The following words are just some of the many terms recently added to Word Box, the website feature you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases.
fidget spinner – a metal or plastic toy that can be spun with the fingers to relieve stress or for amusement. The device has become the latest playground craze for Australian children. While it was invented and patented in the US in the 1990s, evidence for the term doesn’t appear in the media until 2016.
haram dingo – a humorous name for a person who prefers a halal snack pack* without one or all of the usual condiments (garlic, chilli, and barbecue sauce), or with an unusual addition, such as tomato sauce or even (heaven forbid!) mayonnaise. Haram dingo is a multicultural term combining Arabic and Australian English elements. Haram (Arabic ‘forbidden’) refers to something forbidden or proscribed by Islamic law, and dingo is an Australianism applied to someone who is cowardly or treacherous—characteristics popularly attributed to the dingo.
quokka selfie – a selfie that includes a quokka. The quokka is a small, short-tailed wallaby found in south-western Western Australia including Rottnest and Bald Islands. The name comes from the Noongar language of this region. In 2013 the Huffington Post declared the quokka ‘the happiest animal in the world’ because its facial expression often resembles a smile. At around this time a trend began on the social networking site Instagram where photographs including the quokka were shared. The hashtag #quokkaselfie also became popular.
*A halal snack pack is a substantial takeaway meal of hot chips topped with cheese, halal-certified kebab meat, and several sauces. Strictly for the hungry!
In Australian English the word chuck is often found in phrases where it means ‘to perform’, ‘to do’, or ‘to put on’— as in chuck a wobbly (a variant of the Standard English throw a wobbly). While this use of chuck is not exclusively Australian, there are a number of well-established forms that suggest its resonance in the national idiom. The earliest, dating from the 1940s, is chuck a willy (become angry; have a fit of annoyance or temper). Most other chuck expressions appear much later, from the 1970s on.
Bill Sikes and his dog Bull’s-Eye. A reproduction of a c. 1870s photogravure illustration by Fred Barnard for Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
by Mark Gwynn
The Australian expression to have a head like a robber’s dog means to be very ugly or unattractive. It is first recorded in the 1940s.
Horrie has a head on him like a ‘robber’s dog’ and was in all the trouble about the place, caused by playing shots over which he had no control. (Picton Post, 21 November 1946)
Several variations of this unflattering expression have been recorded over the years, including to have a head like a drover’s dog, to have a head like a beaten favourite, and to have a head like a half-sucked mango. In Frank Hardy’s The Yarns of Billy Borker (1965), the eponymous storyteller provides an insight into the phrase’s adaptability:
You always have a specific character in your stories. That’s because they’re true mate. Had a head on him like a burglar’s torch. A burglar’s torch? Yeh, a long thin neck and a round head. Every real character has a definite name and a head on him like something. I’ll tell this story my way, see. But if you tell it to someone else, you can use a different name and say his head was like something else: maybe a robber’s dog or a warped sandshoe.
As part of our continuing research into Australian English we would like to record more variations of the ‘to have a head like…’ idiom. If you know of any, please tell us. If you have found the idiom in a book, newspaper, blog (or other online source), we’d appreciate any source details you can provide.
With recent news that Australian company Hills has sold the rights to its iconic Hills hoist clothesline, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the place this humble piece of suburban infrastructure has in Australian English.
The Hills hoist is a type of rotary clothes hoist invented by the South Australian Lance Hill in his Adelaide backyard in the mid-1940s. There were earlier versions and patents for similar hoists but it was Hill’s design, and the company he established, that would see the rotary clothes hoist introduced to backyards across Australia. The expansion of suburbia in Australia after the Second World War, a growing population, relatively large house blocks, and a sunny climate helped make the Hills hoist a household name. It was superior in every way to the old single clothesline strung across the yard and propped up by a stake. The compact design saved space, it was able to be raised and lowered easily, and it rotated to facilitate maximum drying and to allow the user to hang out the washing while standing in one spot. Continue reading →
This is our final 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.
This is the third 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 →
In 1916 a lexicon entitled The Australian Comic Dictionary of Words and Phrases was published in Melbourne by E.W. Cole. The author was one ‘Turner O. Lingo’, a nom de plume for writer Mary Eliza Fullerton. The volume runs to 64 pages and includes over 600 entries with their definitions arranged (roughly) alphabetically from Z to A to reflect the ‘Antipodean’ nature of the work. This dictionary is a milestone in lexicography: it is the first Australian dictionary written by a woman, and the first comic dictionary of Australianisms. Continue reading →
What’s their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.
Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, who is currently editing the 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).
Anzac is a central word in the expression of Australian attitudes and values, and it carries its history more overtly than any other Australian word. It had humble beginnings: it is an acronym formed from the initial letters of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, originally used as a telegraphic code name for the Corps when it was in Egypt in 1915, just prior to the landing at Gallipoli. It first appears in writing in the Australian war historian C.E.W. Bean’s Diary on 25 April 1915: ‘Col. Knox to Anzac. “Ammunition required at once.”’1 Two weeks later Bean writes: ‘Anzac has become the sort of code word for the Army Corps’ (6 May).2 It was eventually to become ‘a sort of code word’ for Australia and its beliefs and values. Continue reading →
Lexicographer Bruce Moore is editor of the forthcoming (2016) second edition of the Australian National Dictionary, a historical dictionary that tells the story of Australian English. It contains the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s latest research into Australian words, and this blog illustrates the kind of research undertaken for the dictionary, in a new investigation of the history of a well-known word.
Sheila in the sense ‘a woman, a girl’ became established in Australian English towards the end of the nineteenth century. By the end of the twentieth century it had become a fairly problematic term, mainly as a result of being burdened with many negative and derogatory male attitudes towards women. The pejorative connotations are present in such compounds as sheila talk for ‘trivial gossip’, or in such uses as football coaches berating their teams for ‘playing like a bunch of sheilas’. Continue reading →
14 February 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of decimal currency in Australia when pounds, shillings, and pence were replaced with dollars and cents. While various names were proposed for the new currency including austral, digger, dinkum, roo, and royal, it was the prosaic dollar that won the day. In this article I look at some of the colloquial terms in Australian English that refer to particular coins and banknotes.*
Australian decimal banknotes including the pineapple, lobster, blue swimmer, and prawn
If you had a pineapple, added a lobster, two blue swimmers, and two prawns, what would you get? A grey nurse, of course! While this equation may look like a seafood recipe, these are actually Australian slang terms for banknotes. There is a good chance that you have not heard of them because they don’t appear to be in common use, although we have some evidence for them from the 1980s. The terms allude to the colour of the banknotes: the $50 note is yellow (a pineapple), the $20 note is red (a lobster), the $10 note is blue (a blue swimmer, a type of crab), and the $5 note is pink (a prawn). The $100 note is currently green, but between 1984 and 1996 it was grey, and was called a grey nurse (a type of shark). While terms for our decimal banknotes do not have a strong hold in the Australian vernacular, the pre-decimal currency did produce words and idioms that were well-known in Australian English in years past. Continue reading →