly used word for Germans. While Fritz was a term more often used specifically to refer to German soldiers, Hun often referred to the German people collectively. The Huns were, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘a warlike Asiatic nomadic group of people who, under their king Attila, invaded and ravaged large parts of Europe in the late 4th and 5th centuries.’ According to Laugesen, ‘during the First World War, British, Australian, and other newspapers played directly on this, drawing a likeness between the Huns who invaded the Roman Empire and the Germans invading Belgium and France and, allegedly, destroying historic buildings.’ In addition, we find in Aussie expressions using this short evocative name in compounds such as Hun-hunter and Hun Plonker: ‘That clamorous and voracious animal, the Hun Plonker’ (March 1918).

The diggers were quick to naturalise a new word used by the French, Boche. Boche is the most common word used by French soldiers in their journals, displacing the commonly used words Prussien and Prussco. As early as August 1914, the word Boche was used in daily newspapers such as Le Matin and Le Figaro. This word was felt by the Germans to be strongly pejorative, as illustrated by the story of twenty-year-old Gabrielle Barthel, from Rombas in Mosel, who was condemned to five months’ jail in June 1915 for having used the word boche.

The very productive suffix –oche was frequently used in French slang (and still is). According to the Trésor de la Langue Française, boche is a portmanteau word blending Allemand (German) and Caboche (slang for ‘head’). This short word, with its evocative tone, provided a pretext for numerous wordplays, such as boche/bouche (mouth), boche/poche (pocket), etc. This is seen in the titles and subtitles of many French trench journals: Le Mouchoir de boche (227th infantry regiment; deformation of ‘pocket handkerchief’); Bochophage (68th infantry regiment; ‘German eater’); and Rigolboche (10th division; ‘laughing about Germans’).

The diggers also adopted the word Teuton (three occurrences) and domesticated the French Allemand into Alleyman by composing a phonetically similar word based on the English terms alley and man.

The enemy could also be alluded to through reference to figures who played an important part in triggering the war. Wilhelm II, Queen Victoria’s grandson, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, is found in both French and Australian trench journals, as Wilhelm Hohenzollern (advertisement, 1918) or more often the Kaiser. The German royal family is likewise often mentioned, in particular Rupprecht, Kronprinz of Bavaria (as Crown Prince, May 1918), also called ‘prince Rupert, the kaiser’s nephew’ (May 1919).

Other figures were taken to embody the German enemy, such as Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg (‘an unpopular person named Hindenburg’, December 1918) or Bertha Krupp (‘I dreamt we’d really won the war and finished Bertha Krupp’, March 1918), the proprietor of the Krupp industrial empire, famous for its production of artillery. Bertha also gave her name to the big gun that fired on the Allied troops, Big Bertha.

It has to be noted that despite the threat that these names could epitomise, the tone used by the Australian diggers is always humorous and the content kept at a distance. This was not always the case in French trench journals. Designated as the man primarily responsible for the war, Wilhelm crystallised the hatred of the French soldiers, whose loathing of the enemy was combined with a violent disenchantment with the elites. The Crown Prince (Kronprinz) was the subject of many puns in French – Kron being spelled con, a swear word meaning ‘stupid’. Furthermore, cartoons representing the Kaiser as a laughable puppet and a bloodthirsty monster, or Germania, the allegory of Germany, as a pitiless deity, considerably darkened the tone.

However, as previously mentioned, entertainment was the primary goal of trench journals during the Great War. Key words and phrases of German propaganda were parodied, such as ‘Deutschland uber Allies’ for ‘Deutschland über Alles’ (‘Germany above all else’, Aussie, January 1918). The peculiar German accent is strongly mocked: ‘Ach, mine friendts. You can never sometimes tell vot you least expect der most—aint it?’ (June 1918). German taste for music—‘Ach-der-schumannisch-der-musikalgessellschaft!’ (June 1918)—is also made fun of, as shown by this allusion to the German patriotic anthem, ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’, by Max Schneckenburger: ‘As Fritz, in his trenches, singeths the Wacht am Rhein, a Mill’s bomb hitteth him on his sauerkraut receptacle.’ (September 1918)

An ‘appetite for words’ seems to be the distinctive feature of Australian amateur journalists, as demonstrated in this call for ‘language rations’ in the third issue of Aussie:

[AUSSIE’S] appetite for words has increased with his growth, and he now does the Oliver Twist and comes up for more. He likes best those laughable trench incidents of which all battalion messes have a good stock. […] It is not necessary to be an experienced manufacturer of literary food to do this. Just send along the ingredients to him and he will do his best to make them into a palatable dish for general consumption. (March 1918)

The diggers on the Western Front excelled in blending new words into their slanguage, be it for the depiction of the enemy, or for the description of the world around them.

A republished version of the article, Naming the enemy in French and Australian trench journals of the Great War, first published in the April edition of Ozwords.

Lee Walker appointed President of the Australian Publishers Association

In Conversation with Lee Walker, newly appointed President of the Australian Publishers Association

How did you start your career in publishing?

I studied to be a secondary educator, but while I was completing my Diploma of Education, I started working in educational publishing as a freelance photo researcher. That was 26 years ago and I have never looked back. I was passionate about teaching and desperately wanted to teach, but the world of publishing opened up to me and provided a different view for how I could contribute to education.

I was offered a full-time position as an Editorial Assistant and went on to work my way up to become a Publishing Manager over the course of a decade. I then moved to Oxford University Press, accepting a role as Director of the Primary Education Division. I am now Schools Publishing Director and work with a wonderful team of publishers and editors developing the very best print and digital content for Australian primary and secondary schools.

Tell me about your experience at OUP Australia?

I have been at OUP for 11 years and I absolutely love it. The Press’ focus on its mission is a great motivator for me. During the best times, and also when it gets a little tough, the mission is a strong reminder of why we do what we do and the positive difference we are making to the lives of learners around the world.

How has publishing changed since you entered the industry?

When I started out in publishing, I didn’t have a computer – I had an electric typewriter. And there was no Internet and email – only typed memos!

You have explained the dramatic changes in publishing – has education also changed since you were studying to be a teacher?

For me, the most noticeable change has been the ever growing focus on assessment and accountability, from federal to state to local levels, and down to individual teacher level, and how the magic of teaching learning to transform young people’s lives can sometimes be lost. At OUP, we are constantly focussing on how we can enhance teaching and learning experiences, and keep the magic alive.

Congratulations on your appointment as President of the Australian Publishers Association. What will your priorities be in the role?

As President, I will continue to work very closely with a very experienced, passionate and committed Board of Directors, at a time when there is a lot going on in the publishing industry.

Our priorities over the coming months will be:

  • advocacy – to continue to strengthen our engagement with government at federal, state and local levels to ensure open and constructive dialogue key issues, including copyright
  • promotion – to continue to support trade and educational events such as the Australian Book Industry Awards ( and the Educational Publishing Awards Australia (, which recognise excellence in publishing and celebrate Australian creators, as well as the Australian Reading Hour ( and Love Your Bookshop Day ( to promote the benefits of and a love of reading
  • capability – ongoing work on important initiatives such as Title Page ( to ensure industry-best access to print and e-book title information for publishers, libraries, booksellers and distributors.

What does the future of publishing look like?

Roles within the publishing industry will continue to change as technology continues to influence what and how we publish. For example, the role of an editor is very different to what it was even five years ago. While an editor’s role includes more traditional editing duties such as copyediting and proofreading, in the educational publishing sector they are sometimes also tasked with populating data spreadsheets for digital uploads, as well as helping authors develop wireframes for digital interactive content.

There continues to be great value in print publishing – print is a beautiful piece of technology and still makes best sense in many learning situations. When a child is learning to read, understanding how a physical book works is important – how to hold it, how to turn a page, how to read from left to right. However, digital technology offers different, and sometimes better, ways of learning, and so it is a critical feature of the future of publishing.

How early childhood educators can advocate for a play-based approach in the early years

At first, play might seem contrary to ‘serious’ education. But play is not nearly as frivolous as it sounds. On the contrary, play is recognised as a context for children’s learning (Department of Education, Training and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009) and research reports the benefits of play to children’s relationship development and the development of their self-regulation, resilience and autonomy.

When children are provided with opportunities to be immersed in meaningful contexts and are empowered to make choices, learning happens (Singer, Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006) and it is play that provides this context. Children’s educational trajectories can be positively influenced when they are met with experiences that encourage their natural inclination to learn through play.

However, despite research and policy frameworks advocating for play-based approaches in the early years, educators often feel many pressures in their school or centre to take a more formalised approach.

In an educational climate when the need to demonstrate evidence-based practice has led to an increase in testing and, in some cases, the introduction of approaches such as direct instruction, it can be a challenge for early years educators to maintain quality practice by advocating for the benefits of play. Here are some suggestions for how early childhood educators can advocate for play in their own schools or centres:

  • Be knowledgeable about your own practice. There is an array of research literature that explains the value of play to children’s lives and learning. (Several chapters in Learning Through Play address the value of play for children from birth to eight years of age.) As an educator, you need to be articulate the value and the evidence base behind your practice.
  • Construct and regularly review your shared philosophy on early years education and care. This is key to creating a united voice for early childhood and crucial if positive change is to occur.
  • Communicate the value of your play-based practice to colleagues. You could do this by sharing information about how a play-based approach in the early years is most appropriate and leads to developing skills in autonomy, inquiry, risk-taking and resilience, which assist children in later years.
  • Communicate the value of your play-based practice to families. Use posters in areas that parents/care givers congregate; put up information cards in the various play spaces of your room to advocate the skills learnt in that particular area when children play. You could also add a section on play in your weekly newsletter or blog.


Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009). Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.

Singer, D.G., Golinkoff, R.M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (Eds). (2006). Play = learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from <>.


Learning Through Play

Oxford recognised for excellence in textbook design in awards longlist

Book design plays an important role in the effectiveness of a textbook. Good design captures the attention of the reader and ensures content is presented in a way that is clear, meaningful and memorable.

The quality of design used in Oxford University Press textbooks has been acknowledged in the 66th Annual Australian Book Design Awards, with four OUP Australia books appearing in the longlist.

The books that appeared in the Best Designed Educational Tertiary Book category are:

Marketing: Theory, Evidence, Practice


Community and Human Services

Community and services

Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement

Diversity inclusion

 Youth & Society 

Youth and society

OUP Australia Design Manager Sue Dani said design was crucial to the success of a textbook.

“Effective educational design encourages students to want to explore and learn more,” she said.

Graphic designer Nina Heryanto was behind the eye-catching design of Marketing: Theory, Evidence, Practice. She said she and a team of designers had worked over two years to perfect the look and functionality of the textbook.

“The designers started by developing a mood board to determine the look and feel of the book, then produced cover design concepts, from which a few were chosen for further developments and considerations by the rest of the team.

“We created a logo, which we used in illustrations of everyday products,” she said.

The design is closely aligned with the content of the textbook, ensuring the information is relevant and memorable for the reader.

“It reflects the emphasis on fast-moving consumer goods – everyday purchases and items that are familiar and accessible.”

The textbook features original illustrations both on its cover and the chapter pages throughout.

“Illustrations really suited the subject, given that marketing is a creative industry,” Nina said.

The winners of the Australian Book Design Awards will be announced on 25 May.



Oxford Word of the Month: April – temp

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temp adjective exciting; trendy.


In 2018, a campaign has been run by Nova FM breakfast show hosts Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald and Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli to create a new word, or, rather, a new sense for an existing word. This word is temp, abbreviated from temperature, and used to refer to things that are exciting, trendy, or ‘cool’. It was coined by Wippa, in an attempt to find an Australian alternative to the (originally) American cool.

This is not the first word to be invented: this happens all the time with words that refer to new inventions or technologies, for example, and authors have often made up words that have become part of everyday vocabulary. Examples include robot, coined by Czech author Karel Čapek in a 1920 play, cyberspace, coined by science fiction writer William Gibson in 1981, and cultural cringe, coined by A.A. Phillips in 1950. Politicians often create new terms, sometimes unwittingly; in 2017 US President Donald Trump’s possible mistyping led to the creation of the word covfefe, although what it means was left to the imagination of those on social media.

Campaigns to create a new word are slightly different and can vary. In 2012, the Macquarie Dictionary was involved in a campaign to come up with a neologism for the action of snubbing someone in favour of your mobile phone – phubbing was the winning suggestion and it has gone on to become a word with some currency, perhaps because it was a term that described an activity that had yet to find a name.

It is trickier to have a slang term enter the broader vocabulary. Many slang terms only gain currency within small groups – for example, within a group undertaking a particular activity (such as surfing or skateboarding), or within particular youth groups. Social media has helped slang gain wider currency to some extent, although why some slang words take off and not others sometimes remains a mystery.

In trying to popularise temp the power of radio was harnessed, with Fitzy and Wippa promoting the word on their program and encouraging celebrities such as Chris Hemsworth and Keith Urban to use it. Social media has been another way of popularising the word:

@fitzyandwippa @nova969 so nova has the best ever cohost @edsheeran this doesn’t get better than that guys and that’s a fact guys—1 million tickets sold too. Let’s tune in via the application if you can’t listen direct on FM tonight is going to be #temp. (Nathan Henry‏ @DJ_NATDOG, February 28)

A legal graffiti of the word was made on a wall in Marrickville, and the word has been discussed on several television programs, including Channel Seven’s Sunrise and Channel Ten’s Studio 10.

Whether temp gains widespread and continuing usage remains to be seen, but its story provides an interesting example of one of the many ways words can find their way into our language.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre will be monitoring temp for possible future consideration for inclusion in the Australian National Dictionary.


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Our favourite children’s books

To celebrate International Children’s Book Day on April 2, we asked the OUP Australia staff to name their favourite children’s books.

There were books that made us laugh and made us cry, but can you guess the only book that was mentioned by two staff members?


My favourite book as a child was Elizabeth Honey’s 45 + 47 Stella Street and everything that happened. The characters’ adventures taking place in Australian suburbia made me feel like I could see myself in the book, and as if everyday life had a lot more mystery!


I’ll go for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It’s about a boy who has the worst day ever – nothing seems to go right. And at the end of the day, when he’s feeling very dejected, his mum just tells him, ‘Some days are like that.’ It’s a good thing to remember, even when you’re an adult!


I loved The Tiger Who Came to Tea – this story it used to make me laugh so much that a tiger was sitting down to eat tea and cake! And I loved the illustrations, I can remember my year 1 teacher reading me this in quiet time and I loved it so much I went home and asked for it for my birthday! I read it to my children now and they love it to and laugh at the same parts that I did.


I remember loving Unbelievable by Paul Jennings. I’m pretty sure I borrowed it from the school library many times. I also loved the books by June Factor (Unreal Banana Peel, Far Out, Brussel Sprout!, All Right, Vegemite! And Real Keen Baked Bean) because I found the poems funny and cheeky. I read and re-read these books many times. I also enjoyed the spooky Goosebumps books.


My daughter and I loved The Tiger Who Came to Tea, a quirky English classic I think, you never really do find out just why the tiger came or where it went afterwards. At a recent ‘Book Day Dress-up’ parade at my daughter’s school, one of the preppies arrived in a tiger suit holding a teapot. I think my daughter and I were the only other people there who knew who that character was!


I loved (well, still do love) Magic Beach by Alison Lester. My family has a beach house, and this book always reminds me of spending holidays there with all of my cousins. Sometimes we would read it while there, and we would all choose a different character from the book to be.


I was part of the generation who got to grow up alongside the Harry Potter kids, and I treasured every one of those books. Of course, part of the joy is in the fantastical adventures. But, I also loved how important it was that the characters learned new things along the way – about magic, but also about each other, and about themselves.

When in doubt, go to the library.


One of my favourite books to have read aloud to me as a child was The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover from ‘The Little Golden Books’ series. It’s a great interactive book that breaks the fourth wall by having Grover (from Sesame Street) try to prevent the reader from turning the pages of the book for fear of a monster at the end. Spoiler, the monster is him.


My favourite books were: Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss and Water Wings by Morris Gleitzman.


I only just discovered The Giving Tree when my daughter received it for her birthday. I can’t decide whether it warms my heart or makes me feel sad – let’s just say that it is bittersweet. It is about the relationship between a tree and a child, and how that changes as the child grows up. I also loved The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton and Dr Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go – another book that is hopeful and heartbreaking at the same time. As I got older, I loved Bridge to Terabithia and Came Back to Show You I Could Fly.


My favourite children’s book is Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. This is a magnificent piece of Australian storytelling describing the turbulent life of a family with seven children who live in early outback Australia. The seven children are an entertaining cast of characters and at times prove to be sources of frustration for their father, the very strict, Captain Woolcot, and his new young wife, not much older than his oldest daughter. My favourite character was the lively Judy who always found herself displeasing her father by finding herself at the centre of some sort of mischievous and troublesome activity. In the book we are introduced to (or reminded of) the growing pains children and young adults are confronted with, many of which are relevant and resonate with modern readers.


I remember The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters by Allan Ahlberg being the most coveted book in the school library – the reserve list was insane! The reason it was so popular was because it was interactive (letters in envelopes) – a new feat in the early 90s. Very much worth the wait time.

One year for my birthday my Godparents bought me the audio book (in cassette-form) of Josie Smith by Magdalen Nabb. It was read by George Layton whose voice was so charismatic and diverse that it was incredibly easy to imagine Josie’s world in a small British town.

The series that made me fall in love with reading was Baby-sitters Little Sister by Ann M. Martin. It was a spinoff of The Baby-sitters Club for a slightly younger audience. The protagonist Karen Brewer was imaginative, assertive, sassy and my first literary role model.


When my kids were little, we loved reading a book called Dog In, Cat Out by Gillian Rubinstein and Ann James. The story perfectly captures domestic life with small kids and animals. There are four words in the book: cat, dog, in, out; but the detail in the pictures makes it fun to read over and over.


As a tiny tot I was obsessed with the illustrations of different types of families in The Baby’s Catalogue by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. In kindergarten I moved on to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, even though it spooked me a bit. In Primary School I loved anything by Roald Dahl, but particularly Boy and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Answer: The Tiger Who Came to Tea was Amanda and Emma’s favourite.

Spotlight on the language of Easter

Easter Thursday

Why we refer to Easter Thursday as Maundy Thursday

Also known as Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday is the name for the Thursday before Easter, and commemorates the Last Supper. In the UK, the day is known for the custom of the sovereign giving alms to the poor. The day is also an official holiday in several countries around the world.

The word Maundy, however, specifically refers to the custom of washing the feet of the faithful, paying tribute to Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. During the ceremony, one of the antiphons, or ‘short sentences sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle’, comes from the Gospel of John: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another’ (John 13:34). In the Latin version of the service, the phrase ‘new commandment’ is mandatum novum. Over time, the ceremony became known as the mandatum, which eventually was shortened to Maundy.

Easter Sunday

Is the Christian holiday of Easter named after a pagan goddess?

Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods depicts a goddess named Easter who, living in 21st century San Francisco, notes that while most of the Old World pagan deities have been forgotten in the modern era, “on my festival days they still feast on eggs and rabbits, on candy and on flesh, to represent rebirth and copulation. They wear flowers in their bonnets and they give each other flowers. They do it in my name.” The implication is that Christians are unwittingly keeping the name of an ancient goddess alive through the name of the holiday celebrating Christ’s resurrection.

We owe this explanation of the name of the Christian holiday to a single source: the Venerable Bede, an English monk writing in Latin during the 8th century. He claimed that the word Easter came from the name of a goddess called Eostre, whose festival was celebrated by pagan Anglo Saxons at the time of the vernal equinox. Bede’s mention of the goddess (an aside in his description of the Old English names of the months) is the only record of her existence, and some scholars have suggested that she may have been the product of his own invention. Nonetheless, as the Oxford English Dictionary’s etymology points out “it seems unlikely that Bede would have invented a fictitious pagan festival in order to account for a Christian one”.

Whether it was originally the name of a goddess or not, the English word Easter and its German cognate Ostern are most likely derived ultimately from the same Germanic word as the cardinal direction east, which in turn is cognate with the word for dawn in many ancient languages (including Classical Latin aurora), by association with the direction of the rising sun. The word for Easter thus has metaphorical links with the ideas of dawn, spring, and rebirth (as do the holiday’s traditional symbols of eggs, rabbits, and flowers).

Amongst the Germanic languages, English and German are exceptional in not using a word related to Passover as their usual word for the Christian holiday of Easter. The crucifixion is strongly associated with Passover, and Christian writings often equate Jesus to a “paschal lamb”, in reference to the traditional Passover sacrifice. The English adjective paschal can mean either “relating to Passover” or “relating to Easter”, and it is derived from the Hebrew word for Passover, pesaḥ (compare Pesach). In most European languages, this is also the origin of the word used for Easter: French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Icelandic páskar, Dutch Pasen, Swedish påsk, etc. There is a similar English word, Pasch, which dates back to Old English and has been used to refer to both Passover and Easter, but it is comparatively rare, surviving primarily in the English regional and Scottish form Pace.

 Easter Monday

Why we refer to Easter Monday as Black Monday

While it is probably the most well-known of the ‘black’ days, Friday is not the only day to have found itself blackened. The first day evidenced to have Black prefixed to it was a Monday, more specifically Easter Monday; a quotation referring to Easter Monday as Black Monday has been found as early as 1389. There are a few competing theories for what caused the day to be so named. One historical theory holds that the name refers to a severe storm on Easter Monday in 1360, which led to the deaths of many soldiers of Edward III’s army during the Hundred Years’ War. A different historical theory purports that Black Monday is a reference to the massacre of English settlers in Dublin by the Irish on Easter Monday 1209. The name may be unrelated to either event, and may instead be linked to a general belief in the unlucky character of Mondays, possibly influenced in this case by the view that misfortune will naturally follow a celebration like that of Easter Sunday.


The rise of ‘plogging’

For a moment, I thought that my style of running had been given its own name. Halfway between a plod and a jog, the word ‘plogging’ seemed to perfectly describe my slow, awkward gait.

But, while ‘plogging’ does refer to the act of jogging, its meaning is quite different to the one I imagined.

According to, ‘plogging’ is a Swedish portmanteau of either plocka upp (pick up) or plocka skräp (pick up litter) and jogga (jog) and refers to an eco-friendly trend that has seen runners in Scandinavia, France, and even Thailand, burning calories and cleaning up their communities at the same time. Instead of running past any litter they encounter on their routes, ‘ploggers’ go out of their way to pick it up, often stuffing it into a bag they’ve toted along for that purpose.

The term ‘plogging’ arose in Sweden in 2016 and is still very new to the English-speaking world. However, there are three reasons which might mean that ‘plogging’ becomes more widely adopted.

  • A growing interest in Scandi lifestyle trends

IKEA aside, the ‘untranslatable’ (and Word of the Year 2016-shortlisted) hygge phenomenon comes to mind, with The Little Book of Hygge, The Book of Hygge and Hygge all distributed in Australia since 2016. Hygge refers to ‘A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’. Similarly, the increasingly popular, lagom, meaning something like ‘neither too much nor too little’ is another Swedish lifestyle word OxfordDictionaries is currently tracking.

The tiny house movement, for example, has enjoyed increased attention over the last decade, offering a solution to the lack of affordable and eco-friendly housing one tiny (less than 500 square feet) package at a time. In Australia, there has been a marked increase in people who want their own tiny house, according to The Conversation. Tiny house groups on Facebook have been appearing since 2013, with original Facebook pages such as Tiny Houses Australia attracting nearly 50,000 followers. Other increasingly popular lifestyle trends include urban farming and solar paneling, to name but a few.

  • A growing interest in running for exercise

Running for exercise, as we know it today, hit the ground running in the 1960s and has been a fairly consistent fitness favourite ever since, with enthusiasm for the sport currently on the rise – particularly in the number of people taking part in marathons worldwide. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of Australians running or jogging as a sport or recreation almost doubled from 2005-06 until 2012.

Plogging’ combines all of these trends neatly, so while it’s not guaranteed a place in Oxford dictionaries yet, a close eye is being kept on the word to see if it takes off, hygge-like, in English.

And in the meantime, perhaps I will attempt to combine my plodding gait with the more sophisticated act of ‘plogging’.

Oxford University Press Australia has a wide range of dictionaries, from the Oxford First Dictionary to the best-selling Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary.