Macquarie Dictionary


A new book from Sue Butler, ‘Rebel Without a Clause’

Rebel Without A Clause by Sue Butler is a fascinatingly idiosyncratic romp through the world of words from the former Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary coming on 29 September 2020.

The English language is changing constantly. We invent new words and phrases, we mash up idioms, we mispronounce, misuse, and misappropriate. Sue Butler has heard it all and this book is a collection of what she has observed since she handed over the reins of Macquarie Dictionary to the new Editor, Alison Moore.

For Butler, obsolete words are like pre-loved clothes: it’s tempting to adopt them because they look lovely but when you put them on they appear rather daggy. Her favourite old word is the Scottish curglaff for the shock you feel in bathing as you plunge into the cold water. You might really need this word for swimming but it won’t work for you in common usage.

Inventing new words is harder than you might think. Butler reflects on the popular method of blending two existing words. That’s how we came up with babelicious and acronyms such yuppies and SNAGs. We also borrow from other languages, recently taking hygge from Danish. In English the easiest method is to stick two existing words together to make a new compound, as in break room.

For all fellow word nerds, dive into Sue Butler’s new book and explore conundrums like: If nonsensical, why not sensical? If bemused, why not mused? If dismayed, why not mayed?

Also check out Sue’s irreverent look at Aussie language in The Aitch Factor, as well as her work for the Macquarie Dictionary.

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