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).
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 →
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 →
Over the years the names of many individual people have added colour to the Australian English vocabulary. The technical term for words deriving from people’s names is eponym (from the Greek epi ‘upon’ + onoma ‘name’). Eponymous people in Australian English include Anna Pavlova (ballerina), Barry Crocker (actor and singer), Baron Lamington (Governor of Queensland ), Ned Kelly (bushranger), Dame Nellie Melba (singer), Dorothy Dix (journalist), Sylvanus Bowser (inventor), Maria ‘Granny’ Smith (gardener), Reginald Grundy (television producer), and Harold Holt (Prime Minister) to name a few.* One of the more recent names we can add to this list is former Australian Olympian Steven Bradbury.
Early this year in a cabinet reshuffle the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointed Mike Kelly, the federal member for Eden–Monaro, as the Minister for Defence Materiel. It is a relatively new Ministry, created in 2010, responsible for military equipment and supply. Minister Kelly is in charge of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), part of the Department of Defence. The DMO currently lists among its ‘acquisition projects’ such things as armoured vehicles, communications and missile defence systems, aircraft, amphibious vehicles, and helicopters.
Mike Kelly is sworn in as Minister for Defence Materiel, February 2013.
‘Defence Materiel’—really? —asked one of our correspondents. Isn’t this just a pretentious French way to spell material? Well, apparently not, we discovered; it has a particular meaning in a military context. Continue reading →
Sometimes dictionary-makers change their minds about the origin of a word, given access to evidence that is new, or newly available. This happened to us recently at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, when a journalist contacted us to ask about the origin and meaning of the Australian phrase to have the wood on. To have the wood on(also to get the wood on) means ‘to have an advantage over (someone)’, and it is used in both Australia and New Zealand.
Noosa gets the wood on Caloundra.
‘Two out of three ain’t bad was the result from Shark Park on Sunday. The Kawana Dolphins are usually very strong in all grades, but Caloundra had the wood on them this time.’ (Caloundra Weekly, 9 May, 2013) Continue reading →
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).
Since the adoption of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ as Australia’s national anthem there have been a number of vocal critics. Some of these critics are nostalgic for the former anthem ‘God Save the Queen’, others prefer the unofficial anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda’, while others are uninspired by the tune and lyrics. In this blog I will look at one very particular criticism – the retention of the word girt. The word is archaic and rare in other Englishes but thanks to the anthem Australians know it well.
This year the Australian National Dictionary Centre is showcasing Canberra words to mark the city’s centenary. The first Canberra Word blog discussed pube, a colloquial word for ‘public servant’. This blog, the second in the series, looks at the word booner, a local word meaning ‘bogan‘.
Many readers will be familiar with the Australian word bogan. A bogan is a person who is regarded as being uncultured or unsophisticated. There are a number of regional terms across Australia for this type of person. One of the earliest examples of this kind of word is westie. A westie is used to describe a person from the western suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne. Other states provide us with the words bevan (Queensland), bog (Western Australia), and chigga (Tasmania), to name just a few. Like bogan, all these words carry an underlying judgment – that people from working-class or low socio-economic backgrounds are uncultured, crass, and unsophisticated.
The word kylie in Australian English has a long history. It comes from ‘garli’, a word meaning ‘boomerang’ in Nyungar, the language of south-western Western Australia, and also in a number of other western and central Australian languages. Kylie, used chiefly in Western Australia, was first recorded in an English context in the 1830s:
There was a recent surge of media interest when the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) put out a call for members of the public to help them find early evidence for a range of terms, including come in from the cold, disco, and blue-arsed fly. This last term sparked interest here in Australia because the OED claimed that the earliest evidence in print for the term was from Prince Philip commenting, in 1970, that a photographer had been ‘running around like a blue-arsed fly’.
Prince Philip watching out for a blue-arsed fly, perhaps
Many Australians were outraged not only that Prince Philip was cited as providing the first evidence for a term that they believed had been around much earlier, but also that the term was not considered to be Australian. One letter to the editor of The Australian by a West Australian commented:
As schoolboys in the 1950s, my mates and I often ran about like blue-arsed flies, incurring the wrath of parents and teachers. For the Duke of Edinburgh to be given credit for a 1970 use hardly seems right. (6 October 2012).
So what is the story of blue-arsed fly? And is it Australian?