A ruby-dazzler of an anniversary

Sep 21, 2021

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.

Macquarie Dictionary launch  Launch Edwin Webb_Kevin Weldon

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)

Macquarie Dictionary cocktail

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.

Join the discussion!


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Janine - Sept. 21, 2021, 12:31 p.m.

Happy 40th! Those words bring back fond memories of the pride and thrill we felt at finally having an Aussie dictionary that encapsulated our wonderful vernacular and was so inclusive. I spent hours hunting down the colourful language that Daddy used around the house, and falling about laughing with my friends and family when I spotted them. Macquarie Dictionary, I've spent my life swearing like a wharfie, and I owe it all to you! This dictionary is still the last word for checking any Australian word. Bless you and the hardworking team that keeps delivering the best book ever compiled.

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Shared - Sept. 21, 2021, 1:18 p.m.

Bring back Style Council!

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David - Sept. 22, 2021, 10:36 a.m.

I'm a former specialist contributor to one of the editions of the dictionary. I checked all the cricket entries, in conjunction with an adviser from Cricket Victoria. So, from me, happy 40th birthday, Macquarie Dictionary!

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Edward - Sept. 24, 2021, 9:31 a.m.

Good to see Dr David Blair there in the top photo! He was an outstandingly decent man and lecturer (Linguistics late 1970s)

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