Macquarie Dictionary


We’ve gone troppo

It’s official, the Macquarie Dictionary staff have gone troppo, as in we’ve gone mental or are mentally disturbed. The most notable usage of troppo was as the title of a 1982 George Harrison solo album. Gone Troppo was an appropriate title for the former Beatles guitarist, who was fed up with the music industry and temporarily retired shortly after the album’s release. 

Despite this pop culture reference, the word troppo has a serious origin. Troppo was originally a piece of World War II Aussie slang that referred to the mental illness that resulted from long military service in the tropics. In musical direction, troppo means too much. Hence, it’s a short leap from the musical meaning to the slang meaning, in the sense that you go troppo because it’s all too much. 

The idea of soldiers and former Beatles going troppo got us thinking about the changing language around mental illness. War provides another useful example. Shell shock, a term associated primarily with World War I, was used to describe a range of nervous or mental disorders, characterised by a loss of self-command, or of memory, speech, sight, etc., brought on by the cumulative strain of war.

Nowadays, we are more likely to say that the soldiers suffer from PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental disorder occurring after a traumatic event which is outside an individual’s normal experience, characterised by such symptoms as withdrawal, depression, an inclination to relive the traumatic experiences, and a sensitivity to sudden stimuli such as loud noises. 

It’s unfortunate but perhaps not surprising that traumatic and world changing events bring about new ways to describe mental illness. Menty-b was a 2021 Macquarie Word of the Year shortlisted way to describe a breakdown in one’s mental health. As the judging committee said at the time, ‘The ability to discuss our mental health in a relaxed way is vital, as we navigate the pandemic, and menty-b is a sign that we’re doing it. It’s not ponderous or serious — it’s an easy way into an important discussion.’

The same could be said of all the words that went before, from shell shock to troppo

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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