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).
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around That the colt from old Regret had got away. And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound, So all the cracks had gathered to the fray. (opening lines of ‘The Man from Snowy River’, 1890)
Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s poems and his use of the Australian vernacular have endeared him to generations of Australians. In the Australian National Dictionary (a dictionary of Australian English using quotations to provide evidence of how words are used over time) Paterson is quoted 78 times. His poems provide valuable evidence of 19th and early 20th century Australian English—particularly the language of the Australian bush. In this blog I will look closely at some of the Australianisms found in ‘The Man from Snowy River’.
This week we celebrate the birthday of Mem Fox (born 5 March 1946), Australian writer of children’s books. She is the author of such favourite picture books as Koala Lou, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, and Wombat Divine, but the book that made her a household name is her first book, Possum Magic, the runaway bestseller that has sold several million copies since it was published in 1983. It is the tale of possums Hush and Grandma Poss, who leave their bush home to find a cure for Hush’s magic invisibility. Continue reading →
Tasmanian convict Bill Thompson in leg irons and convict uniform, 1870s. Image source: State Library of Tasmania
Following on from Mark Gwynn’s recent blog on pube, this week I will take a look at public servant. When I have talked about my work on Convict Words: the Language of Colonial Australia (OUP, 2002), it has always been a source of some amusement (especially for us Canberrans) that public servant was first used to refer to a convict assigned to public labour or work for the government. It was first recorded in 1797, and by 1812 was being used to refer to a (free) member of the public service (civil service). Continue reading →
Debbie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Sue (Brenna Harding) from the recent television series adaptation of Puberty Blues
by Mark Gwynn
Over recent weeks a television adaptation of the novel Puberty Blues has been airing to wide acclaim. Based on a 1979 novel written by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, Puberty Blues is a coming-of-age story about two 13-year-old girls, Debbie and Sue, who seek to be accepted into a group of popular surfers and surfie chicks (surfers’ girlfriends). The novel explores a range of themes including peer group pressure, drug use, generational differences between parents and children, and sexual relationships. Continue reading →
A dubbo like you would be arsey enough to fluke something like this…. They’re as rare as rocking-horse shit. (R.G. Barrett, Boys From Binjiwunyawunya, 1987)
We note with sadness the death of popular Australian novelist Robert G. Barrett last week (20 September). His first book, You Wouldn’t Be Dead For Quids, was published in 1985, and since then sales of his books have topped one million. He belongs to the long tradition of writers in this country whose work celebrates the Australian vernacular. A forerunner in this tradition is C.J. Dennis, with his lively depiction of the working-class slang of Bill the Bloke in The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in 1915 (see our recent blog). C.J. Dennis and Robert G. Barrett lived at opposite ends of the twentieth century, but both of them shared an exuberant delight in the slang of their time. And like Dennis, Barrett provides lexicographers with a rich source of colloquialisms. Continue reading →
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.’
C.J. Dennis c. 1910. Image source: State Library of New South Wales
by Mark Gwynn
Today marks the 136-year anniversary of the birth of Australian poet C.J. Dennis (7 September 1876–22 June 1938). Along with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, Dennis was instrumental in popularising the Australian vernacular through fiction. Unlike Paterson and Lawson’s preoccupation with the Bush, Dennis is best remembered for his tales of the urban environment. C.J. Dennis’s most popular work The Songs of a SentimentalBloke was first published in 1915. A hundred thousand copies were sold in its first four years, including a pocket ‘trench’ edition designed to be sent to Australian diggers fighting in the First World War. Dennis’s story would later be adapted into multiple film versions, a musical, a television program, and a ballet.
Dampier's illustration of a 'guano' (a goanna), in 'A new voyage round the world' (1699).
We posted a blog recently with an interactive graph (devised by Tim Sherratt) showing the first occurrences of Australian words in print, as they appear in the text of the Australian National Dictionary (AND). One blog-reader asked us about the words that predate the First Fleet’s arrival in Botany Bay in 1788. Continue reading →