Words from our Word Box: update 8

Click on the logo to go the Word Box page

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

by the ANDC team

This is the third 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.

PLEASE NOTE there is a strong language warning for our discussion of charity shag below.

bamboo ceiling – an unacknowledged barrier to the professional advancement of a person of Asian descent. Bamboo ceiling is modelled on ‘glass ceiling’, a term with a similar meaning but used especially of women in the workforce. The ‘bamboo’ element alludes to the economic and cultural significance of the many species of bamboo, a woody perennial plant, in parts of Asia. A similar use of ‘bamboo’ occurs in the term ‘bamboo curtain’, recorded in the mid-20th century, meaning ‘a political and economic barrier between territories under the control of Communist China, and non-Communist countries’. The first evidence for bamboo ceiling can be found in the early 1990s.

Kathy Jackson

charity shag – an act of sexual intercourse engaged in by a person as an act of kindness towards the other. This term came to prominence recently when Kathy Jackson, national secretary of the Health Services Union, used the term outside the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. Referring to her reported association with barrister Mark Irving, who was scheduled to cross-examine her, Kathy Jackson said: ‘Forget the former lover stuff. Everybody makes mistakes and has a charity shag along the way.’ There is evidence for this term from 2005. It is a variant of terms such as ‘charity fuck’, which is recorded from the 1970s, and ‘charity sex’, first recorded in the 1990s.

Captain Cook discovers Australia. Source: National Library of Australia

Captain Cook ‘discovers’ Australia. Source: National Library of Australia

Columbusing – the discovery by the First World of something already discovered or established by, or well-known to, another culture. This term for a particular kind of cultural appropriation is derived from Christopher Columbus, the name of the Spanish explorer who ‘discovered’ America in 1492. Similarly, Australia—inhabited continuously for approximately 60,000 years—was ‘discovered’ by James Cook, a commander in the Royal Navy, in 1770. Evidence for Columbusing can be found in written records from 2012, and was popularised on the website College Humor.

defo – a shortened form of ‘definitely’. The ‘-o’ suffix is a characteristic feature of Australian English, found in words such as arvo, garbo, and journo (‘afternoon’, ‘garbage collector’, and ‘journalist’). However the use of ‘-o’ as an ending, although strongly identified with Australian usage, is not exclusive to Australia. Defo is one such word and, while it is used in Australia, the evidence suggests that it has originated elsewhere. It is also common in the United Kingdom. Defo has been around for several years.


dekopon – a citrus fruit that is a mandarin/orange hybrid. Developed in Japan in the 1970s, the dekopon is a large, sweet, seedless citrus fruit with a rough orange skin and a distinctive bump at the stem end. The word dekopon, a Japanese marketing name that has become the generic term for the fruit, is a blend of deko ‘bump’, and pon from ‘ponkan’, a type of mandarin that is one of the dekopon’s parents. The fruit has only become commercially available outside Japan in the last few years, and is sometimes sold under the name ‘Sumo’. Evidence for the word in an English-speaking context first appears in the early 1990s.

frankenbite – in a reality TV show, an edited piece of conversation or speech in which unrelated sentences or phrases are spliced or rearranged to create a dramatic effect. Frankenbite is a blend of ‘Franken(stein)’ and ‘(sound) bite’. The first element, ‘franken’, is a reference to the creation of a part-human monster in Mary Shelley’s famous 19th-century novel Frankenstein. It is also used in words such as ‘frankenfood’ (genetically modified food), and denotes something monstrous created by human ingenuity. Frankenbites are used in reality TV shows to spice up the drama and manipulate the audience. The first evidence of the word occurs in 2005.


fridging – stealing from a refrigerator, especially one located in the backyard or outdoor area of a suburban house. This is a recent Australian term we will discuss in a forthcoming Word of the Month. Watch this space!

thongophone – a percussive musical instrument formed by a series of hollow PVC pipes of differing sizes, the ends of which are struck with a rubber clapper such as a thong. Thongophones produce a distinctive low sound, with each pipe cut to a different length to produce a different note. These instruments are quite common in South-East Asia and Papua New Guinea, although the first element of the word is based on ‘thongs’, the Australian English term for the rubber sandals that other Englishes call ‘flip flops’, ‘jandals’, ‘slides’, or ‘slaps’.The word thongophone is formed by analogy with other (especially makeshift) instruments such as the Australian lagerphone. The ‘-phone’ element of these words is a combining form which means ‘making or relating to sound’. There is evidence for this term from at least 2000. Check out the thongophone performance on the link below.

vape – to smoke an electronic cigarette. The development of the electronic cigarette (or e-cigarette) in recent years has occurred alongside increasingly strict laws against smoking in public. E-cigarettes provide an alternative images-2way of getting a nicotine hit without the harmful exposure to tobacco smoke. The e-cigarette is a battery-powered plastic device, similar in shape to a cigarette, which delivers atomised liquid nicotine as a vapour when the user sucks it. As in the image here, the user breathes vapour, not smoke. Vaping (from the word ‘vapour’) is regarded by many users as relatively safe, and is often used as a way to quit smoking. Medical opinion is divided on the long-term health effects of vaping. Interestingly, in the early 1980s, in a discussion of a hypothetical cigarette substitute in a UK magazine, the writer proposes vaping as a term for inhaling nicotine vapour. However the first evidence of vaping as a real activity is found in 2009.


3 thoughts on “Words from our Word Box: update 8

  1. As an Australian I am affronted by aussies who use the term ‘columbusing’. I believe that the discovery by Australians of something already discovered or established by, or well-known to, another culture should be referred to as ‘Cooking’. This will probably offend some sections of our fair society.

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