Macquarie Dictionary Blog
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)
Posted on 20 September 2021
The buzz of the Hexham grey
Aussie Word of the Week
As the weather heats up and spring storms leave our balconies flooded, you might hear the buzz of the notorious Hexham grey, a large and voracious species of mosquito found in the locality of Hexham, NSW. Sorry, Hexham. There are few things more unsettling than lying down to sleep at the end of a long day of blog writing only to hear the buzz of a mosquito vibrate in your ear. Given that this country is filled with mosquitos, Australians have invented several shorthand names for the world's deadliest and most annoying insect. Most popular among them is mozzie. That double Z combo is almost onomatopoeic in how it captures the sound of a mosquito's flight. Mossie is another spelling of mozzie. Skeeter is another name for a mosquito, though not one you are likely to hear as often as mozzie. Mozzies aren't the first bugs to infest the Macquarie blog. We have previously written about the triantelope, none other than the huntsman spider. 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 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.
Posted on 6 September 2021
Talkin' to the billy lid
Aussie Word of the Week
This week we're talking about the tin lid, that's rhyming slang for kid. Join us as we regale you with other kid related slang. You may know that a nipper is a child, as well the name for a junior lifesaver, but did you know that a nipper was also a young lad on a construction site or in a mine who did small odd jobs, such as making tea and buying lunch? This meaning of nipper dates from the 1910s. You aren't likely to see many kids running around a mine these days! Little tacker is a name for little kids that prominent throughout southern Australia, while kidstakes refer to childish behaviour: kidding around, or kid's stuff. Like nipper, kidstakes dates back to the 1910s, suggesting this was period when Aussie’s first discovered children, kidding, obviously. Kidstakes comes from stakes, as in something wagered, thus, literally, what a kid might bet, hence, child's play. 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 1 September 2021
Six new words for spring
Spring is here! Fold up those Merino jumpers and put away your heaters because we have six new words to help you thaw after a long winter. A new season means new fashion trends. Are you up to date with the latest fit? That's an outfit. Can you see yourself clad in warcore? Though it might sound like a sub-genre of death metal, warcore is in fact a fashion that incorporates or imitates tactical military clothing or equipment. With all things cyber in the news recently, we're tracking three new words that capture this crazy digital world we now live in. A cypherpunk is a person who uses cryptography to protect their privacy when accessing a computer network. Maybe they are covering their tracks so they can secretly hate-follow a social media account. To hate-follow means to follow a social media account for entertainment even though you disagree with or dislike the person. Do you hate-follow a finfluencer? That is, a person who uses social media to dispense financial advice, with the ability to influence others. Our final new word for September is grey divorce. Reminiscent of grey nomad, grey divorce is the breakdown of longstanding marriages among older people. What do you you think? Are any of these words worthy of a coveted place in the Macquarie Dictionary.
Posted on 30 August 2021
What's for brekkie? Or is it breaky? Or breakie?
Aussie Word of the Week
Our stomachs are rumbling. Care to share some slang words with us over brekkie? Or perhaps you spell it breaky or even breakie? Whichever way, that's breakfast. The most important meal of the day. Naturally, after breaking our fast we looked through our database in search of other breakfast related words. Have you ever eaten a bushman's breakfast - also known as a Dingo's breakfast? This fine way to start your day consists of a piss and a good look around. In other words, no breakfast at all! What if I said I was going to eat you for breakfast? You might think I've watched Silence of the Lambs one too many times. In fact, to eat someone for breakfast means to beat them resoundingly in a contest. Have you ever made a dog's breakfast of things? That is, caused a mess or a confused state of affairs? A dog's breakfast is also known as a dog's dinner, which gives us the perfect pivot to our evening meal. When asked what's for tonight's dinner be sure to put on your penguin suit and respond bread and duck under the table. 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 23 August 2021
You don't want to be hit by a falcon
Aussie Word of the Week
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a footballer getting whacked on the head. Falcon originally meant being hit in the face with the ball but is now used to describe any accidental headbutt. The falcon originated from rugby league and is so called in honour of a famous incident involving the face of Mario Fenech, nicknamed 'the Maltese falcon' or simply 'the falcon' because of his Maltese heritage. Like a bower bird collecting colourful objects, we went in search of other avian slang words and found a lot of funny and unusual names for various birds. A butter bum is a yellow-rumped thornbill, a little bush bird that has a bright yellow patch on the rump. Sometimes also called a butter butt. A gonzo bird is an ibis so called from the resemblance of the ibis beak to the nose of the Sesame Street Muppet Gonzo. Maggie is an affectionate name for a magpie, while a narkie is a water bird endemic to Tasmania. Bonus bird word: twitcher, a bird watcher who is obsessed with ticking off birds on their lists. 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 18 August 2021
All about portmanteaus
What could be more fun than combining two words to create a brand new word? Almost nothing. That’s why the Macquarie Dictionary employs a dedicated team of word chefs who spend all day cooking up new portmanteaus. Well, not quite but we do like to write about them. A portmanteau word is made by blending two other words. Brunch, perhaps the most famous portmanteau, is a combination of breakfast and lunch, but is now considered a meal all on it’s own, rather than a sneaky snack between other meals. Other well known portmanteaus include: spork (spoon + fork), cosplay (costume + play), and sitcom ( situation + comedy). Portmanteaus have a way of capturing the imagination. Done right, they can roll off the tongue and into the national lexicon. Done badly and they can sound like the kind of awful pun that attracts groans from everyone in the room. Brunch, yes. Linner (you can probably guess at what time of day this meal occurs), no thanks. As such, plenty of clever portmanteau words have featured in the Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year. The 2020 People’s Choice Covid word of the year was covidiot, a blend of COVID-19 and idiot. The 2019 Word of the Year list featured anecdata, a blend of anecdotal and data, alongside hangxiety, a dangerous combo consisting of hangover and anxiety. How could we not mention the infamous and seemingly forgotten framily, winner of the 2017 People’s Choice Word of the Year. Framily, a blend of friend and family, has rarely been heard since. Some portmanteaus are literal in their meaning. Examples include waterfall: water that falls, and pancake, literally a thin flat cake cooked in a frying pan. So you can see that people really do love combining words to make new words. If you would like to read more about portmanteaus check out our favourite combos from the Australian Writers’ Centre in 2016. If you love animals and words we’ve got the blog for you with our Ligers and tigons and grolar bears!
Posted on 16 August 2021
A ton of brickies
Aussie Word of the Week
Eat a spoonful of cement and harden up because brickie is our word of the week. A brickie is a bricklayer. This piece of Aussie slang has been around for yonks and was recorded as early as 1900. You might say that brickie has cemented its place in the Aussie lexicon. You could even consider it a foundational word. Ok, enough. Aussies love to invent slang names for tradespeople, so the rest of this blog is an ode to tradies: those bright vested, Ute driving heroes who stuff your post box with fridge magnets. Erratically flashing light in the hallway of your apartment complex? Could be a ticking timebomb or a dim bulb. You'll need to call a sparky to find out. That's an electrician. Things backed up down there? No, not down there, a bit lower. If so, you'll need to call a turd strangler, or as they're sometimes known, a plumber. Beware the blackjack merchant. That's a bad plumber, one who disguises their shoddy work with much blackjack. Carpenters don't escape either. They are affectionately known as chippies and less affectionately known as wood butchers. Dentists on the other hand, are known as fang carpenters. 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 10 August 2021
Nonplussed by contronyms
How do you peruse this blog? Do you read over it carefully and with great focus? Or do you skim it leisurely? Meaning is a tricky and changeable thing, and this is nowhere more obvious than with contronyms: words that have a pair of opposing meanings. Peruse is one of these words, as are sanction ('approval or support' vs 'punitive action') and dust ('remove dust' vs 'sprinkle with dust') – amongst many others. There are many reasons for the development of these contradictory meanings. In the case of peruse the word was originally a synonym for 'read' in British English. Both current meanings were acceptable, and the intended one was often indicated when the word was used: 'to peruse lightly', or 'to peruse from cover to cover'. Over time, these indications were dropped, and so we now have a word that can refer to two totally different ways of reading. Sometimes a contradictory meaning can develop locally to a region, and cause confusion for speakers from elsewhere. Take the example of nonplussed: She was nonplussed by the discovery. Was she confused, perplexed and surprised? Or was she unperturbed and unbothered? It depends on whether or not you are a speaker of US English. If an American is nonplussed, chances are they are not surprised, although this use is still regarded as incorrect by some people. In the Macquarie Dictionary, we currently define nonplussed as 'puzzled and perplexed'. These contronyms can be a source of conflict between language users, especially as they come into being. Nonplussed has sparked a lot of contention, especially between younger speakers of Australian English, who may have mainly heard the American usage, and older speakers. Sadly for the traditionalists, we will be adding the 'new' sense of nonplussed, with notes and labels to indicate its status. Often, these opposing meanings will disappear over time, as in awful (once 'awe-inspiring', now 'extremely bad') and egregious ('extraordinarily bad', formerly 'remarkably good'). When a word can mean two opposing things, and it’s not always contextually apparent which is meant, there’s an instability that language users tend to want to resolve one way or the other. Until then, it can leave us quite nonplussed. Or nonplussed.
Posted on 9 August 2021
Are you as bald as a bandicoot?
Aussie Word of the Week
Anyone conscious of their receding hairline might want to snap on a cap because this week's word of the week is as bald as a bandicoot. To be bald as a bandicoot means to be totally bald. This is a bit of a weird phrase given that bandicoots, small marsupials, are manifestly furry, not bald. Bandicoots are the inspiration for several metaphors that still survive in places where the animal does not. As miserable as a bandicoot on a burnt ridge means you feel totally and utterly miserable. While barmy as a bandicoot means you're crazy: hopping mad. Let's leave off the bandicoots for now and look at some other words for bald. Are you follicularly challenged, that is, losing your hair? Perhaps you like to dye your hair eggshell blonde or like to keep your chrome dome nice and shiny. Is your mate a mudguard? That's a nickname for a bald bloke who is a bit stupid, wait for it, because he's shiny on top and shit underneath. Oft! 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.