Posted on 1 October 2021

Six new words to ponder

New month, new words. As we head towards the end of the year, our editors are keeping a close eye on our new words. The Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year is imminent after all. Will any of the six words below make the shortlist? Could one even take out the crown?  These are the questions we ponder while sipping a locktail. Reminiscent of quarantini, a locktail is a cocktail enjoyed at home during guess what? That's right, a COVID-19 related lockdown. We've all been tempted to reach for a locktail during the shadow pandemic. That's the term used to describe the increase in mental health problems due to living with the stresses and restrictions of the pandemic.  If you're not a fan of locktails, you might cope with lockdown by trip stacking: booking two holidays at once in case one gets cancelled due to COVID-19. Who can even afford that?  That takes care of the new pandemic-related words. Our three other new words have an animal theme. Beware, it's swooping season! The time of year in Australia when magpies swoop at people to protect their nests. Unlike magpies, the turbo chook doesn't swoop. And no, before you ask, a turbo chook is not some kind of robotic chicken, it’s a native Tasmanian hen. Diving below the waves of the Bass Strait now, our final new word is seahorse dad. It's well known that with seahorses, it's the males that give birth. Hence, seahorse dad is a transgender man who gives birth.  
Posted on 21 September 2021

A ruby-dazzler of an anniversary

Forty years ago, on 21 September 1981, the first edition of Australia’s national dictionary, the Macquarie Dictionary, was launched. A green and gold cocktail was invented for the occasion (see recipe below), the room was festooned with wattle, and eminent historian, Manning Clark, carried out the launching honours. The vice-chancellor of Macquarie University, Professor Edwin Webb (below left), made a short speech before asthmatically fleeing into the night, away from the wattle, to which he was highly allergic.    Copies of the new dictionary were pored over, favourite Australianisms were looked up, cries of 'It’s in!' were heard throughout the evening. After all, this was a fully descriptive dictionary, containing the gamut of Australian English. The publishing director, Dan O’Keefe, had gone through the pages just before the dictionary went to print, looking for running heads (those bold guide words at the top of each page) that could be offensive to more delicate readers. The usual suspects were checked. The page with cunt-struck (also discussed back in 2015 after an appearance on Four Corners) as a running head was adjusted slightly to bring the more innocuous headword cup back, and so become the running head. However, much to Dan’s chagrin, one of the discoveries of launch night was a running head in a usually innocuous part of the dictionary – what could possibly be offensive around mother? Mother-fucker – that’s what. The Macquarie Cocktail (Green and Gold)
  • Brut champagne
  • 1 tbsp mango juice
  • Dash of Angostura bitters
  • Dash of Grand Marnier
  • Whole strawberry, leaves attached, floating (the ‘green’ aspect)
  • Mint (optional additional ‘green’ aspect)
In the intervening forty years, the Macquarie Dictionary has continued to describe our language, warts and all. The internet has made research both easier and more difficult – it’s now a very different ballpark to the days of circling words in a newspaper or novel, jotting down (on the back of a chequebook!) words heard in conversation, on the bus, on radio and TV, then waiting for more citations to come in until finally judging a word to be well-used enough to be included in the dictionary. There have been complaints about the inclusion of words referring to truly horrible racist, sexist, sleazy opinions and acts. As long as these are current in the community they will continue to be part of the dictionary, just as they are part of Australian English. Naturally, these words carry warnings in the form of labels and usage notes indicating their offensive nature. The Macquarie Dictionary in 1981 contained about 80,000 headwords. The Macquarie Dictionary Eighth Edition, published in 2020, had nearly 110,000. The Macquarie Dictionary online has more than 130,000 headwords. The language is constantly changing and Macquarie continues to keep a finger on its pulse.  You can keep in touch with us across social media, as well as in our podcast, Word for Word. And feel free to suggest words for the next edition by submitting them through our website.
Posted on 13 September 2021

Are you as game as Ned Kelly?

Aussie Word of the Week

Every now and then we jump in our time machine and kidnap a famous (or infamous) figure from Australian history so we can trot them out for your linguistic pleasure. This week we captured bushranger Ned Kelly. The bushranger provided Aussie English with plenty of interesting and unusual phrases that remain in the lexicon to this day. Are you as game as Ned Kelly? In other words, are you imbued with the fighting spirit of Australia's national hero: are you plucky and resolute? If you prefer horses to people you can say you are as game as Phar Lap. Bog a duck is a description of extremely boggy land that was used by Ned Kelly in his famous Jerilderie Letter of 1879, and is still in use today. Apart from the adjectival use as in a bog-a-duck track, you can also come across it used verbally: you could bog a duck in that paddock, come the wet. Wombat-headed, meaning stupid, was a great Ned Kelly insult. You can read about it in the Macquarie Dictionary blog.  Who's robbing this coach? This rhetorical question meaning 'Stay out of it!' is another gift to Australian English from Ned Kelly. The story goes that Ned Kelly was bailing up a coach one day and proclaimed, ‘I'm going to rob all the men and f**k all the women’. To which one of the male passengers said, ‘You can't do that, you dreadful man', only to be shouted down by a female passenger saying, ‘Who's robbing this coach, you or Mister Kelly?’ Apparently, this problematic story was originally told in relation to Jesse James in the United States.  As with all good things, this blog must now come to an end. Sigh, such is life.   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.
Posted on 6 September 2021

Flavour of the months

The calendar used around the world these days, for most purposes, is the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. It ironed out a few little problems in its predecessor, the Julian calendar (established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC), which had in turn been based on the Roman calendar. The early Roman calendar had ten months rather than twelve, with January and February being added later. This explains a bit of an anomaly in the names of four of our months (more on this later). So, what is behind the names of our months, names we take for granted, and use constantly? January was named after Janus, an ancient deity, regarded by the Romans as presiding over doors and gates, and beginnings and endings. Janus is often represented as having two faces, pointing in opposite directions. February’s name comes from the name of a Roman purification festival, Februa, held towards the middle of this month. March is the month of Mars, the Roman god of war, and was the first month of the early Roman calendar. Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. The origin of April is slightly mysterious. It was called Aprīlis by the Romans, and may be related to the notion of plants 'opening' in spring. May was named after the goddess Maia – but was it the Greek goddess of that name, identified with the Roman goddess of fertility, Bona Dea? Or was it a different Roman goddess, also named Maia? June is yet another source of uncertainty. Some say it was named after the Roman goddess Juno, but others say that it is from Latin Jūnius, the gens of Rome. July is one of two months named after flesh-and-blood Roman leaders. Julius Caesar was born in this month, and it was named in his honour. The second month named after a ruler is August, named after the first Roman emperor, Augustus. And now we get to the last four months of the year, and the peculiarity mentioned earlier. September, the name for our ninth month, is Latin for 'seventh'. The name for our tenth month, October, is Latin for 'eighth', November is Latin for 'ninth', and (you guessed it), the name for our twelfth month, December, is Latin for 'tenth'. There’s something quite touching in the fact that these words, used all over the English-speaking world, by children in primary school, by hi-tech organisations, by us all, have such ancient origins, and that we still have the lovely anomaly in the naming of those four last months.