It is perhaps the most significant linguistic event in the history of Australian English. In a major collaboration with the Australian National Dictionary Centre, the largest update of uniquely Australian terms was this week added to Oxford Dictionaries.
Until now, Australian English had unofficially been the poor relation. The strewths and shrimps thrown on the barbie had become so cliched that they'd distorted the Aussie lexicon into caricature. It led to a form of linguistic cultural cringe. Meanwhile, British English was applauded for being proper and American English was fawned over for its nonchalance.
This changes from today. The 500 new terms added to this august record of vocabulary finally formalise diction Down Under as fair dinkum. Now these words are afforded the solemn respect that archiving adds to them, as one of the most faithful ways to record a society's anxieties, humour, culture, history, sensitivities and obsessions.
The spunky, anarchistic Australian vernacular has gained global gravitas. Nowhere else in the English-speaking world are MPs referred to as pollies and serious documentaries as docos.
The words aren't all new. Some won't be immediately recognised by younger generations; both recent and past coinages are included. Personages add intriguing character to some of the archaic terms. Send her down, Hughie, or I'll come and give you a Larry Dooley after I've drunk from my Lady Blamey is Australian for: Please send us some rain (Hughie is the imagined weather controller – not God) or I'll come and give you a beating (Larry Dooley was an Australian boxer 1849 to 1917) after I've drunk from my improvised drinking glass (Lady Blamey reputedly taught WWII troops how to slice the top off a bottle to make a drinking glass).
There are modern terms that wouldn't be understood outside Australia. Oodnagalahbi is a fictitious remote, backwards town. A Pitt Street or Queen Street farmer is used to dismiss the rich city dweller who dabbles in rural life for profit, named after the major streets respectively in Sydney and Brisbane CBDs. To be magnoon or yarra means to be crazy; the latter named after the psychiatric hospital at the Yarra Bend, Victoria. And where else in the world would you get a platypussary?
I declare an interest: I am a lime juicer, meaning a Brit, a nickname that refers to the enforced consumption of lime juice in the British navy. One of the reasons I moved here is I've long admired Australian English from afar. When I hear an Australian speak, I can hear the sunshine in their voice.
The update includes Australian terms that mean something entirely different in British English. A lolly, to us, must always come on the end of a stick (a paddle pop to you). A utilitarian drop-off at the station to us is an affectionate, descriptive kiss-and-ride to you. You'll swing the billy when we'll chirp cuppa? – to describe the tea-making act of hospitality. Prince Alberts to you historically describe rags acting as substitute socks or shoes, mocking the prince's alleged poverty. A British Prince Albert always means a pierced penis.
Grog emerges from the 500 terms as a theme.Lunatic soup or shypoo is a poor-quality alcoholic beverage; rosiner is a large one and a sly-groggery is like a New York prohibition bar, minus the chic.
An entire lexicon exists for youth sports, revealing that, while young Brits are indoors glued to computer games, Aussie kids are outside exercising. Kanga cricket, netta netball and minkey are especially for the kids, the last one being a portmanteau of "mini" and "hockey".
Aboriginal words that are sometimes borrowed by English speakers are included. A nanto is a horse from the Aboriginal language Kaurna meaning "male kangaroo", used by Aborigines who, having never before seen a horse, took them to be a European variety of kangaroo. A munjon is an Aborigine who has had little contact with white people (coming from Yindjibarndi for "stranger"). A migaloo or wadgula is a white person; maluka is the boss, coming from the Djingulu for "old man", and a "sorry cut" is an Aboriginal mourning ritual.
The rich diversity of these 500 Australianisms proves that Australian English is much more than the self-effacing patois it's known for. But it also shows that there can be no further apologies for the refreshing warmth, worldliness and witticisms that undercut formalities and defy pompous authority. Australian English is the best in the world.
banjo ▶noun – phrases swing the banjo Austral./NZ informal use a shovel, especially in a vigorous way: I hope to be swinging the banjo around some of those stony ridges.
banker ▶noun – phrases run (or come down) a banker Austral./NZ informal (of a river) flooded to the top of, or over, its banks: the creek is running a banker.
billy (also billycan) ▶noun – phrases swing (or sling) the billy Austral./NZ informal prepare to make tea, especially as an act of hospitality.
blue ▶adjective – phrases bung (or stack) on a blue Austral. informal make a fuss or create a disturbance: we're only reported if we bung on a blue
bob ▶noun – phrases silly (or mad or crazy) as a two-bob watch Austral./NZ informal unpredictable; foolish and absurd: even as a nipper he was silly as a two-bob watch
bush ▶noun – phrases go bush Austral./NZ leave one's usual surroundings; run wild. out bush Austral./NZ in or into an area of back country: men and women who worked out bush. take to the bush Austral./NZ (originally of convicts) run away; go to live in the wild: the start of the war saw him take to the bush. what do you think this is—bush week? Austral./NZ a response to a request, implying that one is being unfairly imposed upon or taken for a fool: I get smart alecks trying to put one over on me every minute of the day; what do you think this is—bush week?
coolamon /ˈkuːləmən/ ▶noun Austral. an Aboriginal container made of wood or bark, used for holding liquids, carrying goods, or carrying a baby: a coolamon of water. – origin mid 19th cent.: from Kamilaroi (an Aboriginal language) and neighbouring languages gulaman.
goat ▶noun – phrases run like a hairy goat Austral./NZ informal run or perform badly: the nag ran like a hairy goat.
grog ▶noun – phrases off the grog Austral./NZ informal abstaining from drinking alcohol: I'm supposed to be off the grog three nights a week. on the grog Austral./NZ informal drinking alcohol, especially heavily: a group of young locals are well and truly on the grog.
Hughie ▶noun Austral./NZ informal an imaginary being held to be responsible for the weather: more rain next week please, Hughie! – phrases send her (or it) down, Hughie Austral./NZ informal an appeal for rain: as a farmer he would say, 'send her down, Hughie'. – origin early 20th cent.: diminutive of the given name Hugh. The phrase send her down, Hughie may have developed from the British variant send it down, David, which dates from the 1920s.
jam ▶noun – phrases put (or lay) on jam Austral. informal adopt an affected way of speaking or an affected manner: when nervous, she tends to put on jam.
John Hop /dʒɒn ˈhɒp/ ▶noun Austral./NZ informal a police officer: they cleared out, scared by a John Hop. – origin early 20th cent.: rhyming slang for cop1, perhaps influenced by john, 'police officer', ultimately from French gendarme.
kangaroo bar ▶noun Austral. a strong metal grille fitted to the front of a motor vehicle to protect it from impact damage; a bull bar: choose a car with a kangaroo bar for driving in rural areas.
kangaroo route ▶noun (the kangaroo route) the air route between Australia (especially Sydney) and London: the kangaroo route is immensely profitable at the moment. – origin 1940s: the route was originally flown by the airline Qantas, whose aircraft tail livery features a stylized kangaroo.
kangaroo steamer ▶noun Austral. a stew made from kangaroo meat: a kangaroo steamer and a piece of damper made an excellent meal.
keeping place ▶noun Austral. an Aboriginal community-based cultural centre dedicated to the preservation of traditional Aboriginal culture, artefacts, etc.: the site also features an art gallery and an indigenous keeping place.
khanacross /ˈkɑːnəkrɒs/ ▶noun [mass noun] Austral. a motor sport which tests the acceleration, braking, and general manoeuvrability of cars over short distances on unsealed surfaces: khanacross is a fantastic entry-level sport for young drivers. – origin 1990s: a blend of motorkhana and motocross.
kingie /ˈkɪŋi/ ▶noun Austral./NZ informal a large fish of various families, many of which are caught for sport and some of which are edible; a kingfish: it was a job to land a kingie and get the hook free from his jaw. – origin early 20th cent.: abbreviation of kingfish.
koepanger /ˈkuːpaŋə/ ▶noun Austral. historical a person recruited from or through Kupang in West Timor to work in the pearling industry: forward of the hold was the small fo'c'sle where the koepangers slept. – origin early 20th cent.: from Dutch Koepang 'Kupang'.
Lady Blamey /ˌleɪdi ˈbleɪmi/ ▶noun Austral. informal an improvised drinking glass made by slicing the top off a bottle: beer glasses were in short supply, so the soldiers fashioned Lady Blameys. – origin 1940s: named after Lady Olga Blamey (1905–1967), wife of General Sir Thomas Blamey (1884–1951), commander of Allied Land Forces in the southwest Pacific during the Second World War. Lady Blamey reputedly taught the troops the method of slicing through glass with a kerosene-soaked string.
lamb drop ▶noun Austral. the total number of lambs born in a particular season: feeding supplements are sometimes used to increase the lamb drop.
lamington drive ▶noun Austral. an organised effort to raise money for charity from the sale of lamingtons: only so much funding can be raised through lamington drives and cake stalls.
Larry Dooley /ˌlari ˈduːli/ ▶noun Austral. informal a beating: I'll come over and give you a Larry Dooley. – origin late 19th cent.: an alteration of the name Larry Foley (1849–1917), an Australian boxer.
lezzo (also leso (pl. lesos)) /ˈlɛzəʊ/ ▶noun (pl. lezzos) Austral. informal, offensive a lesbian: why did they replace her with that purple-haired lezzo? – origin 1940s: a shortening of lesbian.
lolly pink ▶noun [mass noun] Austral. a vibrant shade of pink; shocking pink: the letters are outlined in lolly pink " the lolly-pink snowboard was too cute for my liking.
lolly water ▶noun [mass noun] Austral./NZ informal non-alcoholic drink: all three of them were on the lolly water. Apparently they had early starts. ■weak alcoholic drink: an ice-cold, full-strength can of beer rather than some plastic-cupped lolly water " [as modifier] lolly water alcopops.
long grasser ▶noun Austral. informal a homeless person who sleeps in the open, especially an Aboriginal person: not all long grassers are drinkers, you know.
lucky shop ▶noun Austral. informal (in Victoria) a government-run TAB agency, where bets can be placed on races and other events :had I invested my usual $10 each way, I figure I'd have collected around $150 at the lucky shop.
lunatic soup ▶noun [mass noun] Austral. informal alcoholic drink of poor quality: he was full of lunatic soup, judging by the empty bottle.
magic pudding ▶noun Austral. an endlessly renewable resource: policy makers continue to see the environment as a magic pudding. – origin 1980s: from the title of a children's book The Magic Pudding (1918) by Norman Lindsay, in which a pudding instantly renews itself as slices are cut out of it.
magnetic anthill ▶noun Austral. the wall-like nest constructed by an Australian species of termite, always aligned north-south: these magnetic anthills are a useful guide for travellers.
magnoon /magˈnuːn/ ▶noun Austral./NZ informal mad or eccentric: during the night a camel went magnoon and chased round the lines. – origin late 19th cent.: from Egyptian Arabic majnūn 'possessed', a word encountered by British troops during the Siege of Khartoum and subsequently widely used by Australian troops during the First World War.
Mediterranean back ▶noun [mass noun] Austral. informal, offensive a feigned illness allegedly used by a worker as an excuse for shirking: they were a bunch of idlers with Mediterranean back, determined to drain the public purse. – origin 1970s: originally used to refer to behaviour associated with Italian or Greek immigrants; later extended to any person perceived to be spuriously avoiding work.
migaloo /ˈmɪgəluː/ ▶noun Austral. a white person: he sees the importance of educating migaloos in the ways of his people. – origin 1970s: perhaps ultimately from Mayi-Kutuna (an extinct Aboriginal language) migulu.
milko /ˈmɪlkəʊ/ ▶noun (pl. milkos) chiefly Austral./NZ informal a person who delivers milk to homes; a milkman: when I was younger, the milkos could be heard whistling all over town. – origin early 20th cent.: from the milkman's standard cry of milk o!
mug lair ▶noun Austral. derogatory a person who is stupid and vulgar: older Australians consider him a two-bob mug lair, all bleach and trousers. – origin 1930s: from mug1 in the sense 'stupid or gullible person' + 'lair', a back-formation from lairy.
mum and dad investor ▶noun Austral. a small-time risk-averse shareholder, typically the average person with a mortgage and family: these companies are collapsing and thousands of mum and dad investors are in jeopardy.
mundowie /mʌnˈdaʊi/ ▶noun Austral. informal a footstep: we was runnin' too hard to hear anything but our mundowies. ■a foot: I froze me mundowies off, bringin' in the cows. – origin early 19th cent.: Australian pidgin, perhaps from Dharuk manuwi 'foot', or Awabakal manduwang 'foot'.
nointer /ˈnɔɪntə/ ▶noun Austral. (in Tasmania) a mischievous child: we laughed hysterically and generally behaved like puerile nointers. – origin late 19th cent.: originally British dialect, from anointer 'one who deserves an anointing', i.e. a thrashing.
Novocastrian /ˌnəʊvəˈkastrɪən/ ▶noun a native or inhabitant of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England or Newcastle in the Australian state of New South Wales: Novocastrians condemned the state government for its 'paltry commitment' to Newcastle. – origin early 20th cent.: a fanciful modern coinage modelled on Latin.
ocky /ˈɒki/ ▶noun (plural ockies) Austral. informal an octopus: medium-sized ockies can get their tentacles into your craypots. – origin 1960s: an abbreviation.
old fella (also old fellow) ▶noun informal, chiefly Austral. a man's penis: he was proud of his old fella.
one-pub ▶adjective [attrib.] Austral. (of a town) small and with few and poor facilities: the township where once thousands thronged is now a dreamy little one-pub place.
onya! /ˈɒnjə/ ▶exclamation Austral. informal an exclamation of approval of a person; good on you!: they're the leading qualifiers for the next round. Onya fellas! – origin 1980s: a contraction of 'good on you'.
Orstralia /ɔːˈstreɪlɪə/ ▶noun Austral. humorous a satirical representation of an exaggerated British pronunciation of the word 'Australia': there's yer dad's brother, out in Orstralia.
pedal wireless ▶noun Austral. a small radio transceiver with a generator powered by means of a foot-pedal: the pedal wireless made communication possible and reduced isolation in the outback.
penner-up /pɛnə(r)ˈʌp/ ▶noun Austral./NZ (on a sheep station) a worker who rounds up and pens sheep preparatory to shearing: penners-up with their own dogs shall be paid an additional allowance.
peter thief ▶noun (plural peter thieves) Austral. a prisoner who steals something from another prisoner's cell: the women discover who the peter thief is, and deal with her. – origin 1950s: perhaps from the name Peter.
piner /ˈpʌɪnə/ ▶noun Austral. (in Tasmania) a person employed in felling Huon pines and transporting the timber: these shores had never echoed to the thud of a piner's axe.
pitchi /ˈpɪtʃi/ ▶noun Austral. an Aboriginal container made of wood or bark, with various uses; a coolamon: they all drink from the pitchi, including the boy. – origin late 19th cent.: from Western Desert language and neighbouring languages bidi.
Pitt Street ▶noun [as modifier] Austral. used dismissively to refer to a rich person from the city who dabbles in rural life for fun or profit: them Pitt Street fellas tell us they're ruined if for one year their crops fail to grow. – origin mid 19th cent.: from the name of a major street in the business district of Sydney.
Presbo /ˈprɛzbəʊ/ ▶noun (plural Presbos) Austral. informal a member of a Presbyterian church: these Presbos have erected new churches at a variety of centres.
Prince Alberts ▶noun [plural] Austral./NZ historical rags wrapped around the feet as substitute socks or shoes; toerags: in the high country, some of the men had no boots, only Prince Alberts. – origin late 19th cent.: with humorous reference to the alleged poverty of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha before his marriage to Queen Victoria.
Queen Street ▶noun [as modifier] Austral. used dismissively to refer to a rich person from the city who dabbles in rural life for fun or profit: being a Queen Street farmer complete with a hobby orchard was not for me. – origin late 19th cent.: from the name of a major street in the business district of Brisbane.
Quinkan /ˈkwɪŋkən/ ▶noun Austral. a spirit person depicted in rock paintings of northern Queensland: the Quinkan has two parts to his being: one good, one bad " Quinkan art is outstanding in variety, quantity, and quality. – origin early 20th cent.: from Kuku-Yalanji (an Aboriginal language) guwin-gan 'ghost, spirit'.
rabbit fence ▶noun Austral./NZ a fence erected to prevent the spread of wild rabbits and other agricultural pests from one region to another; a rabbit-proof fence: the barrier was part of a network of rabbit fences stretching across the continent.
rabbit-proof ▶adjective Austral./NZ designed to contain the spread of wild rabbits and other agricultural pests: a rabbit-proof gate allows for the passage of traffic.
rainbow serpent ▶noun Austral. a widely venerated spirit of Aboriginal mythology, associated with the creation of the earth in the Dreamtime: popular representations in literature reinforce the deity status of the rainbow serpent.
ratshit /ˈratʃɪt/ ▶adjective Austral./NZ informal of no worth or value; useless: the public schooling system's going to be completely ratshit.
razor gang ▶noun Austral./NZ informal a parliamentary committee established to examine ways of reducing public expenditure: Labor's razor gang has approved the cutbacks. – origin 1980s: perhaps from an earlier British sense relating to the pursuit of greater economy and productivity within British Railways, ultimately from the sense 'a violent gang armed with razors'.
saloon passage ▶noun Austral. an opportunity for easy progress or success: the team had a saloon passage into the semifinal. – origin early 20th cent.: with allusion to the more comfortable and expensive level of accommodation on a passenger ship.
sandstone university ▶noun Austral. an old and prestigious Australian university, which typically has sandstone buildings: the University of Melbourne was the first sandstone university to offer any form of Creative Writing.
sanger /ˈsaŋə/ ▶noun Austral. informal a sandwich: I fancy a steak sanger and a glass of amber.
sarvo /ˈsɑːvəʊ/ ▶adverb Austral./NZ informal (often the sarvo or this sarvo) this afternoon: okay -- see you sarvo " quarter to four the sarvo, as usual?
sav /sav/ ▶noun Austral./NZ a saveloy sausage: it was hot savs and bread for supper.
scrub block ▶noun Austral. a rural landholding covered in thick natural vegetation: we were living on a scrub block in the hills.
scungies /ˈskʌn(d)ʒɪz/ ▶noun [plural noun] Austral. informal swimming trunks or other sporting briefs: men execute the time-honoured beachside quick change from undies to scungies. – origin 1970s: from scungy.
seachanger /ˈsiːtʃeɪn(d)ʒə/ ▶noun Austral. informal a person who makes a dramatic change in their lifestyle, especially by moving from the city to a seaside or country area: she's a seachanger from Melbourne who moved north to live on a commune. – origin 1990s: from sea change.
stuff ▶noun – phrases stuff up (or stuff something up) informal, chiefly Austral. & NZ mishandle or mismanage a situation: stupid people always blame others for their mistakes, rather than admitting they stuffed up " she stuffed up just about everything she got involved in.
Tallarook /ˌtaləˈrʊk/ a town on the Hume Highway in Victoria, Australia. – phrases things are crook in Tallarook Austral. informal the situation is bad or unpleasant: the focus group has suddenly told them that things are crook in Tallarook.
wacker /ˈwakə/ (also whacker) ▶noun Austral. informal a person who is stupid or annoying (used as a general term of abuse): don't humour this guy, he's a wacker. – origin 1960s: a back-formation from wacky.
watch-house ▶noun Austral./NZ a building, now usually attached to a police station, in which criminal suspects are held under temporary arrest: I just rang the police straightaway and they came out and they took him away to the watch-house.
widow's cap ▶noun Austral. a cap worn by an Aboriginal woman as part of a mourning ritual, made from gypsum paste: when a widow's term of mourning was over, she would take the widow's cap and place it on the grave of her husband.
wife starver ▶noun Austral. informal a man who defaults on maintenance payments to a wife or ex-wife: I wrote to him from the jail where Bertha had put me as a wife starver.
yam stick ▶noun Austral. an Aboriginal implement used for lifting crops and digging, consisting of a piece of wood sharpened at both ends: little girls are instructed in the use of the yam stick, with which the roots are dug up. – origin mid 19th cent.: from its use in planting yams, a staple Aboriginal foodstuff
yonnie /ˈjɒni/ (also yonny) ▶noun Austral. a pebble: a yonnie chucked on a corrugated roof made a far more satisfactory noise. – origin 1940s: perhaps from a Victorian Aboriginal language.
zac /zak/ (also zack) ▶noun [with negative] Austral./NZ informal used for emphasis to denote no money at all: I won't contribute another zac until I know where my money is going. – origin late 19th cent.: from an informal name for an old Australian sixpenny coin, probably ultimately from an early Scottish pronunciation of six.
zebra rock ▶noun [mass noun] Austral. whitish rock with red bands or spots which is a variety of dolomite found in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia: the distribution of zebra rock bears no apparent relationship to either structures or ores.
zigzag fence ▶noun Austral. a free-standing fence consisting of sets of wooden rails that interlock in a zigzag fashion: the zigzag fence required much less labor than the straight post-and-hole fence.
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