by Mark Gwynn
A recent contribution to the ANDC Word Box was the word shaggledick.* The contributor provided two dictionary references for this word and suggested that it may be a ‘Mountweazel’ word. A Mountweazel is a fictitious entry deliberately added to a reference work. The term was coined by the New Yorker magazine and named after a fictitious entry for one Lillian Virginia Mountweazel in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975 edition). According to one of the editors: ‘It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright… If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us’ (New Yorker, 29 August 2005).
A different category of entry, the ‘dictionary word’, is noted by Samuel Johnson in his preface to A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). He mentions a class of words that only appear in the ‘work of lexicographers’. He goes on to say that ‘many I have inserted, because they may perhaps exist, though they have escaped my notice’. Is it appropriate to categorise shaggledick as either a ‘dictionary word’ or Mountweazel?
Let’s review the evidence. The first reference to the word shaggledick appears in John Blackman’s Best of Aussie Slang (1995):
shaggledick Affectionate term used to greet someone who is quite familiar but whose name you’ve forgotten. ‘G’day shaggledick – can I buy you a beer?
The next reference to this word is in Adam Jacot de Boinod’s The Wonder of Whiffling: and other extraordinary words in the English language (2009):
shaggledick (Australian slang) an affectionate greeting for someone who is familiar but whose name doesn’t come to mind.
Given the similarity of this entry to the first, it is almost certain that de Boinod picked up shaggledick from Blackman.
The remaining evidence for this term is found on the internet: a basic Google search will produce fewer than 100 hits. The overwhelming majority of these references are to de Boinod’s book, and there are also a small number of examples in internet forums and lists of nicknames, which are likely to have been picked up from one of the two glossaries. Given our doubts about de Boinod, Blackman remains the only significant source for the term.
Is it possible that shaggledick is related to other English words? There is earlier evidence for shaggle-baggle, a word with a similar meaning, but like shaggledick it comes from a glossary and is not recorded elsewhere:
shaggle-baggle friendly nick-name among friends. (Lenie Johansen, The Dinkum Dictionary, 1988)
There are a number of words with shag as a base that refer to people. Most of these allude to shag as a noun, ‘an act of sexual intercourse’, or as a verb, ‘to have sexual intercourse with (someone)’. The most likely candidate appears in another Australian slang dictionary:
shagger Cheerful nickname used in greetings. Does not imply that the addressee is a notorious cocksman, more often a general expression of heterosexual bonhomie. (Bob Hudson, The First Australian Dictionary of Vulgarities & Obscenities, 1986)
A similar sense of shagger was recorded in the 1980s among cadets at the Australian Royal Military College at Duntroon:
shagger a term which may be used in address among peers as an expression of mateship and camaraderie. (Bruce Moore, A Lexicon of Cadet Language, 1992)
Moore quotes an extract from the poem ‘At Shagger’s Funeral’ (1968) by Australian poet Bruce Dawe to illustrate the use of shagger in Australian English:
At Shagger’s funeral there wasn’t much to say
That could be said….
What could any of us say that wasn’t a lie
Or that didn’t end up in a laugh
At his expense – caught with his britches down
By death, whom he’d imagined out of town?
The various words related to the sexual sense of shag, such as shagger, are morphologically and semantically different from shaggledick but may indicate a possible origin for the term.
So what to make of shaggledick? The only bona fide source is John Blackman’s book of Australian slang. There are numerous books of Australian slang that include words that are not attested elsewhere. The primary purpose of such books is to provide an entertaining snapshot of the Australian vernacular, not to provide historical evidence for these words. So where did Blackman come across this word? Is it, as our contributor suggested, a fictitious Mountweazel – did he invent it simply to entertain the reader? Or is it one of the Samuel Johnson class of words, those that appear only in dictionaries? According to Blackman himself, it is neither.
John Blackman is well known in Australia for his voice-over work for the very popular Hey Hey It’s Saturday television program (1971-1999). He has written a number of books cataloguing Australian slang and humour. When I contacted him he told me that he heard his friend use the word shaggledick while playing golf. John Blackman believes the word is probably a made-up word used as a term of endearment between mates like mudguts and knackers. Given the lack of solid evidence it may be the case that shaggledick is indeed a word coined by a golfing mate of John Blackman’s, although we can’t discount the evidence of similar words based on shag as influencing the creation of this term.
* Thank you to Jane Seeber for bringing ‘shaggledick’ to the Centre’s attention via Word Box. Jane was alerted to the word by her friend Mark Forsyth.