Words from our Word Box: update 7

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

by the ANDC team

This is the second update for 2014 on contributions to our Word Box, the website feature you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases. These contributions allow us to identify new material for our general Australian Oxford dictionaries and also for our archive of Australian words. We like to share our recent findings through regular updates. We thank everyone for their submissions and encourage you to contribute—just click on the Word Box image to the left to post your word. A few of the more interesting contributions from the last three months are discussed below; some are new to us, and some we already know. We welcome any comments about your understanding or experience of these words.


The unforgiving body-con look.

body-con – an adjective meaning tight-fitting or figure-hugging. Used to describe especially women’s fashion, as in ‘fitted body-con shift dresses are making a resurgence this season’. It is an abbreviation of the term ‘body-conscious’, and is increasingly seen in the solid form bodycon. The first evidence occurs in the early 1990s.

checkout Charlie – a male checkout operator at a supermarket; the male counterpart of the ‘checkout chick’. (‘Checkout chick’ is an Australian English term that historically refers to female checkout operators, but which is sometimes used of males as well. For more on ‘checkout chick’, see our recent Word of the Month article.) There is evidence for checkout Charlie in newspapers from 1990.

death café – a social occasion where people come together to discuss issues related to death and dying. The discussion occurs at a café or other venue where refreshments such as coffee and cake are offered. The first death cafés in the UK were held in 2011, inspired by the work of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz.  Crettaz began to organise similar gatherings –‘cafés mortels’- in Switzerland early this century, with the idea of breaking down the social taboo against discussing death. Evidence of the term death café first appears in 2011, and has now spread widely.

Loom bands.

Loom bands.

loom band – a bracelet made out of coloured rubber bands. Also called loom bracelet. The term derives from ‘Rainbow Loom’, a proprietary name for a children’s toy loom using rubber bands (a loom is traditionally used for weaving cloth). The toy was invented in the US in 2011, and was a favourite Christmas gift in 2013. The term loom band became popular in Australia and elsewhere at that time.

MERS – Middle East respiratory syndrome, a viral infection causing acute respiratory distress, and resulting in a significant death rate. Its symptoms can include breathing difficulties, fever, and muscle pain. Those at risk of contracting the disease are people who live or travel in Middle Eastern countries. Some person-to-person transmission has been observed, especially between MERS patients and medical staff. Camels are thought to be implicated in the spread of the virus, although the virus itself may originate in Egyptian tomb bats. MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and evidence of the term is found from that time.

normcore – a style of fashion that is ‘anti-fashion’: deliberately bland or low-key, typically featuring common clothing items such as teeshirts, tracksuit pants, sweatshirts, and jeans. Normcore derives from the word ‘normal’ and the combining form ‘-core’, and is formed with reference to the words ‘hardcore’ and ‘softcore’. Apparently coined by a New York trend forecasting group to describe a reaction against the fashion industry, it was popularised in a magazine article in February 2014 with the title ‘Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They’re One in 7 Billion’.

Oompa Loompas with Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) from the 1971 film 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. You'll notice there were no female Oompa Loompas.

Oompa Loompas with Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) from the 1971 film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. You’ll notice there were no female Oompa Loompas.

Oompa Loompa – a derogatory term for a female who applies a lot of heavy makeup or fake tan. It derives from a resemblance to the orange colouring of the ‘Oompa Loompa’ characters in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The film is based on the 1964 children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by British author Roald Dahl. There is evidence for this term from the early 2000s.

A whale fall

A whale fall

whale fall – the carcass of a whale that has settled on the deep ocean floor, creating a unique ecosystem for fishes, worms, and other deep-sea creatures. The phenomenon of the whale fall has been described in scientific literature for decades, and evidence for the term itself is found from the mid-1990s.