Oxford Word of the Month: February – doing the doors

WotM header

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.

 

WotM footer

WotM signature

Oxford Word of the Month: January – egg flip

WotM header

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.

WotM footer

WotM signature

Oxford Word of the Month: December – John Farnham

WotM header

noun: used allusively of a comeback or reappearance, especially after a final performance or retirement.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

John Farnham (‘Johnny’ in his early days) is a hugely successful Australian contemporary pop singer. His professional career spans fifty years from the 1960s until the present, and his 1986 album Whispering Jack remains the highest-selling album in Australia. With ‘The Last Time’ tour (2002–2003) he announced his intention to stop touring nationally, but he has made several comeback tours since then. Indeed, his love of touring has made his name a byword for an inability to remain in retirement:

She said she wouldn’t but Suzi Quatro has done a John Farnham, booking an encore tour two years after her farewell tour of Australia. The leather-clad legend … gets the joke when asked if she was ‘doing a Farnsie’. (Townsville Bulletin, 28 September 2016)

The Farnham habit is not restricted to the music business:

Some call it persistence and tenacity. My daughter describes it as a Johnny Farnham comeback. I call it standing up and fighting for what you believe in, and not allowing the bastards to grind you down. (Pauline Hanson on her return to political life, maiden speech to the Senate, 14 September 2016)

And there are a number of variations on the theme. You can find evidence for do a Farnham, pull a Farnham, chuck a Farnsie, and have more comebacks (or farewells) than John Farnham. The Johnny Farnham comeback tour is the name of a cycle ride on a social network site for athletes (Strava, 23 April 2017), and the phrase was also used to describe a Question Time tactic in the Australian parliament:

By yesterday, awkward segues to Dastyari were looking a little tired; today they felt like a John Farnham comeback tour. (The Monthly, 14 September 2016)

The use of Farnham’s name in this way harks back to another Australian singer renowned for comebacks: Dame Nellie Melba, the world-famous operatic soprano. She staged a number of ‘farewell’ concerts in the 1920s, with her last in 1930, the year before she died. Her name lives on in phrases that date from the 1940s and are still in use today: to do a Melba and more farewells than Melba. However, in the comeback context, John Farnham is now giving Dame Nellie a run for her money.

The allusive use of John Farnham and variants on the name will be considered for future inclusion in the Australian National Dictionary.

WotM footer

WotM signature

Oxford Word of the Month: November – platypup

WotM header

noun: a baby platypus.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

There is some discussion on the Internet about the correct name for a baby platypus. Some commentators note that a baby platypus may be called a puggle, while others say that puggle refers only to a baby echidna. The following writer has an alternative:

A common misconception is that a baby platypus is called a puggle. There is no actual official name for a baby platypus, but a common suggested name is ‘platypup’. (Sunshine Coast Sunday, 13 January 2013)

The word platypup has received some interest in recent years, including the establishment of a Facebook page to campaign for its official acceptance: ‘Platypup: Give the baby platypus a name’.

Platypup has a long but interrupted history. The earliest evidence appears in the 1940s and refers to the first platypus bred in captivity, in a Victorian wildlife sanctuary:

A platypup’s birth made history … For more than two months Fleahy restrained his longing to take a peep at the platypup. Then, last Monday, he dug down to the blind end of the burrow, found the nest and brought the youngster up for a quick inspection. (Sydney Sun, 9 January 1944)

A year later the same baby platypus is mentioned in several newspaper items:

Platy-Pup Is One Year Old … Corrie, the first platypus to be bred in captivity, is one year old. (Brisbane Courier-Mail, 25 January 1945)

The ‘Sun’ called the first baby platypus to be bred in captivity a ‘platy-pup’. But what’s wrong with a ‘platy-kitten’? (Melbourne Advocate, 13 January 1945)

Following these references to Corrie the platypup there is almost no evidence for the term until the 2000s. Most of the recent evidence is found online in the context of discussion about the correct name for platypus young. Platypup also appears in a series of children’s fantasy books, which may indicate an increasing awareness and use of the term—except that the authors are American:

After one final yawn, Pippi wandered into the kitchen, grabbed a crayfish tail, and called, ‘Mom! Dad! I’m going outside!’ ‘Don’t go too far,’ came her father’s sleepy voice. ‘You’re still a platypup.’ ‘Okay!’ she called back, as she headed for the burrow entrance. (Trevor Pryce, Joel Naftali, and Sanford Greene, The Rainbow Serpent, 2015)

Despite talk of ‘correct’ and ‘official’ naming, it is the continued usage of a word, and its acceptance by a wider audience, that cements its place in our vocabulary. At present puggle (which emerged in the 1990s, transferred from the proprietary name of a range of soft toys) has the edge over platypup. The echidna and the platypus, as the world’s only egg-laying mammals, are closely related. Puggle is already established as the name for a baby echidna, so it is not surprising to find increasing evidence of puggle used as a name for the young of both animals.

It is possible that platypup and puggle may coexist for a while as synonyms, until one establishes itself as the preferred term. Puggle may have the advantage.

Platypup is being considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

 

 

WotM footer

WotM signature

Oxford Word of the Month: December – koala diplomacy

WotM header

noun: Australia’s use of koalas as diplomatic gifts to other countries; a form of Australian soft power diplomacy.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

In May 1994, Australia arranged for a koala called Blinky Bill (named after a famous koala in Australian children’s fiction) and his younger half-brother, Kupala, to spend some time on extended loan at a zoo in the German city of Bonn. The koalas came from San Diego Zoo (rather than Australia), but were nevertheless Australian ambassadors. Their display in Bonn Zoo was complemented by the broadcasting of the Australian television show Blinky Bill, the sale of koala t-shirts, and the chance to win a trip to Australia.

An Australian embassy representative said: ‘Australia could benefit from the koala diplomacy.’ (Canberra Times, 18 May 1994) The koala visit would raise Australia’s profile in Germany and encourage German tourism to Australia. It also had an unexpected result: the Australian embassy received unsolicited donations to support organisations helping injured wildlife after a recent Sydney bushfire. As it turned out, when the media events took place at the zoo, a didgeridoo performance upset the koalas:

Zaine Flynn, an Aborigine who is playing a didgeridoo in a modern production of Hamlet in Stuttgart, provided an additional Australian flavour to the koala diplomacy. He played inside the koala house until zoo authorities asked him to leave because the noise seemed to be upsetting the residents. (Canberra Times, 29 May 1994)

One of the first instances of koala diplomacy occurred in 1984 with the gifting of two koalas to Japan by the Queensland Premier; several other instances have occurred since, including the 1994 German event. The term is modelled on China’s panda diplomacy—where pandas are sent to other countries to facilitate diplomatic relations between China and other countries (starting in the modern era in the 1950s).

One of the most notable recent instances of koala diplomacy was during the G20 summit in Brisbane in 2014 when world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were photographed cuddling koalas. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop commented that:

koala diplomacy should not be underestimated as ‘it portrays Australia in a soft light and promotes our values as an open, free, tolerant democracy’. The koala’s diplomatic sway was crystallised for Ms Bishop at a retreat she held this year for a number of foreign ambassadors in West Australia. During a visit to the Sandalford Winery native animals were brought from a nearby wildlife sanctuary for the diplomats to meet, with a koala proving the most popular. (Melbourne Age, 27 December 2014)

The effectiveness of koala diplomacy as a form of soft diplomacy has seen the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade producing what is referred to as a ‘koala diplomacy manual’. The approach has been criticised by some commentators:

In historical efforts at cultivating soft power—Australia’s public image overseas—we’ve leaned pretty heavily on wildlife (DFAT has reportedly produced a 600-page koala diplomacy manual). It’s hard not to see the koalas as another outing in the line of dumbed-down Paul Hogan-inspired Australiana kitsch we’ve been flogging to the world for decades: g’arn maaate, c’mon down unda! (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2015)

Despite this criticism, it seems very likely that Australia will continue to engage in koala diplomacy in the future.

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

WotM footer

WotM signature

Words for pie (and why they’re all unappetising)

The humble meat pie is as Aussie as it gets. The iconic fist-sized pastry is light, flaky and golden on the outside, and filled with piping hot minced meat and gravy on the inside – perfect as a frosty winter’s day meal at the footy or a cheap, tasty snack from the servo.

In the 2014 season of The Bachelor Australia, contestant Laurina Fleure precipitated a hashtag frenzy on social media when she bemoaned a date that involved eating a ‘dirty street pie’ from a Sydney pie-cart. Her remark alluded to the pie’s status as food for the working class, and the stereotypical connotations of crudeness and boorishness that come along with it. A pie-eater is a derogatory Australian term used to refer to a small-time or second-rate person, originally of the criminal persuasion:

[The term] arose from the fact that most crims were unwillingly conscripted into the army & at the first opportunity deserted. Having no coupons & identity card & prevented from getting work they managed to live by getting free pies from the army buffet in Hyde Park … so to call a person a pie eater was an assertion that they pretended to have a special status & knowledge when they had neither the qualifications nor the knowledge to justify it. (Ted Hartley in Gary Simes, Dictionary of Australian Underworld Slang, 1993)

It’s no surprise then that slang terms that refer to pies themselves can come across as unrefined. In fact, a number of them are downright nauseating in their association with pests, vermin, and unsavoury animal parts; we have never trusted the dubious contents of a pie. Take maggot bag, for instance. As Kel Richards wrote, ‘to ask the nice lady at the canteen for a “maggot bag and blood, thanks, love” is to ask for a meat pie and tomato sauce’ (Dictionary of Australian Phrase and Fable, 2013). In a similar vein, to ask for a ‘dog’s eye with dead ‘orse’ is to ask for a meat pie with sauce.

Rounding up the animal trifecta is rat coffin, described in a slightly dubious tone by the Sydney Morning Herald as:

A tasteless term for a meat pie that is strangely evocative even though it is completely inaccurate these days. We hope. (Sydney Morning Herald, August 25, 2005)

Interestingly, in their original form in medieval Europe, pies were called ‘coffins’, or ‘coffyns’, simply meaning a box or container. Food historian Janet Clarkson, in her book Pie: A Global History, noted that pie shells were made of thick pastry and were used as cooking vessels for the meat filling. The shell was made of hard, coarse rye flour, and was often several inches thick. Back in a time when refrigerators hadn’t been invented, this sturdy crust had the added benefit of preserving the contents within.

The word ‘pie’ is probably the same word as the archaic term ‘pie’, a name for the Eurasian magpie: the various iingredients of a meat pie being compared to objects randomly collected by a (Eurasian) magpie. It certainly reflects both historical and contemporary meat pie-manufacturing processes, in which fillings are typically minced and derived from multiple animal parts. In medieval times, pies and pasties contained beef, mutton, venison, fowl (or a combination thereof) and in some cases even porpoise meat (Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food).

While modern-day Australians are unlikely to grind up sea mammals for food, the ‘mixed bag’ approach to meat still applies. According to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, meat pies are only required to contain 25% ‘meat flesh’, defined as ‘the skeletal muscle of the carcass of any buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit or sheep … plus any attached animal rind fat, connective tissue, nerve, blood and blood vessels’. The manufacturer is not required to label the type of meat used in the pie, as long as it meets the criteria above. If that’s not enough to make you toy with the idea of becoming a vegetarian, tongue roots, liver, spleen and tripe are also permissible parts to include in a pie (as long as these parts are declared on the label).

With the pie manufacturing process the way it is, it’s no wonder that the Australian slang terms for meat pie are all pretty unpalatable. Just as Aussies have put our own culinary stamp on the dish, we’ve done the same in a linguistic sense too. Maggot bag, dog’s eye and rat coffin, in true Aussie style, are terms that are sardonic, irreverent and doused with a dollop of saucy humour.

Alicia Cheah is a Primary Publisher. Once, in a feeble attempt to increase her vitamin A, iron and selenium intake, she cooked a massive batch of fried chicken livers, sautéed lamb liver and crumbed lamb kidneys. It could only be described as an offal affair.

9780195550269This article was inspired by entries from the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. This dictionary is the only comprehensive, historically-based record of the words and meanings that make up Australian English. It is a unique lexical map of Australian history and culture.

The dictionary was produced at the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University. The Centre, established in 1988, is a joint venture of theAustralian National University and Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand.

Chief Editor: Dr Bruce Moore is a former Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre (1994–2011). He has edited a number of OUP dictionaries, including the Australian Oxford Dictionary.
Managing Editor: Dr Amanda Laugesen
Editors: Mark Gwynn, Julia Robinson

[Image source: Shutterstock ID 3090849]

Upcoming events for the Australian National Dictionary Second Edition

To celebrate the publication of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary, there will be events in Sydney and Melbourne this September.

AND2e

Starting on Thursday September 8 at 6 pm Abbey’s Bookshop in Sydney will be hosting an event with AND 2e editors Bruce Moore (former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre) and Amanda Laugesen (current director), along with Abbey’s bookseller Lindy West as moderator and Kel Richards (broadcaster and author of The Story of Australian English) as guest speaker.

This is a free event but you will need to RSVP to attend. Follow the link to RSVP and for more information.

On Tuesday September 13 at 6.30 pm Readings Hawthorn in Melbourne will be hosting Bruce Moore and Amanda Laugesen for a free panel discussion moderated by cryptic crossword maestro David Astle.

Please follow the link to RSVP.

 

We hope to see you there!

WotM signature

Australian food and drink quiz

Think you know your long blacks from your babyccinos or your cheerios from your chiko rolls? Australian cuisine, as food critic John Newton once wrote, is a bit of a ‘mongrel’, incorporating British, Mediterranean, Asian and native Australian cooking styles and ingredients. The Australian National Dictionary 2e contains a multitude of food-related slang terms, many of which are irreverent and as unpretentious as the fare they describe. To celebrate the release of this new edition, we bring you this quiz to test your knowledge of Australian food and drink.


Alicia Cheah is a Primary Publisher at Oxford University Press Australia. When it comes to food, she is a ‘try-anything-once’ sort of person. She has sampled pig’s stomach, beef pizzle, raw horse meat and fugu (puffer fish) and lives to tell the tale.

9780195550269This quiz was inspired by entries from the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. This dictionary is the only comprehensive, historically-based record of the words and meanings that make up Australian English. It is a unique lexical map of Australian history and culture.

The dictionary was produced at the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University. The Centre, established in 1988, is a joint venture of the Australian National University and Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand.

Chief Editor: Dr Bruce Moore is a former Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre (1994–2011). He has edited a number of OUP dictionaries, including the Australian Oxford Dictionary.
Managing Editor: Dr Amanda Laugesen
Editors: Mark Gwynn, Julia Robinson

Rhyming slang in the Australian National Dictionary

9780195550269The recent publication of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary is the culmination of more than 20 years of research into the history of our unique Australian lexicon. The scope of the dictionary, as defined in the first edition by editor W.S. Ramson, includes ‘words and meanings which have originated in Australia, which have a greater currency here than elsewhere, or which have a special significance in Australia because of their connection with an aspect of the history of the country’. Instead of limiting entries to formal Australian language, the AND embraces a huge variety of colloquialisms from all parts of Australian society. One of the more interesting types of this informal language is Australian rhyming slang.

Rhyming slang is ‘a type of slang that replaces words with rhyming words or phrases, typically with the rhyming element omitted’.[1] It was supposedly first used by cockney East Londoners in the early 19th century, with early examples including joanna (piano) and barnet (from barnet fair, hair). In the late 19th century, this inventive form of slang arrived in Australia and the locals took to it with enthusiasm. John Ayto, in the Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang, notes that rather than just reusing cockney terms, Australians ‘concocted an impressive rhyming vocabulary of their own’. When I was asked to do this blog post, I decided that the best way to find out about Australian rhyming slang would be to talk to the only expert I know on the subject: my grandfather, Morris Chambers. Terms listed in the AND are in bold.

Did your parents use rhyming slang? What about other children at school?

No. My only experience of it was when I went to work at the Forests Commission [a state-run department that managed Victoria’s forests – Morris worked for them as a surveyor]. It was sort of a ‘class distinction signal’, in other words, ‘I’m not going to use the Queen’s English in an appropriate manner; I’m going to do something entirely different.’ It was something that my fellow workers appreciated, the cleverness of it.

You wouldn’t use it with your boss though.

No, you wouldn’t use it with your boss. I didn’t actually use it at work because I was in a position of authority where I had a staff of people working for me.

I’ve read that the original purpose of rhyming slang might have been to get away with saying something rude in polite company.

We just used it for everyday events. If somebody had died, they’d say: ‘Old Joe’s brown bread now’.[2] I don’t know what was so clever about that, instead of saying he was dead. And they referred to the boss as the ‘pitch and toss’.[3]

There’s a bit of humour there, isn’t there?

Yes, there’s a bit of humour and cleverness with language.

Do you have any favourite slang terms?

If someone got sacked, they used to say they’d been ‘tramped’.[4] Englishmen were called ‘to-and-froms’,[5] rhyming with ‘poms’.

Some of the other ones I remember you telling me were ‘Noah’ [Noah’s ark, shark] and ‘butcher’s’.

‘Have a butcher’s hook at this.’ Have a look at it.

Doesn’t it also mean ‘crook’?

Yes, ‘I’m not feeling well, I’m butcher’s.’

Are these terms that came from England or are they specifically Australian?

Even when I was brought up – I was born in 1927 – the things I was taught and the people I was involved with in a lot of instances came from England. My maternal grandma and grandpa were born in England and came out to Australia. In dealing with them [however], I didn’t speak any rhyming slang. And my paternal grandmother – she never spoke in rhyming slang.

Do you think that was to do with class?

I think it was. I think it was the environment in which they were brought up. Rhyming slang was more of a cockney thing. You can take it as an escape mechanism – you don’t have to abide by a set of social rules used by others.

Morris doesn’t use rhyming slang now – he doesn’t talk to people who use it. I reckon it might be time to bring it back. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Australian rhyming slang and the Australian lexicon in general, the Australian National Dictionary is a great place to start.

Alex Chambers is the Editorial Coordinator in Higher Education. He is a keen supporter of the Melbourne Demons, well-placed commas and the communal sweet jar.


[1] Definition from Oxford Dictionaries Online

[2] This is was originally a cockney rhyming slang term, defined in Green’s Dictionary of Slang: brown bread adj. Dead. 1969 S.T. Kendall Up the Frog 22: I opened the Rory and standing there / Was me one ‘n’ t’other called Ted. / ‘E says ‘I’m back from Australia.’ Says I ‘we thought you was brahn bread’.

[3] Again, this may have originally been cockney rhyming slang. Green’s Dictionary of Slang: pitch and toss n. The boss. 1942 Sidney Mirror 14 Oct. in Baker (1945) 269: The pitch and toss has gone down th’ field of wheat.

[4] In the Australian National Dictionary as: tramp v. trans. [Figurative use of tramp ‘to stamp (upon)’ (OED).] To dismiss (a person) from employment. 1914 Bendigo Advertiser 17 July 8/4 There were numerous instances in which men had been sent away to these construction works, but not given a start, while those who had been ‘tramped’—often very good men—after working a day or so, were very many.

[5] In the AND as: to-and-from n. Rhyming slang for pom. 1963 R. McGregor-Hastie Compleat Migrant 16 ‘You a to and from?’ ‘I’m English,’ you say, guessing rightly that a to and from is Aussia [sic] rhyming slang for Pom.

Did you know?

Platypus

The platypus, a.k.a. duck-mole, paradox, water-mole, duck-bill, is the outcast of the Australian animal kingdom: ‘it is like a puppy in the body, with four webbed duck’s feet, two wings, a beaver’s tail, and a goose’s head and bill; now a country that can produce such a monstrosity as this can produce anything’ (J.A. Edwards, Gilbert Gogger, 1876). For centuries, this awkward-looking creature has suffered the jibes of the public while the kangaroo and koala are lauded as national icons. The platypus’s mere existence was questioned, and was considered a taxidermy hoax when naturalists back in England attempted to demonstrate its existence in a far-off land. This ‘half-bird, half-beast’ (F. Cowan, Australia, 1886) ‘has long excited the scepticism and astonishment of naturalists’ (C. Lyon, Narrative and Recollections of Van Dieman’s Land, 1844) for its seemingly impossible amalgamative physical make-up – otter, mole, duck and beaver – that seems to defy the laws of biology.

August is Platypus Month, the time of year when the platypus is most likely to be seen. For too long the unpretentious platypus has been ridiculed with names that read more like insults! Today, the reputation of this exceptional creature has been tarnished across the globe, with some countries singling out the elusive platypus as one of Australia’s dangerous animals (Luke Royes, ‘Australian travel advice and warnings issued by foreign governments’, ABC News, 2016). In 1976, it was noted that ‘it is not generally known that such a delightful animal as a Platypus is venomous’ (E. Worrell, Things that Sting) – a fact that remains today. The male platypus possesses a venomous spur, which can cause those stung some pain and swelling. However, there is really nothing to worry about; the venom is non-lethal, is only present during summer months, and is used to defend against competition during mating season, not as a general protection method – hardly the terrifying creature some would have you believe. So this August, rather than sneering at its peculiarities, let’s take a moment to celebrate the wonder that is the platypus.

 Amanda Louey is an Editor (Secondary Division) at Oxford University Press Australia. She can be identified by the following traits: drinks lots of tea; is a cat person (owns two); and has an indiscriminate love of all things sweet. Unsurprisingly, the latter puts her at odds with her dentist.

9780195550269This article was inspired by entries from the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. This dictionary is the only comprehensive, historically-based record of the words and meanings that make up Australian English. It is a unique lexical map of Australian history and culture.

The dictionary was produced at the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University. The Centre, established in 1988, is a joint venture of theAustralian National University and Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand.

Chief Editor: Dr Bruce Moore is a former Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre (1994–2011). He has edited a number of OUP dictionaries, including the Australian Oxford Dictionary.
Managing Editor: Dr Amanda Laugesen
Editors: Mark Gwynn, Julia Robinson

platypus