Posted on 22 September 2020

Are we having a brain fart?

There’s a fundamental rule in dictionary-writing that colloquialisms should be avoided in definitions. The idea is that the language should be neutral in register – not archaic, not so formal as to be stilted, and definitely not colloquial. Idioms should also be avoided – those phrases that carry a meaning which is more than the literal sum of their parts – throw the baby out with the bathwater, bring home the bacon, change one’s tune, etc. This can be a challenge, but we usually get there in the end. However, one word has continued to cause headaches for the editors. It’s fart. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to use fart in definitions if it is not a colloquialism – but, it is...  isn’t it? The Macquarie Dictionary gives fart a Colloquial label, as do other dictionaries, but there have been many editorial discussions about this over recent years. Is there a non-colloquial alternative? (The lack of a non-colloquial, non-idiomatic synonym is a standard used by some lexicographers to determine whether or not a word is colloquial.) We could use break wind or pass wind in definitions (neither is colloquial, but both are idiomatic), and expel flatulence (or flatus) through the anus, which is neither idiomatic nor colloquial, but sits a little oddly as a definition for shoot a fairy or drop one’s lunch. Or for ring ripper – a noisy expulsion of flatus from the anus?? At present, you’ll find fart in Macquarie definitions for the following aromatic words and phrases: air biscuit, bottom burp, cropdusting, fluff, raspberry tart, ring ripper, smelly, trouser trumpet, blow off, shoot a fairy, drop one’s guts, let go, let off, drop (or open) one’s lunch, open one’s lunch box, pop off, blue-flame. So our problem remains. The tug-of-war between committing the heinous crime of using a colloquialism in a definition and using the equally heinous 'expel flatulence through the anus' is evenly balanced. Let’s hope there’s an answer in the wind.
Posted on 16 September 2020

Dances to get Aussies up and moving

We’ve all been to enough school dances and weddings to know that Aussies love to get in line and dance in sync. From the nutbush to the macarena and the hokey-pokey to the modern wave of TikTok dances, let’s have a look at what has and has yet to make it into the Macquarie Dictionary. Before we get to the afore-mentioned staples of a classic Aussie get-together, consider some of our more traditional dances. There’s the Pride of Erin, an old-fashioned country dance of Irish origins. The version danced in Australia is unique to this fine nation and the dance steps vary between states and territories. Then there’s the polka, salsa and foxtrot to round them out. In Australia, of course, Aboriginal people have a much longer history, and one of many words that have crossed over into Australian English from various Aboriginal languages is corroboree. This word has been adapted from the Dharug word garaabara, meaning a style of dancing but now means “an Aboriginal assembly of sacred, festive, or warlike character”. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, a few of our current stalwarts of late night gatherings came to be. There’s the nutbush, a linedance in which a set series of steps is executed, the dancers turning in the same direction by ninety degrees at the end of the steps, then clapping once before repeating the steps, and so on; performed to the song Nutbush City Limits (1973) by Tina Turner. On top of this, we have breakdancing emerging in the 1980s, pioneered in Australia by Indigenous hip-hop artist Munkimuk. You may not breakdance, but we’re willing to wager you’ve seen the worm in action once or twice. Moving up a few decades brings us to dabbing, which entered the Macquarie Dictionary in 2017 but came around a few years earlier and has fallen somewhat out of fashion since. We also have flossing or the floss dance, which is a vigorous dance in which a person swings both their arms left and back either side of the torso and then right and back either side of the torso; both arms crossing the front of the body to change direction, and the hips always moving in the opposite direction to the arms. Quite difficult to master the first time. Currently, many new dances come out of TikTok, a very popular social app. We are watching some of these words to see if any have the stamina and widespread use to warrant an entry in the Macquarie Dictionary. We’re looking at the woah, the renegade, the Savage Challenge and even the Say So dance (which could be seen as a modern version of Kylie Minogue’s Loco-motion). Now that you’ve got a few classic songs running through your head, let us know any dances we’ve missed in the comments.
Posted on 8 September 2020

The best place this side of the black stump

While popularly remembered as a chain of restaurants, the term black stump was commonly used in colonial times as a colloquial term to denote a fire-blackened tree stump used as a boundary or direction marker. Over time, the term black stump evolved to include any reference to the far outback or places beyond what was seen as civilisation. We discussed this in our Ozpic podcast episode on the black stump that you can listen to here. The exact origin of the term is disputable. It has been suggested that it was popularised by the Black Stump Wine Saloon, which in the 1850s stood at the junction of two coach routes near the present-day town of Coolah, in north-west NSW. The saloon took its name from the earlier Black Stump Run which had formed part of the boundary of Governor Darling's 1826 ‘limits of location’, an imaginary line that limited authorised settlement. To cross this border was referred to as going beyond the black stump. Beyond the Black Stump may also ring some bells as a comic strip set in the outback, featuring a number of loveable characters like koalas, birds and a couple of skulls. The term was also used in Rolf Bolderwood’s 1888 classic Australian tale of bushrangers, Robbery Under Arms in which the main character, bushranger Dick Marston, refers to the Black Stump as a real place. Do you still refer to a black stump as a landmark? Or does it have a different meaning to you? Let us know in the comments.
Posted on 8 September 2020

Addictive or addicting?

That TV show you can’t stop binging or the dessert you’ll never say ‘no’ to… Are these things addictive or addicting? What about cigarettes -- would you say these are addictive or addicting? Well, let’s go to the root of the word first, addict, which comes to us from Latin and is pronounced differently depending on whether it is being used as a verb or noun.  addict verb (t) (say uh'dikt) 1.  to cause to become physiologically or psychologically dependent on. noun (say 'adikt) 2.  someone who is addicted to a practice or habit [Latin addictus, past participle, adjudged, devoted] Addictive [addict + ive]  is an adjective meaning ‘causing or tending to cause physiological or psychological dependence, especially in relation to a substance such as drugs, alcohol or tobacco’. Addicting [addict + ing], a somewhat newer coinage, is also an adjective, meaning roughly the same thing. Grammar Girl surmises that it’s been around for about 80 years. In Australian English, addictive still seems to be more commonly used, but addicting is creeping in. In general, there does appear to be a distinction in the way these two words are being used, with addicting more commonly used in relation to things that aren’t necessarily associated with an addictive substance (such as drugs) but rather are indulgences, such as TV shows, gaming, food, etc. There will, of course, be some people who argue that there is no reason to use the word addicting when addictive exists and works perfectly fine. And while that is true, language is evolving, as always – using addicting isn’t a big issue as it’s quite likely everyone will still understand what you mean. Which do you use? Let us know!
Posted on 1 September 2020

Spring into six more new words

Welcome to our new words blog, where we share new and topical words, some of which were submitted by you via the suggest a word feature on our website. There is a powerful stretch in the evenings. That's right, winter is finally shuffling off the seasonal stage (to sparse applause, a chilly reception you might say, aha ha) and making room for spring. Everything is new, everything is wonderful! Here are six words for the season of renewal.  Going to miss winter? Nurries. That's another way of saying no worries, making this a classic case of short Aussie slang becoming even shorter.   If you follow the news, you might have heard about wolf warrior diplomacy, a diplomatic strategy of China in which any criticism from another country is met with an immediate response or retaliation. The strategy is named after the famous Chinese movie Wolf Warrior, which has been described as a Chinese version of Rambo! How would the wolf warriors get on against the snapping handbags? That's a colloquial term for crocodiles.  On a creepier note, stalkerware is a type of spyware installed on a user's smartphone without their knowledge. Ew. You might want to zump (end the relationship via a Zoom call) the person who installs that on your phone. Otherwise they might get access to all your renegade videos - a type of dance popularised on Tik Tok.  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.
Posted on 26 August 2020

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.