The case of Mr Fluffy: a proper noun becomes a word

by Julia Robinson 

In a general dictionary (unless it is an encyclopedic dictionary), proper names, trade names, and encyclopedic terms do not usually appear as entries. Only those that have become lexicalised—that is, those that have become accepted into the vocabulary of a language—are included. In Australian English there are many such terms. For example, Vegemite, Esky, Darwin, Barry Crocker, Bondi, Nellie Melba, and the Melbourne Cup have all become part of the lingo with extended meanings and uses beyond their original sense. They form compounds and phrases (happy little Vegemite, Darwin stubby, a Melbourne Cup field), become generic terms (esky), form rhyming slang (have a Barry Crocker), and are used allusively (shoot through like a Bondi tram, do a Melba).

A Mr Fluffy ad for loose-fill asbestos insulation

Dirk Jansen’s ad for loose-fill asbestos insulation, 1960s

This year one name that may be taking the lexical leap into the Australian vocabulary is Mr Fluffy. There can be few people living in and around the Australian Capital Territory who have not heard of Mr Fluffy. It is the name given to a former Canberra businessman, Dirk Jansen, in relation to the home-insulation business he operated in the 1960s and 1970s. He advertised his product, loose-fill asbestos, in local newspapers from 1968: ‘New “Asbestosfluff”. The perfect thermal insulating material. … It sprays onto ceiling area quickly and cleanly.’ (Canberra Times, 30 March 1968) Unfortunately the product was amosite, an extremely carcinogenic form of asbestos. Blown into ceiling spaces it can migrate through cracks, holes, ducts, and wall spaces into the living areas of a house, and the microscopic fibres once breathed can cause cancers such as lung cancer and mesothelioma decades later. Continue reading

Buckley’s legacy

 

by Bruce Moore*

Image source: State Library of Victoria

Source: State Library of Victoria

William Buckley (1780–1856) was a British convict who was transported to Australia for receiving stolen cloth. He escaped from custody at Port Phillip in Victoria in 1803 and lived with the Wathawurung Aboriginal people near Geelong for thirty-two years. He was discovered by John Batman in 1835, at the time of the settlement of Melbourne. He received a pardon, and acted as a liaison officer between settlers and local Aboriginal groups, but became unhappy with his situation and shifted to Hobart at the end of 1837. He died in Hobart in 1856. When people consider the possible origins of the Australian phrase Buckley’s chance (or Buckley’s hope, or simply Buckley’s), William Buckley is a strong candidate (see, for example, Ozwords, October 2000 for a discussion of the origins of this phrase). However, his contribution to Australian English is greater than this, and much more than has previously been recognised.

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Rolf Boldrewood, ‘the Homer of the Bush’

by Julia Robinson

‘Rolf Boldrewood … the Homer of the Bush, the most distinctively Australian of all Australian writers of fiction.’

Tom Roberts, 'Bailed up', 1895. Source: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Tom Roberts, ‘Bailed up’, 1895. Source: Art Gallery of New South Wales

So said the Adelaide Advertiser in October 1889, reviewing Rolf Boldrewood’s novel Robbery Under Arms, a hugely popular tale about a boy from the bush who lives on the wrong side of the law. It first appeared as a serial in the Sydney Mail (1882-1883) and was published in full in 1888. It was an immediate success. The story is a rollicking yarn told at a fast pace, following the young Dick Marston’s fortunes from boyhood into a life of crime. Continue reading

Ghost-net art

by Julia Robinson

Turtle caught in a ghost net. Source: GhostNets Australia

Turtle caught in a ghost net. Source: Alistair Dermer/GhostNets Australia

A ghost net is a plastic fishing net lost or discarded at sea from a fishing boat. It continues to drift with the tides and ‘fish’ on its own – that is, to entrap and kill marine life – sometimes for many years. A net’s ‘ghostly’ ability to continue fishing by itself has given rise to its name. Ghost nets have been recognised as an international problem since the mid-20th century, and the evidence for the term ghost net dates from this period. It is not an Australianism. However, collecting and using ghost nets as a source of art material has resulted in terms that are uniquely Australian: ghost-net art, ghost-net weaving, and ghost-net sculpture: Continue reading

A tribute to the language of the Honey Badger: is it fair dinkum?

by Julia Robinson

Last week brought the sad news for sports fans that Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins, a talented rugby union player with Perth’s Western Force, and who has represented Australia internationally, is leaving the country to play in Japan. He has achieved fame and a huge following not only for his exceptional football skills, but for the quote-worthiness of his post-match interviews and comments to the media. As a result of his way with words he has been dubbed ‘the world’s most Australian man’, and has a Facebook page dedicated to his quotes. He has a creative turn of phrase and an engaging larrikin personality, but just how Australian is his language? As a tribute to the Honey Badger the Australian National Dictionary Centre is putting his words to the test. We identify the dinkum dialect in a selection of his quotes below – will he pass or fail the test?

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Lathering up with bush soap

by Julia Robinson

In a recent ‘Words from our Word Box’ update, we included the term bush soap, and explained it as: ‘The leaves of any of several Australian plants that may be used as a soap substitute. When rubbed vigorously with water, the leaves produce a soap-like lather, thanks to the chemical compounds (saponins) they contain.’ We noted that the earliest evidence in print for bush soap occurs in the early 1990s. Continue reading

On the job: ‘darl’ and ‘old mate’

by Christina Greer*

Like many students, I have supported myself through university by working in various hospitality jobs. We learn pretty quickly how to adapt our behaviour and language to different situations on the job. We talk to our co-workers in one way, our manager in another, and there are many ways in which we can address customers, depending on such things as their sex and age, the formality of the venue, and whether they are in a group or alone. Our intention is to be polite and to avoid giving offence. Wait staff are constantly, though not necessarily consciously, adjusting their language in the work place to suit the customer. Continue reading

The language of LOLspeak: oh hai kittehs!

by Jennifer Oxley*

LOLcatsLOLspeak (where LOL is an acronym for laugh out loud) is a variety of English that can be described as the human interpretation of how cats might speak English if they could. It is a playful interpretation that includes things like deliberate grammatical mistakes, misspellings, and baby talk. LOLspeak is primarily used in a satirical or humorous manner on pictures of cats that are posted on the internet. These pictures, with either LOLspeak or Standard English captions added to them, are known as LOLcats, a popular internet meme. An example of LOLspeak used on a LOLcat image can be seen here in the picture of the kitten and the coin. Continue reading

Words from the campaign trail

The vanquisher and the vanquished: Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd

by Julia Robinson

At last the dust has settled after the federal election. During the campaign we heard arguments, promises, accusations, assertions, rebuttals, and speeches from our politicians, all couched in language designed to influence the way Australians vote. And we heard and read even more commentary from broadcasters, journalists and social media commentators on the election. This week we look at the memorable words and phrases—some Australian, some not—that were associated with Election 2013. Continue reading

‘Materiel’? Really?

by Julia Robinson

Early this year in a cabinet reshuffle the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointed Mike Kelly, the federal member for Eden–Monaro, as the Minister for Defence Materiel. It is a relatively new Ministry, created in 2010, responsible for military equipment and supply. Minister Kelly is in charge of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), part of the Department of Defence. The DMO currently lists among its ‘acquisition projects’ such things as armoured vehicles, communications and missile defence systems, aircraft, amphibious vehicles, and helicopters.

Mike Kelly is sworn in as Minister for Defence Materiel, February 2013.

‘Defence Materiel’—really? —asked one of our correspondents. Isn’t this just a pretentious French way to spell material? Well, apparently not, we discovered; it has a particular meaning in a military context. Continue reading