Sparrows, spadgers, spags, spoggies, spraggies, and spriggies

by Bruce Moore*

The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is native to Europe and Asia, and it has been introduced to most other parts of the world. Although the house sparrow is the most widespread and abundant of birds, in the past twenty years there has been evidence of a decline in numbers in some areas, especially in western Europe, perhaps a result of a decline in insect numbers (food for sparrow nestlings) in urban areas.

images-1In the 1860s, the house sparrow was introduced to Australia, and spread widely, except in Western Australia. As in other parts of the world, there was been some anecdotal evidence of a decline in sparrow numbers in Australia. For example, in 2010 the Newcastle Herald ran an article titled ‘Where have the sparrows gone?’ (2 August).  Even so, in the 2015 ‘Aussie Backyard Bird Count’, the sparrow was the fifth most commonly sighted bird, after the rainbow lorikeet, noisy miner, Australian magpie, and sulphur-crested cockatoo. Continue reading

Canberra word: guvvie (and ex-guvvie)

by Amanda Laugesen

Canberra word: guvvie (and ex-guvvie)

Guvvies in the Canberra suburb of Downer, 1961

The terms guvvie (also govie) for government housing—’a house originally built or bought by the government for low-cost or subsidised rental’, and ex-guvvie (also ex-govie) for ‘a house that was formerly built or owned by government but has been sold into the private market’, are two term ‘invented’ by Canberrans. Continue reading

The problem with yabbies

by Julia Robinson

The surprising and important fact that most Australians do not know is that there are almost 140 species of freshwater crayfish in Australia. (Susan Lawler, The Conversation, 4 February 2013)

Fishing for yabbies (freshwater crayfish) is a happy childhood memory for many Aussie kids living near a dam or creek. The traditional technique is to bait a length of string with a piece of fresh meat, lower it into the water, wait for the yabby to latch on with its claws, and then pull up the string. Yabbies make delicious eating, and are also used as fishing bait.

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Canberra Word: booner

by Mark Gwynn

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.

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Early mark

by Daniel Lynch*

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