Macquarie Dictionary


Here’s to the Sheilas

This week we shine a spotlight on a quintessential piece of Aussie slang, a word famous the world over: sheila. A sheila is a woman. In use since the 1830s, sheila has its origin in a generic use of the common Irish girl’s name.

As pointed out by former Macquarie Chief Editor Sue Butler, sheila has many meanings that range from neutral to viewing woman as sexual objects or even prostitutes. Sheila is basically a bloke’s word – women on the whole do not use it. Some men seem to think it is a neutral word, rather than a derogatory one, despite the fact it is often spoken in the same breath as a host of sexually charged slang words such as poke and root.

In general women don’t like being called sheilas. There is even a movement to reclaim the word for the girls: check out Sheilas, the badass women of Australian history. 

Sheila has two rhyming slang variations: Charlie, which comes from Charlie Wheeler (an artist who painted nudes) and potato, from potato peeler. 

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.


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