Robert G. Barrett, Les Norton, and twentieth-century Aussie slang

by Julia Robinson

A dubbo like you would be arsey enough to fluke something like this…. They’re as rare as rocking-horse shit. (R.G. Barrett, Boys From Binjiwunyawunya, 1987)

We note with sadness the death of popular Australian novelist Robert G. Barrett last week (20 September). His first book, You Wouldn’t Be Dead For Quids, was published in 1985, and since then sales of his books have topped one million. He belongs to the long tradition of writers in this country whose work celebrates the Australian vernacular. A forerunner in this tradition is C.J. Dennis, with his lively depiction of the working-class slang of Bill the Bloke in The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in 1915 (see our recent blog). C.J. Dennis and Robert G. Barrett lived at opposite ends of the twentieth century, but both of them shared an exuberant delight in the slang of their time. And like Dennis, Barrett provides lexicographers with a rich source of colloquialisms. Continue reading

Introducing Word Box …

by Amanda Laugesen

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.’

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Australian joeys

by Julia Robinson

'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

C.J. Dennis – Songs of a Sentimental Bloke

C.J. Dennis c. 1910. Image source: State Library of New South Wales

by Mark Gwynn

Today marks the 136-year anniversary of the birth of Australian poet C.J. Dennis (7 September 1876–22 June 1938). Along with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, Dennis was instrumental in popularising the Australian vernacular through fiction. Unlike Paterson and Lawson’s preoccupation with the Bush, Dennis is best remembered for his tales of the urban environment. C.J. Dennis’s most popular work The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke was first published in 1915. A hundred thousand copies were sold in its first four years, including a pocket ‘trench’ edition designed to be sent to Australian diggers fighting in the First World War. Dennis’s story would later be adapted into multiple film versions, a musical, a television program, and a ballet.

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