Loud, incessant, and indescribable: cicadas and their names

by Julia Robinson

‘Equally annoying with the dust was the loud, incessant, and indescribable noise of myriads of large and curious winged insects, commonly and incorrectly called locusts, but which are totally different from any kind of locusts I ever saw.’ (Mrs C. Meredith, Notes and Sketches of New South Wales, 1844)

In early summer I enjoyed a weekend walk with friends on a favourite walking trail on the edge of suburban Canberra. On our way back we paused in a pocket of bush where cicadas in their hundreds were clustered thickly on tree trunks. The air was full of their noise, and a single kestrel looked on from a high branch, considering its next mouthful at the insect buffet.

Greengrocer. Source: Trudyro at English Wikipedia

Greengrocer

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Two bob each way: money in Australian English

 by Mark Gwynn

14 February 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of decimal currency in Australia when pounds, shillings, and pence were replaced with dollars and cents. While various names were proposed for the new currency including austral, digger, dinkum, roo, and royal, it was the prosaic dollar that won the day. In this article I look at some of the colloquial terms in Australian English that refer to particular coins and banknotes.*

Australian decimal banknotes including the pineapple, lobster, blue swimmer, and prawn

Australian decimal banknotes including the pineapple, lobster, blue swimmer, and prawn

If you had a pineapple, added a lobster, two blue swimmers, and two prawns, what would you get? A grey nurse, of course! While this equation may look like a seafood recipe, these are actually Australian slang terms for banknotes. There is a good chance that you have not heard of them because they don’t appear to be in common use, although we have some evidence for them from the 1980s. The terms allude to the colour of the banknotes: the $50 note is yellow (a pineapple), the $20 note is red (a lobster), the $10 note is blue (a blue swimmer, a type of crab), and the $5 note is pink (a prawn). The $100 note is currently green, but between 1984 and 1996 it was grey, and was called a grey nurse (a type of shark). While terms for our decimal banknotes do not have a strong hold in the Australian vernacular, the pre-decimal currency did produce words and idioms that were well-known in Australian English in years past. Continue reading

Australian words for the backside: a light-hearted look

by Mark Gwynn

As a kid I was often told by my dad to ‘get off my date’ when he wanted me to get off the lounge and go outside, or to help with some chore. I was surprised to discover many years later, when I started working at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, that date was not a coinage of my dad’s but an established word in Australian English, meaning ‘anus’. Further exposure to Australian English at the ANDC revealed a number of colloquial terms with the same or a similar meaning. Continue reading

Words from our Word Box: update 13

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

by the ANDC team

This is the final update for 2015 on contributions to our Word Box, the website feature you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases. These contributions allow us to identify new material for our archive of Australian words, and also for our general Australian Oxford dictionaries. We encourage you to contribute—just click on the Word Box image to the left to post your word. A few of the more interesting contributions from the last three months are discussed below; some are new to us, and some we already know. We welcome any comments about your understanding or experience of these words, and look forward to your contributions to Word Box.

dogfood

dogfood – (of a company’s staff) to use a product or service developed by the company before it is commercially available. Also found in the nominal form dogfooding and in the phrase to eat one’s own dogfood. The phrasal form is found in the 1980s and came to prominence in the computer software sector in the 1990s. The origin of the term is uncertain, but it may derive from US advertisements for Alpo dog food, in which the spokesperson refers to feeding the product to his own dogs.

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Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2015

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 we have selected the term sharing economy as our Word of the Year 2015.

uber:taxisharing economy ‘an economic system based on sharing of access to goods, resources, and services, typically by means of the Internet’. This term grew in significance and frequency of use in Australia in 2015. This was partly due to the impact of debates around the introduction of ridesharing service Uber into Australia, which has been seen as a threat to the taxi industry. The sharing economy is facilitated by online technology, and while it is most often associated with ridesharing and accommodation sharing apps, it can also include collaborative efforts such as crowdfunding. The term has ‘feel-good’ connotations in emphasising sharing, and some regard it as a positive good for society. However, others have pointed to its corporate dimensions, and its potential to displace industries and businesses. Continue reading

The story of ‘mate’

 

 by Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and editor of the forthcoming (2016) second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. The following is an extract from his book What’s their Story? A History of Australian Words (published by Oxford University Press Australia, 2010).

What's their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.

What’s their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.

Mate is one of those words that is used widely in Englishes other than Australian English, and yet has a special resonance in Australia. Although it had a very detailed entry in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (the letter M was completed 1904–8), the Australian National Dictionary (AND) included mate in its first edition of 1988, thus marking it as an Australianism. A revision of the OED entry for mate was posted online in December 2009, as part of the new third edition, and this gives us the opportunity to test the extent to which the word can be regarded as Australian. Not one of the standard presently-used senses of mate in OED is marked Australian. What are they doing to our Australian word? Continue reading

schmick up (Word of the Month for November 2015)

bond

 

The Oxford Word of the Month is written by members of the Australian National Dictionary Centre and published each month by Oxford University Press Australia. Each Word of the Month looks at an Australian word or term in some detail, providing a history of the term and its role in current Australian society. If you wish to receive Word of the Month by email you can subscribe at the Oxford University Press Australia website.

Our Word of the Month for November 2015 is ‘schmick up’: to smarten (something) up; to renovate (something); to improve (something) superficially. You can read the full Word of the Month in PDF form on our website or read it in an online format at the Oxford University Press Australia website.

flagfall (Word of the Month for October 2015)

flag

 

by the ANDC team

The Oxford Word of the Month is written by members of the Australian National Dictionary Centre and published each month by Oxford University Press Australia. Each Word of the Month looks at an Australian word or term in some detail, providing a history of the term and its role in current Australian society. If you wish to receive Word of the Month by email you can subscribe at the Oxford University Press Australia website.

Our Word of the Month for October 2015 is ‘flagfall’: 1. an initial minimum hiring charge for a taxi, as part of the overall fare. 2. a fixed initial charge incurred when making a call on a mobile phone. The term derives from the small mechanical lever, a flag, which early taxis used to indicate if the taxi was for hire. While the taxi sense of ‘flagfall’ dates to the early 20th century, the mobile phone sense is recorded from the 1990s. You can read the full Word of the Month in PDF form on our website or read it in an online format at the Oxford University Press Australia website.

Words from our Word Box: update 12

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

Click on the logo to go to the Word Box page

by the ANDC team

This is the third update for 2015 on contributions to our Word Box, the website feature you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases. These contributions allow us to identify new material for our archive of Australian words, and also for our general Australian Oxford dictionaries. We encourage you to contribute—just click on the Word Box image to the left to post your word. A few of the more interesting contributions from the last three months are discussed below; some are new to us, and some we already know. We welcome any comments about your understanding or experience of these words, and look forward to your contributions to Word Box.

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Tony Abbott and his way with words

by Julia Robinson

This week we pay tribute to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the terms he has contributed to the language of politics and public debate in this country. His ministers too gave us some memorable terms (‘lifters and leaners’, ‘budget emergency’, ‘on-water matters’) but Tony Abbott’s output eclipsed them. Listed here are some notable words and phrases associated with his time in the top job, and the election campaign leading up to it. Continue reading