When I was a teacher, an unfamiliar student approached me in the schoolyard during play lunch, or the mid-morning break. “Is it true you read the dictionary for fun?” he enquired. His response to my positive answer was, “You're a sick man!” You've been warned.
Over the years, Global Voices editors and translators have wondered about some of the words in my posts. For those struggling with or just interested in ‘Australianisms’, the updated Australian National Dictionary may be a timely addition to your library.
To most English-speaking people, Australian English, otherwise known as Strine, must seem like a foreign language. Take the sentence below:
Any true blue, dinkum Aussie battler from Astraya's Deep North knows that Canberrans are really Mexicans.
Any genuine Australian from Northern Queensland knows that residents of Canberra, the national capital, are from south of the border (and hence inferior).
Interstate or regional rivalry down under is present in a lot of Australian English terms (both geographical references in the sentence above carry derogatory connotations). For example, Taswegians, who are from the southern island state of Tasmania, are proud of their contributions to the Australian National Dictionary, and as such their bragging might qualify them as a ‘yaffler’, or a loudmouth.
Taswegians view the rest of Australia as ‘mainlanders':
Tourism pitch to ‘save a mainlander’ – ABC News (Australian … http://t.co/WiQVsXDT
— Manny Papadoulis (@TourismSMM) June 4, 2012
Two new additions to the dictionary are related to Australia's capital, Canberra: ‘Canberran’ is a person from Canberra, and ‘Canberra bashing’ is somewhat of a national political pastime. The local chief minister had a message to the online oligarchs to fix their spellcheckers:
— Andrew Barr (@ABarrMLA) August 23, 2016
Another Canberra politician, member of the House of Representatives Andrew Leigh, helped launch the second edition of the dictionary, 28 years after the first. In his remarks, he highlighted some of the phrases that made it into the publication:
- ‘callithumpian’ (a lack of adherence to any religion)
- ‘rurosexual’ (a fashionable young man living in a country area)
- ‘sea changer’ (a change of lifestyle, especially moving from the city to a seaside town)
- ‘doesn't know whether he's Arthur or Martha’ (to be in a state of confusion)
- ‘your blood's worth bottling’ (you are of exceptional value)
- ‘do a Bradbury’ (to become the unlikely winner)
- ‘carry on like a pork chop’ (to behave foolishly, make a fuss)
- ‘happy as a bastard on father’s day’ (extremely unhappy)
- ‘straight to the pool room’ (expressing the great value of a gift or prize, etc.)
- ‘wouldn't know if a tram was up him unless the conductor rang the bell’ (extremely stupid)
He also pointed out some of the Indigenous words that now feature, such as ‘gubinge’, which is a type of plum, and ‘migaloo’, meaning a white person.
‘Migaloo’ is only one of over 500 words from 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, as Australian National Dictionary editor Bruce Moore explained on news and analysis site The Conversation in a post titled ‘Do you know a Bunji from a Boorie? Meet our dictionary’s new Indigenous words’.
While all these entries are touted as ‘new’, many are only new to the dictionary. During the 1960s, for example, my father claimed that he always wrote ‘callithumpian’ as his religion on the Census form.
The ‘OS’ (overseas) Twitterverse seemed obsessed with one favourite Oz (Australian) put-down:
— Laura Helmuth (@laurahelmuth) September 24, 2016
There are plenty more insults. My preferences are ‘dropkick’ (a sports term that rhymes with ‘prick’ and is used to mean the same) and ‘dickhead’. In addition to the media's favourite ‘bogan’ (an uncultured and unsophisticated person), there are heaps of terms for people with shades of meaning, such as ‘dag’ (a nerd), ‘hoon’ (a lout) and ‘tall poppy’ (a prominent or successful person). A ‘stunned mullet’ (dazed expression) is a visual delight.
Recent prime ministers have been the focus for some of our local vernacular. Julia Gillard achieved this memorable cartoon title: Head Ranga (redhead) in sanger [sandwich] clanger! (Aussies can't claim ‘clanger’. It's British in origin, meaning glaring mistake or embarrassing remark.)
Her successor Tony Abbott gained an international audience for the sports term ‘shirtfront‘ (an Australian Rules football term for illegally charging an opponent head-on) and ‘budgie smugglers’ (close fitting swimming briefs).
Even the New York Times has been charmed by this weighty tome. The Australian National Dictionary's two volumes are 4.54 kilos (10 lbs) and contain 1,864 pages. There are now 16,000 entries.
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) August 24, 2016
Another contribution from sport is ‘falcon’ (an accidental hit on the head by the ball). Its etymology or origin involves a rugby league footballer of Maltese background.
Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull inspired ‘fizza’ posters during the last election, an alternative to ‘fizzer’ (a firecracker that fails to explode). Cutting down tall poppies (attacking or criticising people of high status such as politicians or celebrities) is part of ‘Canberra bashing’.
Animal associations are a recurring theme, especially zoomorphisms (giving alleged animal qualities to humans):
— Oxford Dictionaries (@OxfordWords) September 26, 2016
Among its many entries, ‘dingo’ means a person showing cowardice or treachery. A ‘two dog night’ is a measure of how cold the weather is. The dictionary revels in the Aussie sense of humour, which is often as ‘dry as a dead dingo’s donger’ (wild dog's penis). This should not be confused with homophone ‘donga’ (temporary dwelling).
One of my favourite Australianisms is ‘you wouldn't be dead for quids [for anything]. A quid was slang for a pound (£) before decimal currency. It roughly means, ‘Isn't life great! I wouldn't have missed this for anything’.
Some final words from Marta Cooper, a reporter at US news website Quartz and longstanding member of the Global Voices community:
We compared the new words in the Australian and Oxford dictionaries, and now we don’t know if we’re Arthur or Martha https://t.co/zSVzIhnNN8
— Quartz (@qz) August 25, 2016
The Australian National Dictionary is an essential part of any ‘dinkum’ library or home pool room. Its 123,000 citations are extra grouse (exceptionally good). The first edition is available online. Let's hope that the second follows soon.