Donkey-voters and dead dingo’s donger: a new edition of the Australian National Dictionary
A new edition of the Australian National Dictionary has just been published, updating the one-volume, 814 page 1988 edition, with 10,000 Australian words and meanings illustrated by 60,000 citations, to a two-volume, 1864 page work, with 16,000 Australian words and meanings illustrated by 123,000 citations. Read on to discover what has been added, and why.
The 1988 Australian National Dictionary, ed. W.S. Ramson, was published a product of a resurgence of interest in Australian English from the 1970s onwards. This interest reflected a period of cultural nationalism in Australian history, as well as a global interest in regional varieties of English that saw similar dictionary projects in countries such as South Africa and New Zealand.
While the words and meanings figure for the new edition has increased by a little over 50 per cent, the citations have increased by over 100 per cent. The increase in citations comes largely from the requirements for the new entries, and the entries from the previous edition have been updated; but one important reason for the increase is the amount of searchable material that is now available in the National Library of Australia’s digitized archive of Australian newspapers (currently with more than 1000 titles available)—this has enabled us to expand the citation evidence of the dictionary, especially with antedatings.
So, what’s been added?
But what of the great increase in words and meanings? Has Australian English been so productive that it has generated 6000 new words and meanings between 1988 and 2016? Well, not bloody likely, as a Cockney flowergirl was wont to exclaim.
Many of the words added to the new edition are ones that were missed in the first edition, or that were excluded in that edition’s pre-Internet world because it was not entirely certain that they were Australian.
For example, Australia’s compulsory preferential voting system for Federal and State elections has produced a series of Australian terms. In such an electoral system, the voter’s preferences for candidates can have an effect on the outcome of an election, and the verb to preference has developed in the specific sense ‘to direct preferences to (a candidate or party)’. Political parties provide the voters with how-to-vote cards, indicating how preferences should be allocated. The donkey-voter, however, simply allocates preferences according to the order in which candidates’ names appear on the ballot paper. In some elections you can vote above the line (indicating preferences for a party) or below the line (indicating preferences for particular candidates). In the counting of the ballots, party scrutineers scrutineer all ballot papers to check that the votes are being counted correctly by the electoral officials. A two-party preferred vote is one with preferences distributed between the two major parties. These appear to be the most ‘ordinary’ of terms to Australians, but they would be baffling to most visitors.
Some other older terms were perhaps similarly excluded because they simply didn’t sound distinctively Australian. A Boston bun is ‘a large yeast bun topped with white or pink icing and coconut’ (but why ‘Boston’?), a Devonshire tea is what the poms would call a ‘cream tea’, fairy bread is a children’s party treat of buttered white bread covered in hundreds and thousands, a bunny rug is a small soft blanket for a baby (no doubt originally with a bunny depicted on it, but no longer), Bombay bloomers are ‘baggy shorts’, and a light globe is what the rest of the world calls a light bulb.
Dry as a dead dingo’s donger (and other colloquialisms)
Some terms that appear fairly early are now included because of a deliberate policy to cast the net more widely for colloquialisms, especially colloquial phrases. Extreme thirst, for example, can be conveyed by such phrases as dry as a dead dingo’s donger, dry as a kookaburra’s khyber, dry as a pommy’s towel, or dry as the Simpson desert. Incompetence can be conveyed by such phrases as he couldn’t run a chook raffle or he couldn’t train a choko vine over a country dunny. Your blood’s worth bottling is said to a person of great human value, misery is conveyed by such phrases as happy as a bastard on father’s day, stupidity is conveyed by such phrases as he wouldn’t know if a tram was up unless the conductor rang the bell, and an extremely lazy person wouldn’t work in an iron lung.
There are, of course, many new terms. A major addition to the Australian lexicon has been the term bogan (and its derivatives boganhood, boganic, boganity, boganness). A bogan is ‘an uncultured and unsophisticated person; a boorish and uncouth person’, and although it is related in meaning to earlier Australian terms such as westie (originally ‘a person from the western suburbs’) meaning ‘a person from a low socio-economic or poorly-educated background who is regarded as uncultured and unsophisticated’, bogan does not necessarily have the low socio-economic connotations. The origin of the term is unknown, but its earliest evidence is among surfies and in adolescent slang.
Bogans certainly lack style. One would not be surprised to find them wearing budgie smugglers (‘a pair of close-fitting male swimming briefs made of stretch fabric’) or trackie daks (‘tracksuit trousers’) or double pluggers (‘a rubber sandal with a thong attached to the base by two plugs’) or ugg boots (‘a flat-soled boot made from sheepskin with the wool on the inside’, perhaps originally ‘ugly boot’). They may take part in a party game called Goon of Fortune—‘a game (playing on the name of the television quiz show ‘Wheel of Fortune’) in which the bladder of a wine cask (goon is an alteration of ‘flagon’, and means ‘a wine cask or its contents’; also known as chateau cardboard) is attached to a rotary clothes hoist, the hoist is spun, and the person closest to the bladder when the hoist stops moving must take a drink’.
Something of the range of new entries is suggested by the following list:
babyccino (Especially for a child) a cup of frothed milk sprinkled with chocolate powder. [From baby + (cappu)ccino.]
barbecue stopper a topic of great public interest, esp. a political one.
chook lit romance fiction set in rural Australia. [From chook ‘chicken; woman’, playing on standard chick lit.]
corkie (in sporting contexts) a muscle in the thigh etc. that has been bruised by a heavy blow. [From British dialect cawk.]
drop bear an imaginary animal similar to a koala, with very sharp teeth and claws, that drops out of trees and devours tourists.
falcon (in sport) an accidental hit on the head by a ball. [Originally in rugby league, from Maltese Falcon (with allusion to D. Hammett’s novel), the nickname of rugby league player of Maltese background, who was accidentally hit on the head by the ball during a game in 1995.]
grey nomad a retired person who travels extensively, especially by campervan.
humidicrib a small, completely enclosed cot, with devices to monitor and control warmth and humidity, in which premature infants are kept until they are able to
survive outside it.
mortgage belt an area in which many people are paying off a mortgage on their home, regarded as electorally volatile.
pocamelo the game of polo played using camels instead of horses.
rurosexual a fashionable young man living in a country or rural area. [Modelled on metrosexual.]
schmick smart, stylish, excellent. [Originally smick, a blend of smart + slick, later refashioned with –h- on the model of such Yiddish words as schmaltz.]
seachange a significant change of lifestyle, esp. one achieved by moving from the city to a seaside town. [From SeaChange (1998–2000), the name of a television series in which the principal character moves from the city to a small coastal town; ultimately from Shakespeare’s Tempest.]
skippy syndrome a distaste for eating kangaroo meat. [From Skippy, the name of a kangaroo in a children’s television series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1966-68), and later a term for ‘kangaroo meat’.]
wonky hole an irregularly shaped hole on the seabed in coral reefs of northern Queensland, that releases fresh water from ancient submerged river beds. [From the effect on the stability of boats.]
Words from Aboriginal languages
Words from Aboriginal languages are a significant source of expansion. The first edition included about 250 words from 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, but the new edition includes more than 530 words from 100 languages. Conventional wisdom has it that borrowings of this kind usually occur in the initial ‘contact’ period, but in Australia the process of borrowing is a continuing one.
Many of the new Aboriginal words in this edition refer to flora and fauna, and many of these result from an interest in using Indigenous names rather than imposed English descriptive names. Thus, the water rat is now commonly called by its Ngarrindjeri name rakali. Other terms added to this edition reflect a renewed interest in aspects of Indigenous culture: kumanjayi ‘a substitute name for a dead person’ (from Western Desert language), pukamani ‘a funeral rite’ (from Tiwi), tjukurpa ‘the Dreaming; traditional law’ (from Western Desert language), yidaki ‘a didgeridoo’ (from Yolngu languages).
In addition to the words from Indigenous languages, there are numerous terms new to the dictionary that render Indigenous concepts and aspects of traditional culture, and which are formed from the resources of English. These include such terms as:, freshwater people ‘Aboriginal people from areas near inland watercourses’, law woman ‘a woman who is very knowledgeable in the law; a custodian of the law; a leader in ceremony’, paint up ‘to decorate the body for ceremonial purposes’, songline ‘a route taken by an ancestral being or beings on a journey through a particular landscape and recorded in song’, welcome to country ‘a formal welcome to the traditional land of an Aboriginal people by a member or members of the local Aboriginal community’.
The report card from this new edition of the Australian National Dictionary indicates that Australian English is still alive and kicking, and that it has certainly not been undermined by globalization.
The second edition of the Australian National Dictionary was published by Oxford University Press in August 2016.