The story of rello, rellie, and other Australian terms ending in ‘ie’ and ‘o’

by Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, and editor of the Australian National Dictionary (2016). 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.

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