Word for Word #26 Polari
Secret languages abound in history and in modern culture, with words occasionally making the leap into the mainstream of spoken English. In this episode we explore the secret language of Polari with Professor Paul Baker and Colleen Windor of Les Girls. Plus, the Macquarie team discuss which Polari words have made it into the dictionary, and the resurgence of some words on the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Subscribe now on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Spotify or your favourite podcast app to get the latest episode delivered direct to your inbox. Listen now
The etymology of 'echidna' – why wasn’t it just called Spike?
We recently received a letter asking about the derivation of the word echidna. Was our iconic spiny anteater connected to the terrifying goddess Echidna of Greek mythology? Echidna comes from New Latin from the Greek word ekhidna meaning 'viper'. The Greek mythological being was so named because she was half-woman and half-serpent. She was also known as 'the mother of all monsters', so not the nicest creature to be near. One theory is that our spiny anteater was so called because its tongue resembled that of a snake. While this resemblance may be true, the theory is a little simplistic and doesn’t quite bear up. When the echidna was discovered by European naturalists in Australia, they noted that it had some characteristics of mammals and some characteristics of reptiles. A mammal that lay eggs? There was great confusion about how to classify it and questions about its taxonomic placement remained unresolved for a number of years. As monotremes (the platypus and echidna) are found only in Australia and New Guinea, this was the first time naturalists were faced with this problem. French naturalist Baron Georges Cuvier proposed the name echidna to reflect the animal’s possession of both mammalian and reptilian characteristics, likening it to the woman/serpent nature of the Greek mythological creature, Echidna. While numerous other terms came and went for the animal, echidna is the one that it is known by today. Our spiky little friend is not as terrifying as its name might have suggested to an ancient Greek. In contrast, the name of a baby echidna is a puggle, but that's a story for another time.
Is 'little nipper' a tautology?
Aussie Word of the Week
Anyone who lives near a beach might have seen a group of junior lifesavers, also known as nippers. There are a number of meanings for this word, but no clear etymology listed. An interesting and very likely now very much illegal meaning was a 'young lad on a construction site or in a mine who did small odd jobs, such as making tea and buying lunch.' We would love to hear from any nippers of any kind out there. Is this a common term where you come from? Each week, we have a look at a slang word from Australian English. You can see other Aussie Word of the Week posts from the Macquarie Dictionary here.
Some words are more beautiful words than others
Words can be beautiful in the way they look, the way they sound and in what they mean. Some words hit the trifecta of beauty, and others have only one. And still more are only beautiful to some people. We have a pretty good idea of what we like to see in words, but it's a very subjective artform. One person may love the word craquelure, but another may find it repulsive. We have found eight more beautiful words to bring you a little joy. From words about dreams, to writing and reading, Shakespeare and fine art – there is a word to suit everyone in our series. You can read our series on beautiful words here on our blog. We think every word is beautiful in its own way, and would love to hear from you what your chosen few words are. Comment below if you have a gem you think we've missed.
Eight new words to watch
It's that time again, when we look through our words to watch, often submitted by you for consideration in the Macquarie Dictionary. We are interested in hearing about words from all walks of life, be it from your profession, from everyday slang, from something your kids have said that you just couldn't wrap your head around, we want it all. This month, we have some words that have been floating around for some time like weeaboo and twofer, but perhaps it's time now to add them to the dictionary. We also review some new words, like the gaming term meta, and the new word for an old practice, humanure. And we look at one of our favourite types of word, the classic Aussie colloquial manner of shortening words. We've seen this before with things such as deso for designated driver, but have you ever sat down to a dego? Or better yet, a vego dego? We'd love to know! Let us know if you have any other suggestions. We are always happy to hear new words, no matter how big or small a usage they may have. Be sure to vote for some of these when we post them on our Instagram stories. See other words suggested to the Macquarie Dictionary here.
Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia: Second Edition
The Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia is a unique tool for exploring and understanding the lives and cultures of Australia's First Peoples. It is out on 27 Aug 2019 but you can pre-order it now.
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The act or state of being revived; revival; reanimation.
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