What’s their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.
In 1981 in the Bulletin magazine the Australian writer Kathy Lette uses the term rellie for ‘relative’:‘Dreaded rellies are not so easily disposed of.’1 In 1987 in a collection of short stories Kathy Lette uses the variant form rello for ‘relative’: ‘Everybody else would have liquid-papered me out of their address books by now, especially the rellos.’2 This use of the –ie (or –y) and –o suffix with abbreviated forms of words is not exclusive to Australia, although it is more common in Australia than elsewhere, and is used in distinctive ways in Australia. The choice of –ie or –o appears to be arbitrary, although the –ie forms are much more common than the –o forms. It is rare to find a term that uses both –ie and –o, as in the case of rellie and rello, but such doublets appear occasionally, as in the older commie and commo for ‘communist’, and the more recent flannie and flanno for ‘flannelette shirt’. Some have argued that the –ie forms are more sympathetic or friendly than the –o forms, but even the examples given in this paragraph show that this is not the case. Continue reading →
Union membership cards were obtained from the dwindling band of ‘West’ trade union officials. Votes were then cast in the names of absent union members, living or dead. If this precaution failed, the ballot box was, if the opportunity arose, ‘stuffed’ as Sugar Renfrey termed it. This entailed the addition of as many more ‘bodger’ votes as possible. (Power Without Glory, p. 383)
One of Australia’s most controversial literary figures is Frank Hardy (1917-1994). Hardy was a left-wing novelist, writer, and political activist, and is probably best known today as the author of Power Without Glory, published in 1950. Although a novel, this book is a thinly-veiled account of the life of John Wren, a Melbourne businessman who wielded considerable political influence in Victoria for many years. Hardy was famously sued for criminal libel over the publication, but was acquitted. In writing about politics – the quote above makes use of the Australian term bodger, meaning ‘fake, false, worthless’ – he drew on a rich vein of colloquial Australian speech to inject his radical politics with what he considered an authentic Australian working-class spirit. Continue reading →
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.