‘Matilda': Australian word of the year following magnificent 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup

Teammates congratulate Matilda's Cortnee Vine

Teammates congratulate Matildas’ Courtnee Vine after her penalty shot defeats France in World Cup quarter-final – Screenshot Optus sport YouTube video

“Matilda” is the Australian National Dictionary’s (AND) Word of the Year for 2023. It is a very old Australianism (word usages originating in Oz), best known down under for the song “Waltzing Matilda”. This unofficial anthem refers to a swagman (itinerant worker) who carries his swag (a bundle of belongings).

The AND explained the choice on its website:

The team name (Matildas, or Tillies for short) and singular form (Matilda) were everywhere as Matildas mania swept the country, with Australians transfixed by every minute of play.

The Matildas’ semi-final against England was the most-watched TV program in decades in Australia, reaching more than 11 million people.

Matthew Rimmer shared the news on Mastodon:

The tournament was held jointly in Australia and New Zealand. Having a home World Cup certainly helped the team to gain more supporters with many opportunities to attend games. Young fans of the Matildas were particularly fired up as this video shows:

Football Australia is just one of the four major football codes. It is often referred to as ‘soccer’ or the round ball game to distinguish it from AFL (Australian Football League), NRL (National Rugby League) and Rugby Union, which use oval-shaped balls as shown in the AFL image below. All have strong supporter bases for both their men’s and women’s competitions. An oval ball used in AFL is shown in this photo:

Robert Harvey's last game for St Kilda AFL club

Robert Harvey's last game of AFL football [2008] – Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bradview (CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED)

Soccer is a term originally used in the United Kingdom to describe the game played in ‘association football’. However, it is also an Australianism used mostly by AFL followers. It is a verb, meaning ‘to kick a ball without handling it’, as this photo shows:

The word 'soccer' used as an australianism

The word soccer used as an australianism – Author’s photo: The Australian National Dictionary – Australian Words and Their Origins [Second Edition p. 1448]

Some fans made the ultimate sacrifice to attend the quarter-final game against France — ‘I gave up Taylor Swift tickets for the Matildas':

On August 11, 21-year-old Courtnee Vine was arguably more famous down under than Taylor Swift when she kicked the winning penalty to take the Matildas into their first-ever football World Cup semi-final. She was celebrated on TikTok with pi8str1, a fan of Australian Formula 1 racing driver Oscar Piastri, posting this:


ts + the tilles 🫶🫶 (if youve seen this before, the original got taken down😫😫) #thematildas #womensworldcup #matildas #foryou

♬ original sound – bel⁸¹ ⁵⁵

Any thoughts that the Matildas’ popularity would quickly fade soon disappeared. In October, all three successful Olympic qualifying matches in Western Australia’s capital, Perth, were sellouts: 59,155 attended their 8–0 demolition of the Philippines.

The Matildas have recently received a pay rise. They have had parity in pay and conditions with the Socceroos, the national men’s team, since 2019. The Matildas are ranked 11th by the international body FIFA, whilst the Socceroos are 27th, causing some people on social media to argue that they should get paid more than the men, who have never reached a World Cup semi-final. Mastodon user lucie digitální, was one:

‘Matilda’ seems a far more popular choice with locals than the Macquarie Dictionary's word of the year “cozzie livs” [cost of living]. Despite being an Aussie dictionary, their judges are not confined to choosing Australianisms.

Meanwhile, Matilda's captain and well-known Chelsea player, Sam Kerr, has some other good news to celebrate. She shared this photo on Instagram of her marriage proposal to American professional soccer player Kristie Mewis:

Fans of the round ball game and Football Australia will be hoping that the high profile of the Matildas will not only result in more supporters but also greatly increase participation in the sport by both girls and boys at school and local club levels.

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