by Mark Gwynn
If you’ve ever thought that editing dictionaries was dull then think again! When I first arrived at the Centre in 2002 the word of the moment was budgie smugglers – a colloquial term for a pair of men’s swimming briefs, the type that surf lifesavers wear, and yes, the kind that the leader of the opposition wears. The word was cheeky, irreverent, and very Australian – but would it last?
Over the years we collected more and more evidence for this term. Australians were no longer talking about speedos, togs, swimmers, banana hammocks, and the like – it seemed that budgie smugglers were here to stay. Our earliest evidence remained the year 2000 for some time until quite recently I found a transcript of the ABC television series The Games. In episode five of the first series (1998) John (played by John Clarke) speaking to Bryan (played by Bryan Dawe) says:
Des Renford would regularly take on the English Channel Bryan. He would drop his tweeds, pull on a pair of oversized budgie smugglers and he would drop a bomb off the white cliffs of Dover and start rolling his arm over.
For many years we avoided writing an etymology for this word. Not all words are given etymologies in dictionaries, and not all dictionaries contain etymologies. But in preparation for the second edition of our historical dictionary, the Australian National Dictionary, we could no longer ignore this omission in our entry for budgie smugglers. After quite a few morning tea discussions amongst colleagues we believed that the usual style for these etymologies ‘With fancied resemblance to…’ sounded quaint so eventually we settled on ‘With jocular allusion to appearance.’ This still seems to be beating around the bush but it is a draft after all. I happen to like this line from the online Urban Dictionary: ‘The “lump in the front” apparently resembles a budgie when it is stuffed down the front of someone’s shorts’. Not exactly Oxford style but it’s growing on me!
See our draft entry below.