Smuggling budgies to budgie smugglers

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.



11 thoughts on “Smuggling budgies to budgie smugglers

  1. ‘Jockular allusion’? You would have to use THAT photo too! Remembering fond days at a northern Illawarra beach, a glistening array of DPs on the back wall of the pool…

    • There was a photo of Bob Hawke in his DPs (‘dick pointers’ for those not in the know) but I thought Tony was more topical!

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  3. “Made of stretch fabric such as nylon or lycra” is very inexact for a dictionary. I don’t know if any fabrics are 100% lycra, but most swimwear fabrics are a blend of nylon and lycra, with up to about 20% lycra. A fabric made of 100% nylon might have no stretch at all – nylon is not a stretchy fibre.

    • Thanks for your comment. One of the reasons why we post these draft entries is to get feedback. We welcome any suggestions and will be adding the issues you raise to our ‘edit’ box for consideration. Thanks again!

      • Yep ‘budgie smugglers’ has been part of the popular lexicon since at least the early 80’s. Among those I know it refers not only to the closely fitting male Speedo’s [now almost a generic term for lycra inclusive swimwear] but for the character wearing them with an allusion to the content of the Speedo’s. Referring to a man in his budgie smugglers is always jocular and most often refers to them being rather firm fitting and to their not insubstantial content. An opportunity for a man to show off his manhood without being either indiscreet or appearing to boast. Therein lies the humour, always used by others, and why the term fills a particular niche in the Oz language.

        • Thanks for your comment Allie. I’m interested in your points about this term being around since the early 1980s and about it referring to the wearer as well as the costume itself. Unfortunately many of these colloquial terms are not recorded in written sources until many years after they have become established in the ‘community’. The ability to establish the genesis of new terms now is made much easier by the medium of the internet.

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  5. I’ve never heard them called dick pointer: I’ve only heard them called dick stickers. Whatever you call them, they’re the great Aussie cossie that we gave to the world!

  6. This weekend I attended the Laneway festival in Sydney. Lauren Mayberry of the Scottish group Chvrches announced to the crowd that she had acquired several Australianisms during her stay in Sydney but already knew the term ‘budgie smugglers’ from watching Australian soaps in the 1990s, i.e. presumably before 1998-2000. Any way of searching the scripts for Home and Away for a possible antedating?

    • Several people have made the comment that they knew the term prior to 2000. So far we’ve had no evidence turn up. I’ll keep looking. Transcripts are a possibility as are early internet posts that have been archived (but these would only take us back to the 1990s). There’s always the possibility that the term had been around for quite some time before finding it’s way into print, etc.

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