The story of ‘dinkum’

by Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, who is currently editing the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. The following is an extract from his book What’s their Story? A History of Australian Words (published by Oxford University Press Australia, 2010).

What's their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.

What’s their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.

Dinkum and its variant fair dinkum are among the central Australian terms. Australian English has had two other terms with much the same meaning as dinkum—‘fair; genuine; honest; true’—but they are no longer used. Jonick was one of them, and it appeared in Australia in the 1870s as a variant of jannock ‘fair, straightforward’, a word that has widespread use in English dialects. It became obsolete in Australia by the 1950s. The second term, ryebuck, is probably a Yiddish word and a variant of German reibach ‘profit’. It became common in Australia in the 1890s as an expression of agreement or assent (much the same as ‘all right’) and as an adjective meaning ‘good, excellent’. As with jonick, it had largely disappeared by the 1950s, although it has been retained as the title of a popular Australian folk song ‘The Ryebuck Shearer’ (the expert or ‘gun’ shearer). Dinkum, however, has been such a strong word in Australian English, that synonyms have hardly been necessary. The word dinkum is first recorded in Australian English in 1890. Continue reading