Early mark

by Daniel Lynch*

The Australian National University (home of the Dictionary Centre) is something of a melting pot of Australian regionalisms, where students from around the country meet, talk, and, occasionally, discover that there are differences in our language based on where we come from. Recently, having finished a rehearsal early, someone commented how nice it was to get an early mark for once. The Victorians in the group were perplexed by the expression, and later when I asked a group of young Melburnians if they knew what an early mark was I received only blank looks.

Time for an early mark

The Dictionary Centre has records of the expression early mark, meaning ‘permission to leave early’, dating back to 1940. It is especially associated with the classroom and workplace, although our earliest evidence is in the context of an advertisement for menswear: ‘You who remember ‘Haspel of New Orleans’ as the maker of the World’s Lightest Suit will take an early mark for opining his light-weight evening togs just as good.’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Jan.,1940)

A quick search of Victorian newspapers reveals the term is not in common use in that state. The vast majority of evidence comes from New South Wales. Queenslanders know it too, and South Australians use the term early minute (dating from 1987) to mean the same thing. However a similar term in Victoria is strangely absent; it seems that in Victoria people are just given permission to leave early. Do any Victorian readers know of an equivalent for early mark? Please leave us a comment if you do.

See our draft entry for early mark below.

*Guest blogger Daniel is a research assistant at the AND Centre who is studying Arts/Law at the Australian National University.




7 thoughts on “Early mark

  1. Maybe the term “a leave pass” is the equivalent in Victoria – I certainly never heard of “early mark” being used in schools or examination rooms.

  2. Never heard of anything like this in school in Vic. To be honest, i stumbled into this site while I was researching where the term “Early minute” came from as I work with people from Adelaide who have used it several times now- at first i saw it written and thought it was a spelling mistake. In my office jobs in Victoria it was always the good old “beer o’clock” to indicate going home early.

    • Chances are your Adelaide colleagues will respond to ‘beer o’clock’ without needing a translation.

  3. Does it at all relate to convict / marine interaction? Parade ground, chain gang slang? Would explain it’s uniquley NSW focus.

    • Thanks for your comment. There is no evidence to relate this term to the early convict period. There is evidence of the term ‘early mark’ from around the 1840s in Australia where it means ‘to leave a mark on something, to leave a legacy, or to make an impact’ – this sense is not recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary. Thanks for bringing this issue up because I did a search of the Trove website of Australian newspapers and discovered ‘early mark’ in the school etc. sense going back to the 1920s. We’ll have to update our records!

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