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

Considering the evidence: ‘to have the wood on’

by Julia Robinson

Sometimes dictionary-makers change their minds about the origin of a word, given access to evidence that is new, or newly available. This happened to us recently at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, when a journalist contacted us to ask about the origin and meaning of the Australian phrase to have the wood on. To have the wood on (also to get the wood on) means ‘to have an advantage over (someone)’, and it is used in both Australia and New Zealand.

Noosa gets the wood on Caloundra.

‘Two out of three ain’t bad was the result from Shark Park on Sunday. The Kawana Dolphins are usually very strong in all grades, but Caloundra had the wood on them this time.’ (Caloundra Weekly, 9 May, 2013) Continue reading

Australia drinks: flat whites and long blacks

by Julia Robinson

 Australia’s love affair with ‘proper’ coffee means that a teaspoon of instant coffee in a cup of boiling water no longer satisfies us as it did twenty-five years ago. We now prefer to drink espresso-based coffees such as cappuccino, caffè latte, short black, flat white, ristretto, or macchiato. We’ve come a long way; back in 1990 a North Sydney coffee lounge placed a classified ad for staff that read in part: ‘If you know the difference between a flat white and a Capuccino ring me’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July).

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The problem with yabbies

by Julia Robinson

The surprising and important fact that most Australians do not know is that there are almost 140 species of freshwater crayfish in Australia. (Susan Lawler, The Conversation, 4 February 2013)

Fishing for yabbies (freshwater crayfish) is a happy childhood memory for many Aussie kids living near a dam or creek. The traditional technique is to bait a length of string with a piece of fresh meat, lower it into the water, wait for the yabby to latch on with its claws, and then pull up the string. Yabbies make delicious eating, and are also used as fishing bait.

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