The capture of Australia’s most wanted man last week made international headlines. Australian readers of an article in the Canadian publication Oye! Times* may have been startled to see the prisoner described as a ‘long lost convict’.
When my kids finally convinced me to read the Harry Potter series recently I didn’t think I’d find too many references to Australia, let alone an Australianism. In the first respect I was correct. The only reference is in the final book when Hermione erases her parents’ memories and sends them to far off Australia – safe from the prying eyes of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Not long after this account of magical transportation to Australia we find Harry, Ron, and Hermione doing it tough and camping out, and to my surprise using a billycan to cook wild mushrooms for dinner. I didn’t exactly fall off my broomstick but I was surprised seeing this word used by a British author in the final book of an international series of bestsellers.
In the practice of historical lexicography the defining of a word is evidence-based. A definition is arrived at by understanding how the word is used in context (usually in written sources) throughout its lifetime. Thus a definition is only as good as the available evidence.
by Mark Gwynn
If you’ve ever thought that editing dictionaries was dull then think again! When I first arrived at the Centre in 2002 the word of the moment was budgie smugglers – a colloquial term for a pair of men’s swimming briefs, the type that surf lifesavers wear, and yes, the kind that the leader of the opposition wears. The word was cheeky, irreverent, and very Australian – but would it last?
by Julia Robinson
Do you know the word stormstick for umbrella? Neville Chamberlain (pictured) probably didn’t, but he knew the well-dressed British politician needed one (along with homburg, gloves, hanky, and beautiful shiny shoes). A stormstick was a familiar Chamberlain accessory during his Prime Ministership.
by Mark Gwynn
Apparently not! The Australian word ranga is often used derogatively as a name for a red-haired person. It is derived from orang-utan – a reddish-haired primate found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. The evidence for this word goes back to the early 2000s but has become more prolific in the last few years.
by Sarah Ogilvie
On International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to pay tribute to female dictionary-makers, present and past. Australia has had its fair share of English-language dictionary specialists including Jay Arthur, Ann Atkinson, Maureen Brooks, Pauline Bryant, Sue Butler, June Factor, Bernadette Hince, Joan Hughes, Dorothy Jauncey, Lenie (Midge) Johansen, Nancy Keesing, Anne Knight, Amanda Laugesen, Alison Moore, Sarah Ogilvie, Pam Peters, Joan Ritchie, and Julia Robinson. As a young lexicographer at the Australian National Dictionary Centre in the early 1990s, I was surprised to discover that every lexicographer, except for the Director, was a woman. Globally, there are also prominent women: Katherine Barber (Canada), Dianne Bardsley (New Zealand), Jean Branford (South Africa), Joan Houston Hall (USA), Judy Pearsall (UK), and Penny Silva (South Africa), to name just a few.