The Australian Comic Dictionary

 

comic dict

by Mark Gwynn

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.

Mary Eliza Fullerton was born on 14 May 1868 at Glenmaggie, Victoria. In the 1890s she became an active supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries a number of her short stories and poems were published in Australian journals and newspapers, including The Bulletin. During the First World War she wrote against conscription, and it was in this period that her comic dictionary was published.*

A comic dictionary uses the format of a standard dictionary for humorous purposes. As Julie Coleman points out in A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries ‘[a]lthough sharing the iconoclastic stance of some slang glossaries and commonly catalogued as such, comic dictionaries tend to concentrate on non-standard definitions for standard English terms’. (Volume 3, 2009). There are a number of early precedents for the comic dictionary, including some humorous definitions in Samuel Johnson’s otherwise serious tome, A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). His definition of oats is well-known: ‘a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’.

Ambrose Bierce, author of the Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce, author of the Devil’s Dictionary

Perhaps the best-known comic dictionary is Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, which was published in full in 1911. Material for this dictionary had already been published in various forms, including US newspapers, from the 1870s. The definitions for lawyer (‘one skilled in circumvention of the law’) and conservative (‘a statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others’) provide good examples of the satirical nature of this dictionary.

The Australian Comic Dictionary follows the same format as The Devil’s Dictionary but, rather than providing definitions for standard English terms, many of the headwords are derived from Australian English. As stated in the introduction: ‘The endeavour has been to make this dictionary especially Australian in character.’ Following are several examples of entries that appear in the dictionary.

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A page from the Australian Comic Dictionary

Billy Tea, a milkless beverage flavoured with Eucalyptus and ants; takes some ability to make and some agility to drink.

Cup Race, the Australian Race witnessed by the Australi­an race.

Drover’s Wife, a bush Joan of Arc without a pedestal.

Governor-General’s Speech, nothing, drest in flourishes.

‘It Isn’t Cricket’, what you have to keep telling your old lady relative when you take her to a football match.

Kerosene Tin, the bush conjuror’s ‘property’ which he transforms into four hundred and six different articles for domestic use.

Nulla Nulla, nothing at all; a phantom waddy.

Ropable, what the man is when the animal isn’t.

Shickered, liquored.

Tinned Dog, bushman’s pate de fois gras.

Wallaby (on the), refers to the custom that prevails in Australia of travelling on a wallaby; a favourite pastime with persons who cannot afford a horse.

Yarra Banker, usually a man who stands on a soap box telling the great unwashed how ‘dirty’ the rich man is.

 

* For more detail about Mary Eliza Fullerton you can read her entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and her profile on the AustLit website.

ADB page: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fullerton-mary-eliza-6258

AustLit page: http://www.austlit.edu.au/austlit/page/A1331

Become an etymologist for a day—help us with ‘Sam Tick’

by Mark Gwynn

etymology

One of the most unsatisfying aspects of researching and writing a dictionary entry is not being able to determine the origin of a word. The study of a word’s history and origin—its etymology—is just one part of the dictionary-maker’s task. Often the etymology of a word can be readily identified: it may derive from another word, a particular language, or the name of a person, a place, or a product. Take the Australian English word dunny (a toilet) for example. It derives from a British dialect word dunnekin (a privy), and is probably ultimately derived from a combination of dung (faeces) and ken (a house). How do we arrive at this conclusion? Continue reading

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

The story of ‘dob’

by Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, who is currently editing the second edition of the Australian National DictionaryThe 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 image

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

The verb dob has a range of meanings in Australian English. The most common meaning (often in the form dob in, dob into, or dob on) is ‘to inform upon, to incriminate’: (2009) ‘A soldier who stole two cameras while he was working as a storeman at Robertson Barracks was only found out when his ex-wife dobbed him into the military police, a court has heard.’¹ It can also (and less commonly) mean ‘to impose a responsibility upon (often a matter of getting someone to do an unpopular or difficult task)’: ‘I fear I’ve dobbed myself in to doing something silly. Yep, in my haste to help drought-stricken farmers I stuck my hand in the air and said I’d organise a team from my office to take part in the Paddo’s Beach Volleyball Charity Day on Sunday.’² As dob in it can also mean ‘to contribute money to a common cause’: (1956) ‘The whole town dobbed in and bought Charlie and Russ a new boat.’³ Finally, in Australian Rules football, dob can mean ‘to kick (the ball) long and accurately; to kick (a goal)’: ‘Mark Blake dobbed the ball deep into the Cats’ goal square and into the waiting arms of Chapman’;4 (2008) ‘But Lloyd dobbed a long goal.’5 Are all these meanings related? Continue reading

Cornelius Crowe and The Australian Slang Dictionary

by Judith Smyth*

In my last blog, I told the story of Cornelius Crowe, policeman, anti-corruption campaigner, and author of The Australian Slang Dictionary (1895), a record of the language of criminals on the streets of Fitzroy and Collingwood in the 1890s. In this blog I take a closer look at the dictionary itself.

Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Image source: State Library of Victoria

The dictionary was published in 1895 by Robert Barr, a printer in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, and sold for a shilling. It is ninety-eight pages long and contains nearly 2,700 words with brief definitions. The contents page lists thirty-three different types of slang covered by the dictionary, including Lovers’ Slang, Theatrical Slang, Imposters’ Slang, Vagrants’ Slang, and Bookmakers’ Slang. The subtitle claims that some of the ‘unauthorised though popular expressions’ included in the dictionary are ‘now in vogue with all classes in Australia’. Continue reading

The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary: a new edition

by the ANDC team

The Australian National Dictionary Centre and Oxford University Press Australia are proud to announce the publication of the seventh edition of the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary.

The first edition of the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary (1976)

The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary has a distinguished place in the history of Australian lexicography. The first edition was published in 1976, edited by Grahame Johnston, a professor of English at the University of New South Wales. Before this the dictionaries used in Australia were imported from Britain or America, and they largely ignored the contribution that Australian English had made to the English language.

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Shaggledick – Mountweazel or ‘dictionary word’?

by Mark Gwynn

A recent contribution to the ANDC Word Box was the word shaggledick.* The contributor provided two dictionary references for this word and suggested that it may be a ‘Mountweazel’ word. A Mountweazel is a fictitious entry deliberately added to a reference work. The term was coined by the New Yorker magazine and named after a fictitious entry for one Lillian Virginia Mountweazel in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975 edition). According to one of the editors: ‘It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright… If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us’ (New Yorker, 29 August 2005).

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Introducing Word Box …

by Amanda Laugesen

When James Murray, first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), set about his massive project of defining and chronicling the English language, he realised the need for a volunteer force to undertake the reading of printed works in the English language. In April 1879 he sent out ‘An Appeal to the English-Speaking and English-Reading Public in Great Britain, America and the British Colonies to read books and make extracts for the Philological Society’s New English Dictionary’. He asked people to: ‘Make a quotation for every word that strikes you as rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way.’

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