Posted on 13 April 2021

Why don't we say 'oneteen' and 'twoteen'?

One of the reasons numbers are so useful is that they’re predictable. The difference between 100 and 101 is the same as the difference between 101 and 102. The words we use for numbers are usually predictable too – twenty-three comes after twenty-two, and thirteen comes after… twelve? Eleven and twelve stick out like sore thumbs in our number system, but why? The word eleven comes from the Old English endleofan, which comes from Proto-Germanic *ainalif. This word is a compound of the Proto-Germanic *ainaz meaning ‘one’ and *lif meaning ‘left over’ (i.e., after counting to ten), giving us the meaning 10 + 1. Twelve follows that same pattern, coming from Proto-Germanic *twalif from *twa ‘two’ and *lif, giving us 10 + 2. Eleven and twelve are derived from these two words in most Germanic languages (like ellefu in Icelandic and twaalf in Dutch), and then switch to a different pattern. Interestingly enough, in Lithuanian (which is not a Germanic language but rather a Baltic language), numbers 11 to 19 are all formed using the ‘left over’ system, with trylika for ‘thirteen’, keturiolika for ‘fourteen’, and so on. This system probably came from Germanic some 1200 years ago, and has stood the test of time. Confirming that eleven and twelve do mean the numbers after 10 is easy, but the reason the pattern of 1 and 2 left over doesn’t continue for the next seven numbers is still a mystery. A popular hypothesis is that at one point the Germanic spoken number system only went as far as ten, so anything over that was either ‘more’, or counted in a different way. For now, though, we’ll just have to live with the fact that we say ‘eleven’ instead of ‘oneteen’. (Note: the * in front of Proto-Germanic words indicates that they are reconstructed words. Languages with no recorded history are reconstructed via a process of comparing their descendent languages, finding similarities, and using known facts about language change over time.)  
Posted on 12 April 2021

The rough end of the pineapple

Aussie Word of the Week

This week we are offering discounted slang words. Ever been ripped off? Ever shoveled out ten bucks for a slice of gluten free bread about the size of a credit card? If so you have felt the rough end of the pineapple. Unfortunately, this incredible piece of slang means that you got a raw deal; the worst part of a bargain. Not a nice feeling, right? If you have felt the rough end of the pineapple you need to learn to drive a hard bargain.   We searched our database and discovered some delicious pineapple related slang. Did you know that pineapple is a slang word for the fifty dollar note? It's also the name for an opal cluster. So we could say that finding a pineapple could earn you a lot of pineapples, if you catch my drift.  On an edgier note, pineapple is also military slang for a bomb or hand grenade, especially those of a fragmentation type that resemble a pineapple in appearence. Pineapples have even been in the news lately. Who thought we would ever see the words freedom pineapple. Word of the Year contender, anyone? Oh, and for those of us still embroiled in the pineapple on pizza debate, the world has moved on! Now we are faced with the swineapple, which, believe it or not is a pineapple which has been skinned and hollowed out, stuffed with ham and wrapped in bacon, and then grilled or roasted slowly. Wow. 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 25 March 2021

Boondoggle! Funny words that you should learn

The English language is a funny thing. Some words make sense and others… well they take a dictionary to decipher. There are words that will discombobulate or even cause a bit of brouhaha. But once you know their meaning they’ll make perfect sense! Unless we’re full of malarky? Let’s have a squiz at some of our favourite tongue-twisting words and you can tell us which ones you already knew in the comments below! If you’re caught cheating when playing marbles it’s called fanannywhacking or cribbing (part of our Australian Word Map), which of course only a nincompoop, or idiot (a contributor’s favourite word from this enjoyable list) would do. If you’re interested in astronomy you’d know syzygy is the conjunction or opposition of two heavenly bodies. Also a selection from our ‘beautiful words’ series. And if you’re interested in cartography you’d know exactly where Woop Woop and Kickastickalong are located. When you’re chock-a-block full of flummery you’ll probably develop the collywobbles or maybe you’ll just cark it. And if you’ve lost your wee juggler, make sure the lost signs say, ‘Major Mitchell’, white wings, pink underparts, neck and face, and white crown suffused with salmon pink and forward-curving scarlet crest. Save everyone the rigmarole and faffing around trying to find it! Some more words that are just fun to say are:
  • pronking (of an animal such as a springbok) leaping into the air with all four legs extended
  • widdershins in a direction contrary to the apparent course of the sun
  • canoodling fondling or petting
  • poop deck a raised deck built on the stern of a ship above the main deck
  • lolligagging playing around foolishly or aimlessly; wasting time
  • bumfuzzled confused or bewildered
  • mugwump someone who acts as an independent or affects superiority, especially in politics
  • pettifogging quibbling over petty details
  • spondulicks money
  • macaronic involving a mixture of languages
  • somnambulist someone with the habit of walking about, and often of performing various other acts, while asleep; sleepwalker
Let us know what words tickle your fancy below.  
Posted on 9 March 2021

Replacement swear words

Bloody oath! Aussies love swearing, just ask Cate Blanchett. But there are times when swearing isn’t appropriate, like when your granny comes to visit. Don’t fret. If you need to let off some steam, or if your lingo consists mostly of language that would make your granny blush, then the Macquarie Dictionary has got you covered with these replacement swear words.  Let’s start with holy... – an entire genre of replacement swear words. The list includes classics like holy cow, holy mackerel and holy moly. Other excellent additions to the genre include holy Moses – possibly the only literal entry to the list – holy smokes, and of course holy guacamole. Holy snapping duckshit is a no-no! Really, you can put just about any word after holy to create a replacement swear word. But not everything is so sacred. Australians also borrow replacement swear words from similar sounding words. Fudge and sugar are common replacements just as smarmy and sweet as the real thing.  Get stuffed you galah. Interpretation – go away you empty-headed fool. Sorry, just testing out some replacement insults, which could probably be an entire blog unto itself. If you’re on the receiving end of a rough tongue, you might exclaim jeepers or blimey! These are both exclamations of surprise that will save you from resorting to stronger language.  I can hear you all telling me to shut the front door. To that, I say . See, emojis can be replacement swears too.