Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, who is currently editing the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. The following is an extract from his book What’s their Story? A History of Australian Words (published by Oxford University Press Australia, 2010).
What’s their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.
Dinkum and its variant fair dinkum are among the central Australian terms. Australian English has had two other terms with much the same meaning as dinkum—‘fair; genuine; honest; true’—but they are no longer used. Jonick was one of them, and it appeared in Australia in the 1870s as a variant of jannock ‘fair, straightforward’, a word that has widespread use in English dialects. It became obsolete in Australia by the 1950s. The second term, ryebuck, is probably a Yiddish word and a variant of German reibach ‘profit’. It became common in Australia in the 1890s as an expression of agreement or assent (much the same as ‘all right’) and as an adjective meaning ‘good, excellent’. As with jonick, it had largely disappeared by the 1950s, although it has been retained as the title of a popular Australian folk song ‘The Ryebuck Shearer’ (the expert or ‘gun’ shearer). Dinkum, however, has been such a strong word in Australian English, that synonyms have hardly been necessary. The word dinkum is first recorded in Australian English in 1890. Continue reading →
William Buckley (1780–1856) was a British convict who was transported to Australia for receiving stolen cloth. He escaped from custody at Port Phillip in Victoria in 1803 and lived with the Wathawurung Aboriginal people near Geelong for thirty-two years. He was discovered by John Batman in 1835, at the time of the settlement of Melbourne. He received a pardon, and acted as a liaison officer between settlers and local Aboriginal groups, but became unhappy with his situation and shifted to Hobart at the end of 1837. He died in Hobart in 1856. When people consider the possible origins of the Australian phrase Buckley’s chance (or Buckley’s hope, or simply Buckley’s), William Buckley is a strong candidate (see, for example, Ozwords, October 2000 for a discussion of the origins of this phrase). However, his contribution to Australian English is greater than this, and much more than has previously been recognised.
A small number of Australian English words have their likely origins in Yiddish, a Jewish language with its origins in German, and with several regional variations. Words with a Yiddish origin came into Australian English both through the migration of Yiddish speakers to Australia, as well as through transferred uses and variants of terms that had developed in British English and slang. Continue reading →
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.
George Stubb’s painting ‘Kongouro from New Holland’. The painting was exhibited in 1773 and is the first known depiction of a kangaroo in Western art. It now resides at the National Maritime Museum in London.
Sometimes dictionary-makers change their minds about the origin of a word, given access to evidence that is new, or newly available. This happened to us recently at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, when a journalist contacted us to ask about the origin and meaning of the Australian phrase to have the wood on. To have the wood on(also to get the wood on) means ‘to have an advantage over (someone)’, and it is used in both Australia and New Zealand.
Noosa gets the wood on Caloundra.
‘Two out of three ain’t bad was the result from Shark Park on Sunday. The Kawana Dolphins are usually very strong in all grades, but Caloundra had the wood on them this time.’ (Caloundra Weekly, 9 May, 2013) Continue reading →
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’.
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 →
'Anzac the kangaroo and Peggy the wombat joeys have become mates at the Wild about Wildlife Kilmore Rescue Centre.' Image source: Rob Leeson / Herald Sun
I confess—this blog is just an excuse to post an irresistible photo of a pair of orphaned joeys. For those readers who are not familiar with the term (or who would like to know a little of its history), joey is well-known in Australian English as the word for a young kangaroo, especially one still in its mother’s pouch. Continue reading →
Golden wattle. Image source: Australian National Botanic Gardens
September in Australia means that wattle trees are in bloom, fragrant and full of colour. The blossom can be any shade of yellow from pale cream to deep gold, depending on the species. The colours of the wattle are the inspiration for the green and gold, Australia’s national colours, officially proclaimed in 1984 (but used as sporting colours for much longer). Wattle blossom has long been emblematic of Australia; branches of wattle appeared on the Australian Coat of Arms in 1912, and in 1988 the profusely flowering golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was named as the national floral emblem. Continue reading →