24 January* marked the anniversary of the birth of Ethel Turner, the writer of one of Australia’s most well-known books, Seven Little Australians. She was also the author of many more books for children. Turner is quoted several times in the Australian National Dictionary, her work providing an important contribution to the historical corpus of Australian English. Continue reading →
A small number of Australian English words have their likely origins in Yiddish, a Jewish language with its origins in German, and with several regional variations. Words with a Yiddish origin came into Australian English both through the migration of Yiddish speakers to Australia, as well as through transferred uses and variants of terms that had developed in British English and slang. Continue reading →
During the First World War, soldiers who served overseas used and developed a great deal of slang. Much attention has been devoted to studying this slang (see for example, A.G. Pretty’s ‘Glossary of Slang and Peculiar Terms used in the A.I.F.’), but we know far less of the words of the home front. While those on the home front knew the words of war to some extent, as this language was reported on in the press and found in letters sent home from soldiers, there was also a vocabulary distinctive to the Australian home front experience.
Union membership cards were obtained from the dwindling band of ‘West’ trade union officials. Votes were then cast in the names of absent union members, living or dead. If this precaution failed, the ballot box was, if the opportunity arose, ‘stuffed’ as Sugar Renfrey termed it. This entailed the addition of as many more ‘bodger’ votes as possible. (Power Without Glory, p. 383)
One of Australia’s most controversial literary figures is Frank Hardy (1917-1994). Hardy was a left-wing novelist, writer, and political activist, and is probably best known today as the author of Power Without Glory, published in 1950. Although a novel, this book is a thinly-veiled account of the life of John Wren, a Melbourne businessman who wielded considerable political influence in Victoria for many years. Hardy was famously sued for criminal libel over the publication, but was acquitted. In writing about politics – the quote above makes use of the Australian term bodger, meaning ‘fake, false, worthless’ – he drew on a rich vein of colloquial Australian speech to inject his radical politics with what he considered an authentic Australian working-class spirit. Continue reading →
Nested in an entry for Anzac in the Australian National Dictionary (AND, 1988) is a list of terms such as Anzac biscuit, Anzac march,and Anzac overcoat. Included in this set of terms is Anzac button. As I am currently researching Australian words from the First World War, this was one of the more intriguing terms to research.
Although the official birth of the Australian nation occurred in 1901 at Federation, a national identity remained dormant until the Anzacs stepped onto the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915. Despite the abysmal failure of the campaign, the Australian forces came to be known as some of the fiercest and most courageous fighters, and the men themselves were not afraid to brag about it.
This is our fourth update on the contributions that have been made to the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word Box, our website feature which you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases. These contributions allow our editors to identify new material for our general Australian Oxford dictionaries and also for our archive of Australian words, and to share these findings with you. We thank everyone for their submissions and encourage you to contribute—just click on the Word Box image at left to post your word. A few of the more interesting contributions from the last three months are discussed below. Some we have come across previously and some are new to us. We welcome any comments about your understanding or experience of these words.
Although it has been nearly a century since the 1915 publication of C.J. Dennis’ verse narrative Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, Dennis’ comic use of the Australian vernacular continues to endear the work to contemporary readers.
The Songs tell a humorous love story as Bill ‘the Bloke’ tries to reform his rough larrikin habits in order to win the affections of Doreen, a young pickle factory worker. The book is full of examples of Australian colloquialisms, particularly words relating to the world of the urban larrikin (then a word meaning ‘hooligan’). Continue reading →
Ruth Park (1917-2010), one of Australia’s most popular writers, was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia in 1942 to pursue her career as a journalist. In the same year, she married D’Arcy Niland (1917-1967). As struggling writers in the 1940s, they lived for a time in the Sydney slum area of Surry Hills, and this period in her life inspired her to write The Harp in the South (1948) and Poor Man’s Orange (1949).
An early photograph of Ruth Park
Ruth Park’s writing is an excellent example of a literary depiction of inner-city urban Sydney in the 1940s. In The Harp in the South, published in 1948 and one of Australia’s most beloved novels,she uses Australian humour and Australian English to great effect. Although this particular book is often discussed in terms of its depiction of 1940s Surry Hills and its tenement environments, the distinctive language she used is also worth noting and proves to be one of the novel’s most beguiling features. Continue reading →
The terms guvvie (also govie) for government housing—’a house originally built or bought by the government for low-cost or subsidised rental’, and ex-guvvie (also ex-govie) for ‘a house that was formerly built or owned by government but has been sold into the private market’, are two term ‘invented’ by Canberrans. Continue reading →