Each year, the Australian National Dictionary Centre looks for the word or expression that best sums up the year. Many events shaped the Australian political, cultural and social landscape this year, and the words on our shortlist reflect some of the events that had an impact through 2018. But we also look for a term that is lexically interesting and Australian.
The Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year for 2018 is:
Canberra bubble ‘the insular environment of federal politics’
The term Canberra bubble, referring to the idea that federal politicians, bureaucracy, and political journalists are obsessed with the goings-on in Canberra (rather than the everyday concerns of Australians), first appeared in 2001.* It increased in use from 2015, and was especially prominent this year. Canberra bubble was used by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help define his politics and to distance himself from the political turmoil of 2018. In a video released in October, he said ‘The Canberra bubble is what happens down here, when people get all caught up with all sorts of gossip and rubbish, and that’s probably why most of you switch off any time you hear a politician talk’. (Australian Financial Review, 19 October 2018) However, critics point out that the Prime Minister is very much inside the Canberra bubble.
The term can be compared to the US political slogan drain the swamp, used to invoke the idea of dealing with people who are said to be preoccupied with playing politics rather than dealing with ‘real-life’ issues. There is some recent evidence of the slogan drain the billabong – an Australian variant – being used by the right wing of Australian politics. In addition, Canberra bubble also fits into a longer history of Canberra-bashing that relates to Canberra as the home of federal parliament and bureaucracy.
bag rage ‘anger provoked in a customer by the removal of free plastic bags at the checkout’
This year we saw an increased concern over the impact of disposable plastics on the environment. For example, single-use was a word that trended internationally. In Australia a decision by the major supermarkets to charge for disposable bags, in order to encourage people to use reusable bags, led to a wave of bag rage in July and August.
blockchain ‘a system in which records are maintained across several computers that are linked in a peer-to-peer network, used especially for cryptocurrency transactions’
Technology is an area that frequently contributes new words to the language. This year there was a trend in Australia and internationally to discuss a range of issues around cybersecurity, privacy, and cryptocurrency. One word that trended this year is blockchain, a technology originally developed to manage and protect cryptocurrency transactions. The ‘block’ refers to a piece of digital data, while the ‘chain’ refers to the links between these blocks. Much of the talk this year has been around its potential impact on the future of finance and banking, and its wider application in record-keeping.
drought relief ‘financial or practical assistance given to those in special need or difficulty due to severe drought conditions’
This year saw particularly severe drought conditions hit Australia. As a result, a variety of relief measures were taken, with many public appeals and activities to raise money to help farmers, from concerts to sausage sizzles to the ‘Buy a Bale’ campaign. The environment has shaped the Australian English lexicon; while drought relief is not exclusively Australian, the impact of drought marked our year.
fair dinkum power ‘dispatchable energy; coal, as contrasted with renewable sources of energy’
We have seen the use of fair dinkum feature within political discourse in 2018 thanks to its continued use by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, but it has also appeared in several new expressions, most notably fair dinkum power. Fair dinkum, first recorded in the 1880s and meaning ‘reliable, genuine, honest, true’, has a long history in Australian English and, along with terms such as fair go, is often invoked by politicians. The term fair dinkum power, used by Prime Minister Morrison to defend traditional sources of energy despite the impact of climate change, was met with considerable scepticism as a form of (to use another Australianism) polliewaffle.
NEG ‘National Energy Guarantee; a regulatory obligation imposed on energy companies to provide a reliable supply of energy while meeting emissions reduction targets’
Climate change and government action on climate change was much discussed this year. The government’s proposed policy, the NEG, was a hot topic of national debate. Controversy around it helped bring about the challenge to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership and his replacement by Scott Morrison. While many people might not know the details of the NEG, the continuing use of the term shows the perceived need for a clear and accountable energy policy.
* Several earlier examples of Canberra bubble have been recorded by the Australian National Dictionary Centre. In these instances the term’s meaning is different from its current usage.