Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2017

In a time of covfefe, fake news, and tweetstorms, the Australian National Dictionary Centre has chosen Kwaussie as its Word of the Year for 2017. A number of significant events shaped the Australian political, cultural and social landscape this year, and the words on the shortlist reflect a number of these.

Kwaussie ‘a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand; a New Zealander living in Australia; a person of Australian and New Zealand descent’. Kwaussie, a blend of Kiwi and Aussie, is the most interesting term associated with the dual citizenship crisis engulfing the Australian Parliament in 2017. It was used to describe the most high-profile casualty of the crisis, Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Barnaby Joyce. He revealed to parliament in August that, despite being born and bred in country New South Wales, he was also a New Zealander by descent. The first evidence is found in a 2002 New Zealand newspaper article discussing Russell Crowe: he is described as a ‘Kwaussie (what you get when you cross a Kiwi who can’t decide whether they’re a Kiwi or an Aussie’). Subsequent evidence suggests its use is predominantly Australian, and is found chiefly in social media (and also found with spelling variants including kwozzie and kwozzy). Thanks to the two kwaussies identified as ineligible to sit in parliament, Barnaby Joyce and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, the term is now becoming better known.

The shortlist:

makarrata ‘(in traditional Aboriginal culture) a ceremonial ritual that aims to restore peace after a dispute; a ceremony that symbolises such a restoration; an agreement’. Makarrata is a word from the Yolngu languages of north-eastern Arnhem Land that has a long history in Australian English. It was first used in a national political context in 1980, and has become prominent this year following the First Nations National Constitutional Convention. The Convention’s ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ called for a Makarrata Commission ‘to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history’, and for a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the constitution. The increasing use of terms such as makarrata and First Nations Voice is indicative of important developments in our political culture.

jumper punch ‘(chiefly in Australian Rules) an illegal punch disguised as the action of grabbing hold of the opponent’s jumper’. Controversy surrounded this sporting term in 2017. Jumper punch is a 21st century term used originally and chiefly in the context of Australian Rules football—the national game that has contributed some 150 words to our vocabulary. Jumper punch is the latest to come to prominence in the media. Usage spiked dramatically this year, when jumper punching incidents in mid-season AFL matches caused an outcry and prompted calls for AFL officials to award heavier penalties for the practice.

postal survey ‘a survey conducted by post; especially in Australia in 2017, the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’. The term postal survey was prominent in the second half of the year, with the government’s controversial decision to hold a voluntary survey to ask the question ‘should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’ The Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, was mailed out in September to eligible voters, who had two months to return the survey. Results were announced on 15 November with a solid ‘yes’ vote of 61.6%. The survey and the debate around the issue generated a number of terms and campaign slogans including: same-sex marriage; SSM; marriage equality; equal marriage; say yes; love is love; it’s okay to vote no; vote yes; vote no; and equality sausage (in reference to fundraising barbecues for the ‘Yes’ campaign). Many of these terms were also used as hashtags in social media.

robodebt ‘debt incurred as a result of the Department of Human Services automated data matching and debt recovery program’. The controversial robodebt program was designed to identify welfare overpayments due to error or fraud. The apparent overpayments identified by the program proved to be incorrect in thousands of cases, and the impact of the robodebt debacle was felt across the country by a wide section of the community, including jobseekers, people on parenting, disability, and aged pensions, and people receiving family tax benefits. The word robodebt is based on the combining form robo- ‘robotic or automatic’ (recorded from the 1940s). The increasing frequency of ‘robo’ words in our language, such as robopoll and robocall, reflects the rise of automation, but also our frustration with having to deal with automated services rather than human beings.

WAxit ‘a term for the potential or hypothetical departure of Western Australia from the Australian federation’. WAxit is a blend of WA and exit, on the pattern of Brexit (coined in 2012 as a blend of British or Britain and exit). In September 2017, the Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party voted in favour of a ‘WAxit’ policy motion for the state to ‘financially secede’ from the Australian federation. Continuing dissatisfaction with the Commonwealth’s carve-up of GST and other revenue drove the motion. Although it is non-binding, it was a serious proposal and hotly debated. The vote establishes a committee to ‘examine the option of Western Australia becoming a financially independent state within the Commonwealth’. In July 2018 when the WAxit committee reports back to State Council, a form of WAxit could become Western Australian Liberal Party policy. Will WAxit be Australia’s Brexit moment?