Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean was born in Bathurst, New South Wales, on 18 November 1879 – we have just passed the 133rd anniversary of his birth. C.E.W. Bean is perhaps best known as the author of the multi-volume Official History of Australia’s participation in the First World War. Through both his war-related writings, and through a number of accounts of his travels in Australia, he played an active role in recording and shaping the Australian lexicon. Continue reading →
There was a recent surge of media interest when the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) put out a call for members of the public to help them find early evidence for a range of terms, including come in from the cold, disco, and blue-arsed fly. This last term sparked interest here in Australia because the OED claimed that the earliest evidence in print for the term was from Prince Philip commenting, in 1970, that a photographer had been ‘running around like a blue-arsed fly’.
Prince Philip watching out for a blue-arsed fly, perhaps
Many Australians were outraged not only that Prince Philip was cited as providing the first evidence for a term that they believed had been around much earlier, but also that the term was not considered to be Australian. One letter to the editor of The Australian by a West Australian commented:
As schoolboys in the 1950s, my mates and I often ran about like blue-arsed flies, incurring the wrath of parents and teachers. For the Duke of Edinburgh to be given credit for a 1970 use hardly seems right. (6 October 2012).
So what is the story of blue-arsed fly? And is it Australian?
The term devo as short for ‘devastated’ first came to my attention when I was watching that phenomenon of television, Masterchef, not so long ago. The eventual winner, Andy Allen, was fond of saying that he would be devo if he got eliminated from the competition. It quickly got picked up in the many comments made in response to the Sydney Morning Herald’s popular parody re-caps. When his best friend from the competition, Ben Milbourne, was eliminated, it was all too easy for commentators to write that Andy must be devo, or as seems to be popular, totes devo (totally devastated) by the loss of his friend. (The friendship also gave rise to jokes about the bromance between Andy and Ben, and references to the two as the bromancers.)
Here is another digital tool which analyzes the first time Australian words were used in print (cf. our previous blog about mining Australian sources). This graph shows the dates of first quotations for all the words in the Australian National Dictionary. Hover over any point along the graph and you are given the date and number of first quotations from that year.
Over the past few months here at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, we have been developing several digital tools for mining the content of the Australian National Dictionary, the definitive historical dictionary of Australian English. One tool analyzes the quotations in the dictionary that are used to exemplify a word’s use over time, and provides an interesting perspective on the history of publishing in Australia and an insight into the kinds of Australian words these publications contributed to our lexicon. Hence, this tool is a useful resource for everyone interested in Australian literature and language, especially Australian book historians and scholars of the history of Australian English.
We all eat it but do we know its history? Vegemite was created by Melbourne-based food technologist Cyril Callister (1893-1949) in 1923. Although a similar spread made from concentrated yeast extract, Marmite, was available in England, no one knew its recipe so Callister created Vegemite from scratch. He worked for Fred Walker’s small food company and specialized in methods to preserve cheese using yeast (Walkers was bought by Kraft in 1926 and Callister became their Chief Chemist). Continue reading →