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 September 2015 is ‘CUB’: an affluent bogan. ‘Cub’ is an acronym from ‘cashed-up bogan’. In Australian English ‘cashed-up’ refers to a person who is well supplied with money, and ‘bogan’ is a person usually regarded as unsophisticated and uncultured, typically one from a low socioeconomic background. You can read the full Word of the Month inPDF form on our website or read it in an online format at the Oxford University Press Australia website.
There are a number of Australian English words, commonly used by and familiar to most Australians, that have shifted their meaning, or had different meanings, over time. Some of these different meanings are subtle, while others are more significant, but the history of the word tells us something about changes in Australian society and attitudes. Many current speakers of Australian English might be unaware of these earlier and alternative meanings of these words, several of which are discussed below.
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 →
A dubbo like you would be arsey enough to fluke something like this…. They’re as rare as rocking-horse shit. (R.G. Barrett, Boys From Binjiwunyawunya, 1987)
We note with sadness the death of popular Australian novelist Robert G. Barrett last week (20 September). His first book, You Wouldn’t Be Dead For Quids, was published in 1985, and since then sales of his books have topped one million. He belongs to the long tradition of writers in this country whose work celebrates the Australian vernacular. A forerunner in this tradition is C.J. Dennis, with his lively depiction of the working-class slang of Bill the Bloke in The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in 1915 (see our recent blog). C.J. Dennis and Robert G. Barrett lived at opposite ends of the twentieth century, but both of them shared an exuberant delight in the slang of their time. And like Dennis, Barrett provides lexicographers with a rich source of colloquialisms. Continue reading →
C.J. Dennis c. 1910. Image source: State Library of New South Wales
by Mark Gwynn
Today marks the 136-year anniversary of the birth of Australian poet C.J. Dennis (7 September 1876–22 June 1938). Along with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, Dennis was instrumental in popularising the Australian vernacular through fiction. Unlike Paterson and Lawson’s preoccupation with the Bush, Dennis is best remembered for his tales of the urban environment. C.J. Dennis’s most popular work The Songs of a SentimentalBloke was first published in 1915. A hundred thousand copies were sold in its first four years, including a pocket ‘trench’ edition designed to be sent to Australian diggers fighting in the First World War. Dennis’s story would later be adapted into multiple film versions, a musical, a television program, and a ballet.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Patrick White (1912–1990), the first Australian* to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was also the first Australian writer to have a significant international reputation; during his lifetime his novels often received greater critical acclaim overseas than in his own country. Continue reading →
When my kids finally convinced me to read the Harry Potter series recently I didn’t think I’d find too many references to Australia, let alone an Australianism. In the first respect I was correct. The only reference is in the final book when Hermione erases her parents’ memories and sends them to far off Australia – safe from the prying eyes of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Not long after this account of magical transportation to Australia we find Harry, Ron, and Hermione doing it tough and camping out, and to my surprise using a billycan to cook wild mushrooms for dinner. I didn’t exactly fall off my broomstick but I was surprised seeing this word used by a British author in the final book of an international series of bestsellers.