Macquarie Dictionary


Books that inspire: Susan Butler

So, Australia’s word guru, the woman who has been at the helm (if a dictionary can be said to have a helm) of the Macquarie Dictionary for decades, the arbiter of word taste: what would you guess she would name as her inspirational books?

You’re right: she does: here’s the list…

Universal Etymological English Dictionary compiled by Nathan Bailey;  first published in London in 1721.

I have a copy on my bookshelf and I love it dearly – it has all the charm of an old book although a more modest publication than Dr Johnson’s dictionary which came later and which relied on Bailey’s work a great deal. It showed me how a dictionary can reflect a culture through the idiosyncrasies of the person who edits it.  A contemporary dictionary does not do this as well because, as readers, we are too close to the culture that it is recording.

The Alchemy of English  by Braj Kachru, published 1986.

When I was looking at Englishes in South-East Asia, a friend pointed me towards this book which provided an underpinning for everything that I was observing. It is a book I have to keep buying because I lend it out so often. I would say that it is on my bookshelf but in fact it is usually in transit.

A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language  by James Hardy Vaux published in 1812.

This was the first dictionary written in Australia and one which provides an invaluable resource for later dictionary editors.  Vaux may have been an inveterate gambler and unsuccessful thief, but he was a wonderful dictionary editor. His account of the convict language gives us information about words which have become quintessential items of Australian English.

The English Dialect Dictionary  compiled by Joseph Wright, published in six volumes from 1898 to 1905.

This is a wonderful work of scholarship, a beautifully produced dictionary, and an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Australian English where so many words trace their history to different English dialects.

Dictionary of Slang  by Jonathon Green, published in 2010.

This is a contemporary work of great scholarship.  The three volumes are not showy but beautifully designed.  It is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Australian English today where we are so influenced by American English.

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