Sparrows, spadgers, spags, spoggies, spraggies, and spriggies

by Bruce Moore*

The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is native to Europe and Asia, and it has been introduced to most other parts of the world. Although the house sparrow is the most widespread and abundant of birds, in the past twenty years there has been evidence of a decline in numbers in some areas, especially in western Europe, perhaps a result of a decline in insect numbers (food for sparrow nestlings) in urban areas.

images-1In the 1860s, the house sparrow was introduced to Australia, and spread widely, except in Western Australia. As in other parts of the world, there was been some anecdotal evidence of a decline in sparrow numbers in Australia. For example, in 2010 the Newcastle Herald ran an article titled ‘Where have the sparrows gone?’ (2 August).  Even so, in the 2015 ‘Aussie Backyard Bird Count’, the sparrow was the fifth most commonly sighted bird, after the rainbow lorikeet, noisy miner, Australian magpie, and sulphur-crested cockatoo. Continue reading

What do you think this is—bush week?

by Julia Robinson

From The Farmer and Settler, 13 February 1920. Image: Trove

From The Farmer and Settler, 13 February 1920. Image: Trove

The Bush Week project … is now nearing fruition. … There is to be a living display of the activities and products of every district of the State. Ample space will be provided in Centennial Park. Admission will be free, so that every city child, as well as its parents, will be able to get a glimpse of the wealth-producing industries of that wonderful interior of which all have heard, but which few, probably, have seen. (Queanbeyan Age, 4 July 1919)

The complete programme for ‘Bush Week’, which opens on February 9, is announced. It comprises an industrial street pageant through the city streets on the opening day, a four days’ exhibition in the Sydney Town Hall, displays in the shop windows, and in Martin Place and Moore-street, and a dramatic spectacle of bush life to be held for three days on the Sydney Sports Ground. (Sydney Morning Herald, 3 January 1920)

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Words from our Word Box: update 15

by the ANDC team

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

This is the second update for 2016 on contributions to our Word Box, the website feature you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases. These contributions allow us to identify new material for our archive of Australian words, and also for our general Australian Oxford dictionaries. We encourage you to contribute—just click on the Word Box image to the left to post your word. A few of the more interesting contributions from the last three months are discussed below; some are new to us, and some we already know. We welcome any comments about your understanding or experience of these words, and look forward to your contributions to Word Box. Continue reading

Election 2016: our pick of the words

by Julia Robinson

Greens, Labor, or Coalition?

Greens, Labor, or Coalition?

We are days away from a Federal election brought on by a double dissolution of parliament – the first double dissolution in 29 years. At eight weeks it is unusually long; many voters would say unusually painful. Political parties in campaign mode are not Australia’s favourite thing, unless someone is pork-barrelling in our electorate. However the length of the campaign allows all candidates more time to express themselves, more time to impress us with their rhetoric, and more time to mangle the language. Those of us with an interest in Australian English are the winners.

The language we’ve heard in this election campaign is a mix of old and new. The political slogans, putdowns, and free character assessments include some well-known Australian words, some that have been updated or modified for the current election, and some brand-new terms modelled on the old. Here is our pick of election-related words and phrases. Continue reading

Words from our Word Box: update 14

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

by the ANDC team

This is the first update for 2016 on contributions to our Word Box, the website feature you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases. These contributions allow us to identify new material for our archive of Australian words, and also for our general Australian Oxford dictionaries. We encourage you to contribute—just click on the Word Box image to the left to post your word. A few of the more interesting contributions from the last three months are discussed below; some are new to us, and some we already know. We welcome any comments about your understanding or experience of these words, and look forward to your contributions to Word Box. Continue reading

Loud, incessant, and indescribable: cicadas and their names

by Julia Robinson

‘Equally annoying with the dust was the loud, incessant, and indescribable noise of myriads of large and curious winged insects, commonly and incorrectly called locusts, but which are totally different from any kind of locusts I ever saw.’ (Mrs C. Meredith, Notes and Sketches of New South Wales, 1844)

In early summer I enjoyed a weekend walk with friends on a favourite walking trail on the edge of suburban Canberra. On our way back we paused in a pocket of bush where cicadas in their hundreds were clustered thickly on tree trunks. The air was full of their noise, and a single kestrel looked on from a high branch, considering its next mouthful at the insect buffet.

Greengrocer. Source: Trudyro at English Wikipedia

Greengrocer

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Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2015

Each year the ANDC selects a Word of the Year. The words chosen for the shortlist are not necessarily new, or exclusively Australian, but are selected on the basis of having come to some prominence in the Australian social and cultural landscape during the year. This year we have selected the term sharing economy as our Word of the Year 2015.

uber:taxisharing economy ‘an economic system based on sharing of access to goods, resources, and services, typically by means of the Internet’. This term grew in significance and frequency of use in Australia in 2015. This was partly due to the impact of debates around the introduction of ridesharing service Uber into Australia, which has been seen as a threat to the taxi industry. The sharing economy is facilitated by online technology, and while it is most often associated with ridesharing and accommodation sharing apps, it can also include collaborative efforts such as crowdfunding. The term has ‘feel-good’ connotations in emphasising sharing, and some regard it as a positive good for society. However, others have pointed to its corporate dimensions, and its potential to displace industries and businesses. Continue reading

The story of ‘mate’

 

 by Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and editor of the forthcoming (2016) second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. The following is an extract from his book What’s their Story? A History of Australian Words (published by Oxford University Press Australia, 2010).

What's their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.

What’s their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.

Mate is one of those words that is used widely in Englishes other than Australian English, and yet has a special resonance in Australia. Although it had a very detailed entry in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (the letter M was completed 1904–8), the Australian National Dictionary (AND) included mate in its first edition of 1988, thus marking it as an Australianism. A revision of the OED entry for mate was posted online in December 2009, as part of the new third edition, and this gives us the opportunity to test the extent to which the word can be regarded as Australian. Not one of the standard presently-used senses of mate in OED is marked Australian. What are they doing to our Australian word? Continue reading

Tony Abbott and his way with words

by Julia Robinson

This week we pay tribute to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the terms he has contributed to the language of politics and public debate in this country. His ministers too gave us some memorable terms (‘lifters and leaners’, ‘budget emergency’, ‘on-water matters’) but Tony Abbott’s output eclipsed them. Listed here are some notable words and phrases associated with his time in the top job, and the election campaign leading up to it. Continue reading

Shake-a-leg

by Julia Robinson

Twenty years ago the traditional Indigenous dance, shake-a-leg, became front page news. It was performed outside the High Court in Canberra to celebrate the court’s historic Wik decision, which held that statutory pastoral leases do not automatically extinguish native title rights. One of the claimants, a Wik elder, marked the occasion by dancing. It was the first time many Australians had seen or heard the term shake-a-leg:

Gladys Tybingoompa dances outside the High Court.

Wik claimant Gladys Tybingoompa dances outside the High Court.

Gladys Tybingoompa could contain her exuberance no longer. She reached into her handbag, produced a pair of clap-sticks and whirled into a wild song and dance of victory. For a moment or two, every face around the normally sombre precincts of the High Court of Australia appeared to be wreathed in smiles as Ms Tybingoompa leapt and kicked through the dance she called ‘Shake a Leg’. She had travelled all the way from Cape York to Canberra to hear the High Court’s opinion of her people’s rights to their traditional land. (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December 1996) Continue reading