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

By JULIA ROBINSON

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

By VÉRONIQUE DUCHÉ

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.

Oxford Word of the Month: April – temp

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temp adjective exciting; trendy.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

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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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 OxfordDictionaries.com, ‘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.

 

Oxford Word of the Month: March – magic

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noun: a double ristretto coffee with steamed milk.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

Australian coffee drinkers, especially those in urban centres, are blessed with quality, choice, and good baristas when ordering their daily fix. Stories abound of Australian travellers complaining about the poor quality of coffee found in cafes in the UK, US, and Europe, and we are familiar with the ‘flat white revolution’ from down under that’s been exported to cities such as London and Paris.

The Australian love affair with various forms of espresso coffee really took off in the early 1980s. Before this, Italian and Greek cafes in Melbourne and Sydney had been serving espresso coffee for decades following post-war migration, but it took a while for the rest of the country to catch on.

Australian English is the beneficiary of our need for coffee. Amid the cappuccinos and lattes, flat white, long black, and short black are locally grown terms, all dating from the early stirrings of the espresso trend in the 1980s. The continuing popularity of the cappuccino also gave Australia the babyccino in the 1990s, and the mugachino in the 2000s.

The latest Australian coffee term to enter the lexicon is magic, first recorded in the current decade: ‘I’m loving the new style of coffee called a ‘magic’ … double shot ristretto with a splash of milk.’ (Geelong Advertiser, 8 May 2014)

It has been described as a ‘three-quarter flat white’, a ‘three-quarter latte’, ‘more coffee-ish than a latte’, and as ‘Melbourne’s gift to the world’. The trend is strongly associated with Melbourne, where it’s said to have been invented: ‘The story goes that it was dubbed the magic at Ray in Brunswick some time back in the early 2000s.’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 2014) Naturally, the association with Melbourne has provoked the inevitable rivalry with Sydney. The same article asks: ‘Can Sydney make a magic?’

Perhaps the choice of magic as a name was influenced by its use in the name of two Melbourne institutions: an NBL team and, formerly, a radio station. But the appeal of the magic has now spread further afield. There is web evidence of it in cafes across the country from Perth to Brisbane. An Adelaide cafe acknowledges the origin, offering ‘a Melbourne magic’ on the menu. Tasmanians too know about it: ‘Make mine a ‘magic’. So hot right now… Order one now before it’s so cool it becomes uncool.’ (Hobart Mercury, 26 August 2017) A Sunshine Coast newspaper describes the process of making one:

Served in a small vessel. Start with a double ristretto base, add a small amount of milk. ‘It’s basically 50% coffee and 50% milk, served not too hot, and that’s called a Magic.’ (Caloundra Weekly, 4 June 2015)

Now that the magic is on our radar, we will be watching to see if it becomes more widely used in Australia, and worthy of an entry in our dictionaries.

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

 

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How dictionaries can help children become independent readers

The first time a child reads a chapter book on their own is an exciting milestone in their literacy journey. Suddenly, they can explore the world of books at their own pace, without always relying on having an adult beside them. But is there a way of encouraging and supporting children in their early years of independent reading to ensure their love of books continues?

In my household, one of the signs of my seven-year-old son’s emerging ability to read independently was a new fascination with words, such as tremendous and astonished, which are rarely heard outside of Enid Blyton books. Similarly, we could all tell that my niece had also been reading Blyton’s books when she started calling her brother’s behaviour ‘horrid’.

However, it is not just quaint words from old English that have emerged as new words for my son since he started reading independently. I have also been surprised by his use of unusual and sophisticated language found in David Walliams’  bestselling books.

In Mr Stink, there is an item which the titular character has purloined and a cloud which is malevolent. The tramp is described as not just smelly, but malodorous, and Christmas songs play incongruously in the background.

In his books, Walliams does not talk down to children and uses words that might challenge the most literate of parents. And I think this is a good thing. It is extremely valuable for children to build their vocabulary, especially when reading unfamiliar words in the context of a sentence within a book they are enjoying.

But while I was happy my son was building his vocabulary, I worried that his need to keep getting out of bed to ask the meanings of words might frustrate him and stifle his enjoyment of reading.

One way that I found to solve this problem was to offer him a children’s dictionary so he could look up words he hadn’t seen before on his own. My seven-year-old son has started grabbing his Early Years Dictionary to find the meanings of unfamiliar words, and the very act of looking up and reading the correct definitions has become part of the fun of reading. The dictionary has proved to be a useful tool to encourage and support his independent reading and build his vocabulary.

In a paper titled Vocabulary, written as a Closing the Gap Initiative, Anne Bayetto wrote of the importance of the  increased vocabulary children gain through reading widely.

“The link between vocabulary and comprehension is strong and significantly influences academic success,” she wrote.

“Vocabulary knowledge is fundamental to being an independent and successful reader and writer and is comprised of the words that are understood when heard or read.”

As mentioned before, building one’s vocabulary does not have to be boring, and discovering new words is often part of the fun of reading.  In an article published in The Chronicle, Alberto Manguel remembers the experience of asking a teacher what a word meant and being directed to the dictionary.

“We never thought of this as a punishment. On the contrary: With this command we were given the keys to a magic cavern in which one word would lead without rhyme or reason (except an arbitrary alphabetical reason) to the next.”

And so, with the help of some good books and a dictionary, I am enjoying watching my son discover new words and broaden his vocabulary – even if it might involve describing his sister as ‘horrid’.

Definitions according to Oxforddictionaries.com

Tremendous, adjective

1             Very great in amount, scale, or intensity.

‘Penny put in a tremendous amount of time’

‘there was a tremendous explosion’

Astonished, adjective

1             Greatly surprised or impressed; amazed.

‘he was astonished at the change in him’
‘we were astonished to hear of this decision’

Horrid, adjective

1             Causing horror.

‘a horrid nightmare’

Malodorous, adjective

1             Smelling very unpleasant.

‘leaking taps and malodorous drains’

Purloin, verb

1             Steal (something)

‘he must have managed to purloin a copy of the key’

Malevolent, adjective

1             Having or showing a wish to do evil to others.

‘the glint of dark, malevolent eyes’

Incongruous, adjective

1             Not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something.

‘the duffel coat looked incongruous with the black dress she wore underneath’

 

The Oxford children’s dictionaries are available from Oxford Australia.

 

Oxford First Dictionary

Oxford Word of the Month: February – doing the doors

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noun: (of a politician) giving doorstop interviews to the media, especially at Parliament House.

 

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

A favourite tactic of journalists seeking comment from politicians is to conduct a brief interview with them as they enter or leave a building. In Australia this kind of interview has been known since the early 1980s as doorstopping or a doorstop (‘I doorstopped the Premier, who ruled out an early election’; ‘cabinet members didn’t hold the usual doorstops before their weekly meeting’). In theory the doorstop is an impromptu occasion, but it is often used as an opportunity for a party or government to deliver a scripted message. It is a familiar piece of theatre on the nightly news.

In the twenty-first century we find a new term for this activity: doing the doors (‘the Member for Barcoo is doing the doors today’). The term casts politicians as agents seeking to be interviewed, rather than as innocent victims of doorstopping. The earliest recorded evidence shows that the ‘impromptu’ interview is often planned:

A new Labor backbencher has admitted the federal Government has a roster of MPs primed and ready to deliver the message of the day to waiting media as they walk through the doors of Parliament House every morning.
Doing the doors’ gives politicians a chance to comment on the issues of the day, to turn round negative stories in the papers and breakfast radio and TV, or add to their opponents’ discomfort. (The Australian, 19 June 2008)

Doing the doors in the political sense is an Australian English term. An older meaning exists for the same expression in Australia and elsewhere; it describes the job of a bouncer, who controls the intake of patrons at clubs and pubs, or the job of a door person, who sells tickets at the door of an event or performance.

A sense of performance is certainly inherent in the Australian meaning, and critical reviews are not uncommon. One commentator referred to the politicians who ‘do the doors’ at the bidding of their leaders as ‘puppets reciting their prepared statements when allocated the task of “doing the doors” for the television grabs’. (Crikey, 10 June 2011) Another described doing the doors as ‘the cute ritual of pollies lining up at the main entrance on the Reps side of the building to deploy pithy one-liners for the assembled media hacks’. (West Australian, 1 December 2009)

But doing the doors continues to be an important ritual for media and politicians, and, despite cold winters and frosty mornings in the nation’s capital, the show must go on:

Frost lay on the ground. Hot air balloons hung in the sky. At 7.50am in the national capital, Eric Abetz was doing the doors. (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June 2010)

 

Doing the doors will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

 

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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.

References

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

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). ‘Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2014’. Accessed from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3105.0.65.001

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 STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

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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