The Oxford Word of the Month is written by members of the Australian National Dictionary Centre and published each month by Oxford University Press Australia. Each Word of the Month looks at an Australian word or term in some detail, providing a history of the term and its role in current Australian society. If you wish to receive Word of the Month by email you can subscribe at the Oxford University Press Australia website.
Our Word of the Month for August 2015 is ‘tip turkey’: the white ibis, Threskiornis moluccus, often regarded as a pest in urban areas because of its scavenging at tips, etc. The evidence for this term goes back to 2009. The increasing numbers of these birds found scavenging from bins in parks and in other urban areas has led to a number of similar epithets including ‘bin chicken’ and ‘dump chook’. You can read the full Word of the Month in PDF form on our website or read it in an online format.
There are a number of Australian English words, commonly used by and familiar to most Australians, that have shifted their meaning, or had different meanings, over time. Some of these different meanings are subtle, while others are more significant, but the history of the word tells us something about changes in Australian society and attitudes. Many current speakers of Australian English might be unaware of these earlier and alternative meanings of these words, several of which are discussed below.
Union membership cards were obtained from the dwindling band of ‘West’ trade union officials. Votes were then cast in the names of absent union members, living or dead. If this precaution failed, the ballot box was, if the opportunity arose, ‘stuffed’ as Sugar Renfrey termed it. This entailed the addition of as many more ‘bodger’ votes as possible. (Power Without Glory, p. 383)
One of Australia’s most controversial literary figures is Frank Hardy (1917-1994). Hardy was a left-wing novelist, writer, and political activist, and is probably best known today as the author of Power Without Glory, published in 1950. Although a novel, this book is a thinly-veiled account of the life of John Wren, a Melbourne businessman who wielded considerable political influence in Victoria for many years. Hardy was famously sued for criminal libel over the publication, but was acquitted. In writing about politics – the quote above makes use of the Australian term bodger, meaning ‘fake, false, worthless’ – he drew on a rich vein of colloquial Australian speech to inject his radical politics with what he considered an authentic Australian working-class spirit. Continue reading →
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.
In Australian English a counter lunch is a midday meal served in the bar of a hotel or public house; the term derives from the counter at which the meals were originally served. Its purpose is to entice customers to patronise the bar by offering cheap food.
In my last blog, I told the story of Cornelius Crowe, policeman, anti-corruption campaigner, and author of The Australian Slang Dictionary (1895), a record of the language of criminals on the streets of Fitzroy and Collingwood in the 1890s. In this blog I take a closer look at the dictionary itself.
Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Image source: State Library of Victoria
The dictionary was published in 1895 by Robert Barr, a printer in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, and sold for a shilling. It is ninety-eight pages long and contains nearly 2,700 words with brief definitions. The contents page lists thirty-three different types of slang covered by the dictionary, including Lovers’ Slang, Theatrical Slang, Imposters’ Slang, Vagrants’ Slang, and Bookmakers’ Slang. The subtitle claims that some of the ‘unauthorised though popular expressions’ included in the dictionary are ‘now in vogue with all classes in Australia’. Continue reading →
In a previous blog Mark Gwynn looked at the first dictionary produced in Australia, A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language, written by the convict James Hardy Vaux in 1812 to provide the court with a translation of the slang used in the colony by convicts and criminals. The perceived need to translate the language of criminals continued throughout the nineteenth century. An interesting example of this phenomenon is a dictionary compiled by Cornelius Crowe in 1895 entitled The Australian Slang Dictionary, containing the words and phrases of the thieving fraternity together with the unauthorised, though popular expressions now in vogue with all classes in Australia. Continue reading →
Although it has been nearly a century since the 1915 publication of C.J. Dennis’ verse narrative Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, Dennis’ comic use of the Australian vernacular continues to endear the work to contemporary readers.
The Songs tell a humorous love story as Bill ‘the Bloke’ tries to reform his rough larrikin habits in order to win the affections of Doreen, a young pickle factory worker. The book is full of examples of Australian colloquialisms, particularly words relating to the world of the urban larrikin (then a word meaning ‘hooligan’). Continue reading →
Ruth Park (1917-2010), one of Australia’s most popular writers, was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia in 1942 to pursue her career as a journalist. In the same year, she married D’Arcy Niland (1917-1967). As struggling writers in the 1940s, they lived for a time in the Sydney slum area of Surry Hills, and this period in her life inspired her to write The Harp in the South (1948) and Poor Man’s Orange (1949).
An early photograph of Ruth Park
Ruth Park’s writing is an excellent example of a literary depiction of inner-city urban Sydney in the 1940s. In The Harp in the South, published in 1948 and one of Australia’s most beloved novels,she uses Australian humour and Australian English to great effect. Although this particular book is often discussed in terms of its depiction of 1940s Surry Hills and its tenement environments, the distinctive language she used is also worth noting and proves to be one of the novel’s most beguiling features. Continue reading →
In a twist on the usual Sydney–Melbourne rivalry (aka Sin City vs Bleak City), Sydneysiders have begun to notice the effects of a distinctly Melbourne influence on their Harbour City. It’s known as theMelbournisation of Sydney, a trend in urban development:
TheMelbournisation of Sydney has been most evident in the past 10 years. We’ve made our restaurants feel like basements, turned the lights down to Euro-Melburnian dimness, lobbied the government to get small bar licences, and allowed our Italians to cook Tuscan and Ligurian instead of Leichhardtian. (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 2010) Continue reading →