Although it has been nearly a century since the 1915 publication of C.J. Dennis’ verse narrative Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, Dennis’ comic use of the Australian vernacular continues to endear the work to contemporary readers.
The Songs tell a humorous love story as Bill ‘the Bloke’ tries to reform his rough larrikin habits in order to win the affections of Doreen, a young pickle factory worker. The book is full of examples of Australian colloquialisms, particularly words relating to the world of the urban larrikin (then a word meaning ‘hooligan’). Continue reading →
Ruth Park (1917-2010), one of Australia’s most popular writers, was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia in 1942 to pursue her career as a journalist. In the same year, she married D’Arcy Niland (1917-1967). As struggling writers in the 1940s, they lived for a time in the Sydney slum area of Surry Hills, and this period in her life inspired her to write The Harp in the South (1948) and Poor Man’s Orange (1949).
An early photograph of Ruth Park
Ruth Park’s writing is an excellent example of a literary depiction of inner-city urban Sydney in the 1940s. In The Harp in the South, published in 1948 and one of Australia’s most beloved novels,she uses Australian humour and Australian English to great effect. Although this particular book is often discussed in terms of its depiction of 1940s Surry Hills and its tenement environments, the distinctive language she used is also worth noting and proves to be one of the novel’s most beguiling features. Continue reading →
Sometimes dictionary-makers change their minds about the origin of a word, given access to evidence that is new, or newly available. This happened to us recently at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, when a journalist contacted us to ask about the origin and meaning of the Australian phrase to have the wood on. To have the wood on(also to get the wood on) means ‘to have an advantage over (someone)’, and it is used in both Australia and New Zealand.
Noosa gets the wood on Caloundra.
‘Two out of three ain’t bad was the result from Shark Park on Sunday. The Kawana Dolphins are usually very strong in all grades, but Caloundra had the wood on them this time.’ (Caloundra Weekly, 9 May, 2013) Continue reading →
This is our third update on the contributions that have been made to the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word Box, our website feature which you can use to alert us to new or unfamiliar words and phrases. These contributions allow our editors to identify new material for our general Australian Oxford dictionaries and also for our archive of Australian words, and to share these findings with you. We thank everyone for their submissions and encourage you to contribute—just click on the Word Box image at left to post your word. A few of the more interesting contributions from the last three months are discussed below. Some we have come across previously and some are new to us. We welcome any comments about your understanding or experience of these words. Continue reading →
The terms guvvie (also govie) for government housing—’a house originally built or bought by the government for low-cost or subsidised rental’, and ex-guvvie (also ex-govie) for ‘a house that was formerly built or owned by government but has been sold into the private market’, are two term ‘invented’ by Canberrans. Continue reading →
A recent contribution to the ANDC Word Box was the word shaggledick.* The contributor provided two dictionary references for this word and suggested that it may be a ‘Mountweazel’ word. A Mountweazel is a fictitious entry deliberately added to a reference work. The term was coined by the New Yorker magazine and named after a fictitious entry for one Lillian Virginia Mountweazel in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975 edition). According to one of the editors: ‘It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright… If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us’ (New Yorker, 29 August 2005).
April 25 marks one of Australia’s most important national days, Anzac Day. Last year, we looked at the phrase ‘One Day of the Year’. This year, we take a look at a number of terms that were first used during the Gallipoli campaign by the soldiers who served there in the First World War. Continue reading →
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around That the colt from old Regret had got away. And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound, So all the cracks had gathered to the fray. (opening lines of ‘The Man from Snowy River’, 1890)
Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s poems and his use of the Australian vernacular have endeared him to generations of Australians. In the Australian National Dictionary (a dictionary of Australian English using quotations to provide evidence of how words are used over time) Paterson is quoted 78 times. His poems provide valuable evidence of 19th and early 20th century Australian English—particularly the language of the Australian bush. In this blog I will look closely at some of the Australianisms found in ‘The Man from Snowy River’.
Australia’s love affair with ‘proper’ coffee means that a teaspoon of instant coffee in a cup of boiling water no longer satisfies us as it did twenty-five years ago. We now prefer to drink espresso-based coffees such as cappuccino, caffè latte, short black, flat white, ristretto, or macchiato. We’ve come a long way; back in 1990 a North Sydney coffee lounge placed a classified ad for staff that read in part: ‘If you know the difference between a flat white and a Capuccino ring me’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July).
In Australian English a number of terms derive from an association with place names. The Barcoo River in Western Queensland gave its name to a number of terms which became associated with outback life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They include Barcoo rot, Barcoo sickness, Barcoo spews, Barcoo dog, and Barcoo shout.
‘Barcoo’ possibly derives from a word for ‘river’ in the Birriya and Kungkari languages of the area. Henry Kendall wrote a poem in the middle of the 19th century celebrating the river, but through the late 19th century the term came to be associated with aspects of life in the outback, usually with reference to the problems experienced there. Continue reading →