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.
Tasmanian convict Bill Thompson in leg irons and convict uniform, 1870s. Image source: State Library of Tasmania
Following on from Mark Gwynn’s recent blog on pube, this week I will take a look at public servant. When I have talked about my work on Convict Words: the Language of Colonial Australia (OUP, 2002), it has always been a source of some amusement (especially for us Canberrans) that public servant was first used to refer to a convict assigned to public labour or work for the government. It was first recorded in 1797, and by 1812 was being used to refer to a (free) member of the public service (civil service). Continue reading →
As part of the celebrations for the centenary of Canberra the Australian National Dictionary Centre will showcase a number of ‘Canberra words’ this year. In this blog we explore the word pube and attitudes towards the public servant in the nation’s capital.