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.
In a recent ‘Words from our Word Box’ update, we included the term bush soap, and explained it as: ‘The leaves of any of several Australian plants that may be used as a soap substitute. When rubbed vigorously with water, the leaves produce a soap-like lather, thanks to the chemical compounds (saponins) they contain.’ We noted that the earliest evidence in print for this meaning of bush soap occurs in the early 1990s. Continue reading →
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 May is ‘checkout chick’: a checkout operator at a supermarket. There is evidence for this term from the 1970s. While the stereotypical ‘checkout chick’ was a girl or woman (hence ‘chick’) the term now refers to boys and men as well. You can read the full Word of the Month in PDF form on our website or read it in an online format.