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?
Akubra-wearers at Wodonga, Vic. Image source: Weekly Times
In early November 2012, Kempsey (NSW) racegoers and townsfolk will attempt to break the world record for the greatest number of people wearing Akubra hats. ‘We need at least 1,000 proud Akubra owners in the CBD on Race Day to make the world record official’, say the organisers. ‘And everyone in the local community is invited to take part.’
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.’
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Patrick White (1912–1990), the first Australian* to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was also the first Australian writer to have a significant international reputation; during his lifetime his novels often received greater critical acclaim overseas than in his own country. Continue reading →