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

Ghost-net art

by Julia Robinson

Turtle caught in a ghost net. Source: GhostNets Australia

Turtle caught in a ghost net. Source: Alistair Dermer/GhostNets Australia

A ghost net is a plastic fishing net lost or discarded at sea from a fishing boat. It continues to drift with the tides and ‘fish’ on its own – that is, to entrap and kill marine life – sometimes for many years. A net’s ‘ghostly’ ability to continue fishing by itself has given rise to its name. Ghost nets have been recognised as an international problem since the mid-20th century, and the evidence for the term ghost net dates from this period. It is not an Australianism. However, collecting and using ghost nets as a source of art material has resulted in terms that are uniquely Australian: ghost-net art, ghost-net weaving, and ghost-net sculpture: Continue reading

Words from our Word Box: update 6

by the ANDC team

wordbox image

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

This is our first update for 2014 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 our editors to identify new material for our general Australian Oxford dictionaries and also for our archive of Australian words. We like to share our recent findings with you through regular updates. We thank everyone for their submissions and 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.

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The Language of Tumblr

by Jennifer Oxley*

In a recent linguistics course I wrote about Tumblr Speak, a variety of English that is spoken on Tumblr. Tumblr is a free online blogging website that allows users to share images and videos and to communicate with other Tumblr users via posts. Each post consists of a combination of three features: a graphic, post text, and tag, with some posts containing only one or two of these things. The following is an example of a Tumblr post containing all three:

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Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2013

Each year the ANDC selects a WORD OF THE YEAR. The words chosen for the shortlist are selected on the basis of having come to some prominence in the Australian social and cultural landscape during the year.

This year we saw a number of new words, many relating to new technology and social media. The 2013 Federal election also brought to prominence several terms considered for our shortlist.

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Words from our Word Box: update 5

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

by the ANDC team

This is our last update for the year on contributions that have been made to the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word Box, the website feature 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. 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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Words from the campaign trail

The vanquisher and the vanquished: Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd

by Julia Robinson

At last the dust has settled after the federal election. During the campaign we heard arguments, promises, accusations, assertions, rebuttals, and speeches from our politicians, all couched in language designed to influence the way Australians vote. And we heard and read even more commentary from broadcasters, journalists and social media commentators on the election. This week we look at the memorable words and phrases—some Australian, some not—that were associated with Election 2013. Continue reading

Words from our Word Box: update 4

by the ANDC team

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

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.

Continue reading

Words from our Word Box: update 3

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

by the ANDC team

This is our third 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. Continue reading