The Australian National University (home of the Dictionary Centre) is something of a melting pot of Australian regionalisms, where students from around the country meet, talk, and, occasionally, discover that there are differences in our language based on where we come from. Recently, having finished a rehearsal early, someone commented how nice it was to get an early mark for once. The Victorians in the group were perplexed by the expression, and later when I asked a group of young Melburnians if they knew what an early mark was I received only blank looks. Continue reading →
James Lambert drew our attention to the word dreysome time ago as a word that needs an entry in the Australian National Dictionary. A drey is the nest of a ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus), a hollow construction of leaves, bark, twigs, and foliage.
My daughter was recently helping me set up our new WiFi computing system at home by reading the instruction manual – something, to my detriment, I rarely do. As she was reading she mentioned something about a rooter which immediately made me smile, because I knew she was talking about the router we were trying to connect to the computer. The funny thing was that my daughter was neither aware of the Australian connotation of rooter nor the pronunciation of ‘router’.
When my kids finally convinced me to read the Harry Potter series recently I didn’t think I’d find too many references to Australia, let alone an Australianism. In the first respect I was correct. The only reference is in the final book when Hermione erases her parents’ memories and sends them to far off Australia – safe from the prying eyes of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Not long after this account of magical transportation to Australia we find Harry, Ron, and Hermione doing it tough and camping out, and to my surprise using a billycan to cook wild mushrooms for dinner. I didn’t exactly fall off my broomstick but I was surprised seeing this word used by a British author in the final book of an international series of bestsellers.
In the practice of historical lexicography the defining of a word is evidence-based. A definition is arrived at by understanding how the word is used in context (usually in written sources) throughout its lifetime. Thus a definition is only as good as the available evidence.
If you’ve ever thought that editing dictionaries was dull then think again! When I first arrived at the Centre in 2002 the word of the moment was budgie smugglers – a colloquial term for a pair of men’s swimming briefs, the type that surf lifesavers wear, and yes, the kind that the leader of the opposition wears. The word was cheeky, irreverent, and very Australian – but would it last?
Do you know the word stormstick for umbrella? Neville Chamberlain (pictured) probably didn’t, but he knew the well-dressed British politician needed one (along with homburg, gloves, hanky, and beautiful shiny shoes). A stormstick was a familiar Chamberlain accessory during his Prime Ministership.