Word of the Year 2019

Each year the Australian National Dictionary Centre chooses a Word of the Year from a shortlist of terms that have become prominent in the national conversation in the past 12 months. These words and expressions reflect some of the events and issues that have generated debate in 2019. We are especially interested in Australian terms, or words with Australian meanings. This year’s pick is a familiar word with a new, Australian, meaning.

The Australian National Dictionary’s Word of the Year is:

voice ‘a formal channel for Indigenous input into the making of laws and policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’

Voice increased greatly in usage this year, as the idea of an Indigenous voice became prominent in public discussion.

Ken Wyatt and members of the Voice Co-design Senior Advisory Group. Source: indigenous.com.au

We find early evidence of voice in a 2015 speech by Noel Pearson, who spoke of the need for a First Nations ‘voice to parliament and voice to government’. In 2017 the term ‘voice to parliament’ came to national attention following the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It called for a ‘First Nations Voice’ to be enshrined in the Australian constitution, sparking debate over the form it might take. However, the Turnbull government rejected the idea of constitutional change.

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Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2018

Each year, the Australian National Dictionary Centre looks for the word or expression that best sums up the year. Many events shaped the Australian political, cultural and social landscape this year, and the words on our shortlist reflect some of the events that had an impact through 2018. But we also look for a term that is lexically interesting and Australian.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year for 2018 is:

Canberra bubble ‘the insular environment of federal politics’

The term Canberra bubble, referring to the idea that federal politicians, bureaucracy, and political journalists are obsessed with the goings-on in Canberra (rather than the everyday concerns of Australians), first appeared in 2001.* It increased in use from 2015, and was especially prominent this year. Canberra bubble was used by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help define his politics and to distance himself from the political turmoil of 2018. In a video released in October, he said ‘The Canberra bubble is what happens down here, when people get all caught up with all sorts of gossip and rubbish, and that’s probably why most of you switch off any time you hear a politician talk’. (Australian Financial Review, 19 October 2018) However, critics point out that the Prime Minister is very much inside the Canberra bubble.

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The Honey Badger speaks Strine

by Mark Gwynn

Several years ago my colleague wrote a light-hearted blog judging the Australianness of the language of Nick Cummins, aka the Honey Badger. The rugby union player and former Wallaby had become well-known for his use of quirky idioms, rhyming slang, and the Australian vernacular. Suffice to say the Badger’s colloquial language contained a significant proportion of distinctive Australian terms. Now that he is starring in this year’s The Bachelor Australia, it’s time to revisit the Honey Badger for a look at his recent use of language.

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Dry as a dead dingo’s donger

by Mark Gwynn

Mureka’s throat felt lumpy and burning but all the bubblers in the park were as dry as the Simpson Desert. (N. Wheatley, Five Times Dizzy, 1982)

Reviews describe the play as a ‘comedy drier than a dead dingo’s donger‘. (Casino Richmond River Express, 19 May 2010)

In Australian English the simile dry as… is used in various phrases to indicate different kinds of extreme dryness, including thirst and laconic humour. In standard English we find dry as a bone from the early 19th century, but the Australian climate has contributed to a number of variants in Aussie English. The idiom can be simply descriptive, such as dry as the Simpson desert, but is often found in more elaborate forms including dry as a dead dingos’s donger, dry as a kookaburra’s khyber, and dry as a pommy’s towel. For the uninitiated donger is an Australian colloquial term for penis; khyber comes from the rhyming slang khyber pass, arse; and pommy is an Australian colloquialism for a person from the UK, especially England. Dry as the Simpson desert is recorded from the 1940s, while the more colourful phrases emerge in the early 1970s, with the earliest evidence of these from the work of Australian satirist Barry Humphries.

Do you know any more variations on the dry as…  pattern?  We’d love to hear about them.







Fair crack of the whip

by Mark Gwynn

The Lord’s had a fair crack of the whip and He’s missed the bus. It’s surfing for me. (Lawson Glassop, We Were the Rats, 1944)

So I say we should give Fatty a chance. After all, he is Australian and our national motto is: Fair suck of the saveloy. (Australian, 27 December 1997)

The expression fair crack of the whip is used elsewhere but is recorded earliest in Australia, from 1902 onwards. It means ‘an equitable opportunity; a reasonable chance’. It is also used as an interjection, meaning ‘give (someone) a chance!’. In Australian English there are several variants of this idiom, all with the same meaning. They can be found in written sources from the 1980s, but probably go back some years earlier.

In the variant fair suck of the sauce bottle (with its elliptical form fair suck), the ‘sauce bottle’ is probably originally a reference to a bottle of alcoholic liquor. Interestingly in 2006 the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, used a slightly different variant: fair shake of the sauce bottle. It is possible that Rudd may have mangled the earlier idiom or heard this expression elsewhere—his use of it is still our earliest evidence. This variant has now entered the Australian lexicon. Another common variant is fair suck of the sav (or saveloy).

Do you know any more variations on the idiom fair crack of the whip? We’d love to hear about them. Please help us add to our collection!













Why we chose Kwaussie as Word of the Year 2017

The choice of the word Kwaussie as the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year for 2017 has raised some eyebrows, and a lot of people say they have never heard of it. So I’ll explain why we chose it.

The word came to our attention earlier this year due to its use by Van Badham, describing Barnaby Joyce (and herself), in a Guardian Australia piece. As editors of the major research project and dictionary The Australian National Dictionary: Australian Words and their Origins (Oxford University Press, second ed. 2016) we are always on the look-out for possible Australianisms and so it went into our database for further research. It also went onto our list for Word of the Year, because it related to a major event in Australia for the year – the dual citizenship saga that affected federal parliament.

We then began our research into the many words we consider for Word of the Year, including Kwaussie. Kwaussie proved to have an interesting story, and will be included in the next edition of The Australian National Dictionary. We traced our earliest piece of evidence for the word – it is first recorded in 2002 in a disparaging reference to actor Russell Crowe, a Kiwi who has lived much of his life in Australia. In a New Zealand newspaper he is described as a ‘Kwaussie (what you get when you cross a Kiwi who can’t decide whether they’re a Kiwi or an Aussie)’. (Wellington Evening Post, 19 February 2002) Continue reading

Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2017

In a time of covfefe, fake news, and tweetstorms, the Australian National Dictionary Centre has chosen Kwaussie as its Word of the Year for 2017. A number of significant events shaped the Australian political, cultural and social landscape this year, and the words on the shortlist reflect a number of these.

Kwaussie ‘a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand; a New Zealander living in Australia; a person of Australian and New Zealand descent’. Kwaussie, a blend of Kiwi and Aussie, is the most interesting term associated with the dual citizenship crisis engulfing the Australian Parliament in 2017. It was used to describe the most high-profile casualty of the crisis, Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Barnaby Joyce. He revealed to parliament in August that, despite being born and bred in country New South Wales, he was also a New Zealander by descent. The first evidence is found in a 2002 New Zealand newspaper article discussing Russell Crowe: he is described as a ‘Kwaussie (what you get when you cross a Kiwi who can’t decide whether they’re a Kiwi or an Aussie’). Subsequent evidence suggests its use is predominantly Australian, and is found chiefly in social media (and also found with spelling variants including kwozzie and kwozzy). Thanks to the two kwaussies identified as ineligible to sit in parliament, Barnaby Joyce and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, the term is now becoming better known.

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What do you call this implement?

What do you call this implement?

by Mark Gwynn

We asked a question on social media last week about a commonly used kitchen utensil, and were overwhelmed by the response. The utensil in question (pictured) has a broad flat blade and is used for lifting and turning food. We asked ‘what do you call this implement’ and ‘which country do you come from’.


The following analysis of the feedback we received demonstrates a number of points:

  • the word spatula is now the most common term for this utensil in Australia and North America
  • there are regional differences in world English designations for this utensil
  • hypernymic words such as lifter and turner are often applied to this utensil
  • it frequently attracts a  thingummy or whatsit type of response, implying its name is not known
  • and it attracts names that suggest it has other uses, real or imaginary, such as bum warmer and fly swatter.

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Full as a goog

by Mark Gwynn

Last time he arrived, plastered to the eyeballs, full as a State school. (C. Rohan, Down by the Dockside, 1963)

We sat under the oleanders eating liquorice all-sorts .. ‘God, I’m full as a goog‘, Connie said. (Paul Radley, Jack Rivers and Me, 1981)

He deals with bed crisis on a daily basis as the hospital is, as they used to say, ‘as full as a Catholic school‘. (Adelaide Advertiser, 24 June 2001)

The ‘wafer thin’ scene from Monty Python’s 1983 film The Meaning of Life

In Australian English the word full is found in various similes to designate ‘fullness’ of three main kinds: (1) being very drunk; (2) having eaten to one’s limits or satisfaction; (3) containing or holding much or many. The earliest forms, full as a goog, full as a boot, full as a bull (or bull’s bum), and full as a state school (with variants such as full as a state school hat rack) are all recorded from the 1930s. A number of other variants emerge from the 1960s onwards, including full as a Catholic school, full as a pommy complaint box, full as the family po (from the French pronunciation of pot in chamber pot), the offensive full as a fairy’s phone book, and full as Centrelink on payday.

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Bush Week

It’s currently bush week here at the Australian National University. This has traditionally been a period of student festivity and pranks. The earlier sense of bush week refers to a time when people from the country came to a city, originally when bush produce etc. was displayed. This sense is recorded from the early 20th century. In the mid-20th century bush week is also used to refer to this week as a time when people from the bush are exploited as credulous by city people, are susceptible to con men, etc. We see this sense especially in the phrase what do you think this is – bush week?: a response to a request etc., implying that one is being unfairly imposed upon or taken for a (rustic) fool. The staff at the Australian National Dictionary Centre wish the students a joyful bush week. But please behave yourselves!