Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2014

Each year the ANDC selects a Word of the Year. The words chosen for the shortlist are not necessarily new, or exclusively Australian, but are selected on the basis of having come to some prominence in the Australian social and cultural landscape during the year. This year one word stood out for its presence in Australian politics and the media. We have selected shirtfront as our Word of the Year 2014.

shirtfront ‘in figurative use, to challenge or confront a person’.

Prime Minster Abbott and President Putin at the G20 Summit in Brisbane

Prime Minster Abbott and President Putin at the G20 Summit in Brisbane

Shirtfront is transferred from a term used in Australian Rules football, where it refers to a type of hip-and-shoulder bump of an opponent, and is also found in Rugby, where it refers to grabbing an opponent’s jersey. Prime Minister Tony Abbott used the word in a press conference when asked whether he would raise the issue of the downing of flight MH17 with Russian President Vladimir Putin:

 …we now demand that you [Russia] fully cooperate with the criminal investigation. I’m going to shirtfront Mr Putin. … I am going to be saying to Mr Putin Australians were murdered. There’ll be a lot of tough conversations with Russia and I suspect the conversation I have with Mr Putin will be the toughest conversation of all. (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 2014)

shirtfront 2The term was little known outside of its sporting context, although the figurative use has been around since at least the 1980s. Abbott’s threat to shirtfront Putin, and the word itself, was widely discussed and satirised in the Australian and international media. After the G20 summit took place this November in Brisbane, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi both used the term in jest in their speeches to the Australian Parliament. Whether the figurative use of shirtfront continues in popular use remains to be seen.


The shortlist:

team Australia

Team Australia Another term brought to prominence by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and originating in a sporting context. In the 1980s Team Australia was used in sporting contexts to refer to various national sports teams; in the 1990s it was also used in business and trading contexts. Tony Abbott uses the term to refer to people who support Australia and its values, and he notably brought it into political discourse this year in reference to the Racial Discrimination Act and the need to combat terrorism:

…Mr Abbott dumped a divisive reform to racial discrimination laws in the name of building support from ethnic communities who were angry at the prospect of softer protections against racism. ‘I want the communities of our country to be our friend, not our critic. I want to work with the communities of our country as Team Australia here’, he said. (Australian, 6 August 2014)

The term was picked up by other members of the Government and has subsequently been used ironically by certain sections of the media and the general public.

Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth sporting a man-bun

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth sporting a man-bun

man-bun ‘a man’s hairstyle where the hair is drawn into a coil at the back of the head’. This style became popular in 2014, especially among young urban men and hipsters. A number of celebrities have sported the man-bun recently, including Brad Pitt, Chris Hemsworth, and Harry Styles. Man-bun is sometimes shortened to mun. Early evidence for man-bun is found in the New York media in 2012 where it is described as a new trend.

Photograph of Ned Kelly on the day before his execution

Photograph of Ned Kelly on the day before his execution

Ned Kelly beard ‘a full beard, similar to the one worn by the bushranger Ned Kelly’. The wearing of full beards has become fashionable once again and, like the man-bun, is popular with young men. The term gets its inspiration from the famous image of Ned Kelly taken the day before his execution in 1880. Ned Kelly beard appears in newspapers from the 1930s but is infrequent until more recent times, and is often associated with hipster fashion:

It’s a funny label because I believe no one these days is happy to be called a hipster. You could go down to Surry Hills and find a young man perched on a milk crate drinking a craft beer through his Ned Kelly Beard and call him a hipster and he would be insulted. (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 August 2014)

‘Ned Kelly’ has been a particularly productive source for Australian English over the years, with Ned Kelly beard being the latest term to gain prominence in our lexicon.

coward punch

coward punch ‘a knock-out punch or blow, especially an unfair punch delivered from behind’. This term had considerable prominence earlier in the year when, after a series of tragic incidents, there was a campaign to replace the Australian English term king-hit (which dates to the early 20th century) with a term that suggests the cowardly nature of the attack. Coward punch is first mentioned in the media in 2012, but the evidence surges in 2014. It is too soon to tell whether coward punch will replace king-hit in Australian English.

The Word of the Year 2014 and shortlist are selected by the editorial staff of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and are based on extensive research as well as public suggestions. The ANDC undertakes research into Australian English and edits Australian dictionaries for Oxford University Press.

7 thoughts on “Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2014

  1. Pingback: The Australian 2014 Word of the Year: ‘Shirtfront’ | Oxford Australia blog

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  5. On ABC Perth this afternoon talking about adding new Australian phrases and words for the on-line dictionary. Not sure if ‘fair crack of the whip’ is included. My father used this term meaning -is that true?

    • One of my favourite expressions Johanna! We usually define it thus: ‘an equitable opportunity; a reasonable chance’ or as an exclamation where it means ‘give (someone) a chance’. Here’s an example: The barker tried to kick me off, but yells from the crowd, ‘Fair crack of the whip mate, give the kid a go’.

      I’m interested in the way your father used the term and will look for further evidence.

      The phrase is used elsewhere, in the way I defined it, and appears in (under ‘crack’) and in our Australian Oxford dictionaries. The first evidence for the expression occurs in Australian sources from the beginning of the 20th century.

      Thanks for your interest.

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