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Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms

This section contains a selection of Australian words, their meanings, and their etymologies.

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acca

Michael Davie in 'Going from A to Z forever' (an article on the 2nd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary), Age, Saturday Extra, 1 April 1989, writes of his visit to the dictionary section of Oxford University Press:

Before I left, Weiner [one of the two editors of the OED] said he remembered how baffled he had been the first time he heard an Australian talk about the 'arvo'. Australians used the -o suffix a lot, he reflected. Arvo, smoko, garbo, journo. But not all -o words were Australian, said Simpson [the other of the two editors]: eg 'aggro' and 'cheapo'. I asked if they were familiar with the Oz usage 'acco', meaning 'academic'. They liked that. I hoped, after I left, they would enter it on one of their little slips and add it to their gigantic compost heap - a candidate for admission to the next edition.

We trust that Edmund Weiner and John Simpson did not take a citation, since the Australian abbreviation of academic is not acco but acca (sometimes spelt acker).

The abbreviation first appears in Meanjin (Melbourne, 1977), where Canberra historian Ken Inglis has an article titled 'Accas and Ockers: Australia's New Dictionaries'.  The editor of Meanjin, Jim Davidson, adds a footnote: 'acca (slightly derogatory) 1, noun  An academic rather than an intellectual, particularly adept at manipulating trendiologies, usually with full scholarly apparatus. Hence 2, noun  A particularly sterile piece of academic writing.' The evidence has become less frequent in recent years.

1993 Age (Melbourne) 24 December: The way such festivals bring together writers, publishers and accas, making them all accountable to the reader - the audience - gives them real value.

acid: to put the acid on

To exert a pressure that is difficult to resist; to exert such pressure on (a person, etc.), to pressure (someone) for a favour etc.; to be successful in the exertion of such pressure. This idiom is derived from acid test which is a test for gold or other precious metal, usually using nitric acid. Acid test is also used figuratively to refer to a severe or conclusive test. The Australian idiom emerged in the early 20th century and is still heard today.

1903 Sydney Stock and Station Journal 9 October: In the class for ponies under 13 hands there was a condition that the riders should be under ten years of age. When the stewards 'put the acid on' the riders it was found that only one exhibit in a very big field carried a boy who was not over ten years old.

2015 Australian (Sydney) 6 February: One option would be to skip the spill motion and go directly to a call for candidates for the leadership. It would put the acid on putative challengers and catch them out if they are not ready.

Aerial ping-pong

A jocular (and frequently derisive) name for Australian Rules Football (or Aussie Rules as it is popularly called). The term derives from the fact that the play in this game is characterised by frequent exchanges of long and high kicks.

The term is used largely by people from States in which Rugby League and not Aussie Rules is the major football code. This interstate and code rivalry is often found in evidence for the term, including the early evidence from the 1940s.

1947 West Australian (Perth) 22 April: In 1941 he enlisted in the A.I.F. and joined a unit which fostered rugby football. Renfrey did not join in the &oq;mud bath&cq; and did not play 'aerial ping-pong', as the rugby exponents in the army termed the Australian game, until 1946.

1973 J. Dunn, How to Play Football:  Sydneysiders like to call Australian Rules 'aerial ping-pong'.

A team from Sydney was admitted to the national competition in 1982, and one from Brisbane was admitted in 1987. These teams are based in traditional Rugby League areas, yet have drawn very large crowds, and have been very successful. While the term is perhaps not as common as it once was there is still evidence from more recent years.

2010 Newcastle Herald 23 September: Without a shadow of a doubt the aerial ping pong boys have league beaten when it comes to WAGs. At the Brownlow Medal night the likes of Chris Judd's fiancee Rebecca Twigley and Gary Ablett's girlfriend Lauren Phillips certainly scrub up well.

akubra

A shallow-crowned wide-brimmed hat, especially one made from felted rabbit fur. It is a significant feature of rural Australia, of politicians (especially urban-based politicians) travelling in the outback, and of expatriates who wish to emphasis their Australianness. Now a proprietary name, our earliest evidence comes from an advertisement.

1920 Northern Star (Lismore) 4 November: Made in Australia! Yes, the smartest hat that's made in our own country may be seen in our hat department ... The makes include 'Sovereign', 'Vebistra', 'Akubra', 'Peerless', 'Beaucaire'.

ambit

The definition of the limits of an industrial dispute. In later use chiefly as ambit claim. In Australian English an ambit claim is one typically made by employees which sets the boundaries of an industrial dispute. The term is a specific use of ambit meaning 'extent, compass'. First recorded in the 1920s.

1923 Mercury (Hobart) 21 March: In the Commonwealth Arbitration Court .. Mr Justice Powers to-day delivered judgment on the point. He said that the ambit of the dispute before the Court was confined to constructional work, but that the Court could and would deal with claims for maintenance work.

2006 Bulletin (Sydney) 16 May: Telstra's ambit claim was for exclusive access on the ground that it was taking all the commercial risk involving the not-inconsiderable expenditure of $3.5bn.

ambo

An ambulance officer. This is an abbreviation that follows a very common Australian pattern of word formation, with –o added to the abbreviated form. Other examples include: arvo (afternoon), Salvo (Salvation army officer), dermo (dermatologist), and gyno (gynaecologist). The -o form is often found at the ending of Australian nicknames, as in Johno, Jacko, and Robbo. Ambo was first recorded in the 1980s.

1986 Sydney Morning Herald 1 February: Even though I was a nurse before I became an ambo, at first I thought, can I handle this?

ant's pants

Something extremely impressive; the best of its kind. Ant's pants is an Australian variant of the originally US forms bee's knees and cat's whiskers with the same meaning. The term is first recorded in the 1930s. 

1933 Brisbane Courier 12 May: These Men's Pull-overs of ours. They're the Ant's Pants for Value.

2015 T. Parsons Return to Moondilla: 'Liz is busting to see you', Pat said. 'She thinks you're the ant's pants.'

Anzac

An Australian soldier. Anzac denotes the virtues of courage and determination displayed by the First World War Australian soldiers at Gallipoli in 1915. Anzac was formed from the initial letters of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Australian soldiers are also called 'diggers' because so much of the original Anzacs’ time was spent digging trenches. First recorded 1915.

1915 Camperdown Chronicle 2 December: Lord Kitchener told the 'Anzacs' at the Dardanelles how much the King appreciated their splendid services, and added that they had done even better than the King expected.

Anzac biscuit

A sweet biscuit typically containing rolled oats and golden syrup. While variations on this classic recipe exist, its simplicity is its hallmark. The association with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps goes back to 1917 when the recipe was first recorded. The biscuits are also known simply as Anzacs. The following quotations show the evolution of the recipe:

1917 War Chest Cookery Book (Australian Comforts Fund): Anzac Biscuits. 4oz. sugar, 4ozs. butter, 2 eggs, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, 1 cup flour, 1 cup rice flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon mixed spice. Beat butter and sugar to cream, add eggs well beaten, lastly flour, rice flour baking powder, cinnamon and spice. Mix to stiff paste, roll and cut into biscuits. Bake a nice light brown in moderate oven. When cold jam together and ice.

1926 Argus (Melbourne) 16 June: 'Often Helped' .. asks for a recipe for Anzac biscuits ... Two breakfast-cupfuls of John Bull oats, half a cupful sugar, one scant cupful plain flour, half a cupful melted butter. Mix one table-spoonful golden syrup, two table-spoonfuls boiling water, and one teaspoon-ful bicarbonate of soda, until they froth, then add the melted butter. Mix in dry ingredients and drop in spoonfuls on greased tray. Bake in a slow oven.

apples: she’s apples

Everything is fine, all is well. Australian English often uses the feminine pronoun she where standard English would use it. For example, instead of 'it’ll be right' Australians say ‘she’ll be right’. She's apples was originally rhyming slang - apple and spice or apple and rice for 'nice'. The phrase has now lost all connection with its rhyming slang origin. First recorded in the 1920s the term can still be heard today.

1929 H. MacQuarrie We and Baby: 'She'll be apples!' (Dick's jargon for 'all right'.)

2008 West Australian (Perth) 26 April: After a successful tour and a newly released DVD, she's apples with the ubiquitous Paul Kelly.

arvo

Afternoon, as in see you Saturday arvo. It is often used in the phrase this arvo, which is sometimes shortened to sarvo: meet you after the game, sarvo. Arvo is an example of a special feature of Australian English, the habit of adding -o to an abbreviated word. Other such words are bizzo ‘business’ and journo ‘journalist’. First recorded in the 1920s and still going strong today.

2008 Australian (Sydney) 10 July: Former Baywatch beach decoration and Playboy bunny Pamela Anderson plans to visit a Gold Coast KFC outlet this arvo to protest against the company's treatment of chooks.

Arthur: not know whether you are Arthur or Martha

To be in a state of confusion, as in this comment in an Australian state parliament—‘The Leader of the Opposition does not know whether he is Arthur or Martha, Hekyll or Jekyll, coming or going’. The phrase was first recorded in the 1940s. In recent years it has also been used with reference to questions of gender identity, and in this sense it has been exported to other countries.

1948 Truth (Sydney) 14 March: Players were all over the place like Brown's cows, and most didn't know whether they were Arthur or Martha.

2010 West Australian (Perth) 3 November: Years ago, I teamed my work outfits (Kookai tube skirts, fang-collared blouses) with my dad's ties, only to be informed by my manager I looked as though I wasn't sure if I was Arthur or Martha.

Aussie

Australia; Australian. The abbreviation Aussie is a typical example of the way Australians abbreviate words and then add the -ie (or -y) suffix. Other common examples includes budgie (a budgerigar), rellie (a relative), and tradie (a tradesperson). The word is used as a noun to refer to the country and to a person born or residing in the country, and as an adjective denoting something relating to Australia. Aussie is also used as an abbreviation for 'Australian English' and the 'Australian dollar'. The earliest evidence for Aussie occurs in the context of the First World War.

1915 G.F. Moberly Experiences 'Dinki Di' R.R.C. Nurse (1933): A farewell dance for the boys going home to 'Aussie' tomorrow.

1916 G.F. Moberly Experiences 'Dinki Di' R.R.C. Nurse (1933): One of our Aussie officers.

1917 Forbes Advocate 25 September: 'Hold on Eliza, where did you get that favor?'  'From an Aussie!' 

Australia

Why is Australia called Australia? From the early sixteenth century, European philosophers and mapmakers assumed a great southern continent existed south of Asia. They called this hypothetical place Terra Australis, Latin for 'southern land'.

The first European contact with Australia was in the early seventeenth century, when Dutch explorers touched on parts of the Australian continent. As a result of their explorations, that part of the mainland lying west of the meridian which passes through Torres Strait was named Nova Hollandia (Latin for 'New Holland').

In April 1770 Captain James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour reached the southern land. Cook entered the word Astralia (misspelt thus) in his journal the following August. However he did so only in reference to an earlier seeker of the southern land, the Portuguese-born navigator Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, who in 1606 had named the New Hebrides Austrialis de Spiritu Santo. Cook says: The Islands discover'd by Quiros call'd by him Astralia del Espiritu Santo lays in this parallel but how far to the East is hard to say.

Cook himself called the new continent New Holland, a name that acknowledges the early Dutch exploration; the eastern coast he claimed for Britain and called New South Wales. The first written record of Australia (an anglicised form of Terra Australis) as a name for the known continent did not occur until 1794. George Shaw in his Zoology of New Holland refers to:

the vast Island or rather Continent of Australia, Australasia, or New Holland, which has so lately attracted... particular attention.

It was Matthew Flinders, English navigator (and the first person to circumnavigate and map Australia's coastline), who first expressed a strong preference for the name Australia. He gave his reasons in 1805:

It is necessary, however, to geographical propriety, that the whole body of land should be designated under one general name; on this account, and under the circumstances of the discovery of the different parts, it seems best to refer back to the original Terra Australis, or Australia; which being descriptive of its situation, having antiquity to recommend it, and no reference to either of the two claiming nations, is perhaps the least objectionable that could have been chosen; for it is little to apprehended, that any considerable body of land, in a more southern situation, will be hereafter discovered.

To these geographical, historical and political reasons for preferring the name, he adds in his 1814 account of his voyages that Australia is 'agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth'.

Australia was championed too by Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810, who was aware of Flinders' preference and popularised the name by using it in official dispatches to London. He writes in 1817 of:

the Continent of Australia, which I hope will be the Name given to this country in future, instead of the very erroneous and misapplied name, hitherto given it, of 'New Holland', which properly speaking only applies to a part of this immense Continent.

With Macquarie's kickstart Australia eventually proved to be the popular choice. Although the name New Holland continued alongside it for some time, by 1861 William Westgarth noted that 'the old term New Holland may now be regarded as supplanted by that happier and fitter one of Australia'.

banana bender

A Queenslander. The term derives from the joking notion (as perceived from the southern states of Australia) that Queenslanders spend their time putting bends into bananas. An article from 15 July 1937 in the Queenslander provides a forerunner to the term when a man is asked by the Queen what his occupation is:

"I'm a banana-bender". Further to enlighten her Majesty he explained that bananas grew straight on the trees, and so just before they ripened, his was the job to mount the ladder, and with a specialised twist of the wrist, put into the fruit the Grecian bend that was half its charm.

The association of bananas with Queensland ('banana land') is based on the extensive banana-growing industry in tropical Queensland. The Queensland border has been called the Banana curtain and Brisbane has been called Banana city. Banana bender, in reference to a Queenslander, is first recorded in 1940 and is till commonly heard.

1964 D. Lockwood Up the Track: We are so close to Queensland that I think we should hop over the border. What do you say to a quick look at the banana-benders?

2011 Northern Star (Lismore) 11 July: Should the Matilda's [sic] have won last night or the Netball Diamonds see off New Zealand, Anna Bligh will doubtless claim it was due to the preponderance of banana benders in the squads or at the very least the result of a Gold Coast holiday during their formative years.

bandicoot

Soon after white settlement in 1788 the word bandicoot (the name for the Indian mammal Bandicota indica) was applied to several Australian mammals having long pointed heads and bearing some resemblance to their Indian namesake. In 1799 David Collins writes of the 'bones of small animals, such as opossums ... and bandicoots'.

From 1830s the word bandicoot has been used in various distinctively Australian phrases as an emblem of deprivation or desolation. In 1837 H. Watson in Lecture on South Australia writes: 'The land here is generally good; there is a small proportion that is actually good for nothing; to use a colonial phrase, "a bandicoot (an animal between a rat and a rabbit) would starve upon it".' Typical examples include:

  • as miserable as a bandicoot
  • as poor as a bandicoot
  • as bald as a bandicoot
  • as blind as a bandicoot
  • as hungry as a bandicoot

Probably from the perception of the bandicoot's burrowing habits, a new Australian verb to bandicoot arose towards the end of the nineteenth century. It means 'to remove potatoes from the ground, leaving the tops undisturbed'. Usually this activity is surreptitious.

1896 Bulletin 12 December: I must 'bandicoot' spuds from the cockies - Or go on the track!

1899 Bulletin 2 December: 'Bandicooting'.. is a well-known term all over Western Vic. potato-land. The bandicooter goes at night to a field of ripe potatoes and carefully extracts the tubers from the roots without disturbing the tops.

bandicoot: miserable as a bandicoot

Extremely unhappy. Bandicoots are small marsupials with long faces, and have been given a role in Australian English in similes that suggest unhappiness or some kind of deprivation (see above). The expression miserable as a bandicoot was first recorded in the 1820s.

1828 Sydney Gazette 11 January: On her arrival here she found him living with another woman by whom he had several children, and from whom he was necessarily obliged to part, not, however, without very candidly forewarning his wife, the present complainant, that he would make her as miserable as a bandicoot.

2005 R. Siemon The Eccentric Mr Wienholt: I am as miserable as a bandicoot having to sneak home like this.

banksia man

The large woody cone of several Banksia species, originally as a character in children's stories. Banksia is the name of an Australian genus of shrubs and trees with about 60 species. It was named after the botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who was on the Endeavour with James Cook on his voyage of discovery in 1770. After flowering, many banksias form thick woody cones, often in strange shapes. It was on such grotesque shapes that May Gibbs modelled her banksia men in Snugglepot and Cuddlepie of 1918: 'She could see the glistening, wicked eyes of Mrs. Snake and the bushy heads of the bad Banksia men'.

1927 K.S. Prichard Bid me to Love: Louise: .. See what I've got in my pocket for you ... Bill: (diving into a pocket of her coat and pulling out a banksia cone) A banksia man. Oh Mum!

1979 E. Smith Saddle in the Kitchen: Hell was under the well near the cow paddock, deep and murky and peopled by gnarled and knobby banksia men who lurked there waiting for the unguarded to fall in.

barbecue stopper

A topic of great public interest, especially a political one. The term derives from the notion that a topic is so interesting that it could halt proceedings at a barbecue - and anything that could interrupt an Aussie barbecue would have to be very significant indeed! The term was coined by Australian prime minister John Howard in 2001 in the context of balancing work pressures with family responsibilities. Barbecue stopper is now used in a wide range of contexts. For an earlier discussion of the term see our Word of the Month article from August 2007.

2007 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 11 March: Controlled crying is a guaranteed barbecue stopper among Australian parents, more divisive than the old breast-versus-bottle feeding debate.

2015 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 1 April: Planning and zoning looms as a barbecue stopper in leafy suburbs, where many residents and traders will defend to the last breath their quiet enjoyment and captive markets.

Barcoo

The name of the Barcoo River in western Queensland has been used since the 1870s as a shorthand reference for the hardships, privations, and living conditions of the outback. Poor diets were common in remote areas, with little access to fresh vegetables or fruit, and as a result diseases caused by dietary deficiencies, such Barcoo rot—a form of scurvy characterised by chronic sores—were common. Katharine Susannah Prichard writes in 1946: ‘They were nothing to the torture he endured when barcoo rot attacked him. The great sores festered on his back, hands and legs: his lips split and were raw and bleeding’. Rachel Henning, in a letter to her sister in 1864, makes fun of her Irish servants’ fear of scurvy, for which they eat pigweed, ‘rather a nasty wild plant, but supposed to be exceedingly wholesome, either chopped up with vinegar or boiled’. Another illness probably caused by poor diet was Barcoo sickness (also called Barcoo vomit, Barcoo spew, or just Barcoo), a condition characterised by vomiting. ‘Barcoo was rife among the kiddies and station-hands; vomiting attacks lasting for days laid each low in turn’.

Happily, Barcoo can also denote more positive aspects of outback life: a makeshift resourcefulness - a Barcoo dog is a rattle for herding sheep, which can be as simple as a tin can and a stick – or rough and ready behaviour: ‘The parrot’s language would have shamed a Barcoo bullocky’. Barcoo can also typify the laconic bush wit. Patsy Adam Smith relates the following story: ‘I see you’ve learnt the Barcoo Salute’, said a Buln Buln Shire Councillor to the Duke of Edinburgh. ‘What’s that?’ said His Royal Highness, waving his hand again to brush the flies off his face. ‘That’s it’, said the man from the bush.

barrack for

To give support or encouragement to (a person, team, etc.), usually by shouting names, slogans or exhortations. Some claim barrack comes from Australian pidgin to poke borak at 'to deride', but its origin is probably from Northern Irish barrack 'to brag; to be boastful'. By itself barrack meant 'to jeer' (and still does in British English), but the form barrack for transformed the jeering into cheering in Australian English. First recorded in the 1880s.

1889 Maitland Mercury 24 August: Old dad was in his glory there - it gave the old man joy To fight a passage thro' the crowd and barrack for his boy.

1971 D. Williamson Don's Party: I take it you'll be barracking for Labor tonight?

2011 Gympie Times 28 January: He thought it was about time to take the pledge and officially become Australian as he had barracked for our cricket team since 1955.

barrier rise

The opening of the starting gates to begin a horserace. In horseracing the barrier is a starting gate at the racecourse. The word barrier is found in a number of horseracing terms in Australian English including barrier blanket (a heavy blanket placed over the flanks of a racehorse to calm it when entering a barrier stall at the start of a race), barrier trial (a practice race for young, inexperienced, or resuming racehorses), and barrier rogue (a racehorse that regularly misbehaves when being placed into a starting gate). Barrier rise is first recorded in the 1890s. For a more detailed discussion of this term see our Word of the Month article from October 2010.

1895 Argus (Melbourne) 11 March: Mr W. R. Wilson's colt Merman, who, like Hova, was comparatively friendless at barrier rise.

2011 Shepparton News 27 June: The talented Norman-trained trotter Tsonga, also driven by Jack, speared across the face of the field at barrier rise from outside the front row in the mobile - and from then was never headed.

battler

The word battler has been in the English language for a long time. The word is a borrowing from French in the Middle English period, and meant, literally, 'a person who battles or fights', and figuratively 'a person who fights against the odds or does not give up easily'. The corresponding English word was feohtan which gives us modern English 'to fight'. English also borrowed the word war from the French in the twelfth century; it's the same word as modern French guerre.

But the word battler, at the end of the nineteenth century, starts to acquire some distinctively Australian connotations. For this reason, it gets a guernsey in the Australian National Dictionary.

1. It describes the person with few natural advantages, who works doggedly and with little reward, who struggles for a livelihood (and who displays courage in so doing).

Our first citation for this, not surprisingly, comes from Henry Lawson in While the Billy Boils (1896):  'I sat on him pretty hard for his pretensions, and paid him out for all the patronage he'd worked off on me .. and told him never to pretend to me again he was a battler'.

In 1941 Kylie Tennant writes: 'She was a battler, Snow admitted; impudent, hardy, cool, and she could take a "knock-back" as though it didn't matter, and come up to meet the next blow'.

In this tradition, K. Smith writes in 1965:  'Everybody in Australia has his position. Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of people in this country: the rich, the middle class and the battlers'.

In the 21st century the term has been used in various political contests as this quotation in the Australian from 1 July 2006 demonstrates: 'The Prime Minister, who has built his success on an appeal to Australia's battlers, is about to meet thousands more of them in his northern Sydney seat of Bennelong'.

2. It has also been used of an unemployed or irregularly employed person.

a: (in the country): a swagman or itinerant worker.

This sense is first recorded in the Bulletin in 1898: 'I found patch after patch destroyed. Almost everyone I met blamed the unfortunate "battler", and I put it down to some of the Sydney "talent" until ... I caught two Chows vigorously destroying melon-vines'.

Again in the Bulletin in 1906 we find: 'They were old, white-bearded, travel-stained battlers of the track'.

The word is not much used in this sense now, but in 1982 Page & Ingpen in Aussie Battlers write: 'The average Australian's image of a battler does seem to be that of a Henry Lawson character: a bushie of the colonial era, complete with quart pot and swag, down on his luck but still resourceful and cheerful'.

b: (in an urban context): an unemployed person who lives by opportunism.

Frank Hardy in Tales of Billy Yorker (1965) writes: 'Any Footscray battler could get a few quid off Murphy, just for the asking'.

S. Weller, Bastards I have met (1976) writes: `He was a battler, into all the lurks about the place and just one jump ahead of the coppers all the time'.

3. A person who frequents racecourses in search of a living, esp. from punting. The word is used in Australia with this sense from the end of the nineteenth century.

Cornelius Crowe in his Australian Slang Dictionary (1895) gives: ' Battlers broken-down backers of horses still sticking to the game'.

In 1925 A. Wright in The Boy from Bullarah notes: 'He betook himself with his few remaining shillings to the home of the battler - Randwick [a racecourse in Sydney]'.

4. A prostitute.

In 1898 we find in the Bulletin: 'A bludger is about the lowest grade of human thing, and is a brothel bully ... A battler is the feminine'.

C.W. Chandler in Darkest Adelaide (c. 1907) writes: 'Prostitution though most terrible and degrading in any shape or form reaches its most forbidding form when married women are found out battling for cash'. And further: `I told him I would not mind taking on a tart myself - an extra good battler preferred'.

Meanings 2. 3. and 4 have now disappeared from Australian English, and it is meaning 1 which has become enshrined in the language, especially in the phrase little Aussie battler. This is still the person of the Henry Lawson tradition, who, 'with few natural advantages, works doggedly and with little reward, struggles for a livelihood (and displays courage in so doing)'. But perhaps the battler of contemporary Australia is more likely to be paying down a large mortgage rather than working hard to put food on the table!

berley

Berley is ground-bait scattered by an angler in the water to attract fish to a line or lure. Anglers use a variety of baits for berley, such as bread, or fish heads and guts. Poultry mash and tinned cat food make more unusual berleying material, although this pales beside a Bulletin article in 1936 suggesting 'a kerosene-tinful of rabbit carcasses boiled to a pulp' as the best berley for Murray cod. Berley first appears in 1852 as a verb - to berley is to scatter ground-bait. The writer observes that the locals are baiting a fishing spot (‘burley-ing’) with burnt fish. The first evidence for the noun occurs in the 1860s. The origin of the word is unknown.

big note

To display or boast of one's wealth; to exaggerate one's own importance, achievements, etc. The term is first recorded in the 1920s. In the 1950s a big note man (later called a big noter) was a person who handled or bet large sums of money - big notes. In pre-decimal currency days the larger the denomination, the bigger the banknote. Big-noting arose from the connection between flashing large sums of money about and showing off.

1941 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 18 February: There was no suggestion that Coates had the revolver for any sinister purpose. He had admitted producing it to 'big note' himself in the eyes of the young woman and her parents.

2012 D. Foster Man of Letters: He's never been one to big-note himself.

bikie

A member of a gang of motorcyclists. Bikie follows a very common pattern in Australian English by incorporating the -ie (or -y) suffix. This suffix works as an informal marker in the language. In early use bikie often referred to any member of a motorcycle (motorbike) gang or club - often associated with youth culture. In more recent times the term is often associated with gangs of motorcylists operating on the fringes of legality. Bikie is first recorded in the 1960s. For a more detailied discussion of the term see our Word of the Month article from March 2014.

1967 Kings Cross Whisper (Sydney) xxxii: Bikie, a member of a gang or a club of people interested in motor bikes.

2015 Northern Territory News (Darwin) 28 May: We need to stop romanticising the notion that bikies are basically good blokes in leather vests. Some bikies procure, distribute and sell drugs through their 'associates', who in turn sell them to kids.

bilby

The bilby is either of two Australian bandicoots, especially the rabbit-eared bandicoot Macrotis lagotis, a burrowing marsupial of woodlands and plains of drier parts of mainland Australia. The word is a borrowing from Yuwaalaraay (an Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales) and neighbouring languages. The bilby is also known as dalgyte in Western Australia and pinky in South Australia. Since the early 1990s there have been attempts to replace the Easter bunny with the Easter bilby. At Easter it is now possible to buy chocolate bilbies. Bilby is first recorded in the 1870s. 

1877 Riverine Grazier (Hay) 6 June: There is also all over this part of the country a small animal which burrows in the ground like a rabbit: it is called a bilby, and is found everywhere, almost, up here, in great numbers.

2015 Centralian Advocate (Alice Springs) 10 April: Mining activity can also cause direct and indirect disturbance to sites inhabited by bilbies.

billabong

An arm of a river, made by water flowing from the main stream (usually only in time of flood) to form a backwater, blind creek, anabranch, or, when the water level falls, a pool or lagoon (often of considerable extent); the dry bed of such a formation. Billabongs are often formed when floodwaters recede. The word comes from the south-western New South Wales Aboriginal language Wiradjuri: bila ‘river’ + bang (a suffix probably indicating a continuation in time or space, or functioning as an intensifier), the combination signifying a watercourse that runs only after rain. First recorded in the 1830s.

1861 Burke & Wills Exploring Expedition: At the end of a very long waterhole, it breaks into billibongs, which continue splitting into sandy channels until they are all lost in the earthy soil.

2015 Northern Territory News (Darwin) 13 May: It will soon offer more activities including fishing at a nearby billabong once the area is declared croc-free.

billy

A vessel for the boiling of water, making of tea, etc., over an open fire; a cylindrical container, usually of tin, enamel ware, or aluminium, fitted with a lid and a wire handle. It comes from the Scottish dialect word billy-pot meaning ‘cooking utensil’. Possibly reinforced by bouilli tin (recorded 1858 in Australia and 1852 in New Zealand, with variant bully tin recorded in New Zealand in 1849 but not until 1920 in Australia), an empty tin that had contained preserved boeuf bouilli 'bully beef', used as a container for cooking. It is not, as popularly thought, related to the Aboriginal word billabong. Billy is first recorded in the 1840s.

1859 W. Burrows Adventures of a Mounted Trooper in the Australain Constabulary: A 'billy' is a tin vessel, something between a saucepan and a kettle, always black outside from being constantly on the fire, and looking brown inside from the quantity of tea that is generally to be seen in it.

2005 Australian (Sydney) 12 November: The green ants, we learn later, are a form of bush medicine that others choose to consume by boiling the nest in a billy and drinking the strained and distilled contents.

billycart

A child’s four-wheeled go-cart. Billycart is a shortened form of the Australian term billy-goat cart which dates back to the 1860s. In earlier times the term applied to a small cart, often two-wheeled, that was pulled by a goat. These billycarts were used for such purposes as home deliveries, and they were also used in races. The term was then applied to any homemade go-cart. Billycart is recorded in the first decade of the 20th century.

1952 J.R. Tyrrell Old Books: As boys, Fred and I delivered books round Sydney in a billycart.

1991 T. Winton Cloudstreet: Bits of busted billycarts and boxes litter the place beneath the sagging clothesline.

bindi-eye

Any of several plants bearing barbed fruits, especially herbs of the widespread genus Calotis; the fruit of these plants. Bindi-eye is oftened shortened to bindi, and can be spelt in several ways including bindy-eye and bindii. The word is from the Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay Aboriginal languages of northern New South Wales. Bindi-eye is usually considered a weed when found in one's lawn. Many a child's play has been painfully interrupted by the sharp barbs of the plant which have a habit of sticking into the sole of one's foot. Bindy-eye is first recorded in the 1890s.

 1894 Queenslander (Brisbane) 11 August: Fancy him after working a mob of sheep through a patch of Bathurst Burr, or doing a day's work in a paddock where the grass seed was bad and bindy-eyes thick.

2015 Australian (Sydney) 3 January: You know it's summer when the frangipani flower in their happy colours, when the eucalypt blossom provides a feast for the rosellas - and when the bindi-eyes in your lawn punish you for going barefoot.

bingle

A fight or skirmish; a collision. Bingle is perhaps from Cornish dialect bing 'a thump or blow'. Most other words derived from Cornish dialect in Australian English were originally related to mining, including fossick. The word is frequently used to refer to a car collision. Bingle is first recorded in the 1940s.

1966 R. Carr Surfie: There was this clang of metal on metal and both cars lurched over to the shoulder and we nearly went for a bingle.

2015 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 12 April: In fact some of Hughesy and Kate's listeners are laughing so hard they have to pull over in their cars or risk having a bingle on the way back from work.

bitser

A mongrel. A dog (or other animal) which is made up of a bit of this and a bit of that. This meaning is common today, but when bitser first appeared in the 1920s it referred to any contraption or vehicle that was made of spare parts, or had odd bits and pieces added. Bitser is an abbreviation of ‘bits and pieces’, and in the mongrel sense is first recorded in the early 1930s.

1934 Advertiser (Adelaide) 14 May: 'Well, what kind of dog is it?' he asked. The small girl pondered. 'I think he must be a bit of everything. My friends call him a "bitzer"', she replied.

2005 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 27 November: We had lots of cats and dogs. My favourite was a bitser named Sheila.

black stump

The black stump of Australian legend first appears in the late 19th century, and is an imaginary marker at the limits of settlement. Anywhere beyond the black stump is beyond civilisation, deep in the outback, whereas something this side of the black stump belongs to the known world. Although the towns of Blackall, Coolah and Merriwagga each claim to possess the original black stump, a single stump is unlikely to be the origin of this term. It is more probable that the burnt and blackened tree stumps, ubiquitous in the outback, and used as markers when giving directions to travellers is the origin - this sense of black stump is recorded from 1831.

1898 Launceston Examiner 5 November: The mistake in the past has been the piecemeal and patchwork nature of our public works policy. Tracks have been made, commencing nowhere and ending the same, roads have been constructed haphazard, bridges have been built that had no roads leading either to or from them, railways have terminated at the proverbial black stump.

1967 J. Wynnum I'm Jack, all Right: It's way back o' Bourke. Beyond the Black Stump. Not shown on the petrol station maps, even.

2003 Sydney Morning Herald 29 July: Our own wine writer, Huon Hooke, doesn't know the wine but suspects it comes from a region between Bandywallop and the Black Stump.

Blind Freddy

A very unperceptive person; such a person as a type. This term often appears in the phrase even blind Freddy could see that. Although the term may not derive from an actual person, early commentators associate it with a blind Sydney character or characters. Australian lexicographer Sidney Baker wrote in 1966 that 'Legend has it that there was a blind hawker in Sydney in the 1920s, named Freddy, whose blindness did not prevent his moving freely about the central city area'. Other commentators suggest a character who frequented various Sydney sporting venues in the first decades of the 20th century could be the original Freddy. The term itself is first recorded in 1911.

1911 Sydney Sportsman 19 July: Billy Farnsworth and [Chris] McKivatt seem to suit one another down to the ground as a pair of halves, but then Blind Freddie couldn't help taking Chris's passes.

2013 S. Scourfield As the River Runs: Blind Freddie could see Emerald Gorge is a natural dam site.

blood: your blood’s worth bottling

You’re a really valuable person! You’re a loyal friend! This is one of the many Australianisms, along with terms such as ‘digger’, ‘Anzac’ and ‘Aussie’, that arose during or immediately proceeding the First World War. It applied to a person of great heart, who displayed courage, loyalty, and mateship. It is now used in many contexts - ‘Those firefighters—their blood’s worth bottling!’

blouse

To defeat (a competitor) by a very small margin; to win narrowly. This verb derives from the noun blouse meaning 'the silk jacket worn by a jockey'. As the origin of this word would indicate, much of the evidence is from the sport of horseracing. First recorded in the 1980s. For a detailed discussion of blouse see our Word of the Month article from November 2009.

2001 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 22 June: Four years ago at this ground - Mark Taylor's last one-day appearance for Australia - England smashed 4-253 to blouse Australia on a typically good batting strip.

2015 Kalgoorlie Miner 2 March: The Meryl Hayley-trained speedster, chasing four wins in a line, was bloused in a thrilling finish by Cut Snake with a further head to third placegetter, Danreign.

bludger

This word is a survival of British slang bludger, meaning 'a prostitute's pimp'. The word is ultimately a shortening of bludgeoner.  A bludgeoner (not surprisingly) was a person who carried a bludgeon 'a short stout stick or club'. It appears in a mid-nineteenth century English slang dictionary as a term for 'a low thief, who does not hesitate to use violence'.

By the 1880s the 'prostitute's pimp' sense of bludger is found in Australian sources. In the Sydney Slang Dictionary of 1882 bludgers are defined as 'plunderers in company with prostitutes'. Cornelius Crowe, in his Australian Slang Dictionary (1895), defines a bludger as 'a thief who will use his bludgeon and lives on the gains of immoral women'.

Thus bludger came to mean 'one who lives on the earnings of a prostitute'. It retained this meaning until the mid-20th century. Thus Dorothy Hewett in her play Bobbin Up (1959) writes: 'But what about libel?' 'There's a name for a man who lives off women!' 'Can't you get pinched for calling a man a bludger?' But this meaning is now obsolete.

From the early twentieth century it moved out to be a more general term of abuse, especially as applied to a person who appears to live off the efforts of others (as a pimp lives on the earnings of a prostitute). It was then used to refer to a person engaged in non-manual labour - a white-collar worker. This sense appears as early as 1910, but its typical use is represented by this passage from D. Whitington's Treasure Upon Earth (1957): '"Bludgers" he dubbed them early, because in his language anyone who did not work with his hands at a laboring job was a bludger'.

And so it came to mean 'an idler, one who makes little effort'. In the war newspaper Ack Ack News in 1942 we find: 'Who said our sappers are bludgers?' By 1950, it could be used of animals which didn't perform up to standard. J. Cleary in Just let me be writes: 'Everything I backed ran like a no-hoper. Four certs I had, and the bludgers were so far back the ambulance nearly had to bring 'em home'.

And thence to 'a person who does not make a fair contribution to a cost, enterprise etc.; a cadger'. D. Niland writes in The Shiralee (1955): 'Put the nips into me for tea and sugar and tobacco in his usual style. The biggest bludger in the country'. In 1971 J. O'Grady writes: 'When it comes to your turn, return the "shout". Otherwise the word will spread that you are a "bludger", and there is no worse thing to be'.

The term dole bludger (i.e. 'one who exploits the system of unemployment benefits by avoiding gainful employment') made its first appearance in 1970s. An early example from the Bulletin encapsulates the derogatory tone: 'A genuine dole bludger, a particularly literate young man ... explained that he wasn't bothering to look for work any more because he was sick and tired of being treated like a chattel' (1976). From the following year we have a citation indicating a reaction to the use of the term: Cattleman (Rockhampton) 'Young people are being forced from their country homes because of a lack of work opportunities and the only response from these so-called political protectors is to label them as dole bludgers'.

Throughout the history of the word, most bludgers appear to have been male. The term bludgeress made a brief appearance in the first decade of this century - 'Latterly, bludgers, so the police say, are marrying bludgeresses' (1908 Truth 27 September) - but it was shortlived.

bluey

The word bluey in Australian English has a variety of meanings. The most common is the swag (i.e. the collection of possessions and daily necessaries carried by a person travelling, usually on foot, in the bush) so called because the outer covering of the swag was traditionally a blue blanket (which is also called a bluey). The earliest evidence for bluey as a swag is from 1878 where the bluey is humped as it was by the itinerant bush worker tramping the wallaby track in the works of writers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson.

This image (an Australian stereotype) is epitomised in the following 1899 quotation for bluey:

There's the everlasting swaggie with his bluey on his back who is striking out for sunset on the Never-never track. W.T. Goodge, Hits! Skits! and Jingles

The association of the swaggie and his bluey continues in more recent evidence for the term:

A swaggie suddenly appeared out of the bush, unshaven, with wild, haunted eyes, his bluey and billycan on his back. G. Cross, George and Widda-Woman (1981)

That bluey is later transferred to luggage in general, is perhaps not surprising in an urban society which romanticises its 'bush' tradition:

Where's yer bluey? No luggage? J. Duffy, Outside Pub (1963)

In Tasmania, a bluey or Tasmanian bluey is:

a rough overcoat of blue-grey woollen, to be worn by those doing outdoor work during inclement weather. Canberra Times (19 Nov. 1982).

The word has been used to denote another item of clothing - denim working trousers or overalls - but the citation evidence indicates (the last citation being 1950) that this usage is no longer current.

More familiar is the use of bluey to describe a summons, especially for a traffic offence (originally printed on blue paper):

Imagine my shock upon returning to a bluey at the end of the day. Choice (2 April 1986)

Perhaps the most Australian use of bluey is the curious use of it to describe a red-headed person (first recorded in 1906):

1936 A.B. Paterson, Shearer's Colt: 'Bluey', as the crowd called him, had found another winner. (All red-haired men are called 'Bluey' in Australia for some reason or other.)

1978 R.H. Conquest, Dusty Distances: I found out later that he was a native of New South Wales, called ' Bluey because of his red hair - typical Australian logic.

A more literal use of bluey in Australian English is its application to fauna whose names begin with blue and which is predominantly blue in colour:

1961 Bulletin 31 May:  We call them blue martins...Ornithologists refer to them as some species of wood swallow... They're all 'blueys' to us.

bodgie

There are two senses of the word bodgie in Australian English, both probably deriving from an earlier (now obsolete) word bodger.

The obsolete bodger probably derives from British dialect bodge 'to work clumsily'. In Australian English in the 1940s and 1950s bodger meant: 'Something (or occasionally someone) which is fake, false, or worthless'. The noun was also used adjectivally. Typical uses:

1950 F. Hardy, Power without Glory: This entailed the addition of as many more 'bodger' votes as possible.

1954 Coast to Coast 1953-54: Well, we stuck together all through the war - we was in under bodger names.

1966 S. Baker, The Australian Language: An earlier underworld and Army use of bodger for something faked, worthless or shoddy. For example, a faked receipt or false name.. is a bodger; so is a shoddy piece of material sold by a door-to-door hawker.

The word bodger was altered to bodgie, and this is now the standard form:

1975 Latch & Hitchings, Mr X: To avoid any suspicions in case they were picked up by the Transport Regulation Board, it was decided.. to take a 'bodgy' receipt for the tyres with them.

1978 O. White, Silent Reach: This heap is hot - else why did they give it a one-coat spray job over the original white duco and fix it with bodgie number plates?

1984 Canberra Times 27 August: Allegations .. of branch-stacking and the use of hundreds of 'bodgie' members in the electorate.

In the 1950s another sense of bodgie arose. The word was used to describe a male youth, distinguished by his conformity to certain fashions of dress and larrikin behaviour; analogous to the British 'teddy boy':

1950 Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) 7 May: The bizarre uniform of the 'bodgey' - belted velvet cord jacket, bright blue sports coat without a tie, brown trousers narrowed at the ankle, shaggy Cornel Wilde haircut.

1951 Sydney Morning Herald 1 February: What with 'bodgies' growing their hair long and getting around in satin shirts, and 'weegies' [see widgie] cutting their hair short and wearing jeans, confusion seems to be be arising about the sex of some Australian adolescents.

This sense of bodgie seems to be an abbreviation of the word bodger with the addition of the -ie (-y) suffix. One explanation for the development of the teenage larrikin sense was offered in the Age (Melbourne) in 1983:

Mr Hewett says his research indicates that the term 'bodgie' arose around the Darlinghurst area in Sydney. It was just after the end of World War II and rationing had caused a flourishing black market in American-made cloth. 'People used to try and pass off inferior cloth as American-made when in fact it was not: so it was called "bodgie",' he says. 'When some of the young guys started talking with American accents to big-note themselves they were called "bodgies".'

This sense of bodgie belongs primarily to the 1950s, but bodgie in the sense 'fake, false, inferior, worthless' is alive and flourishing in Australian English.

bogan

An uncultured and unsophisticated person; a boorish and uncouth person. The early evidence is largely confined to teenage slang.

Some lexicographers have suspected that the term may derive from the Bogan River and district in western New South Wales, but this is far from certain, and it seems more likely to be an unrelated coinage.

The term became widespread after it was used in the late 1980s by the fictitious schoolgirl 'Kylie Mole' in the television series The Comedy Company. In the Daily Telegraph (29 November 1988), in an article headed 'Same name a real bogan', a genuine schoolgirl named Kylie Mole 'reckons it really sux' " [i.e., finds it horrible] to have the same name as the television character.

In Dolly Magazine, October 1988, 'The Dictionary According To Kylie [Mole]' has the following Kyliesque definition: bogan 'a person that you just don't bother with. Someone who wears their socks the wrong way or has the same number of holes in both legs of their stockings. A complete loser'.

The earliest evidence we have been able to find for the term is in the surfing magazine Tracks September 1985: 'So what if I have a mohawk and wear Dr Martens (boots for all you uninformed bogans)?'

In more recent years the term bogan has become more widely used and is often found in contexts that are neither derogatory or negative. The term has also generated a number of other terms including bogan chick, boganhood, and cashed-up bogan (CUB).

2002 Age (Melbourne) 16 July: Campbell, 25, did not grow up as a bogan chick. She had a quiet, middle-class upbringing in Box Hill, attending a private girls' school.

2006 Canberra Times 9 August: We enjoy drinking, pig-shooting, wear check flannelette shirts and have no common sense or good taste ... Our geographic reach is flexible; residents of Taree and like communities, for example, may readily qualify for Boganhood, usually with little or no burdensome paperwork.

2013 Sydney Morning Herald 7 December: Douglas' volley sparked a semantic debate about the use of 'bogan', with Palmer and others claiming the once-pejorative term had become more jocular. Inclusive. Affectionate, even ... 'We're all bogans. I'm a bogan because I'm overweight.' His titular party head seconded that, claiming quickly to have 'spent most of [his] life as a bogan'. 'All I can say is I like chips', Mr Palmer demurred. 'I wear Ugg boots and I go four-wheel-driving.'

2015 Sunday Times (Perth) 25 January: WA's mining boom has given rise to a new kind of bogan - the CUB, or cashed-up bogan.

For further discussions of bogan see our Word of the Month article from Novemeber 2008, and a 2015 article 'Bogan: from Obscurity to Australia's most productive Word' in our newsletter Ozwords

bogey

To swim or bathe. Bogey is a borrowing from the Aboriginal Sydney Language. The earliest records show the term being used in the pidgin English of Aborigines:

1788 Historical Records of New South Wales II: I have bathed, or have been bathing... Bogie d'oway. These were Colby's words on coming out of the water.

1830 R. Dawson, Present State of Australia: 'Top bit, massa, bogy,' (bathe) and he threw himself into the water.

By the 1840s it was naturalised in Australian English:

1841 Historical Records of Australia: I suppose you want your Boat, Sir; Yes, said Mr Dixon; well, said Crabb I suppose we must bogey for it. Yes, said Mr Dixon, any two of ye that can swim.

In Australian English a noun meaning 'a swim or bathe; a bath' was formed from the verb:

1847 A. Harris, Settlers and Convicts: In the cool of the evening had a 'bogie' (bathe) in the river.

1869 W.M. Howell, Diggings and Bush: Florence was much amused the other evening by her enquiring if she (Flory) was going down to the water to have a 'bogey'. Flory was much puzzled till she found out that a 'bogey', in colonial phraseology, meant a bath.

1924 Bulletin: A boar was discovered by two of us having a bogey in a 16,000-yard tank about five miles from the river.

1981 G. Mackenzie, Aurukun Diary: A bogey is the Queensland outback word for a bath or bathe.

A bogey hole is a 'swimming or bathing hole'. The verb is rare now in Australian English. For an earlier discussion of bogey see our Word of the Month article from February 2010.

bombora

A wave that forms over a submerged offshore reef or rock, sometimes (in very calm weather or at high tide) merely swelling but in other conditions breaking heavily and producing a dangerous stretch of broken water. The word is now commonly used for the reef or rock itself.

1994 P. Horrobin Guide to Favourite Australian Fish (ed. 7): Like most inshore saltwater predators, Salmon hunt around rocky headlands, offshore islands and bomboras [etc.].

Bombora probably derives from the Aboriginal Sydney Language where it may have referred specifically to the current off Dobroyd Head, Port Jackson. The term is mostly used in New South Wales, where there are numerous bomboras along the coast, often close to cliffs. The term was first recorded in 1871 and is now used frequently in surfing and fishing contexts with its abbreviation bommie and bommy being common: 'After a day of oily, overhead bommie waves, we decided to head to the pub’ (2001 Tracks August).

Bondi tram: shoot through like a Bondi tram

Used allusively to refer to a hasty departure or speedy action. Bondi is the Sydney suburb renowned worldwide for its surf beach. The phrase (first recorded in 1943) probably derives from the fact that two trams typically left the city for Bondi together, the first an express tram which would ‘shoot through’ from Darlinghurst to Bondi Junction. Trams last ran on the line in 1960, but the phrase has remained a part of Australian English.

2014 Wimmera Mail Times (Horsham) 14 April: The book is aimed at young adults and the young at heart ... 'It took off like a Bondi tram', she said.

bonzer

Bonzer is an adjective meaning 'surpassingly good, splendid, great'. The word is also used as a noun meaning ‘something (or someone) that excites admiration by being surpassingly good of its kind’, and as an adverb meaning 'beautifully, splendidly'. Bonzer is possibly an alteration of the now obsolete Australian word bonster (with the same meaning) which perhaps ultimately derives from British dialect bouncer 'anything very large of its kind'. Bonzer may also be influenced by French bon ‘good’ and US bonanza. In the early records the spelling bonzer alternates with bonser, bonza, and bonzor. The adjective, noun, and adverb are all recorded from the early years of the 20th century:

(noun) 1903 Morning Post (Cairns) 5 June: The little pony outlaw is wonderfully fast at disposing of his mounts. Yuong Jack Hansen undertook to sit him but failed at every attempt. Jack states he got a 'bonza on the napper', at one time when thrown.

(adjective) 1904 Argus (Melbourne) 23 July: The python is shedding his skin ... 'I say, Bill, ain't his noo skin bonza?'

(adverb) 1914 B. Cable By Blow and Kiss: Came back grinning widely, with the assurance that it [sc. the rain] was coming down 'Bonzer'.

boofhead

A fool or simpleton; a stupid person; an uncouth person. Boofhead derives from buffle-headed 'having a head like a buffalo' (OED) and bufflehead 'a fool, blockhead, stupid fellow' (OED). Bufflehead has disappeared from standard English, but survives in its Australian form boofhead. It was popularised by the use of boofhead as the name of a dimwitted comic strip character invented by R.B. Clark and introduced in the Sydney Daily Mail in May 1941. For an earlier discussion of the word see our Word of the Month article from December 2009.

1943 Australian Women's Weekly (Sydney) 16 January: Many a time when his round head nodded wisely in accord with the sergeant's explanations, the sergeant was tempted to think: 'I don't believe the boof-head knows what I'm talking about.'

2015 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 23 April: For those who think we should follow the Kiwis in taxation, feel free to move there. We get their boofheads so they can have ours.

boomerang

Boomerang is an Australian word which has moved into International English. The word was borrowed from an Aboriginal language in the early years of European settlement, but the exact language is still uncertain. Early evidence suggests it was borrowed from a language in, or just south of, the Sydney region.  

While the spelling boomerang is now standard, in the early period the word was given a variety of spellings: bomerang, bommerang, bomring, boomereng, boomering, bumerang [etc].

The Australian Aboriginal boomerang is a crescent-shaped wooden implement used as a missile or club, in hunting or warfare, and for recreational purposes. The best-known type of boomerang, used primarily for recreation, can be made to circle in flight and return to the thrower. Although boomerang-like objects were known in other parts of the world, the earliest examples and the greatest diversity of design is found in Australia. A specimen of a preserved boomerang has been found at Wyrie Swamp in South Australia and is dated at 10,000 years old. Boomerangs were not known throughout the entirety of Australia, being absent from the west of South Australia, the north Kimberley region of Western Australia, north-east Arnhem Land, and Tasmania. In some regions boomerangs are decorated with designs that are either painted or cut into the wood.

Very early in Australian English the term boomerang was used in transferred and figurative senses, especially with reference to something which returns to or recoils upon its author. These senses are now part of International English, but it is interesting to look at the earliest Australian evidence for the process of transfer and figurative use:

1846 Boston Daily Advertiser 5 May: Like the strange missile which the Australian throws, Your verbal boomerang slaps you on the nose.

1894 Bulletin (Sydney) 7 July: The argument that there should be profitable industrial prison-labour is a boomerang with a wicked recoil.

1911 Pastoralists' Review 15 March: Labour-Socialist legislation is boomerang legislation, and it generally comes back and hits those it was not intended for.

By the 1850s boomerang had also developed as a verb in Australian English, meaning 'to hit (someone or something) with a boomerang; to throw (something) in the manner of a boomerang'. By the 1890s the verbal sense developed another meaning: 'to return in the manner of a boomerang; to recoil (upon the author); to ricochet'. The earliest evidence for this sense occurs in the Brisbane Worker newspaper from 16 May 1891:

Australia's a big country
An' Freedom's humping bluey
And Freedom's on the wallaby
Oh don't you hear her Cooee,
She's just begun to boomerang
She'll knock the tyrants silly.

On 13 November 1979 the Canberra Times reported that 'Greg Chappell's decision to send England in appeared to have boomeranged'.

These verbal senses of boomerang have also moved into International English. For a further discussion of boomerang see the article 'Boomerang, Boomerang, Thou Spirit of Australia!' in our Ozwords newsletter.

bottle: the full bottle

Knowledgeable, an expert—‘Does Robbo know anything about paving? Yeah mate, he’s the full bottle.’ The probable source of the phrase is the 19th century British term no bottle ‘no good’ (which in turn is probably an abbreviation of rhyming slang no bottle and glass ‘no class’). In Australia the full bottle came to mean ‘very good’, and then ‘very good at, knowledgeable about (something)’. It is often used in the negative - not the full bottle means ‘not good (at something)’ or ‘not fully informed’. The phrase is first recorded in the 1940s.

1946 West Australian (Perth) 12 January: The B.M. went to ensure that the provost on duty was a full bottle on the art of saluting full generals.

2005 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 8 December: Given that her cousins are real-life princesses, Makim should be the full bottle on the art of pouring and drinking tea like a lady.

bottom of the harbour

A tax avoidance scheme. In the late 1970s a large number of bottom of the harbour schemes were operating in corporate Australia. The schemes involved buying a company with a large tax liability, converting the assets to cash, and then ‘hiding’ the company by, for example, selling it to a fictitious buyer. Thus the company (and often its records) vanished completely - figuratively sent to the ‘bottom of the harbour’ (originally Sydney Harbour) - with an unpaid tax bill. The term is usually used attributively.

1983 Sydney Morning Herald 13 August: The Federal Government's introduction of the Taxation (Unpaid Company Tax) Act last year is expected to recoup about $250 million in unpaid tax from the bottom-of-the-harbour participants.

2006 A. Hyland Diamond Dove: The feller in the dock was some fabulous creature - part lawyer, part farmer - who'd been caught in a bottom-of-the-harbour tax avoidance scheme.

boundary rider

An employee responsible for maintaining the (outer) fences on a station, or a publicly owned vermin-proof fence. This sense of boundary rider is recorded from the 1860s but in more recent years, as a result of changes in technology and modes of transport, this occupation has become relatively rare. Since the 1980s the term has been used of a boundary umpire in Australian Rules Football, a cricketer in a fielding position near the boundary, and a roving reporter at a sporting game. For a more detailed discussion of the original sense of boundary rider and the later sporting senses see our Word of the Month article from December 2010.

1885 Illustrated Australian News (Melbourne) 30 September: The duties of a boundary rider for the most part consist in riding round the fences every day, seeing that they are all in good order, blocking up any panels that may be broken, putting out strangers (that is stock that have strayed on to the run), and, in fact, doing all that may pertain to keeping his master's stock on his own land, and everybody's else out of it.

2012 K. McGinnis Tracking North: Mechanisation had finally reached the open-range country. There were no more pumpers or boundary riders.

Bradbury: do a Bradbury

Be the unlikely winner of an event; to win an event coming from well behind. The phrase comes from the name of Steven Bradbury, who won a gold medal in speed skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics after his opponents fell. For a detailed discussion of this phrase see our blog 'Doing a Bradbury: an Aussie term born in the Winter Olympics' (which includes a video of Bradbury's famous win), and our Word of the Month article from August 2008.

2002 Sydney Morning Herald 19 February: Maybe Doing a Bradbury will become a common saying in Australian sport[:] To succeed only because everyone else fell over. The Socceroos need some of that luck.

2014 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 10 July: Someone would one day do a 'Bradbury' and finish third or fourth in the Brownlow Medal yet be crowned the winner.

branch stacking

The practice of improperly increasing the membership of a local branch of a political party in order to ensure the preselection of a particular candidate. The term is a specific use of branch meaning 'a local division of a political party'. While the practice described by branch stacking has been around for a very long time, the word itself is first recorded in the 1960s.

1968 Sydney Morning Herald 6 November: Banks and Blaxland electorates adjoin each other and what the people lodging the appeals are saying is that extensive branch 'stacking' has been going on.

2002 Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong) 7 October: Labor will fight branch stacking by forcing all members to be on the electoral roll before taking part in a preselection vote.

bride’s nightie: off like a bride’s nightie

Leaving immediately; making a hasty departure; at full speed. It is likely that this expression was first used in horseracing to refer to a horse that moved very quickly out of the starting gates. The phrase plays on two different meanings of the verb be off: ‘be removed’ and ‘move quickly'. First recorded in the 1960s.

1969 C. Bray Blossom: 'Come on youse blokes!' he shouted. 'We're off like a bride's nightie!'

2005 Canberra Times 18 March: The irony is of course that their CEO is the least loyal person in the company. First sign of a better offer and they are off like a bride's nightie.

bring a plate

An invitation to bring a plate of food to share at a social gathering or fundraiser. There are many stories of new arrivals in Australia being bamboozled by the instruction to bring a plate. As the locals know, a plate alone will not do. In earlier days the request was often ladies a plate, sometimes followed by gentlemen a donation. First recorded in the 1920s.

1951 Sunshine Advocate 22 March: Mrs Gum has kindly offered her home on Saturday, 14th of April for a social evening. Ladies bring a plate.

2013 Northern Star (Lismore) 16 July: A visit in from our Tasmanian friends. 1 pm start of play. Please bring a plate. All welcome.

brumby

A wild horse. The story of wild horses in the Australian landscape was vividly brought to life in Banjo Paterson's 1890 poem 'The Man from Snowy River': 'There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around/ That the colt from old Regret had got away,/ And had joined the wild bush horses.' These 'wild bush horses' have been known as brumbies in Australia since the early 1870s.

The origin for this term is still disputed. E.M. Curr in Australian Race (1887) gives booramby meaning 'wild' in the language of the Pitjara (or Pidjara or Bidjara) people of the region at the headwaters of the Warrego and Nogoa Rivers in south-western Queensland. This is in the general location of the earliest evidence, but the language evidence has not been subsequently confirmed. This origin was popularised by Paterson in an introduction to his poem 'Brumby's run' printed in 1894. A common suggestion is that brumby derives from the proper name Brumby . This theory was also noted by E.E. Morris in Austral English in 1898: 'A different origin was, however, given by an old resident of New South Wales, to a lady of the name Brumby, viz. "that in the early days of that colony, a Lieutenant Brumby, who was on the staff of one of the Governors, imported some very good horses, and that some of their descendants being allowed to run wild became the ancestors of the wild horses of New South Wales and Queensland". Over the years, various Messrs Brumby have been postulated as the origin. More recently, Dymphna Lonergan suggested that the word comes from Irish word bromaigh, the plural form of the word for a young horse, or colt. For a more detailed discussion concerning the origin of the term brumby see the article 'Wild Horses Running Wild' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1871 Maitland Mercury 10 October: A fine grazing block, lightly timbered, and for which the lessee would expect to draw a thousand pounds for his goodwill, without a hoof upon it, by a singular species of transition is suddenly metamorphosed into a mass of scrub, only fit for a mob of 'Brumbies'.

2010 K. McGinnis Wildhorse Creek: The country's rotten with brumbies.

Buckley’s chance

A forlorn hope; no prospect whatever. Often abbreviated to Buckley’s. One explanation for the origin of the term is that it comes from the name of the convict William Buckley, who escaped from Port Phillip in 1803 and lived for 32 years with Aboriginal people in southern Victoria. A second explanation links the phrase to the Melbourne firm of Buckley and Nunn (established in 1851), suggesting that a pun developed on the 'Nunn' part of the firm's name (with 'none') and that this gave rise to the formulation 'there are just two chances, Buckley's and none'. This second explanation appears to have arisen after the original phrase was established. For an earlier discussion about the origin of the term buckley's chance see the article 'Buckley's' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1887 Melbourne Punch 22 September: In our sporting columns, in the Fitzroy team appears the name of Bracken. It should have been Buckley. Olympus explains that he altered it because he didn't want the Fitzroy men to have 'Buckley's chance'.

2015 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 7 March: If I lose this job I've got Buckley's chance of getting another one.

budgie smugglers

A pair of close-fitting male swimming briefs made of stretch fabric. The Australian term is probably a variation of the international English grape smugglers for such a garment. Budgie smugglers is one of the numerous Australian words for this particular garment (others include bathers, cossies, speedos, swimmers, and togs). Budgie is a shortening of budgerigar - from Kamilaroi (an Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland), and designates a small green and yellow parrot which has become a popular caged bird. The term is a jocular allusion to the appearance of the garment. Budgie smugglers is first recorded in the late 1990s. For a more detailed discussion of the word see our Word of the Month article from December 2013.

2002 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 23 November: Nothing stands between you and a continent made entirely of icebergs except the Southern Ocean. That, and a thin pair of Speedos so figure-hugging you can see every goosebump - flimsy togs that are known not-all-that-affectionately by us Brown boys as budgie smugglers!

2015 Sydney Morning Herald 30 March: Property types joined with investment bankers on Sunday when they swapped suits for budgie smugglers to raise more than $600,000 and awareness for cerebral palsy.

bulldust

A kind of fine powdery dirt or dust, often found in inland Australia. Roads or tracks covered with bulldust may be a hazard for livestock and vehicles, which can become bogged in it. It is probably called bulldust because it resembles the soil trampled by cattle in stockyards. The word can also be used as a polite way of saying bullshit. Both senses of the word are first recorded in the 1920s.

1929 Register News-Pictorial (Adelaide) 7 December: Motoring across Lake Eyre ... This 'bull' dust might be about two feet deep, and cakes on the surface, so that it is hard to penetrate.

1954 J. Cleary Climate of Courage: 'I'm seventy-five per cent Irish', said Mick. 'You're seventy-five per cent bulldust, too', said Joe.

2011 M Groves Outback Life: When a stretch of loose bulldust appeared too daunting, Joe would gun the engine down and go at a speed that didn't give us time to bog down. 

bull’s roar: not within a bull’s roar

Nowhere near - 'The club’s not within a bull’s roar of winning the premiership this season.' A roaring bull can be heard over a great distance, so that to be not within a bull’s roar is to be a considerable distance away. The phrase is sometimes used without the negative - to be within a bull’s roar means that you are not too far away. A much finer unit of measurement is expressed by the similar Australian phrase within a bee’s dick. The phrase is first recorded in the 1930s.

1936 Chronicle (Adelaide) 3 September: He knew that the horse, trainer and rider were O.K., and felt that the danger lay in interference. I told him that nothing would get within a 'bull's roar' of Agricolo to interfere with him, and such was the case.

2005 West Australian (Perth) 18 April: Again, through no fault of the sometimes-too-helpful McGuire, no recent contestant has come within a bull's roar of winning a serious amount of cash.

bung

Incapacitated, exhausted, broken (as in 'the telly’s bung'). It comes from bang meaning ‘dead’ in the Yagara Aboriginal language of the Brisbane region. It found its way into 19th-century Australian pidgin, where the phrase to go bung meant ‘to die’. The term is often found in this phrasal form where it now has several meanings: 'to be financially bankrupt, to come to nought; to fail, to collapse, to break down'. These figurative senses of bung emerged in the late 19th century.

1885 Australasian Printers' Keepsake: He was importuned to desist, as his musical talent had 'gone bung' probably from over-indulgence in confectionery.

2006 Australian (Sydney) 27 April: Sydney boy Scott Reed was the name on every recruiter's list, but he has been taken to hospital with a bung ankle.

bunyip

An amphibious monster supposed to inhabit inland waterways. Descriptions of it vary greatly. Some give it a frightful human head and an animal body. Many descriptions emphasise its threat to humans and its loud booming at night. It inhabits inland rivers, swamps, and billabongs. The word comes from the Aboriginal Wathaurong language of Victoria. Bunyip is first recorded in the 1840s. For a more detailed discussion of this word see the article 'There's a Bunyip Close behind us and he's Treading on my Tail' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1845 Sydney Morning Herald 12 July: On the bone being shown to an intelligent black, he at once recognised it as belonging to the 'Bunyip', which he declared he had seen.

2015 Southern Highland News (Bowral): Everyone knows bunyips live in the Wingecarribee Swamp, problem is, there are quite a few different theories about this elusive animal and it all seems to turn on how much grog visitors to the swamp have had before they hear the distinctive roar.

burl: give it a burl

Venture an attempt; give something a try. This is an Australian alteration of the standard English phrase give it a whirlBurl is from the English dialect (especially Scottish and northern English) verb birl ‘spin’ or ‘whirl’ and the corresponding noun 'a rapid twist or turn'. Give it a burl is first recorded in the early years of the 20th century.

1978 Mullally & Sexton Libra and Capricorn: Should be some fish out there I say. We'll give it a burl, eh?

2006 Mercury (Hobart) 13 January: I've never been on a boat cruise. We wanted to give it a burl and see how it went. We'd do it again.

bush week: what do you think this is, bush week?

Do you think I’m stupid? An indignant response to someone who is taking you for a fool - 'You’re going to charge me how much? What do you think this is, bush week?' Bush week is a time when people from the country come to a city, originally when bush produce etc. was displayed; and it is also a celebration in a town or city of bush produce, activities, etc. These senses of bush week go back to the early 20th century. The phrase originally implied the notion that people from the country are easily fooled by the more sophisticated city slickers. The speaker resents being mistaken for a country bumpkin. The phrase is first recorded in the 1940s.

1949 L. Glassop Lucky Palmer: I get smart alecks like you trying to put one over on me every minute of the day. What do you think this is? Bush Week?

2012 J. Murray Goodbye Lullaby: They had already been warned about the breastfeeding business ... 'Whaddya think this is?' said the proprietor as she glared at them all. 'Bloody Bush Week or something? Beat it, you two!'.

Canberra bashing

The act or process of criticising the Australian Government and its bureaucracy. Canberra, the capital of Australia, has been used allusively to refer to the Australian Government and its bureaucracy since the 1920s. The term Canberra bashing emerged in the 1970s, and is also applied in criticisms of the city itself. For a more detailed discussion of the term see our Word of the Month article from February 2013.

1976 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 19 February: Even Federal Liberal MPs from Tasmania feel that their electoral standing is increased by regular outbursts of 'Canberra bashing'.

2014 Canberra Times 28 November: While Canberra bashing has always been a national sport, it is fair to say it has rarely, if ever, been played so artfully and with such dedication as in the past two to three years. Politicians on both sides have shown a willingness to put the boot into a national capital.

captain's pick

(In a political context) a decision made by a party leader etc. without consultation with colleagues. This term also takes the form captain's call. Captain's pick is derived from sporting contexts in which a team captain has the discretion to choose members of the team. The political sense emerged in Australian English in 2013. For a more detailed discussion of this term see our Word of the Month article from January 2014.

2013 Daily Telegraph (Sydney): Ms Peris, who as of yesterday was yet to join the Labor party, is set to become the first indigenous ALP representative in federal parliament with an assured top place on the NT Senate ticket in what Ms Gillard described as a 'captain's pick'.

2015 Australian (Sydney) 5 August: What Abbott's stubbornness missed, however, was that it was the public and his own MPs more than the media or Labor who were disgusted by his intransigence in refusing to remove his captain's pick Speaker.

cark

To die; to break down; to fail. Also spelt kark, and often taking the form cark it. The word is probably a figurative use of an earlier Australian sense of cark meaning 'the caw of a crow', which is imitative. First recorded in the 1970s.

1977 R. Beilby Gunner: 'That wog ya roughed up - well, he karked.' Sa'ad dead!

1996 H.G. Nelson Petrol, Bait, Ammo and Ice: The offside rule has carked it, and good on the refs.

2001 Manly Daily 19 January: The resulting play is five stories from the morgue, monologues by people who have recently carked it and have 'woken up' in the morgue.

chardonnay socialist

A derogatory term for a person who espouses left-wing views but enjoys an affluent lifestyle. It is modelled on the originally British term, champagne socialist, which has a similar meaning. The term chardonnay socialist appeared in the 1980s, not long after the grape variety Chardonnay became very popular with Australian wine drinkers.

1987 D. Williamson Emerald City: I'm going to keep charting their perturbations .. those Chardonnay socialists of Melbourne aren't going to stop me.

2014 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 14 May: Maybe if these rorts are dispensed with, instead of getting failed businessmen, unionists who couldn't get work elsewhere and lawyers who are nothing more than chardonnay socialists and see life as an MP a cosy way to feather their nests, we'll see people in Parliament who have a genuine wish to do something for this country.

checkout chick

A checkout operator at a supermarket. This term usually refers to female checkout operators (hence chick, an informal word for a young woman), but with changes in the gender makeup of the supermarket workforce the term is occasionlly applied to males. Checkout chick is first recorded in the 1970s. For a more detailed discussion of the term see our Word of the Month article from May 2014.

1976 Canberra Times 16 June: The checkout chick is too busy taking money to tell you how to operate your cut-price, multi-purpose, plastic encased kitchen magician.

2014 Geelong Advertiser 19 July: This gormless dude started arguing with the checkout chick and held up a line of about 30 people.

chook

A domestic fowl; a chicken. Chook comes from British dialect chuck(y) 'a chicken; a fowl' which is a variant of chickChook is the common term for the live bird, although chook raffles, held in Australian clubs and pubs, have ready-to-cook chooks as prizes. The term has also been transferred to refer to other birds, and often in the form old chook it can refer to a woman. See our Word of the Month articles 'chook run' and 'chook lit' for further uses of chook. First recorded as chuckey in 1855.

1880 Bulletin (Sydney) 17 July: A man was found in the cow-shed of Government House ... Was he looking after the housemaid or the 100 little chookies?

2014 Sydney Morning Herald 25 November: We have chooks at our farm in Bena, an hour and a half out of town.

chook: may your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down

A jocular curse. This expression recalls an earlier time when many Australians kept chooks (domestic chickens) in the backyard and the dunny was a separate outhouse. A similar comic exaggeration is seen in the phrase he couldn’t train a choko vine over a country dunny - a comment on a person’s incompetence. First recorded in the 1970s.

1993 Advertiser (Adelaide) 9 June: Maybe when Mr Keating has finished educating the judiciary, he might have a go at the politicians and bureaucrats, starting with arithmetic. Although I must say this is a very cunning, contrived piece of legislation, if that is what they set out to do. May their chooks turn into emus and kick their dunnies down.

chunder

To vomit. Also used as noun ‘vomit’. Chunder possibly comes from a once-popular cartoon character, 'Chunder Loo of Akim Foo', drawn by Norman Lindsay for a series of boot polish advertisements in the early 1900s. It is possible that 'Chunder Loo' became rhyming slang for spewChunder, however, is the only form to be recorded. The earliest evidence is associated with Australian troops in action to the north of Australia during the Second World War.

1950 N. Shute A Town like Alice: The way these bloody Nips go on. Makes you chunda.

2003 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 9 April: Back at least 20 years - to a land where women glow and men chunder.

Clayton's

Something that is largely illusory or exists in name only; a poor substitute or imitation. This word derives from the proprietary name of a soft drink, sold in a bottle that looked like a whisky bottle, and marketed from 1980 as 'the drink you have when you're not having a drink'. For a more detailed discussion of the word see our blog 'The evolution of a word - the case of Clayton's'.

1982 Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) 28 March: So who's the press secretary working out of the NSW Parliament whose press-gallery nickname is Clayton .. because he's the press secretary you're having, when you're not having a press secretary?

2008 A. Pung Growing up Asian in Australia: My bikini top is crammed so full of rubbery 'chicken fillets' I'd probably bounce if you threw me. These Clayton's breasts jiggle realistically when I jump up and down on the spot.

cleanskin

An unbranded animal. In the pastoral industry an animal that has not been branded with a mark identifying the owner can easily be stolen or lost. The word is first recorded in the 1860s. There are several transferred and figurative senses of cleanskin that evolved from the orgininal sense. In the first decade of the 20th century cleanskin began to be used to describe 'an Aboriginal person who has not passed through an initiation rite'. Also from this period on cleanskin was used figuratively of 'a person who has no criminal record; a person new to (a situation or activity) and lacking experience'. From the 1980s cleanskin was also used of 'a bottle of wine without a label that identifies the maker, sold at a price cheaper than comparable labelled bottles; the wine in such a bottle'.

1868 Sydney Morning Herald 11 November: These are branded by the owners of such herds, who know all the while that they do not belong to them, on the assumption that they have the best right to these 'clean skins', and that, after all, they are more likely to be their property than that of anyone else.

1998 M. Keenan The Horses too are Gone: In the rangelands an unbranded calf becomes a cleanskin and cleanskins belong to the first person capable of planting a brand on the rump.

cobber

A friend, a companion. Also used as a form of address (g’day cobber!). The word probably comes from Yiddish word chaber 'comrade'. The English Dialect Dictionary lists cob 'to take a liking to any one; to "cotton" to', but the evidence is from only one Suffolk source, and the dictionary adds: 'Not known to our other correspondents'. This Suffolk word is sometimes proposed as the origin of cobber, but its dialect evidence is very limited. Cobber, now somewhat dated, is rarely used by young Australians. First recorded in the 1890s.

1929 Bulletin (Sydney) 26 June: 'He was my cobber' - an expressive blend Of 'mate' and 'pal', more definite than 'brother' And somewhat less perfunctory than 'friend'.

2014 Advocate (Burnie) 12 August: Our service was restored at about 11.15pm during July 31, so good onya cobbers for a job well done.

cocky

A small-scale farmer; (in later use often applied to) a substantial landowner or to the rural interest generally. In Australia there are a number of cockies including cow cockies, cane cockies and wheat cockies. Cocky arose in the 1870s and is an abbreviation of cockatoo farmer. This was then a disparaging term for small-scale farmers, probably because of their habit of using a small area of land for a short time and then moving on, in the perceived manner of cockatoos feeding.

1899 Australian Magazine (Sydney) March: 'Cockie' was a contemptuous title by which the big farmers distinguished themselves from the little.

2006 Stock and Land (Melbourne) 4 May: Removing the stereotypical image of farmers being whinging cockies is also important.

convict

A person sentenced in the British Isles to a term of penal servitude in an Australian Colony. The foundations of European settlement in Australia are based on the transportation of tens of thousands of prisoners from the British Isles. The word is a specific use of convict 'a condemned criminal serving a sentence of penal servitude' (OED). While in America convict is still used to refer to a prisoner, in Australia it is now largely historical. For a further discussion of this word see our blog 'A long lost convict: Australia's "C-word"?' And for a discussion of words associated with Australia's convicts see the article 'Botany Bay Argot' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1788 Historic Records of Australia (1914): The convicts on both sides are distributed in huts.

1849 G.F. Angas Description of the Barossa Range: No convicts are transported to this place, for South Australia is not a penal colony.

cooee

Originally a call used by an Aboriginal person to communicate (with someone) at a distance; later adopted by settlers and now widely used as a signal, especially in the bush; a name given to the call. The iconic call of the Australian bush comes from the Aboriginal Sydney language word gawi or guwi meaning 'come here'. Cooee is recorded from the early years of European settlement in Sydney. It is often found in the phrase within cooee meaning 'within earshot; within reach, near'.

1827 P. Cunningham Two Years in New South Wales: In calling to each other at a distance, the natives make use of the word Coo-ee, as we do the word Hollo, prolonging the sound of the coo, and closing that of the ee with a shrill jerk.

1956 E. Lambert Watermen: If I ever see you within coo-ee of my boat again, I'll drown you.

2006 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 15 March: These Games are no longer some village competition with a hometown audience that you can please with a cooee and a wobbleboard.

coolibah

The term coolibah is best known from the opening lines of Banjo Paterson's 1895 lyrics for the song Waltzing Matilda:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong Under the shade of a coolibah tree...

The word is a borrowing from Yuwaaliyaay (and neighbouring languages), an Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales. In the earlier period it was was spelt in various ways, including coolabah, coolobar, and coolybah.

It is term for any of several eucalypts, especially the blue-leaved Eucalyptus microtheca found across central and northern Australia, a fibrous-barked tree yielding a durable timber and occurring in seasonally flooded areas. Coolibah is first recorded in the 1870s.

1876 Sydney Morning Herald 9 August: The country consists of open plains, with myall and coolabah.

1995 Australian (Sydney) 16 September: With its dead coolibah trees, sun-bleached cattle bones and screeching galahs, Howard Blackburn's back paddock could be anywhere in Australia's drought-ravaged grazing lands.

crook

Bad, unpleasant or unsatisfactory: Things were crook on the land in the seventies. Crook means bad in a general sense, and also in more specific senses too: unwell or injured (a crook knee), and dishonest or illegal (he was accused of crook dealings). It is an abbreviation of crooked ‘dishonestly come by; made, obtained, or sold in a way that is not straightforward’. All senses are recorded from the 1890s.

1913 A. Pratt Wolaroi's Cup: Most stables .. are crook some of the time, but none are crook all of the time.

1936 F. Clune Roaming Round the Darling: My cobber, here, used to sing in opera. He's a pretty crook singer, but he'll sing for you.

2014 Advertiser (Adelaide) 31 May: I was feeling crook at the Ipswich races and over the weekend. I went to the GP on Monday and before I knew it I was in emergency and then off to Brisbane.

cup of tea, a Bex, and a good lie down

Used to indicate the need for a rest in order to settle down, solve a problem, etc.; a panacea. The phrase (now often with some variations) was originally the title of a a revue at the Phillip Street Theatre in Sydney 1965. The cuppa, the Bex (an analgesic in powder form) and the lie down were supposed to be the suburban housewife’s solution to problems such as depression, anxiety, isolation and boredom.

1971 Sydney Morning Herald 13 May: 'A Cup of Tea, a Bex and a nice lie down' used to be regarded as a bit of a joke. Not anymore. Drug hungry women gulp their share of $200 million headache powders, tranquillisers and sleeping pills every year - to solve every problem from what they'll cook for dinner to that vague headache.

2014 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 23 January: Catholic Church officials once thought child-sex abuse victims just needed a 'cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down' to get over crimes committed against them by paedophile clergy.

currency lad or lass

A native-born Australian. These terms are now obsolete. In the early days of the Australian colony English gold pieces were called sterling, but there were also ‘inferior’ coins from many countries. These were called currency. The ‘sterling’ British-born immigrants used the word currency to belittle the native-born Australians, but the Australians soon used it of themselves with pride. First recorded in the 1820s.

1824 Australian (Sydney) 18 November: Let the currency lads and lasses turn Arcadian shepherds and shepherdesses if they choose.

1840 Port Phillip Gazette: The answer of the simple Currency Lass will suit our purpose, who, when asked if she would like to visit England, said, no! there are so many thieves there!!

dag

An unfashionable person; a person lacking style or character; a socially awkward adolescent, a 'nerd'. These senses of dag derive from an earlier Australian sense of dag meaning 'a "character", someone eccentric but entertainingly so'. Ultimately all these senses of dag are probably derived from the British dialect (especially in children's speech) sense of dag meaning a 'feat of skill', 'a daring feat among boys', and the phrase to have a dag at meaning 'to have a shot at'. The Australian senses of dag may have also been influenecd by the word wag (a habitual joker), and other Australian senses of dag referring to sheep (see rattle your dags below). Dag referring to an unfashionable person etc. is recorded from the 1960s.

1983 Sydney Morning Herald 24 September: Has it helped them feel more relaxed with the boys in their PD group. 'Well, most of them are dags', Julie laughs, 'but at least they're easier to talk to'.

2011 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 11 July: Christian, while your budget may appear to be reasonable .. your dress sense is nothing less than appalling. Never ever wear a striped suit, a striped shirt and a striped tie together - just dreadful ... You look like a real dag.

dag: rattle your dags

Hurry up, get a move on. Dags are clumps of matted wool and dung which hang around a sheep’s rear end. When a daggy sheep runs, the dried dags knock together to make a rattling sound. The word dag (originally daglock) was a British dialect word that was borrowed into mainstream Australian English in the 1870s. The phrase is first recorded in the 1980s.

1984 S. Thorne Battler: C'mon Mum, rattle yer dags - the old girls are hungry!

2010 Countryman (Perth) 11 February: Rattle yer dags, woolclassers, time's running out to re-register yourselves with the Australian Wool Exchange.

dak

To pull down or remove the trousers from (a person) as a joke or punishment. Dak derives from another Australian term daks meaning 'a pair of trousers'. The term is first recorded from the early 1990s but is probably much older than that. For a more detailed discussion of dak see our Word of the Month article from July 2009.

1994 Age (Melbourne) 24 July: We played footy together, but his recognition was going on to play for Footscray; I was the little fella so mine was getting dakked every pie night.

2007 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 4 October: The former Fitzroy and Brisbane footballer has 'Fitzroy RIP 1996' tattooed on his right buttock. His family didn't know about it until he was dacked during a game this year.

damper

A simple kind of bread, traditionally unleavened and baked in the ashes of an outdoor fire. This word is specific use of British damper meaning ‘something that takes the edge off the appetite’, and probably with some influence from damp down '(of a fire or furnace) to cover or fill it with small coal, ashes, or coke, so as to check combustion and prevent its going out, when not required for some time'. Because it was the most common form of bread for bush workers in the nineteenth century, to earn your damper means to be worth your pay. First recorded in the 1820s.

1825 Howe's Weekly Commercial Express (Sydney) 23 May: There is at this moment many a poor settler up the country, buried in the bush .. eating salt pork and dampers with an occasional feast of kangaroo.

2013 S. Bisley Stillways: We made damper out of flour and water, squeezed it around green sticks to cook over the coals.

dawn service

A commemorative ceremony held at dawn on Anzac Day. Anzac Day, April 25, is a national public holiday in Australia commemorating all those who have served and died in war. It is the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops in 1915. While commemorative services have been held on April 25 since 1916, the term dawn service is not recorded until the 1920s.

1971 Bulletin (Sydney) 8 May: Ahead of us, already drunk in preparation for an Anzac Sunday, three old mates, Les, Norm and Billy, a rolled flag between them, zigzag toward the Dawn Service.

2015 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 11 January: Cruise Express's Legends of the Mediterranean package will cruise the waters off the Turkish coast at dawn on April 25 and the official dawn service ashore will be broadcast on the ship.

didgeridoo

The didgeridoo is a wind instrument that was originally found only in Arnhem Land in northern Australia. It is a long, wooden, tubular instrument that produces a low-pitched, resonant sound with complex, rhythmic patterns but little tonal variation. In popular understanding many Australians probably believe that this is an Aboriginal word. Indeed, the 1988 edition of the Australian National Dictionary attributed it to the Yolngu language of northern Queensland. Subsequent research has cast doubt on this etymology, and in 1990 the following statement was made in Australian Aboriginal Words in English: 'Although it has been suggested that this must be a borrowing from an Australian language it is not one. The name probably evolved from white people's ad hoc imitation of the sound of the instrument'. This argument is supported by two of the earliest pieces of evidence for the term:

1918 Richmond Guardian (Melbourne): 'At Darwin the nigger crew is making merry with the Diridgery doo and the eternal ya-ya-ya ye-ye-ye cry'.

1919 Smith's Weekly (Sydney): 'The Northern Territory aborigines have an infernal - allegedly musical - instrument composed of two feet of hollow bamboo. It produces but one sound - 'didjerry, didjerry, didjerry -' and so on ad infinitum.

digger

An Australian soldier. The term was applied during the First World War to Australian and  New Zealand soldiers because so much of their time was spent digging trenches. An earlier Australian sense of digger was ‘a miner digging for gold ’. Billy Hughes, prime minister during the First World War, was known as the Little Digger. First recorded in this sense 1916.

1918 Aussie: Australian Soldiers' Magazine February: About the origin of this word 'Digger' ... It came to France when the sandgropers gave up digging on the goldfields of W.A. and carried on with it on the battlefields.

2015 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 26 January: Australia's special-forces troops .. dominate the military division of the 2015 Australia Day Honours. They include a major who planned an 'unprecedented operation' to capture a rogue Afghan sergeant who murdered three Australian diggers.

dinkum

Reliable; genuine; honest; true. This word is a shortening of fair dinkum which comes from British dialect. The compound fair dinkum 'fair dealing which is just and equitable' is recorded from Lincolnshire in 1881, and is the equivalent of West Yorkshire fair doos fair dealing. The adjective is first recorded in Australia from the 1890s. For a more detailed discussion of dinkum see the article 'The Story of Dinkum' on our blog.

1910 Sunday Times (Perth) 6 March: I'll tell you, sir, what happened, and I tell the dinkum truth.

2014 Sydney Morning Herald 29 July: The electorate is better educated than ever before, people are more financially successful and they see through the paradox that governments promise more and more but can achieve less. The starting point is to make the debate more dinkum.

dinner: done like a dinner

Comprehensively outwitted or defeated - ‘Collingwood was done like a dinner in the grand final’. The phrase was first recorded in 1847. The origin is uncertain, but a common variation is ‘done like a dog’s dinner’, which implies a meal devoured with enthusiasm, and the bowl licked clean. This may give a clue to the source of the phrase. If you are done like a dinner, you are completely and efficiently demolished.

1853 T.F. Bride Letters from Victorian Pioneers: The horse swam for a quarter of a mile down the river with the cart after him .. the driver, who remained till then on his seat on the hurdle up to his neck in water, calling out to me 'he was done like a dinner'.

2013 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 14 November: Keep going the way they are and they will be done like a dinner for many elections to come.

dob

To inform upon (someone); to incriminate (someone). The ethic of standing by one’s mates means that many Australians take a dim view of dobbing. The word is probably related to British dialect dob meaning 'to put down an article heavily or clumsily; to throw down', and 'to throw stones etc. at a mark' (often used to describe throwing and hitting in games of marbles). Dob is first recorded in the 1950s. For a more detailed discussion of this term see the article 'The Story of Dob' on our blog.

1955 Overland v.: He came to me and dobbed in one of the carpenters for talking.

2013 S. Bisley Stillways: He used to sell single cigarettes to kids, and although it was common knowledge, he had never been busted and no one ever dobbed on him.

dolly’s wax: full up to dolly’s wax

‘Would you like more dessert?’ ‘No, I’m full up to dolly’s wax.’ This rather old-fashioned phrase means that you have eaten enough. It refers to the time before plastics were widely used, when children’s dolls had wax heads attached to cloth bodies. This example illustrates the way the origins of words and phrases can be lost with changes in technology. The expression has several variants including fed up to dolly's wax, and its meaning does not always denote being 'full' with food. First recorded in the early 20th century.

1943 Australasian (Melbourne) 10 July: There are books on this and books on that about past, present, and future international relations all deadly dull ... And I am fed up to dolly's wax with them.

2012 C. Tiffany Mateship with Birds: Every night after tea ⅆ Edna asked Harry if he'd had enough to eat. 'I'm full up to Dolly's wax', Harry would say, patting his neck.

donkey vote

(In a preferential system of voting) a vote recorded by allocating preferences according to the order in which candidates' names appear on the ballot paper; such votes viewed collectively. Voters who merely number the candidates in the order they are listed on the ballot paper (without regard for the merits of the candidates) are casting a donkey vote - that is, a stupid vote. First recorded in the early mid-20th century.

1955 Sydney Morning Herald 9 December: In previous Senate elections about 2 per cent. of voters have voted straight across the ballot paper without knowing which parties they were voting for. In South Australia this vote - the 'donkey vote' - will go to the Anti-Communists.

2001 Manly Daily 20 October: Although happy to top the ballot in Warringah, Greens candidate Keelah Lam said the only donkey votes in Warringah would come from people with no interest in politics.

Dorothy Dixer (Dorothy Dix)

A parliamentary question asked of a Minister by a member of the party in government to give the Minister the opportunity to deliver a prepared reply. It comes from Dorothy Dix, the pen-name of Elizabeth Gilmer (1870-1951), an American journalist who wrote a famous personal advice column which was syndicated in Australia. Her column came to seem a little too contrived, as if she was writing the questions as well as the answers. First recorded in the 1930s. For a discussion about the use of Dorothy Dixer in rhyming slang see the article 'Dorothies and Michelles' in our Ozwords newsletter. 

1934 Canberra Times 27 July: There were many questions on trade and finance matters. One of those came from Mr Hutchin, and there were cries of 'Dorothy Dix' when he asked it ... When a Minister is anxious to make some information available, or to answer some outside criticism, he will often get a private member to ask a question on the subject.

2003 Australian (Sydney) 28 May: Like everyone else, Kevin Rudd was spellbound when diminutive Liberal MP Sophie Panopolous rose to ask a dorothy dixer. And it was not her husky voice or hair or makeup that stopped traffic, but the rows and rows of pearls .. dangling beneath her neck. 'Condolence motion to the oysters', barked Rudd.

dreamtime

(In traditional Aboriginal belief) a collection of events beyond living memory that shaped the physical, spiritual, and moral world; the era in which these occurred; an Aboriginal person's consciousness of the enduring nature of the era. The term also takes the form dreaming. Dreamtime is a translation of alcheringa - a word from the Arrernte Aboriginal language of the Alice Springs region in central Australia. The term is first recorded in the 1890s.

1963 D. Attenborough Quest Under Capricorn: Although the Dreamtime was in the past, it is also co-existent with the present, and a man, by performing the rituals, can become one with his 'dreaming' and experience eternity. It is to seek this mystical union that the men enact the ceremonies.

2015 Advertiser (Adelaide) 26 January: Australia, old as the dreamtime, From your sun-warmed dust I grew, The molecules that make me, All have been part of you.

drongo

A fool, a simpleton, an idiot. There is also a bird called a drongo. The spangled drongo is found in northern and eastern Australia, as well as in the islands to the north of Australia, and further north to India and China. It is called a drongo because that is the name of a bird from the same family in northern Madagascar. The spangled drongo is not a stupid bird. It is not a galah. One book describes it thus: 'The spangled drongo catches insects in the air, chasing them in aerobatic flight'. There is one odd story about the drongo, however: unlike most migratory birds, it appears to migrate to colder regions in winter. Some have suggested that this is the origin of the association of 'stupidity' with the term drongo. But this seems most unlikely.

So what is the true story? There was an Australian racehorse called Drongo during the early 1920s. It seems likely that he was named after the bird called the 'drongo'. He wasn't a an absolute no-hoper of a racehorse: he ran second in a VRC Derby and St Leger, third in the AJC St Leger, and fifth in the 1924 Sydney Cup. He often came very close to winning major races, but in 37 starts he never won a race. In 1924 a writer in the Melbourne Argus comments: 'Drongo is sure to be a very hard horse to beat. He is improving with every run'. But he never did win.

Soon after the horse's retirement it seems that racegoers started to apply the term to horses that were having similarly unlucky careers. Soon after the term became more negative, and was applied also to people who were not so much 'unlucky' as 'hopeless cases', 'no-hopers', and thereafter 'fools'. In the 1940s it was applied to recruits in the Royal Australian Air Force. It has become part of general Australian slang.

Buzz Kennedy, writing in The Australian newspaper in 1977, defines a drongo thus:

A drongo is a simpleton but a complicated one: he is a simpleton [of the] sort who not only falls over his feet but does so at Government House; who asks his future mother-in-law to pass-the-magic-word salt the first time the girl asks him home.... In an emergency he runs heroically in the wrong direction. If he were Superman he would get locked in the telephone box. He never wins. So he is a drongo.

The origin of the term was revived at Flemington in 1977 when a Drongo Handicap was held. Only apprentice jockeys were allowed to ride. The horses entered were not allowed to have won a race in the previous twelve months.

1941 Somers Sun 2 July: When you are called Drongo, ignore it.

2013 A. Goode Through the Farm Gate: I can't believe my drongo of a father is asking such ridiculous questions.

drop bear

A jocular name for an imaginary animal similar in appearance to a koala, with very sharp jaws and teeth, that is said to devour tourists etc. after dropping down on them from trees. The term is often associated with the fooling of gullible international tourists, and has accordingly been used this way in television advertisements. There are suggestions that the term drop bear emerged in the Second World War period (see 1982 quotation below) but the first record is from the 1980s.

1982 N. Keesing Lily on a Dustbin: The 'drop bears' are creatures of a tall story - they were invented during World War II for the benefit of gullible American servicemen. It is alleged that 'drop bears' are a dangerous kind of koala and that they drop out of trees on the heads and shoulders of bush walkers and hug them to death.

2014 Townsville Bulletin 7 November: Participants are advised to choose their start time carefully to ensure they are finished before it gets dark and the drop bears come out at 6.30pm.

drover’s dog: like a drover’s dog

Drover’s dog has been used since the 1850s in various similes, usually uncomplimentary - a head like a drover’s dog (big and ugly), all prick and ribs like a drover’s dog (lean and hungry), and leaking like a drover’s dog (as in ‘the NSW Cabinet is leaking like a drover’s dog!’). It can also mean a nonentity, as when a politician commented in 1983 that ‘a drover’s dog could lead the Labor Party to victory’.

1978 J. Colbert The Ranch: The other Harry has got a head like a drover's dog and always wears a hat.

2001 B. Courtenay: We'd heard Nancy say he'd come back like a drover's dog all prick and ribs.

ducks on the pond

Look out - female approaching! A warning cry from a male as a signal to other men that a woman is approaching a traditionally all-male environment. It is a reminder that the men should modify their language and behaviour to avoid giving offence. It was first used in shearing sheds, but is now heard in other places, especially in a pub. While the first written evidence comes from the early 1980s the phrase probably goes back several decades earlier.

1982 P. Adam-Smith When We Rode the Rails: I remember well enough years ago hearing them yell 'Ducks on the Pond!' when a sheila hove in sight but that was more to warn a man to watch his tongue.

2005 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 22 May: The pathetic and increasingly unwatched Footy Show on Channel Nine whipped up another 'ducks on the pond' furore over the proposal to include the outspoken Rebecca Wilson on their panel. Fatty Vautin and Peter Sterling reportedly held angry meetings with their producer declaring they would not speak to Wilson if she was hired.

dunny

A toilet. The dunny was originally any outside toilet. In cities and towns the pan-type dunny was emptied by the dunny man, who came round regularly with his dunny cart. Dunny can now be used for any toilet. The word comes from British dialect dunnekin meaning an 'earth closet, (outside) privy' from dung + ken 'house'. First recorded in the 1930s but dunnekin is attested in Australian sources from the 1840s.

1957 Overland x: We used ter have a snake in the dunny - lav., sir.

2000 Tracks January: The scourge of the summer festival-goer has to be the crusty dunnies.

earbash

To subject (a person) to a torrent of words; to talk at great length to; to harangue. While not a physical beating of the ears, most people can sympathise with a person who has sustained a long taking to (an ear-bashing) by a boring or obnoxious windbag (an earbasher). The verb is first recorded from the 1940s, and possibly comes from Australian military slang of the Second World War period.

1943 Argus (Melbourne) 27 November: I’ve been 'bashed' as the DI’s (drill instructors) call it, on the parade ground, 'ear bashed' by ADI (aerodrome defence instructors) lectures, and have sweated ... and sometimes trembled ... over the fearsome obstacles on the Bivouac Assault Course.

2013 M. Lucashenko Mullumbimby: This valley’s full of people that want to earbash ya.

economic rationalism

A government’s free-market approach to economic management. This approach is typically reflected in the adoption of privatisation, deregulation, ‘user pays’, and low public spending. Most Australians are surprised to discover that this is an Australian term. The corresponding term in Britain is Thatcherism, and in the United States Reaganomics. First recorded from the 1970s.

1979 Patience & Head From Whitlam to Fraser: The second strand of Labor thinking on agricultural policy can be described as economic rationalism. The ALP contains many influential spokesmen who advocate disengagement of governments from existing agricultural assistance measures .. and the encouragement of a pattern of agricultural production that is more in tune with market opportunities.

2014 Age (Melbourne) 14 November: The ideals of higher education are being compromised by economic rationalism.

emu bob

The act or process of picking up litter; a group of people doing this; the act or process of searching an area of ground for something. This term developed out of an earlier verbal form (recorded in the 1920s), emu-bob, meaning 'to pick up pieces of timber, roots, etc., after clearing or burning'. By the 1940s the verb had developed a more specific sense: 'to pick up litter'. By the 1970s the verbal form had developed into the noun. The term is used with allusion to an emu bending its neck toward the ground in search of food.

1978 Canberra Times 13 October: What a vision splendid is Mr Sim's - a nation-wide 'emu bob' of dole-bludgers, singing no doubt as they retrieve the excreta of civilisation.

2008 Northern Territory News (Darwin) 10 November: Maybe the Government could give the prisoners something useful to do and do emu bobs.

esky

A portable insulated container in which food and drink are kept cool. A common sight at barbecues, beaches, parks, and camping grounds in the summer months. Esky is from a proprietary name of a portable insulated container, earlier an ice chest, and also earlier called Eskimo. First recorded from the 1950s.

1952 Sydney Morning Herald 2 December: Take your 'refrigerator' to the picnic or tour. The Esky Auto Box keeps drinks and food cold and fresh wherever you go. Will fit in the boot of any car.

2001 T. Winton Dirt Music: They have a folding table and esky out here on the sand beside the fire.

 

 

factory

A prison for the confinement of female convicts. Also known as a female factory. The first such factory was established in 1804 at Parramatta in New South Wales. It was a place of punishment, a labour and marriage agency for the colony, and a profit-making textiles factory where women made convict clothing and blankets. There were eight other factories in the Australian convict settlements.

1806 Sydney Gazette 13 July: Catharine Eyres .. ordered to the Factory at Parramatta for the term of six months.

1832 Colonial Times (Hobart) 21 August: The lass I adore, the lass for me, Is a lass in the Female Factory.

fair go

A reasonable chance, a fair deal: small business didn’t get a fair go in the last budget. Australia often sees itself as an egalitarian society, the land of the fair go, where all citizens have a right to fair treatment. It is often used as an exclamation: fair go Kev, give the kids a turn! Sometimes it expresses disbelief: fair go—the tooth fairy? For further discussion of this term see the article 'Australia - the land of the fair go' on our blog.

1891 Brisbane Courier 25 March: The reason the shearers disappeared is that a large number of warrants have been issued for their arrest ... Both men turned pale, but struggled, calling out, 'Read the warrants to us first'. Inspector Ahern said, 'You can hear them later', and the police seized the prisoners. Both appealed to Mr. Ranking, crying out, 'Do you call this a fair go, Mr. Ranking?'

2011 Townsville Bulletin 27 August: Voting for same-sex marriage is a vote for equality, and a vote for a fair go for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians.

fairy bread

Slices of bread cut into triangles, buttered and sprinkled with tiny, coloured sugar balls called ‘hundreds and thousands’. Fairy bread is frequently served at children’s parties in Australia. The name possibly comes from the poem ‘Fairy Bread’ in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse, published in 1885. First recorded from the 1920s.

1929 Mercury (Hobart) 25 April: The children will start their party with fairy bread and butter and 100's and 1,000's, and cakes, tarts, and home-made cakes.

2001 U. Dubosarsky Fairy Bread: The morning of the party, Becky and her mother were in the kitchen making fairy bread. Her baby brother sat on the floor eating the bits that fell off the table.

fair suck of the sauce bottle

Steady on, be reasonable. This is one of several variations on the Australian exclamation ‘fair go’. It expresses a keen sense of injustice - 'fair suck of the sauce bottle, mate, I’m only asking for a loan till payday!' The phrase was probably originally used with reference to sauce bottle meaning 'a bottle of alcoholic liquor'. In 2006 Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd famously used a variant of the phrase: 'fair shake of the sauce bottle'. Sometimes ‘saveloy’ or ‘sav’ is substituted for ‘sauce bottle’. The phrase ‘fair crack of the whip’ has the same meaning. Fair suck of the sauce bottle is first recorded in the 1970s. For a further discussion of the origin of the phrase see the article 'Folk Etymology in Australian English' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1986 Canberra Times 4 July: Come on NRMA, fair suck of the sauce bottle.

2006 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 13 May: In the never-ending search for justice and a fair suck of the sauce bottle, the Payneful Truth asks this week why Peter Costello's Federal Budget again ignored footy fans and let the price of a beer at the MCG stay at a ridiculous $5.20 for 425ml.

feral

As elsewhere, in Australia feral describes a domesticated animal that has gone wild. But in Australia the adjective has another meaning '(especially of a person) wild, uncontrolled; unconventional; outside the conventional bounds of society; dirty, scruffy. Feral is also used as a noun to mean 'a person living outside the conventional bounds of society; a wild or uncontrolled person. The Australian senses of the adjective and noun are first recorded in the 1980s.

(adj.) 1986 Sun (Melbourne) 27 October: The last of the so-called 'feral' women who kept vigil outside Parliament House for two weeks packed up and went home yesterday ... The women clashed with media crews and politicians in a series of well-documented incidents ... They were quite happy with the 'feral' tag. 'I really like it, in fact', one woman said. 'Untamed, not domesticated - that's what it means to us.'

(n.) 1995 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 7 January: A haven for alternative lifestylers, Sydney yuppies and scruffy 'ferals', Byron Bay's main beach is one of the major reasons people are drawn to this town every summer.

(adj.) 2012 Northern Daily Leader (Tamworth) 4 June: They are feral lowdown scum and should be portrayed as such. They have invaded people's homes and maliciously destroyed victims' property.

firie

A firefighter. Firie follows a common pattern in Australian informal English whereby a word is abbreviated (in this case firefighter or fireman) and the -ie (or -y) suffix is added. Other examples include barbie (a barbecue), Chrissy (Christmas), and rellie (a relative). Firie is recorded from the 1980s.

1998 Manly Daily 16 October: It turned out someone, who also lives around the Warringah Mall area, had called the firies after thinking a shop was alight.

2014 Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 5 November: The firies came close to saving the home but it does have some extensive damage.

flash as a rat with a gold tooth

Ostentatious, showy and a bit too flashily dressed. This phrase is usually used of a man, and implies that although he may be well-dressed and well-groomed, there is also something a bit dodgy about him. In spite of a superficial smartness, he is not to be trusted. In spite of the gold tooth, he is still a rat. First recorded in the 1970s.

1978 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 27 August: Eddie is the ultimate lurk-man ... Eddie is as flash as a rat with a gold tooth.

2006 D. McNab Dodger: What brought him unstuck were his brazen schemes and lavish lifestyle. He was as flash as a rat with a gold tooth.

flat out like a lizard drinking

Extremely busy, at top speed. This is word play on two different meanings of the standard English ‘flat out’. The literal sense is to lie fully stretched out (like a lizard), and the figurative sense means as fast as possible. The phrase also alludes to the rapid tongue-movement of a drinking lizard. It is sometimes shortened, as in ‘we’re flat out like a lizard trying to meet the deadline’. First recorded in the 1930s.

1952 Meanjin: I've been flat out like a lizard since eight o'clock this morning.

2006 Townsville Bulletin 3 January: Dr Low was the only orthopaedic surgeon working in Townsville over the break and according to hospital sources was flat out like a lizard drinking.

fossick

To search or rummage for something. In the Cornish dialect, fossick means ‘to obtain by asking, to ferret out’. Cornish miners probably brought the term to Australia in the 1850s and used it to describe their search for gold. Australia inherited a number of mining terms from the Cornish, but they remain very specialised, and fossick is the only one to move out into the wider speech community.

1871 Emigrant's Wife II: I goes over to where he had thrown it, and takes out my knife and stoops down to fossick among it.

2011 L. Heidke Claudia's Big Break: 'Okay, we get the picture', said Sophie as she fossicked around in her enormous bag in search of boarding passes.

Fremantle doctor

A cool sea breeze which brings relief on a hot summer’s day. A wind blowing inland late in the day is a welcome feature of the climate in Western Australia’s south-west. Like Fremantle, many towns have given it a local name. Albany, Geraldton, Esperance, Eucla and Perth all have their doctor. The term derives from the figurative application of doctor in the West Indies to 'a cool sea breeze which usually prevails during part of the day in summer', and in South Africa to 'a strong, blustery south-east wind prevailing at the Cape', from doctor 'any agent that gives or preserves health'. Fremantle doctor is recorded from the 1870s.

1873 Herald (Fremantle) 4 January: Three or four days of a fierce westerly wind, succeeded by a strong, cool sea breeze - known up the country as the Fremantle doctor.

2002 Canberra Times 26 December: The only thing that has really taken me aback .. has been Brett Lee. At Perth, with the Fremantle Doctor up his arse, he was seriously quick.

furphy

A rumour or false report; an absurd story. Furphy comes from the name of a firm, J. Furphy & Sons Pty. Ltd., who operated a foundry at Shepparton, Victoria, and manufactured water carts - the name Furphy appeared on these carts. The term probably originated at the Broadmeadows army camp in Melbourne as a transfer from the name of the carts to the typical gossip of soldiers at sites serviced by these carts during the period of the First World War. Furphy is first recorded in 1915.

1915 J. Treloar Anzac Diary 3 February: Today’s 'furphy', for never a day goes by without at least one being created, was about lights being prohibited in camp on account of the possibility of German airship raid. Some of the troops do not suffer from lack of imagination.

2014 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 22 September: In the age of instant gratification, rampant consumerism and materialism, men and women are being sold a series of furphies about love.

galah

The word galah comes from Yuwaalaraay and related Aboriginal languages of northern New South Wales. In early records it is variously spelt as galar, gillar, gulah, etc. The word is first recorded in the 1850s. The bird referred to is the grey-backed, pink-breasted cockatoo Eolophus roseicapillus, occurring in all parts of Australia except the extreme north-east and south-west. It is also known as the red-breasted cockatoo and rose-breasted cockatoo.

Some early settlers used the galah as food. In 1902 the Truth newspaper reports: 'The sunburnt residents of at that God-forsaken outpost of civilisation were subsisting on stewed galah and curried crow'. Some writers report that galah pie was a popular outback dish.

The galah, which usually appears in a large flock, has a raucous call, and it was perhaps this trait which produced the term galah session for a period allocated for private conversation, especially between women on isolated stations, over an outback radio network. F. Flynn in Northern Gateway (1963) writes: 'The women's radio hour, held regularly night and morning and referred to everywhere as the 'Galah Session'. It is a special time set aside for lonely station women to chat on whatever subject they like'. More generally, a galah session is 'a long chat' - A. Garve, Boomerang (1969): 'For hours the three men chatted... It was Dawes who said at last, "I reckon this galah session's gone on long enough".'

Very commonly in Australian English galah is used to refer to a fool or idiot. This figurative sense is recorded from the 1930s, and derives from the perceived stupidity of the bird. The following quotations give an indication of how the term is used:

1951 E. Lambert Twenty Thousand Thieves: 'Yair, and I got better ideas than some of the galahs that give us our orders'.

1960 R.S. Porteous Cattleman: 'The bloke on the other end of the line is only some useless galah tryin' to sell a new brand of dip'.

1971 J. O'Grady Aussie Etiket: 'You would be the greatest bloody galah this side of the rabbit-proof fence'.

From this sense arise a number of colloquial idioms. To be mad as a gumtree full of galahs is to be completely crazy. To make a proper galah of oneself is to make a complete fool of oneself. A pack of galahs is a group of contemptibly idiotic people.

g'day

An abberviation of good day, a familiar greeting, used frequently and at any hour. While the word is recorded from the 1880s, it came to international prominence in the 1980s through a series of tourism advertisements where Australian actor and comedian Paul Hogan invited people from around the world to visit Australia and say g'day.

1889 C. Praed Romance of the Station: He pulled up, nodding to Alec’s 'Good-day, Tillidge', and replying in a short, morose manner, running his words one into the other, as a bushman does, 'G’d-day, sir'.

2000 J. Harms Memoirs of a Mug Punter: I made it to the table where the prime minister was wielding his pen. He looked up. 'G'day', he said. He didn't recognise me.

geek

In International English geek means 'a person who is socially inept or boringly conventional or studious'. The sense comes from the United States, where it originally referred to an assistant at a sideshow whose purpose was to appear an object of disgust or derision. The American word appears to be a variant of geck, a Scottish word (from Dutch) meaning 'a gesture of derision; an expression of scorn or contempt'. In more recent times the word has been increasingly applied to a person who is obsessed with computers and computer technology.

In Australia, however, there is another meaning of the word geek. It means 'a look', and usually appears in the phrase to have (or take) a geek at. It is also used as a verb. This Australian sense derives from British dialect (Scottish and Northern England) keek meaning 'to look, to peep'. The Australian form geek appears as a verb in Cornish meaning 'to peep, peer, spy', and this is likely to be the same word as the northern keek. The lateness of the word in Australian English, however, suggests a borrowing from the northern dialects rather than from Cornish. Both Australian senses of the noun and verb are recorded from the early 20th century.

1954 T.A.G. Hungerford Sowers of Wind: There's a circus down by the dance-hall, a Jap show ... What about having a geek at that?

2012 Newcastle Herald 16 January: There’s vintage bikes ... The cafe has gained a steady stream of regulars for coffee, breakfast, lunch or a geek at the bikes.

gilgai

Gilgai is a word which describes a terrain of low relief on a plain of heavy clay soil, characterised by the presence of hollows, rims, and mounds, as formed by alternating periods of expansion during wet weather and contraction (with deep cracking) during hot, dry weather.

This type of terrain is described as gilgaed. A single hole is known as a gilgai, or gilgai hole. Such holes are also known as crabholes, dead-men's graves, or melon holes.

The word comes from Wiradjuri (an Aboriginal language once spoken over a vast area from southern New South Wales to northern Victoria) and Gamilaraay (an Aboriginal language spoken over a vast area of east-central New South Wales and extending into southern Queensland) gilgaay 'waterhole'. Gilgai if recorded from the 1860s.

1881 W.E. Abbott Notes of a Journey on the Darling: At the blackfellows' tanks the clay excavated is still seen beside the waterholes, while in the gilgies there is no appearance of any embankment, the ground all round being perfectly level.

2005 H.S. Kent What do you do with them on Sundays?: With all the rain that had been about, most of the gilgais would be full, which meant that we’d be drinking fresh water.

glory box

A box in which a woman accumulates items in preparation for marriage; the collection itself. In other countries it is called a hope chest or bottom drawer. Glory box is probably related to British dialect glory hole 'a place for storing odds and ends’. The term is first recorded in 1900.

1905 Brisbane Courier 10 October: A grand chance for hotel and boarding-house keepers, private householders, and all young ladies collecting for the glory box.

2000 Canberra Times 24 June: I remember girls I knew growing up in Newcastle who had glory boxes the size of rooms ... They were focused entirely on the fantasy of the day and it almost didn't matter who the groom was.

goog: full as a goog

Extremely drunk; replete with food; extremely full, packed. In Australian English a goog is an egg. It is an abbreviation of the British dialect word goggy 'a child's name for an egg', retained in Scotland as goggie. The phrase is a variation of an earlier British phrase in the same sense: full as a tick, recorded from the late 17th century. Other Australian combinations include full as a boot, full as a Bourke Street tram, and  full as a pommy complaint box. Full as a goog is recorded from the 1930s.

1944 Sydney Morning Herald 17 June: The evidence of Detective Lambert, a security officer with Detective Fraser, is that defendant was 'as full as a goog'.

2011 Hawkesbury Gazette (Windsor) 30 March: I was full as a goog after my main and would have exploded if I'd attempted a dessert.

goon

Cask wine. This word is frequently found in the compound goon bag 'a wine cask, specifically the bag containing the wine’. The word is possibly a transferred use of the Australian English word goom ‘methylated spirits as an alcoholic drink’. Goom itself may derive from a south-east Queensland Aboriginal word (from Gabi-gabi, Waga-waga, and Gureng-gureng) meaning ‘water, alcohol’. The form goon may also have been influenced by an altered pronunciation of flagon. Australia There is evidence for this term from the early 1980s. For more about wine terms in Australian English see the article 'Wine in Australian English' on our blog.

1997 J. Birmingham Tasmanian Babes Fiasco: None of the wine he reviewed ever cost more than ten bucks a bottle. (In fact very few even came within cooee of that, mostly tapering off at five or six bucks per four litre 'goon'.)

2001 Sunday Mail (Brisbane) 28 October: Teenagers call it 'goon'. It is cheap and nasty white wine - for $10 you can get four or five litres of the stuff at any pub or bottle shop.

green ban

A prohibition on demolition or construction projects on sites deemed to be of historical, cultural or environmental significance, especially one imposed by a trade union. The term arose by analogy with black ban (a prohibition, especially as imposed by a trade union, that prevents work from proceeding), with the colour green being associated with the environmental lobby. Although green ban is used elsewhere, the term was recorded first in Australia in 1973.

1973 P. Thomas Taming the Concrete Jungle: A unionist coined a happy phrase for such bans to save natural bush and park. 'They're not black bans', he said; 'they're green bans.'

2014 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 13 October: We should be punching alarm buttons and throwing ballast off our sinking ship - dead weights like the debt, as well as our crippling weekend penalty rates, huge government handouts and green bans on everything from new uranium mines to coal-seam gas exploration.

grey nomad

A retired person who travels extensively within Australia, especially by campervan, caravan or motor home. The grey nomad is a product of the baby boomer generation. The term is recorded from the 1990s. For a further discussion of this term see our Word of the Month article from September 2007.

1995 Australian (Sydney) 2 December: Another rapidly growing population is the 'grey nomads' who travel from resort to resort in caravans or recreational vehicles.

2012 S. Williams Welcome to the Outback: Along with hordes of grey nomads, I spend a day checking out the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame.

guernsey

Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands. The name is used attributively to designate things found in or associated with Guernsey. Thus the term Guernsey cow for an animal of a breed of usually brown and white dairy cattle that originated in Guernsey.

In the early nineteenth century the term Guernsey shirt arose for 'a close-fitting woollen sweater, especially one worn by sailors'. During the gold rushes in Australia in the mid nineteenth century, in a specialisation of this sense, the term guernsey was used to describe a kind of shirt worn by goldminers:

1852 F. Lancelot Australia as it Is: The usual male attire is a pair of common slop trowsers, a blue guernsey ... a broad-brimmed cabbage-tree hat.

In a further specialisation in Australian English, the term guernsey has been used since the 1860s to refer to a football jumper, especially as worn by a player of Australian Rules football:

1868 Geelong Advertiser 21 September: Ample evidence of a desperate struggle was afforded by the style in which they limped off the ground, some covered with nothing in the shape of a guernsey but rags, and some wanting even these.

From the football meaning there arose in the early 20th century the phrase to get a guernsey or be given a guernsey, meaning to win selection for a sporting team. In a widening of this sense, the phrase came to mean 'to win selection, recognition, approbation', and is commonly used in non-sporting contexts:

1957 D. Whitington Treasure upon Earth: The executive won't give me a guernsey for the Senate.

2014 Border Mail (Albury & Wodonga): The diverse range includes some films that ordinarily would be unlikely to get a guernsey outside our capital cities.

happy as Larry

Extremely happy. The origin of this phrase is unknown, but is perhaps an arbitrary partial rhyming reduplication with 'happy'. The phrase is used elsewhere but recorded earliest in New Zealand and Australia. The earliest non-Australasian evidence is Irish. Irish English has larry 'fool' from Irish learaire 'lounger, loafer', but there is no clear link to the phrase. The Dictionary of New Zealand English suggests a Scottish origin (from the Clydesdale area) larrie meaning 'joking, jesting, gibing'. The phrase is first recorded in Australian evidence from the 1880s.

1896 Alexandra & Yea Standard 10 January: The guests one and all appeared as happy as Larry, and they sang and danced - and danced and sang - with a vim that did our heart good to look upon.

2013 S. Thorne Bonzer: I put my disappointment away in a drawer, and pulling on my happy-as-Larry face, toddled down towards them.

happy little Vegemite

A cheerful person; a satisfied person. The phrase comes from a 1950s advertising jingle for the yeast-based spread Vegemite. The jingle began: ‘We're happy little vegemites, as bright as bright can be we, We all enjoy our vegemite for breakfast, lunch, and tea'. For a further discussion of Vegemite and to view the advertisement see the article 'A History of Vegemite' on our blog.

1981 Bulletin (Sydney) 14 April: Expatriate Australians living in Italy have to pay dearly to be 'happy little Vegemites'.

2012 D. Fordham Dream Keeper: We have to remember what Mummy told us, happy thoughts make for happy little Vegemites.

hard word

An importunate request (especially of a monetary or sexual nature). This term is often found in the phrase to put the hard word on: to make demands (especially monetary or sexual) on (someone). The term is from British dialect where it had various meanings including 'abuse, scandal, marriage proposal, refusal'. The Australian usage is recorded from the early 20th century.

1915 Cairns Post 29 July: Constable Geary appears to be a fine big affable member of the force, and as next Saturday is pay day, it is to be hoped he will not put the 'hard word' on too many of us.

2014 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 1 March: It was at the Australian Open tennis in January when I first put the hard word on Seven Network commercial director Bruce McWilliam to have lunch with me on the record.

Harold Holt: to do a Harold Holt

To escape; to make a rapid departure. To do a Harold Holt is rhyming slang for bolt. The phrase is from the name of former Australian prime minister Harold Holt who disappeared, presumed drowned, while swiming at Portsea, Victoria, in 1967. As with other rhyming slang terms the rhyming element is often omitted, hence we sometimes see the forms to do a Harold and to do a Harry. The phrase is recorded from the 1980s. For a further discussion of this term see the article 'Harold Holt does a Harry' on our blog.

1990 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 25 February: Instead she does a Harold Holt early next morning, booking herself on a flight to Paris with Ivan's American Express card.

2013 Canberra Times 7 February: When I was younger and single I would never partake in goodbyes, I would always do a Harold Holt in the middle of night and by-pass the whole awkwardness in the morning.

hills hoist

The hills hoist is a rotary clothes line fitted with a hoist that is operated by a crown and pinion winding mechanism. In Australia Lance Hill is commonly thought to have invented the rotary clothes hoist, but he adapted the existing design in 1946 by including his own winding mechanism. The name hills hoist is used generically in Australia for any rotary clothes line.

As a symbol, the hills hoist has both positive and negative connotations in Australian culture. As a positive symbol it featured in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics: ‘The cultural symbols of our backyard suburbia—the Hills Hoist and the lawn mower—are so respectably well entrenched that they featured at the Olympics.’ (Australian 7 October 2000). As a negative symbol it stands for the dreary sameness and ordinariness of Australian suburbia. In an interview in the Sun-Herald in 2007 Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage explains what would have been the Dame’s fate if she had not met Barry: ‘I would still be in a suburban house, I might even be dead ... I would have been up to my wrists in grey water with peas and mutton fat floating in it. I would have been staring through chipped venetian blinds at rusted Hills hoists and broken plastic toys. I would be locked into the rather sad Valium-infested life of so many women’.

hip-pocket nerve

An imaginary nerve that reacts whenever demands are made on one's money (especially in contexts such as government proposals to increase taxes). The term is from hip-pocket 'a trouser pocket that traditionally contains a wallet'. Hip-pocket nerve is recorded from the 1940s.

1959 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 5 July: The hip-pocket nerve is the most sensitive nerve in the body; and, maybe, when industry feels financial loss over an ailment, there'll be some high-powered research into its causation.

2014 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 8 September: Australia's modern prosperity is now being hit by a national income squeeze as our terms of trade slide from their highest level for more than a century. This is showing up, for example, in falling real wages that inevitably will grate the hip-pocket nerve of voters.

hoon

A lout or an exhibitionist, especially a young male who drives dangerously or at reckless speed. The origin of the word is unknown. Suggestions for its origin include: an alteration of Australian English hooer 'a prostitute, a general term of abuse'; an alteration of Australian English poon 'a simpleton or fool'; a contraction of hooligan; and the Scottish word hune 'a loiterer, a drone, a lazy, silly person'.

From the 1930s hoon referred to a lout or exhibitionist, and from the 1950s it also referred to a pimp. The current sense referring to a reckless driver only emerged in the 1980s. For further discussion of this term see the article 'A Hoon by any other Name' in our Ozwords newsletter, and for a discussion of the term hoon operation see our Word of the Month article from July 2015.

1988 Age (Melbourne) 14 March: You get all sorts of abuse on late-night studies around in the inner suburbs ... Particularly when you're standing out on the road, hoons drive past with bare bums hanging out of the window fairly frequently.

2005 S. Dooley Big Twitch: It was into this habitat, at about 11.30pm, that I drove, having passed more than forty kilometres of .. hoons in souped-up cars cruising the highway in packs.

Hughie

Hughie is the rain god, and the appeal send it down Hughie is a request for a heavy fall of rain - the phrase is first recorded in 1912. Since the 1950s surfers have also implored the god's name in a request for good waves. Theories about the origin of the word Hughie range from alterations of the names Jupiter, Zeus, or Yahweh, to the classical Greek huei ‘it is raining’. For a further discussion about this term and its possible origins see the article 'Send Her Down Who-ie?' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1922 Bulletin (Sydney) 6 April: At the end of the dry, when the first few showers fall, 'Send it down, Hughie!' is the heartfelt exclamation of every eager bush-watcher.

1979 Tracks November: I’m just writing to have a bitch to Huey about one of the worst winter flat spells in memory since I’ve been surfing.

2014 Outback June: And so, on behalf of south-west Queensland, Hughie, please send her down.

ice block

A confection of flavoured and frozen water. Almost a necessity on hot summer days in Australia. The ice block is sometimes called an icy pole in Australian English - a popular brand of this confection. The term is recorded from the 1930s.

1933 Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 11 December: While walking across a street a boy had an ice block struck from his hand by a flash of lightning.

2014 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 11 January: 'Not Icy Pole. An iceblock. You call them iceblocks', I reply. 'You call them iceblocks because they are iceblocks.'

illywhacker

A small-time confidence trickster. The word is probably formed from illy (with the same meaning) which is likely an alteration of the Australian word spieler meaning 'a person who engages in sharp practice; a swindler, originally a card sharper'. To whack the illy (to act as a confidence trickster) and illywhacker are first recorded in Kylie Tennant's The Battlers (1941):

An illy-wacker is someone who is putting a confidence trick over, selling imitation diamond pins, new-style patent razors or infallible 'tonics'... 'living on the cockies' by such devices, and following the shows because money always flows freest at show time. A man who 'wacks the illy' can be almost anything, but two of these particular illy-wackers were equipped with a dart game.

Illywhacker was becoming obsolescent in Australian English, but it was given new life when Peter Carey used it as the title of his 1985 novel. In that novel, we find the following passage:

What's an illywhacker?'... 'A spieler.. a trickster. A quandong. A ripperty man. A con-man.

For further discussion of this term see our Word of the Month article from June 2008.

iron lung: wouldn’t work in an iron lung

Extremely lazy. The phrase derives from the artificial respirator that kept polio patients alive by ‘breathing’ for them in the days when up to ten thousand people annually were affected by poliomyelitis ('infantile paralysis’) in Australia. When vaccinations became routine in the mid-1950s, the fear of polio diminished. The phrase is recorded from the 1970s.

1971 F. Hardy Outcasts of Foolgarah: Even the most primitive societies protect, succor and shelter the aged, but not so the affluent society with the principle of he that cannot work neither shall he eat (except Silver Tails who wouldn't work in an iron lung).

2013 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 16 June: Once upon a time, about 50 years ago, we in Australia were literate, well-mannered, well-dressed, hard-working and fairly happy. Now, we are illiterate, ill-mannered, wouldn't work in an iron lung, among the worst-dressed in the world, and overall, not very happy people. What happened, I wonder?

jackeroo

The word jackeroo was originally a Queensland term (recorded from 1840) referring to a white man who lived beyond the bounds of close settlement. Later, a jackeroo was 'a young man (frequently English and of independent means) seeking to gain experience by working in a supernumerary capacity on a sheep or cattle station'. A jackeroo is now 'a person working on such a station with a view to acquiring the practical experience and management skills desirable in a station owner or manager'. The word can also be used as a verb, meaning 'to work as a jackeroo'. The term jilleroo is sometimes used for a female jackeroo.

In 1895 A. Meston in Geographic History of Queensland proposed an Aboriginal origin for the term:

Another word used throughout Australia is jackeroo, the term for a 'newchum', or recent arrival, who is acquiring his first colonial experience on a sheep or cattle station. It gas a good-natured, somewhat sarcastic meaning, free from all offensive significance. It is generally used for young fellows during their first year or two of station life. The origin of the word is now given for the first time. It dates back to 1838, the year the German missionaries arrived on the Brisbane River, and was the name bestowed upon them by the aboriginals. The Brisbane blacks spoke a dialect called 'Churrabool', in which the word 'jackeroo' or 'tchaceroo' was the name of the pied crow shrike, Stripera graculina, one of the noisiest and most garrulous birds in Australia. The blacks said the white men (the missionaries) were always talking, a gabbling race, and so they called them 'jackeroo', equivalent to our word 'gabblers'.

The etymology proposed by Meston appears to be without foundation. There is no confirmatory evidence of a bird name tchaceroo in the Brisbane language, or of anything like this being applied to missionaries.

Is it possible that the term has an English origin? The personal name Jack is often used in contexts of manual work (e.g. a device for lifting heavy objects) and appears in such idioms as a jack of all trades.

This perhaps fits the later meanings of jackeroo, but unfortunately it does not explain the original Queensland meaning. In 1875 Campbell & Wilks in The Early Settlement of Queensland write:

A black fellow.. warned me.. that their intention was first to spear all the commandants, then to fence up the roads and stop the drays from travelling, and to starve the 'jackeroos' (strangers).

The jury is still out on this term. Is it possible that it is a Queensland Aboriginal term not for 'crow shrike' but for 'stranger'?

1869 Queenslander (Brisbane) 1 May: He seemed to think that a cove who comes into the bush as a jackeroo has nothing else to do but sit down and order the men about; but when the overseer was about he was quite another fellow and he was as quiet as a mouse.

2012 M. Hercock Desert Droving: A word of recall here about jackeroos. They were the privileged class of learner, who ate at the homestead with the manager, not with us ringers.

Jacky Howe

A (navy or black) sleeveless singlet cut nearly to the waist under the arms to give freedom of movement. The Jacky Howe is worn especially by shearers and other rural workers. It was named after the style of singlet worn by shearer John Robert (‘Jacky’) Howe who established a world shearing record by hand-shearing 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes at Alice Downs, Queensland, in the 1890s. His world record stood until 1950 when it was broken by a shearer using a machine. Jacky Howe is first recorded in 1900.

1925 Cairns Post 24 March: You know, Mr Editor, those Jacky Howes are cool and comfortable, are they not?

2011 M. Thornton Jackaroo: In his Jackie Howe, his biceps bulge, the size of footballs.

jumbuck

Jumbuck is an Australian word for a 'sheep'. It is best known from Banjo Paterson's use of it in Waltzing Matilda.

Two of the earliest appearances of the term show Aborigines using it in pidgin English:

1824  Methodist Missionary Society Records:  To two Brothers of mine, these monsters exposed several pieces of human flesh, exclaiming as they smacked their lips and stroked their breasts, 'boodjerry patta! murry boodjerry - fat as jimbuck!!' i.e. good food, very good, fat as mutton.

1842 Port Phillip Patriot 19 July: The villains laughed at and mocked us, roaring out 'plenty sheepy', 'plenty jumbuck', (another name of theirs for sheep).

The origin of the word is not known. It may possibly be from an Aboriginal language, or it may be an Aboriginal alteration of an English phrase such as jump up.  Some suggested etymologies are very fanciful indeed. In 1896 a writer in the Bulletin suggested:

The word 'jumbuck' for sheep appears originally as jimba, jombock, dambock, and dumbog. In each case it meant the white mist preceding a shower, to which a flock of sheep bore a strong resemblance. It seemed the only thing the aboriginal imagination could compare it to.

Whatever the case, jumbuck was a prominent word in the pidgin used by early settlers and Aborigines to communicate with one another, and was thence borrowed into many Australian Aboriginal languages as the name for the introduced animal, the sheep. For a further discussion of jumbuck, including its possible origin in Malay, see a previous 'Mailbag' article in our newsletter Ozwords.

1847 Argus (Melbourne) 22 October: Shearing is the great card of the season, and no settler being the owner of jumbucks can give a straight answer upon any other, than this all absorbing topic.

1981 P. Barton Bastards I have Known: My favourite was a little grey mare that ... knew more about handling sheep than most sheep dogs. She sensed the first day I was on her that I was a novice with the jumbucks.

kangaroo

Any of the larger marsupials of the chiefly Australian family Macropodidae, with short forelimbs, a tail developed for support and balance, long feet and powerful hind limbs, enabling a swift, bounding motion. Perhaps the most well-known Australian English word, kangaroo comes from the Guugu Yimithirr Aboriginal language of far north Queensland. For a more detailed discussion of kangaroo, and the many words deriving from it, see our article 'Kangaroo: the international and regional word' on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, and the article 'Kangaroo: A First Australian' in our newsletter Ozwords.

king-hit

A sudden, damaging blow; a knock-out punch; an unfair punch. This term is recorded from the late 19th century. In more recent years the term has been mentioned in relation to 'one-punch' assaults in Australian cities. These assaults are usually carried out by intoxicated young men in the vicinity of nightclub and hotel venues. This type of assault often takes the form of a single unprovoked and unexpected hit to the victim's head, sometimes resulting in serious head injuries or death. In this context there have been calls to replace the term king-hit with 'coward punch'. King-hit is also used as a verb.

1898 Evening News (Sydney) 2 September: He would not hit a man on the cheek. He would give him the 'King hit' - on the point - which would knock him out.

2014 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 26 January: There is no trace of a fair go in a king hit or coward punch, as it should be known.

koori

The word koori is now well established in Australian English, but it continues to cause confusion and misunderstanding.

Many Aborigines dislike the terms 'Aborigine' and 'Aboriginal' since these terms have been foisted on them, and they carry a lot of negative cultural baggage. Not surprisingly, they have looked for alternative words, and instead of 'Aborigine' many prefer to use the word for a 'person' from a local language.

In order to understand the history of the word koori we need to bear in mind the fact that when the Europeans arrived here there were about 250 languages spoken in Australia. Way back in the past, they were no doubt related, but most of them were as different from one another as English is different from Italian or Hindi.

Some languages of south-east Australia (parts of New South Wales and Victoria) had a word - coorie, kory, kuri, kooli, koole - which meant 'person' or 'people'. In the 1960s, in the form koori, it came to be used by Aborigines of these areas to mean 'Aboriginal people' or 'Aboriginal person'.  It was a means of identification.  But because of the wide variety of Aboriginal languages and cultures, koori has not gained Australia-wide acceptance, being confined to most of New South Wales and to Victoria.

Other terms are preferred in other regions: Murri over most of south and central Queensland, Bama in north Queensland, Nunga in southern South Australia, Nyoongah around Perth, Mulba in the Pilbara region, Wongi in the Kalgoorlie region, Yamitji in the Murchison River region, Yolngu in Arnhem Land, Anangu in central Australia, and Yuin on the south coast of New South Wales. For a while Tasmanian Aborigines called themselves koories, and then Tasmanian koories to distinguish themselves from the mainland koories. Recently, we have gathered evidence for the term muttonbird koories, a reference to the importance of muttonbirding to their traditional way of life, especially on the islands off the Tasmanian coast. More recently, the tribal or language term Palawa is increasingly being used.

kylie

Most people associate the term kylie with the female personal name (as in Kylie Minogue). In Western Australia, however, it is a term for what is known elsewhere as a 'boomerang'. The word came into Australian English from Noongar, an Aboriginal language spoken over a large extent of south-western Western Australia, including present-day Perth, Albany, and Esperance. The word also occurs in other western and central Australian languages.

The word first appears in English in G.F. Moore's Diary of Ten Years Eventful Life of an Early Settler in Western Australia (published in 1884, but referring to an 1835 diary entry):

I am sorry that nasty word 'boomerang' has been suffered to supercede the proper name. Boomerang is a corruption used at Sydney by the white people, but not the native word, which is tur-ra-ma; but 'kiley' is the name here.

While early writers use various spellings (as with Moore's kiley), in the twentieth century the spelling kylie is standard. The female personal name Kylie may be based on this word.

 

lairy

Flashily dressed; showy; socially unacceptable. The term is a transferred use of British slang lairy (or leery) meaning 'knowing, conceited'. Our first evidence for the term comes from September 1898 when the Melbourne journal, Tocsin, described someone thus: Height, about 5' 6 1/2in.; style 'lairy'. Shop made suit, tight fit and cheap. Flower in slouched hat, well over eyes. 'Silk' rag around neck.

The precise spelling of lairy was not immediately apparent, and for many years the variants leary and leery were common. These appear now to have faded away. Despite the uncertainty of its spelling, lairy nonetheless quickly became a standard term in Australian English, and, from the early twentieth century, writers felt able to use it without the need for quotation marks. In 1907 for example C.W. Chandler wrote in Darkest Adelaide: Sitting on the seat with him was a nice specimen of the Australian larrikin. Not so leery, perhaps, as his prototypes of Melbourne and Sydney, but a choice specimen of his class nevertheless.

The popularity of the adjective lairy quickly spawned a noun and a verb to match. The noun lair, meaning 'one who displays vulgarity, esp. in dress or behaviour; a show-off; a larrikin' was in use by the 1920s as in C.E. Sayers, Jumping Double: A hit behind the ear from one of those back street lairs. And it remains in use today, often in the collocation mug lair, applied to someone supposed to be both stupid and vulgar, as in the description published in the Australian in August 1982 of a particular Carlton half-forward flanker as 'a mug lair and a show pony'.

The verb lair is most frequently used as a verb phrase in combination with up to mean 'behave in the manner of a lair', and has produced another adjectival use as in G. Savage, The House Tibet (1989): At Legal Aid I got landed with this callous bitch all laired up with these big shoulder pads and earrings like baby crocodiles.

By the 1950s the verb had produced a new extended form, lairise, with an identical meaning. In 1960 for example the Northern Territory News commented: All they seem to think of these days is lairizing around in ten-gallon hats, flash, colored shirts, gabardine riding breeches and polished riding boots chasing a bit of fluff. And in 1987 the Australian, in its description of a football match, said: Certain players ... instead of doing the percentage things ... turned it into a bit of show-off time and started lairising.

lamington

A square of sponge cake coated in chocolate icing and desiccated coconut. The origin of this term has been hotly debated. The cake is popularly associated with the name of Charles Wallace Baillie, Baron Lamington (1860-1940), Governor of Queensland (1895-1901), and although the dates of the earliest recipes line up with the governership, the attribution does not appear until the 1970s. The early New Zealand evidence has a variety of spellings including leamington and lemmington, which may point to a different origin. For a further discussion about the possible origins of this term see the article 'Lords and Lamingtons' on our blog.

1924 Argus (Melbourne) 3 September: The icing may be poured over the lamingtons, but it is simpler to dip the cake into the icing.

2006 West Australian (Perth) 24 May: They jostle for space with tarts and pies and panini and sour-dough rolls and giant cupcakes and biodynamic everything ... And you look at it and say to yourself, 'God, I could murder a lamington'.

larrikin

A person who acts with apparently careless disregard for social or political conventions; a person who is unsophisticated but likeable and good-hearted, 'a rough diamond'; a joker. This well-known Australian term is recorded from the 1890s, but originally the term was quite pejorative. From the 1860s into the early 20th century a larrikin was 'a young urban rough, especially a member of a street gang; a hooligan'. The term comes from British dialect larrikin 'a mischievous or frolicsome youth', ultimately a form of larking (about) 'indulging in mischievous fun', also attested in British dialect as larack about. For a more detailed discussion about larrikins in Australian history see the article 'The Leary Larrikin' in our newsletter Ozwords.

1891 Truth (Sydney) 15 March: Jackeroos .. are such fun, and vary, from the sensible one, in a fair way for promotion, to the larrikin, who will either sling station life or hump the swag.

1997 T. Ferguson Left, Right and Centre: They appealed to the irreverence of the Australian spirit, the larrikin in us all.

lay-by

A system of payment whereby a purchaser puts a deposit on an article which is then reserved by the retailer until the full price is paid. The retailer lays the article by until payment is complete. The lay-by system first appeared in the early 20th century. By the mid-20th century, shops extolled customers to ‘Lay-by now!’ but the introduction of credit cards in the 1970s has slowly changed buying patterns. Lay-by is also used as a verb.

1918 Barrier Miner (Broken Hill) 20 April: In the leading business establishments of Sydney a system of purchase, called the 'lay by' has been introduced ... It is said that the storerooms of most of the drapery establishments in Sydney are filled to their utmost capacity with things being bought on the 'lay by' system.

2013 Australian (Sydney) 1 October: He was hopeful of a rebound in spending on toys in the lead-up to Christmas, after a poor mid-year sales period when parents traditionally begin buying toys on lay-by ahead of the festive season.

life wasn’t meant to be easy

A catchphrase popularised by Malcolm Fraser (Prime Minister 1975–83) and later attributed by him to the British playwright George Bernard Shaw. Fraser first used the phrase in his 1971 Alfred Deakin Lecture. The phrase is now used as a stock response to complaints or whinges of any kind - 'I have to take the kids to soccer training every night this week'. 'Well, life wasn’t meant to be easy!' Shaw’s full quotation (from his 1921 work Back to Methuselah) is 'life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful’.

1985 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 4 June: Life wasn’t meant to be easy for Labor Governments.

2013 Age (Melbourne) 19 January: Follow your instincts and impulses. Forget that masochistic 'no pain, no gain; life wasn't meant to be easy' rot.

light on the hill

The phrase is used allusively to refer to the ideals of the Australian Labor Party. In 1949 Prime Minister Ben Chifley spoke of the Labor goal of social justice as 'the light on the hill, which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind'. Since then the light on the hill has become a catchphrase in Australian politics, used to evoke traditional Labor values.

1967 R.G. Menzies Afternoon Light: The Socialist objective, his 'light on the hill', must not be blotted out or obscured in this way.

2013 Australian (Sydney) 18 November: Labor remains .. the party of labour. Trapped in its myths, it invests itself with a historic mission of leading 'working people' to the 'light on the hill': a light whose glare now serves mainly to hide corrupt deals and tarnished ideals.

little Aussie battler

In Australia a battler is a person who struggles for a livelihood, and who displays great determination in so doing. This sense is first recorded in 1896 in a Henry Lawson story. Such a person is now often described as a little Aussie battler, a phrase first recorded in the 1970s.

1974 Australian Women's Weekly (Sydney) 19 June: Known far and wide as 'the little Aussie battler', Ernie Sigley battles on regardless with his undoubted talent and the team of regulars on his entertaining show.

2003 Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong) 19 February: He was the little Aussie battler who pushed his mower from suburb to suburb when his van was repossessed because he had too many freeloaders on the books.

mad as a cut snake

Very angry; crazy; eccentric. The phrase also takes the form mad as a snake. The different senses of the phrase derive from the fact that ‘mad’ has two main senses - ‘crazy’ and ‘angry’. The ‘crazy’ sense is illustrated by ‘that bloke wearing a teapot on his head is as mad as a cut snake’, and the angry sense is illustrated by ‘be careful of the boss this afternoon, he’s as mad as a cut snake’. There are similar phrases in Australian English including mad as a meat axe and mad as a gumtree full of galahs. Mad as a (cut) snake is first recorded in 1900.

1900 Queensland Times (Ipswich) 12 June: A man named John Molloy was brought up at the Police Court ⅆ on suspicion of being of unsound mind ... Molloy was taken to Ipswich, examined (I am informed) by a medical man, and discharged. Some surprise has been expressed at this course, for, according to all accounts, the man was, to use a colloquial expression, 'as mad as a snake'.

2013 Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) 10 March: At the time his colleagues accused him of being as mad as a cut snake.

magic pudding

An endlessly renewable resource. The term comes from a famous Australian children's book, Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding (1918), in which the pudding renews itself as soon as slices are cut out of it. Magic pudding is often found in political contexts, the first recording of it is when it was used by the then Australian treasurer Paul Keating (see quotation below).

1985 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 5 July: Mr Keating had warned throughout the tax debate that there was no 'magic pudding' to provide tax cuts for all.

2013 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 8 March: The key here is what the money is spent on, with infrastructure projects holding out the prospect of being a magic pudding that can create jobs, increase productivity and improve state government revenue.

mallee bull: fit as a mallee bull

Very strong and healthy. A mallee bull is one that lives in mallee country - poor, dry country where small scrubby eucalypt trees called mallee grow. Any creature that survives in such difficult conditions would have to be tough and fit. The word mallee come from the Victorian Aboriginal language Woiwurrung, but is also found in other indigenous languages of Victoria, South Australia, and southern New South Wales. The first evidence for the phrase is from 1879 where it appears in the form strong as a mallee bull.

1966 R.A.N. News (Sydney) 27 May: The patient is now fit as a malee bull.

2011 M. Groves Outback Life: He was as fit as a Mallee bull and drop-dead gorgeous!

manchester

Household linen, and the department of a shop where such goods are sold. The term is an elliptical and transferred use of Manchester wares or Manchester goods 'cotton goods of the kind manufactured in Manchester' in Lancashire in England. The city of Manchester in northern England was the centre of the English cotton industry in the 1700s and 1800s. London sales assistants are reputed to be quite baffled by Australian customers enquiring where in the store to find manchester. The word is recorded from the 1840s.

1935 Australian Woman's Mirror (Sydney) 2 July: Thrifty Housewives should not delay to choose from these Manchester Values.

2005 Age (Melbourne) 19 February: My partner and I can't agree on the bath mat ... Please help, as I don't want bathroom manchester to tear us apart.

mate

This word is used in various ways in Australian English as it is in other Englishes. It can refer to a close friend or acquaintance, but can also be used ironically. It is most most frequently used as a mode of address implying equality and goodwill. For a very detailed discussion about the word mate in Australian English see 'The Story of Mate' on our blog.

matilda

The collection of possessions and daily necessaries carried by a person travelling, usually on foot, in the bush; especially the blanket-wrapped roll carried, usually on the back or across the shoulders, by an itinerant worker; a swag. This iconic name for a swag is best know from the title of the song 'Waltzing Matilda'. The term is a transferred but unexplained use of the female name. Matilda is recorded from the 1880s. For a further discussion of the term and its possible German origins see the article 'Chasing our Unofficial National Anthem: Who Was Matilda? Why did she Waltz?' in our newsletter Ozwords.

1905 Sydney Morning Herald 27 May: Many a swagman adds a dog to his outfit, and the animal ranks much higher in his affections than 'Matilda', which, it might be explained, is swagmanese for swag.

1996 W. Anderson Warrigal's Way: Lugging my matilda, I walked down Normanby Road towards the Port, Port Melbourne.

Melba: do a Melba

Used allusively of a person who retires but returns to their profession, especially one who makes repeated 'farewell' performances or comebacks. The phrase refers to Australian operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba (Helen Porter Mitchell) 1861–1931, whose stage name derived from her birthplace, Melbourne. She announced her retirement in 1924, but gave ‘farewell’ performances at Covent Garden in 1926, in Sydney, Melbourne, and Geelong in 1928, and then sang in England over the next two years. The phrase is recorded from the 1940s.

1959 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 11 January: Gladys Moncrieff .. has no intention of doing a Melba on us.

2012 Australian (Sydney) 17 November: Unless he does a Melba, this means the 2010 novel Nemesis will stand as his 31st and last work of fiction.

motza

A large sum of money, especially as won in gambling; a fortune; a great amount. There is also a transferred sense meaning 'a certainty'. Motza can be spelt in various forms including motsa, motser, and motzer. The word is probably derived from the Yiddish word matse meaning '(unleavened) bread'. Motza is recorded from the early 20th century.

1911 Sunday Times (Perth) 1 January: He just managed to squeeze home on the post, much to the delight of the bookmakers, who were 'up against' Darjeeling for what the sporting fraternity would term a 'motzer'.

2012 Australian (Sydney) 17 November: Unless he does a Melba, this means the 2010 novel Nemesis will stand as his 31st and last work of fiction.

moz: put the moz on

To exert a malign influence upon (a person), to jinx. Moz is an abbreviated form of mozzle, which is derived from the Hebrew word mazzal meaning 'luck'. It probably came into Australian English via German Yiddish speakers. Put the moz on is recorded from the 1920s.

1963 H. Porter The Watcher on a Cast-Iron Balcony: Mother is wishing Miss Brewer some female ill, is putting the mozz on her.

2001 H. Menzies Ducks Crossing: As the tide goes up and down the oysters grow and three years later Bob's your uncle, you've got yourself a motza selling to the fish market in Sydney.

mozzie

A mosquito. Mozzie (also spelt mossie) follows a very common pattern in Australian English whereby a word is abbreviated and the -ie (or -y) suffix is added. This suffix works as an informal marker in the language. Mozzie is now used elsewhere but is originally and chiefly Australian. The word is recorded from the early 20th century.

1916 Punch (Melbourne) 6 April: Here in Victoria we go right along, cursing, the 'mossies', fighting them every night, losing good sleep through them, and yet never attempting to use the nets.

2006 A. Hyland Diamond Dove: Jack reckoned Bickie could smell water the way a mozzie can smell blood.

mullet: like a stunned mullet

Dazed, stupefied; uncomprehending; unconscious. The phrase alludes to the goggle-eyed stare (and sometimes gaping mouth) of a fish that has been recently caught and made unconscious. A person typically looks like a stunned mullet as the result of a sudden shock or surprise. The phrase is recorded from 1918.

1918 Examiner (Launceston) 11 January: We finally dug into shell holes in the dark opposite the Boche trenches, and waited there like 'stunned mullets' for three hours with the Huns shelling us.

2001 W. Dodson The Sharp End: I eventually managed to get him handcuffed and searched while my team-mates sat on their haunches and watched like a pair of stunned mullets.

muster

The gathering together of (frequently widely dispersed) livestock in one place for the purpose of branding, counting, etc.; a round-up of stock. This sense of muster is transferred from a chiefly miliatry use of the word where it meant 'an act of calling together soldiers, sailors, prisoners, etc.; an assembling of people for inspection, exercises, etc. ... a roll-call'. In Australia this military sense was applied specifically to a routine assembly of convicts in order to ascertain that they were all present. Also in the colonial period muster referred to a census of the whole population (of the colony, of a district, etc.). The transferred sense to lifestock is recorded from the 1830s.

1852 G.C. Mundy Our Antipodes: The riding after cattle in the bush, for the purpose of driving them in or collecting them for muster, is very hard and sometimes dangerous work.

2013 Gympie Times 16 March: This week he took Craig Warhurst on a muster to show how much help a good dog can be to a property owner.

nasho

Compulsory military training, as introduced under the National Service Act of 1951. It is also a name for a person who underwent National Service under the Act. The word nasho is an abbreviation of national with an added -o, a common feature of Australian word formation—compare garbo (‘garbage collector’), journo (‘journalist’), and milko (‘milk man’). In the past nasho was seen as a derogatory term within the permanent military force. The term was first recorded in 1953, but it is especially associated with those national servicemen who fought in Vietnam.

1973 Bulletin (Sydney) 27 January: Some 'nashos' have shown outstanding zeal by signing on with the Regular Army. 

1980 C. James, Unreliable Memoirs: National Service was designed to turn boys into men and make the Yellow Peril think twice about moving south. It was universally known as Nasho.

Ned Kelly: as game as Ned Kelly

Fearless in the face of odds; foolhardy. The phrase derives from the name of Australia's most famous bushranger, who was hanged for his crimes in 1880. Opinion on Kelly has remained divided, his critics seeing him as the worst type of colonial thug, while others have represented him as a champion of the underdog, a brave opponent of heartless authority, and a staunch Australian nationalist. A number of terms and phrases derived from the name Ned Kelly are found in Australian English and are discussed in a 2009 article 'Who's Robbing this Coach? Ned Kelly and Australian English' in our newsletter Ozwords. For a discussion of the term Ned Kelly beard see our Word of the Month article from March 2015. And for a further discussion of as game as Ned Kelly see our blog. The phrase is first recorded in the 1920s.

1936 Sydney Morning Herald 8 January: When the police asked what had been done with the man's money, Sloane said, 'You had better find out. You can take me and put me in for two years if you like. I'm no squib; I'm as "game" as "Ned" Kelly. I went to the war when I was 15'.

1997 D. Ireland, The Chosen: The other kids loved him, he was never vicious or cowardly and so brave that he was game as Ned Kelly and had a heart like Phar Lap's.

2012 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 1 August: How bonza is Leisel Jones to be fifth fastest 100m breaststroker in the world, proving the critics wrong. She's as game as Ned Kelly, that girl.

neenish tart

A small sweet pastry case filled with mock cream, and sometimes including jam, topped with brown and white or pink and white icing. While the origin for this term is unknown the spelling variants neinich, nenische, and nenish suggest that it may derive from a Germanic language. The earliest evidence takes the form neenish cake and dates to 1895. The early evidence also reveals that there have been various recipes for this tart over the years.

1902 Sydney Mail 10 December: Neenish Tarts ... On the top of the whole spread the thinnest layer possible of icing made with the white of an egg and icing sugar sufficient to form a thick paste. With coffee, colour one half a pale yellow, and the other half a deep brown. Ice the tarts carefully, having the top of each half dark, and the other half light, the division being exactly in the centre. Care must be taken that the two colours do not run into each other.

2011 S. McCullough, The Meaning of Existence: By the time the gig rolled around, about half my face had peeled. I looked like a living, breathing Neenish Tart.

Noah

A shark. The word is derived from rhyming slang Noah's ark, but as is common with many rhyming slang terms the rhyming final element is often omitted. Other examples of rhyming slang in Australian English include: Al Capone 'phone', Barry Crocker 'a shocker', billy lid 'kid', meat pie 'a try (in rugby)', and mystery bag 'snag (a sausage)'. For a more detailed discussion of rhyming slang in Australian English see the article 'Does Australian Slang still Rhyme?' in our newsletter Ozwords. Noah's ark can be found from the late 19th century in Australian English as a rhyming slang term for 'nark', meaning an informer. The shark sense is first recorded from the 1930s.

1936 Western Argus (Kalgoorlie) 12 May: They were about 70 yards from the shore and noticed a 12 ft. shark swimming about. As the 'Noah's Ark' seemed to avoid bait thrown on a line, they decided to experiment with fracteur.

1979 B. Humphries, Bazza Comes Into his Own: A lotta them beaches in Oz are full of Noahs.

1995 T. McGowan, Crew: 'Noahs love surf carnivals', Jason said.

no worries

No bother, no trouble; an assurance that all is fine. This colloquial version of the phrase ‘not to worry’ is very common in Australia, and also occurs in other forms such as ‘no worries, mate’, ‘no wuckers’, and ‘nurries’. It implies that everything will come right, or be taken care of, and that we should all be relaxed —‘Will you help me do my homework, Dad? It’s due tomorrow!’ ‘No worries, son’. First recorded in the 1960s.

1978 Westerly i: Thanks very much. No worries, she said, making space for my gear on the back seat.

2000 R. Smith, Cold Beer and Crocodiles: I thanked him for the tip. 'No worries.'

ocker

An uncouth, uncultivated, or aggressively boorish Australian male, stereotypically Australian in speech and manner; a typical or average Australian male. Ocker is also used as an adjective meaning characteristically Australian; uncouth, uncultured, or aggressively boorish in a stereotypically Australian manner.

In Australia ocker has been used as a nickname and familiar form of address for a man since the early 20th century. Originally the nickname was applied to a person named Oscar, but its application widened through the 20th century as this quotation demonstrates:

Traveller, arriving late at the airport to find the flight fully booked, was told by the cheerful airline worker: 'Sorry, ocker, the Fokker's chocker'. (Northern Territory News, 25 August 1982)

But we need to turn the 1960s for the more derogatory use of ocker. And we need to turn to the world of Australian television. In the Mavis Bramston Show (1963-68) Ron Frazer (1924-83) played the character Ocker. Gerry Wilkes in Exploring Australian English, writes:

The talented comedian Ron Frazer appeared in a series of TV sketches from which I retain a mental picture of him leaning on a bar, speaking with a broad Australian accent, probably wearing shorts and thongs, and periodically sinking a glass of beer. As that character was called 'Ocker', ocker became the name of the type.

Soon after this, the word was used as a derisive nickname for a person who exploits an exaggerated Australian nationalism. Thus in King's Cross Whisper, 1969, we find:

Sir Ocker Fairfax, leader of the famous Foot and Mouth Jumping Brigade, received his gong for devising Operation Skippy.

Ocker is usually applied to men but there is evidence for the feminine forms ockerette and ockerina from the 1970s. Ocker is still commonly heard in Australian English although the word bogan is now more common in some contexts.

oil

Information or news. This is a figurative use of oil as the substance essential to the running of a machine, and it was first recorded during the First World War.

1916 Anzac Records Gazette (Alexandria, Egypt), 4 March: An acquaintance greets you with ... ‘What’s the oil’.

1941 K.S. Prichard Moon of Desire: Like to come down to the saddling paddock… If there’s any oil about for the next race, we may as well have it.

2000 S. Maloney Big Ask: He put his plate down, as if the subject had ruined his appetite, parked his elbows on the table and gave me the oil.

Oil is often found in the terms dinkum oil and good oil, both also occurring in the context of the First World War. In wartime the camps and trenches were rife with rumour, and the soldiers’ thirst for accurate information is reflected in these terms. Dinkum is  an Australianism meaning ‘reliable’ or ‘genuine', and dinkum oil means ‘reliable information’ or ‘an accurate report’. For more information about dinkum oil and other words from the Gallipoli campaign, see our blog Anzac: Words from Gallipoli.

1915 Argus (Melbourne) 9 June: Gallipoli… Our lads commenced to pinch themselves to make sure they were really under fire. They had been disappointed so often that now they could hardly believe they had the real thing. I heard one man say, ‘Saida the dinkum oil at last; no more furpheys;’ and that was the feeling all round.

2014 Sydney Morning Herald 14 July: What you write about your life in your autobiography is a little like what you say when under oath. When you call that autobiography This is My Life it is a further affirmation that what I am telling you is the dinkum oil.

The good oil means ‘reliable, and therefore welcome, information’.

1918 Gippsland Times (Sale) 20 May: I have never left my unit since I joined, only a ten days' Blighty leave. Next leave will consist of 14 days. It will soon be four years for me, and I can give you the good oil—Australia will do me!

2010 J. Elias Sin Bin: It wouldn't have been too hard to get the good oil from his New South Wales colleagues. Bennett, however, didn't say a word to me about anything aside from football.

on the sheep’s back

A phrase used to allude to wool as the source of Australia’s national prosperity. The notion is often expressed as riding on the sheep’s back, and sometimes as living off the sheep’s back. For much of Australia’s recent history wool has been the basis of the national economy and the country’s major export. The first wool exports from Australia to Britain began in the 1820s, and the industry boomed throughout the 19th century and beyond. Despite setbacks such as drought, world war, and depression, wool continued its traditional dominance until the mid-20th century.

1924 Sydney Morning Herald 30 July: Australia, said Mr Dunbabin, might be on the sheep's back to-day, but in its infancy it was for some time on the whale's back. It was whale oil, whale bone, sealskins, and seal oil that provided the first important export staples of Australia.

1965 G. McInnes Road to Gundagai: We were reminded by politicians and editors, and of course at school, ad nauseum, that Australia ‘lives off the sheep’s back’.

2014 Weekly Times (Melbourne) 16 July 84/1 So Australia may still be riding on the sheep's back, but clearly it's what's under the fleece that is gaining more and more attention.

on the wallaby

The word wallaby (used to describe many smaller marsupials of the family Macropididae) is a borrowing into English from the Sydney Aboriginal language. It first appears in written form in 1793.

The term wallaby track is first used to describe the path worn by a wallaby:

1846 J.L. Stokes Discoveries in Australia:  In some parts of the tall scrub were wallaby tracks.

By the late 1840s the term had been transferred to the route followed by a person who journeys through the country, especially in search of seasonal work. It often occurs in the phrase on the wallaby track and in in the abbreviated form on the wallaby:

1849 Stephen's Adelaide Miscellany:  The police themselves are usually well-treated in the bush.. they make a 'round' through the district, and get a meal at every hut, and one man from every said hut (besides those mobs on the 'wallaby track') stops for a night at the police-station in return.

1893 J.A. Barry Steve Brown's Bunyip:  I'm on the wallaby, looking for shearing, and, worse luck, haven't got no gold.

1932 J. Truran Green Mallee:  South Australia was still a long way off; too far for sore feet that were not used to the wallaby-track.

2000 C. Walker Buried Country: Harry, Wilga says 'was more or less a drifter'. He left Sydney, went on the wallaby again.

The phrase on the wallaby is also commonly found in a transferred and figurative sense meaning 'on the move' or 'on the road':

1918 7th Field Artillery Brigade Yandoo: Next morning, the Brigade was on the 'wallaby'.

2005 Cairns Post 18 August: As a local in my 60s, managing on a pension, last year I set off on my life's dream of going 'on the wallaby' around Australia.

Oz

Australia. The word Oz reproduces in writing the pronunciation of an abbreviation of Aussie, Australia, or Australian. The first evidence appears as Oss in 1908, and this form is likely to rhyme with boss. Overwhelmingly the later evidence is for the Oz spelling, with the final sound pronounced as ‘z’. (Occasionally the word is written as Aus, but pronounced the same way as Oz.) It is possible that the form Oz was influenced by The Wizard of Oz, a film that gained worldwide popularity following its release in 1939. The first record of Oz meaning ‘Australia’ appears not long after this in 1944, in the context of a wartime troop newsletter:

1944 Barging About: Organ of the 43rd Australian Landing Craft Co. 1 September: All the tribes of Oz did gather together.

1971 B. Humphries Bazza Pulls It Off: If they guess I’m from Oz the shit will really hit the fan!

2001 Outback August: We both hope to return to Oz shortly.

Oz is also used as an adjective, meaning ‘Australian’, and this is recorded from the early 1970s.

1972 Bulletin (Sydney) 10 June: The Oz habit of shaking hands while looking away at an angle of ninety degrees.

2005 Sydney Morning Herald 22 July (Metro Supplement): The vocals veer from fast-paced raps to more introspective spoken word, the Oz accent adding a distinct flavour.

pavlova

A meringue dessert with a soft centre, topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit. It was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926 to great acclaim. The pavlova (also formerly called pavlova cake) is claimed as a national dessert by both countries, and there has been much discussion about where it was invented. It is clear that the term pavlova is first recorded in New Zealand in 1927, but in this instance it refers to a moulded, multi-layered jelly dessert. The first New Zealand reference to the more familiar meringue dessert occurs in a 1933 cookery book. The first Australian reference to the classic dish occurs two years later. The shape and appearance of the pavlova may originally have been intended to suggest a ballerina’s tutu.

1935 Advocate (Burnie) 14 September: There are several different varieties of Pavlova cake. The most elaborate consists of alternate layers of meringue, marshmallow, whipped cream and fruit filling, piled high to make the most luxurious party dish.

2004 Northern Territory News (Darwin) 11 November: His signature dish is an emu egg pavlova.

If the Kiwis can claim the first evidence for pavlova, Australia can claim the first evidence of the common abbreviation pav, first recorded in 1966.

2013 Sydney Morning Herald 21 December: Swap the Christmas pud for a great big festive trifle stuffed with fresh fruit and jelly or a pav oozing with cream and raspberries.

pineapple: to get the rough end of the pineapple

To get a raw deal, or to receive unfair or inequitable treatment. The force of the phrase derives partly from the fact that either end of a pineapple is ‘rough’, although the end with the prickly leaves is very rough indeed. This expression is recorded first in 1959, and the early evidence is for the form to get the wrong end of the pineapple. From the 1970s onwards the ‘rough end’ takes over from the ‘wrong end’ as the more common form of the expression. The equivalent American saying is ‘to get the fuzzy end of the lollypop’.

1961 R. Lawler Piccadilly Bushman: He’ll know what I mean when I talk of getting the wrong end of the pineapple.

2013 Sydney Morning Herald 23 October: We welcomed the byelection so we could send you the message: we don't support a government that is giving us the rough end of the pineapple.

plonk

Wine, or fortified wine, of poor quality; more generally, wine or alcohol of any kind.  It is possible that this word has its origin with Australian soldiers serving in France in the First World War.  Plonk is likely to be an altered form of the French word ‘blanc’ in vin blanc, ‘white wine’. Soldiers may have pronounced this as van blonk, further transforming it into plonk. Evidence of the period records other similar names used by soldiers for wine based on the French vin blanc: point blank, von blink, plink, plink-plonk, and plinkety-plonk. The Australian word plonk has now spread to other Englishes. It is first recorded in 1919, and is now often used of cheap or poor quality wine.

1927 News (Adelaide) 8 December: ‘Give us a definition of “plonk”?’ asked Mr McMillan. ‘Yes, I can do that’, replied the obliging Mr Collins. ‘It is a cheap wine produced in Mr Crosby's district.’

1992 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 5 July 30/1 My local plonk shop where I am caught browsing through the Australian white wine section by one of the counter-jumpers.

2007 A. Agar Queensland Ringer: It is not plonk. It is good red South Australian wine.

For more on words related to wine drinking, see our blog ‘Wine in Australian English’.

pokies

Poker machines. Pokies are coin or card-operated. The punter presses a button or pulls a lever to spin the wheel, and the machine pays out, if you’re lucky, according to the combination of symbols that appear on the wheel. Known elsewhere as slot machines, fruit machines, or one-armed bandits, pokies are commonplace in Australian pubs and clubs, and a substantial revenue raiser. The first State in Australia to legalise this form of gambling was New South Wales in 1956. The term pokies is first recorded in 1964.

1965 I. Hamilton Persecutor: I always know how much I lose on the pokies.

2007 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 27 March: The Prince Alfred Hotel in Church St, Richmond, is on the market, and some fear it may be turned into a pokies venue. But if the new owners try to get pokies in they will have a huge fight on their hands.

pom

A British person, especially one from England. (Originally applied to an immigrant from the British Isles.) The word pom has its origin in wordplay. An early, derisory term for an immigrant in Australia was the rhyming slang jimmygrant (sometimes written as Jimmy Grant), recorded in 1844. Jimmygrant was further abbreviated in the 1870s to jimmy:

1878 Australian Town & Country Journal (Sydney) 6 July: The country was worth living in, not like it is now, overstocked with ‘jimmies’—a lot of useless trash.

By 1912 another rhyming slang term for ‘immigrant’ had appeared: pomegranate (also written as pommygranate and Pommy Grant). In the same year the first evidence for two abbreviations of pomegranatepom and pommy—can also be found. Pomegranate (along with its variants) and jimmygrant coexisted for some time:

1912 Truth (Sydney) 22 December: Now they call ’em ‘Pomegranates’ and the Jimmygrants don’t like it.

1916 W.C. Watson The Memoirs of a Ship’s Fireman: As I hailed from the Old Dart, I of course, in their estimation, was an immigrant, hence the curl up of the lip. But ‘pommygrant’ or ‘jimmygrant’, they always had a helping hand for me.

Eventually the term pomegranate replaced jimmygrant, and later was itself replaced by the abbreviations pom and pommy:

1920 H.J. Rumsey Pommies (Introduction): The title that I have selected for the book: ‘The Pommies’ is now a common name for recent arrivals from Britain. During the last few weeks, I have scores of times heard the Prince of Wales affectionately described as a ‘dear little pommy’.

1923 Bulletin (Sydney) 12 July: It was a Pommy bloke wot put me wise. I was in Snotty Padger’s bar one day ’Avin’ a quiet couple wiv the flies When Pom. lobs in.

1984 B. Dixon Searching for Aboriginal Languages: The weatherbeaten, red faces of the cattlemen sitting on stools around the bar all slowly swivelled and surveyed me. ‘Pommy!’ ejaculated one of them. I was made to feel that no one had ever asked for a gin and tonic in that pub before.

2013 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 29 July: The birth of a future King of England is nice for the Poms and Anglophiles but it has no relevance on who will be a future president of the republic of Australia.

There are a number of incorrect theories about the origin of pom. The most common suggests it is an acronym for Prisoner of Mother England, variously described as being stamped on convict clothing or scratched on the walls of prison cells by convicts. There is no evidence whatever to support this notion.

Today the use of pom and pommy to refer to an English person is common and widespread. These words can be used with good humour or in a derogatory way, but at the core they still imply a degree of ‘us and them’ mentality. The term whingeing pom, first recorded in 1962, embodies this. It refers to an English person, especially a migrant, who is regarded as a habitual complainer.

1967 Canberra Times 31 March: Many English people are castigated as ‘whinging Poms’, and it behoves Mr Crawford to pack his bags and go if life in Australia is so distasteful.

2014 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 20 September (Home Supplement): He became an Australian citizen in his second year. ‘I decided early on I would never be a whingeing Pom and we were convinced that living here was brilliant’, he says.

pork chop: to carry on like a pork chop

To behave foolishly, to make a fuss, to complain, or to rant. This expression is often thought to allude to the spluttering noise of a pork chop that is being fried. However it is probably a variant of the older expression like a pork chop in a synagogue, meaning something that is unpopular, unlikely, or rare (with reference to the Jewish prohibition of the eating of pork). To carry on like a pork chop is first recorded in 1975.

2002 Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) 10 November: The Australian sports public are a forgiving lot. Ask Lleyton Hewitt. Or Shane Warne. Here are a couple of champions who, on several occasions, have carried on like pork chops.

2003 E. Vercoe Keep Your Hair On: She's a beautiful woman, your mother, but by God can she carry on like a pork chop about nothing.

possum: stir the possum

To excite interest or controversy; to liven things up. This phrase is first recorded in 1888, and probably developed as the obverse of the phrase to play possum meaning ‘to pretend to be asleep or unconscious when threatened’ (in imitation of an opossum’s supposed behaviour).

1949 R. Park Poor Man’s Orange: A mission was like a tonic. It stirred the ’possum in the people, and for months afterwards they could still feel the enthusiasm.

2006 Advertiser (Adelaide) 11 November: Professor Seddon said his talk was deliberately designed to ‘stir the possum’ and generate discussion.

prawn

A fool; also used as a general term of abuse. It is a figurative use of the word prawn, an edible crustacean (high on Australia’s list of favourite foods). The Australian sense of ‘fool’  is first recorded in 1893.

1944 L. Glassop We were the Rats: What an odious prawn this Anderson is, I thought.

2013 S. Thorne Bonzer: I would have loved her to put in a day now and then at the new tuckshop… But she wouldn't, because she thought the woman who ran it was a ‘prawn’.

The term raw prawn, recorded from 1940, is based on this. It means 'an act of deception; a "swiftie"; an unfair action or circumstance, a rough deal’. It derives from the notion of something that is difficult to swallow.

1954 Queensland Guardian (Brisbane) 20 January: Snow says he thinks that this is the raw prawn. We do all the work, the mob behind Menzies gets all the dough.

2012 Sydney Morning Herald 10 March (News Review Section): I can't find one person who expects to get a parental leave scheme that provides full pay. If there's something we hate more than blatant, vote-grabbing profligacy, it's when someone tries to sell us a raw prawn.

Today raw prawn is most often heard in the idiom to come the raw prawn, meaning 'to attempt to deceive, or treat like a fool; to misrepresent a situation’. It is typically used in negative constructions, especially as don't come the raw prawn with me (‘don’t try to treat me like a fool’). It is first recorded in 1942.

1973 Woman's Day (Sydney) 26 March: `Don't come the raw prawn with me, mate,' he said. `I can get it back home at Woollies for that price.'

2000 B. Lunney Gone Bush: ‘Don't come the raw prawn with me. Look at those mudflats out there’, I said to him. I was only fourteen years old at the time and remembered thinking, he's having a go at me and must think I'm a dope.

public servant

A person employed by a government authority; a member of a State or Territory public service, or the Australian Public Service. It is the Australian term for the standard English civil servant. Public servant has its origin in Australia’s history as a penal colony. Unease about the word convict led to the creation of euphemistic terms, including government man and public servant (both recorded from 1797). The convict public servant was assigned to public labour.

1799 D. Collins An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (1802) vol. II: Such of the .. public servants as might have taken to concealments on shore for the purpose of avoiding their work, or making their escape from the colony.

By 1812 public servant was used to refer to any government worker, whether free or convict, and two centuries later it is still the standard Australian term for a public service employee.

1832 Colonial Times (Hobart) 25 April: Mr Henry Melville certainly cannot boast of being in receipt of a handsome salary, as a public servant.

2013 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 28 October: Cairns could become the Canberra of the north under a plan to force public servants to move from the national capital to the tropics.

See our blog ‘The convict origins of “public servant”’ for a discussion of the term.

Queenslander

A resident of Queensland; a person born in Queensland. Queensland was constituted as a separate colony in 1859, having previously formed part of New South Wales. The first evidence of Queenslander to describe a resident of the new colony occurs later that year.

1878 J.H. Nicholson Opal Fever: No violence! Let us remember we are gentlemen and Queenslanders.

2013 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 18 December: Just as well we Queenslanders are a non-parochial lot, always considerate of the feelings of southerners.

A transferred sense of Queenslander appeared in the 1980s. It refers to a house of a style built in Queensland from the 1870s onwards, timber-built and typically set high on stumps, with exterior weatherboards and corrugated iron roof, a wraparound verandah, and good ventilation. The design maximises air movement in humid conditions.

1990 R. Fitzgerald Busy in the Fog: Isn't our house grand? It's an old Queenslander.

2013 S. Thorne Bonzer: A typical weatherboard ‘Queenslander’, it was built for the climate—up on stumps for the air to circulate underneath, with verandahs and lots of louvres.

quokka

A small, short-tailed wallaby, Setonix brachyurus, of south-western Western Australia, including Rottnest and Bald Islands. (These islands are free of quokka predators such as foxes and cats.) Quokka was first recorded in 1855, and comes from Noongar, an Aboriginal language of this area. Quokkas are the size of a cat, and have long greyish-brown fur and rounded ears.

1968 V. Serventy Southern Walkabout: It is the famous quokka, one of the pademelon wallabies, which creates most interest. It was this wallaby, mistaken by Dutch visitor Vlaming for a large rodent, which led to the island’s name, Rottnest or ‘Rat’s Nest’.

2004 Australian Geographic July: Beneath the trees live various marsupials, including WA's largest mainland population of quokka and the honey possum or noolbenger.

quoll

Any of several marsupials of the genus Dasyuris of Australia and New Guinea. Quolls are cat-sized marsupials with long tails, pointed snouts, brown fur, and distinctive white spots. They are nocturnal and hunt insects, birds and small mammals. The word quoll derives from Guugu Yimithirr, an Aboriginal language of north-eastern Queensland. Joseph Banks, botanist with James Cook’s voyage of discovery in 1768-71, recorded it in his Endeavour journal in 1770, when the Endeavour was beached for repairs on the site of present-day Cooktown. However quoll was not the name that European settlers used; native cat was the common term for this animal until the mid 19th century. From the 1960s the word quoll began to replace native cat, and today quoll is the dominant term.

1770 J. Banks Endeavour Journal: Another [quadruped] was calld by the natives Je-Quoll.

1987 Wildlife Australia (Autumn issue): It is only in recent years that distinctive native names have been proposed to replace the ‘tainted’ European ones. Quoll for native cat, for example.

2013 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 13 May: Ms Leonard has hand-reared three kangaroos, a wombat and two quolls.

razoo

A non-existent coin of trivial value. Razoo, first recorded in 1919, is used in negative contexts only, especially as to not have a razoo, and to not have a brass razoo 'to have nothing; to be penniless'. The origin of the word is unknown, although it is perhaps a corruption of the French coin called a sou. The form brass razoo appears later in 1927. The brass of brass razoo is likely influenced by the standard English brass farthing, which is also used in negative contexts with a similar meaning (‘she hasn’t got a brass farthing’). For an earlier discussion of the possibility that the form brass razoo is a euphemism for arse razoo (from arse raspberry ‘a fart’) see the article ‘Brass Razoo: is it but a breath of wind?’ on page 6 of our Ozwords newsletter.

1965 R.H. Conquest Horses in Kitchen: My main worry was that when I did leave hospital… I wouldn’t have a razoo to my name.

2015 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 14 April: I am trapped in limbo and have not earned a brass razoo in six months.

razor gang

A parliamentary committee established to examine ways of reducing public expenditure. The term razor gang derives from the name of a violent street gang in Sydney in 1927 who were armed with razors. The parliamentary sense may be a transfer from the 1960s British Railway slang (an extended use of the literal razor gang) ‘a team of investigators seeking ways of improving economy and productivity’. In Australia in 1981 razor gang became the popular term to refer to the Committee for Review of Commonwealth Functions, chaired by Treasurer Phillip Lynch, which was charged with cutting government spending. Today razor gang is used of any similar committee or organisation that seeks to drastically cut expenditure.

1981 Bulletin (Sydney) 5 May: Canberra reports said that Sir Phillip Lynch’s ‘Razor Gang’ had recommended an overall staff cut in the Federal public service of 2 percent.

2012 Gold Coast Bulletin 15 June: The Newman Government's razor gang has seized the $1.3 million that was allocated by the previous Labor government for the Burleigh police beat to plump up its Budget bottom line.

right: you right?

Often heard as a question from a salesperson to a customer, this is the Australian equivalent of the standard query are you being served? It may sound offhand to non-Australian ears, but although informal, it is not a sign of disrespect. It is a shortened form of are you all right? First recorded in 1974.

1985 Bulletin (Sydney) 16 July: Cedric Felspar .. was lost in thought in .. David Jones .. when a salesgirl crept upon him from behind and whined: ‘You right?’

2013 Age (Melbourne) 13 January: When sales assistants ask ‘Are you right?’, I have answered: ‘No, I'm left of centre.’ What's wrong with ‘May I help you’?

rogaining

A sporting event similar to orienteering, in which teams compete over a course that requires at least twelve hours to complete. The word rogaine probably derives from the first names of the founders of the sport: Ro(d), Gai(l), and Ne(il) Phillips. The earliest evidence of rogaining is found in 1979.

1982 N. & R. Phillips Rogaining: Rogaining is the sport of long distance cross-country navigation in which teams of two to five members visit as many checkpoints as possible in an allocated period. Teams travel entirely on foot, navigating by map and compass in terrain that varies from open farmland to thick, hilly forest. A central base camp provides hot meals throughout the event and teams may return there at any time to eat, rest or sleep.

2013 Milton-Ulladulla Times 25 June: Elleisha has also .. survived overnight bush rogaines, running through the bush at Kangaroo Valley as first aid officer for her team on a 24-hour trek.

rooned: we'll all be rooned

We will all be ruined. An expression of pessimism. Rooned is an Irish pronunciation of ‘ruined’, used in the refrain of the poem ‘Said Hanrahan’, published in 1921 by John O’Brien, the pen name of P.J. Hartigan. Hanrahan, a farmer, is a lugubrious and pessimistic doomsayer. Whatever the weather, he predicts disaster: ‘We’ll all be rooned,’ said Hanrahan, ‘before the year is out’. The expression is now used to mock pessimists, and is first recorded in the same year the poem was published.

1927 Gundagai Independent 1 August: There are plenty of Hanrahans about—‘We'll all be rooned’, they croon, ‘if rain don't come this month’.

2008 Canberra Times 26 January (Opinion Supplement): We may have become a nation in 1901 but in 107 years since we have gradually severed constitutional, legal and procedural links to the English crown and government apparatus. Each has been accompanied by cries of ‘We'll all be rooned!’

rort

To scam, misuse, or to treat fraudulently. This significant Australian word derives from wrought, an archaic past participle of the verb to work. Wrought means ‘worked into shape or condition’ and we see it today in the term wrought iron. Indeed the Australian rort is sometimes spelled wrought in early evidence (see the 1938 example below). The verb rort first appears in 1919.

1938 Argus (Melbourne) 26 March (Supplement): ‘Now me’, he went on, ‘I was edjicated in Woolloomooloo, in Sydney. That's were I learnt wroughting’. ‘But what is this wroughting?’ I asked. He wrinkled his forehead thoughtfully. ‘It's a bit ’ard to explain it’, he said. ‘What it really comes to is that you sells something that isn't no use, to people what doesn't want it, for good, ’ard cash.’

2006 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 28 September: Carlton were found to have rorted the salary cap.

Rort is also used as a noun, meaning ‘a trick, a fraud, a dishonest practice’, and is first recorded in 1926. For a further discussion of the origin of rort, see our Word of the Month article.

1936 J. Devanny Sugar Heaven: The cockies are supposed to pay this retention money into the bank and we are supposed to draw interest on it but normally they don’t pay it in. They keep the use of it through the season and we draw the bare amount at the end of the cut. It’s the greatest rort ever.

2000 R. Hoser Taxi: Canberra, the public service capital of Australia, is without doubt the rort capital as well.

sanger

A sandwich. Sanger is an alteration of the word sandwichSango appeared as a term for sandwich in the 1940s, but by the 1960s, sanger took over to describe this staple of Australian cuisine. Sangers come in all shapes and sizes for all occasions—there are gourmet sangers, steak sangers, veggie sangers, cucumber sangers, and even double banger sangers.

1968 D. O’Grady A Bottle of Sandwiches: Meals consisted of piles of sangers, made by the pub cook, and brought out at odd intervals.

2003 J. Birmingham Dopeland: The club sanger is the only reason I stay here.

schmick

Smart, stylish; excellent. Schmick (sometimes shmick) is a relatively recent addition to Australian English. The form smick is found once in the written record in the 1970s, and may be a blend of the words smart and slick. From the late 1990s onwards smick is modified to schmick on the model of various Yiddish words borrowed into English. Schmick is now often heard in Australian English. For a discussion of the origin of schmick, and the term schmick-up that has developed from it, see our Word of the Month article.

1999 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 28 July: The view over the river and Story Bridge will be pretty schmick.

2009 J. Welch Choir Man: I .. was decked out in a lovely new navy-blue suit… When I walked out onstage feeling rather schmick, I got a nod of acknowledgement from the very handsome artistic director, Richard Bonynge.

School of the Air

A government-funded educational program that uses a two-way radio communication system (and, more recently, internet technology) to enable children in remote areas to participate in ‘classroom’ activities for part of each day. Developed to supplement correspondence education, the School of the Air was pioneered in Australia in 1951. It remains the most important means of education for children who have no access to school.

1960 Bulletin (Sydney) 17 February: Queensland’s first School of the Air, operating one hour daily from the Cloncurry flying-doctor base, got away to a bad start.

2009 E. McHugh Birdsville: I'm happy about School of the Air being over… Now they're off to school and in a classroom again they can come home to me and I'm just Mum instead of being their cranky teacher.

screamer

(In Australian Rules football) a spectacular overhead mark. Australian Rules is a team game in which the ball is moved by running, kicking, and handballing. A mark is the act of cleanly catching a ball that has been kicked a distance of more than 15 metres, and the mark allows the catcher to take an unimpeded kick of the ball. A screamer is a mark that results from an especially high and spectacular leap for the ball. It is a specific use of the standard English screamer meaning ‘an outstanding specimen’. The Australian Rules screamer is first recorded in 1953.

1989 Age (Melbourne) 24 July: 'Leaping Al' Lynch played an inspired game... kicking six goals and .. sitting on a pack of four players .. to pull down a screamer.

2014 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 30 March: Six minutes in he threw himself onto a pack in the goalsquare and took a screamer.

A second sense of screamer is recorded in Australian English from 1959. It functions in various compound terms with words for measures of alcoholic drink, indicating a person who has a low tolerance of alcohol, or who becomes drunk easily or quickly. Two-pot screamer is the most common of these, but you can also find two-pint, two-middy, and two-schooner screamers.

1972 Bulletin (Sydney) 3 June: Sefton said she’d become a two middy screamer. He said when she had a few drinks she began to shout and tried to dominate the conversation.

2004 Canberra Times 12 December (Magazine Section): In the days when I was a two-pot screamer (as opposed to now when I'm a two-pot sleeper), I could be guaranteed to reveal bits of me which oughtn't to be revealed to anyone.

seachange

A significant change of lifestyle, especially one achieved by moving from the city to a seaside town. It derives from SeaChange (1998–2000), the name of a popular Australian television series in which the principal character moves from the city to a small coastal town. The name of the series itself alludes to the standard English meaning of sea-change ‘a profound or notable transformation’, which has its origin in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest: ‘Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change, Into something rich and strange.’ The Australian meaning is first recorded in 1998, and has generated the verb to seachange, and the name seachanger to describe people who choose a seachange. A later term modelled on seachange is tree change,  referring to a significant change in lifestyle with a move from the city to a rural district.

2003 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 1 December: Sea change investors cause prices to triple. People fleeing Sydney to NSW coastal areas for a ‘sea change’ have forced land prices up by as much as three times in three years.

2006 Australian Gourmet Traveller April: One of Melbourne's best pub restaurants .. has appointed a ‘certified Francophile’ to replace Tim Saffery, who is sea-changing to the New South Wales south coast.

secret business

In traditional Aboriginal culture, ceremony and ritual that is open only to a particular group. The word business in this term is from Aboriginal English, and means ‘traditional Aboriginal lore and ritual’, and is recorded from 1907. Secret business is first recorded much later in 1986, and from it have developed terms with a more specific reference: secret men’s business, for ceremony and ritual that is open only to men, and secret women’s business, for ceremony and ritual that is open only to women.

1997 West Australian (Perth) 9 July: People might refuse to give evidence if it meant revealing secret business.

2001 A. McMillan An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land: In the morning the men went off to a nearby ceremonial site for Ngarra bunggul or, if you like, secret men's business.

2014 Cairns Post 24 February: It's really hard with my daughters, a lot of it is secret women's business. The women had more sacred areas than men and it's up to my partner, my sisters and my mum to teach them.

From the late 1990s the terms are transferred into standard Australian English where they are used, often jokingly, in non-Aboriginal contexts.

1997 New Idea (Melbourne) 29 November: Kingswood driving is secret men's business—just like pushing a shopping trolley straight is secret womens' business.

shag: like a shag on a rock

An emblem of isolation, deprivation, and exposure. It is first recorded in 1845. A shag is a name for any of several species of Australian cormorant, commonly found in coastal and inland waters, where they are often seen perched alone on a rock—the behaviour that gave rise to the expression. In Australian English any isolated person can be described as being like a shag on a rock—for example, a political leader with few supporters, or a person without friends at a party. Sometimes found in the formulation as lonely (or miserable) as a shag on a rock.

1864 Sydney Morning Herald 8 July: He heard Lant say he would be revenged on Mr Orr; he would scab his sheep, and leave him as miserable as a shag on a rock.

2001 B. Courtenay Four Fires 501 Tommy doesn't want the poor bloke to be standing there like a shag on a rock.

sheila

A girl or woman. This word first appeared in Australian English in 1832 with the spelling shelah. It was initially used in Australia to refer to a woman of Irish origin, but from the late 19th century onwards it became a general term for a woman or girl. It probably derives from the generic use of the (originally Irish) proper name Sheila. For a full discussion of its likely origin in the old celebration Shelah’s Day, celebrated the day after St Patrick’s Day, see our blog ‘Shelah’s Day and the origin of sheila’ from March 2016. For a different, but nevertheless Irish, view of the origin of the term, see an earlier discussion in our Ozwords article ‘Who is Sheila?’ from December 2001.

1930 L.W. Lower Here’s Luck: ‘Sheilas!’ gasped Woggo as the girls clambered out of the car.

1992 J. Davis In our Town: That's my sister. What a sheila. Every bloke in Northam wants to date her.

shower: I didn’t come down in the last shower

I’m not stupid, don’t try and put one over me! This is a response to someone who is taking you for a fool, and indicates that you have more experience or shrewdness than you have been given credit for. It is now used elsewhere, but it is recorded earliest in Australia, and its use is chiefly Australian.  First evidence is from 1883.

1904 Northern Miner (Charters Towers) 22 September: At least I thought it would be accepted that I didn't come down in the last shower.

2015 Star Observer (Sydney) September: I didn’t verbalise it with my mother until she was dying… So I told her, just before she died, and she looked at me and said, ‘Michael, I didn’t come down in the last shower. You’ve been bringing Johan to Sunday dinner for the last 30 years, do you think I was blind?'

sickie

A day's sick leave, especially as taken without sufficient medical reason. Sickie is an abbreviation of the term sick leave, and illustrates a distinctive feature of Australian English — the addition of -ie or -y to abbreviated words or phrases. Other examples include: firie ‘firefighter’, surfie ‘surfer’, and Tassie ‘Tasmania’. Sickie is first recorded in 1953, and is often found in the phrase to chuck a sickie, meaning ‘to take a day’s sick leave from work’ (often with the implication that the person is not really ill).

1962 Bulletin (Sydney) 3 March: I don’t feel a bit like work today… I think I’ll take a sickie.

2003 Canberra Times 21 June: The age old practice of ‘chucking a sickie’ in the Australian Public Service is costing the taxpayer at least $295 million a year.

skip

An Australian, especially one of British descent. Also as skippy. The term is the creation of non-British Australian migrants, especially children, who needed a term to counter the insulting terms directed at them by Australians of British descent. First recorded in 1982, it derives from the children’s television series Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo (1966-68).

1988 K. Lette Girls' Night Out: The Skips at school had teased her about being Greek.

2000 Geelong Advertiser 3 December: You listening to me ya skippy dickhead?

Skippy has a later meaning, ‘kangaroo meat’, first recorded in the early 1990s and derived from the same source. For a discussion of this sense see our Word of the Month article from October 2013.

sledge

Of a fielder in a game of cricket, to attempt to break the concentration of a person batting by abuse or needling. Sledge is first recorded in the mid-1970s in a cricketing context. It derives from the word sledgehammer, used figuratively to designate an unsubtle form of verbal abuse. Later it became used more widely in a variety of contexts, sporting and otherwise, in the sense ‘to criticise, ridicule, attack’. For a discussion of the theory that it derives from the name of the singer Percy Sledge, see our blog ‘Percy Sledge and cricket’ from April 2015.

1980 Sydney Morning Herald 16 October: Crude language is forbidden. This edict should put an end to the disgraceful practice of ‘sledging’ opponents, an abomination that has become rampant in the game over the last few years.

2014 Sydney Morning Herald 7 June: And The Australian is certainly selective about which women it worries about: it was hardly outraged over the sustained sledging of Julia Gillard.

sleepout

A verandah, porch, or outbuilding that is used for sleeping accommodation. The word first appears in 1915. Sleepouts are often used when hot weather encouraged people to sleep in a sheltered area that might receive cooling night breezes. Sometimes a sleepout may be a porch or verandah that is enclosed with windows or walls, eventually becoming a permanent extra bedroom.

1959 L. Rose Country of the Dead: He looked up through the gauze wire serving as the outer wall of the sleep-out, across the dry river flat.

2006 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 28 October (Etc Section): It still has an authentic country feel with wide shady verandas, a wood-burning fireplace for frosty nights, two double bedrooms with high wrought-iron beds and, much to the children's delight, a sleepout they were all to share on our visit.

snag

A sausage. Also snagger. In Australia and elsewhere snag has a number of meanings, including ‘a submerged tree stump’, ‘an unexpected drawback’, and more recently as an acronym for sensitive new age guy’. But in Australia a snag is also one of several words for ‘sausage’ (others include snarler and snork). It is first recorded in 1937, and probably comes from British (mainly Scots) dialect snag meaning ‘a morsel, a light meal’. Snag has generated another, rhyming slang, term for the humble sausage: the aptly named mystery bag.

1943 Bulletin (Sydney) 15 December: Waiting only to bolt a couple of cold ‘snags’ Ted got out his bike.

1991 Age (Melbourne) 24 December (Supplement): Bangers, snags, call them what you will, the once-humble sausage has moved up into the gourmet class.

sorry

In traditional Aboriginal culture, of or relating to death and mourning. In Aboriginal English the adjective sorry is recorded in this sense from the 1940s. Later compounds based on sorry include sorry business, ritual and ceremony associated with death, and sorry camp, a mourning camp.

1997 S. Dingo Dingo: the Story of Our Mob: When Polly passed away, none of the children had been permitted to go to the sorry ceremony, the funeral, no children at all.

1999 Canberra Times 11 December (Panorama):  An Aboriginal boy tells us about going with his family by car to Yarrie for sorry business.

In the wider Australian community sorry is found in the annual Sorry Day, first held on 26 May 1998, a public expression of regret for the treatment of the stolen generations, those Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their parents by white authorities. It is also, for the Indigenous community, a day of mourning.

2001 Adelaidean June: For the fourth year in a row, Sorry Day has been marked at Adelaide University with a formal ceremony.

spit the dummy

This has two meanings in Australian English: to give up (contesting or participating), and to lose one’s temper or composure. The phrase is recorded first in the1980s. It is usually used of an adult with the implication is that the behaviour described is childish, like a baby spitting out its dummy in a tantrum and refusing to be pacified.

1992 Sydney Morning Herald 2 November: With most games, of course, I'd simply spit the dummy, hit the switch and give up.

2005 Age (Melbourne) 27 November: There was a lingering doubt: would host Russell Crowe spit the dummy and biff someone with a trophy?

spunk

A sexually attractive person. Australians also use the meanings for this term that exist in standard English: 1 courage and determination. 2 semen. But in Australia spunk is most commonly used to refer to a person of either sex who is regarded as sexually attractive. It is first recorded in the 1970s and is derived from spunky ‘full of spirit; brave, plucky’, although it may be influenced by spunk ‘semen’. A term based on the Australian spunk is spunk rat, which means the same thing, but can also mean ‘a sexually promiscuous person’.

1979 Carey & Lette Puberty Blues: It was Darren Peters—the top surfing spunk of sixth form.

2004 Australian (Sydney) 12 June (Magazine): Physical attractiveness is multi-dimensional: after all, one person's spunkrat is another person's .. er, rat.

squatter

A squatter is a person who unlawfully occupies an uninhabited building. But in early nineteenth-century Australia a squatter (first recorded 1825) was also a person who occupied Crown land without legal title. From the 1840s it began to refer to any person who grazed livestock on a large scale, without reference to the title by which the land was held; and the term squatter also referred to such a person as being of an elevated socio-economic status. Squatters became wealthy and powerful, and the term squattocracy (recorded in 1841) alludes to their aristocratic pretensions.

1867 ‘A Colonist’ Life’s Work As It Is: No men have made wealth faster in this colony than ‘squatters’; that is, in plain English, sheep and cattle owners.

1984 W.W. Ammon et al. Working Lives: He had class that manager, squattocracy class, and only others of squatter ilk were encouraged to fraternise with him.

stolen generation

The Aboriginal people who were removed from their families as children (especially between the 1900s and the 1960s) and placed in institutions or fostered by white families. Also stolen generations. The term was first recorded in 1982.

2002 Koori Mail 20 February: I hope this film will be a turning point in Australians’ awareness of the complex and painful issues surrounding the Stolen generations.

2006 Mercury (Hobart) 22 November: Pioneering laws to offer compensation to Tasmanian Aborigines forcibly removed from their families as part of the Stolen Generation were passed yesterday by the Tasmanian House of Assembly.

stoush

Fighting; violence; a brawl or fight. Probably from British dialect (Scots) stashie, stushie (and variants) ‘an uproar; a commotion, disturbance, quarrel’. Stoush is used as a noun and a verb (‘to strike or thrash; to fight or struggle’) from the late 19th century.

1935 J.P. McKinney Crucible: ‘The jacks were tailing me up.’ ‘What was the matter’, John asked. ‘Just a bit of stoush’, said Roberts. ‘Two of them bailed me up for my pass. I dropped them and beat it for the bush.’

1994 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 19 July: Australia's leading fund managers are lining up for a stoush with one of the industry's leading researchers over its proposal to develop a rating system.

Stoush was also used to refer to military engagement during the First World War, and later the phrase the big stoush was used of the war itself.

1932 Western Mail (Perth) 25 August: I was on board the troopship Nestor when that steamer went over to the big stoush in 1915.

For a discussion of the phrase the big stoush, see our Word of the Month for April 2015.

straight to the poolroom

A catchphrase used to express the great value of a gift, prize, object, etc. The idiom comes from the 1997 film The Castle in which the main character, Darryl Kerrigan (played by Michael Caton), says of gifts such as ‘a samurai-sword letter opener’ that ‘this is going straight to the poolroom’, suggesting it is so wonderful that it should be preserved as a trophy. First recorded in 1998.

2000 Sunday Mail (Adelaide) 21 May: Bravo! The great man signed a football for me and when I get home it's going straight to the pool room.

stubby

A short, squat beer bottle, especially one with a capacity of 375 ml. The bottle is stubby (short and thick) in comparison with the tall and slender 750 ml beer bottle. First recorded in 1965. The term stubby holder appears a few years later, to describe a casing made of an insulating material, in which a stubby is held (and kept cold) while the contents are being drunk. The expression a stubby short of a sixpack, recorded from the late 1990s, means ‘very stupid; insane’. It is an Australian variation of a common international idiom, typically represented by a sandwich short of a picnic. It combines the Australian stubby with the borrowed American sixpack (a pack of six cans of beer), demonstrating how readily Australian English naturalises Americanisms.

1966 J. Iggulden Summer’s Tales: Drinking beer from small, cold stubbies.

2005 Townsville Bulletin 12 November: The fact the affable brindle bitzer is a stubbie short of six pack might explain why one day he took on a stingray. No dog in his right mind would tackle a stingray, especially one at home in its own watery environment.

such is life

An expression of resignation; a philosophical acceptance of the bad things that happen in life. First recorded in 1896. This is a commonplace, but given significance in Australia because these words are popularly understood to be the last uttered by the bushranger Ned Kelly on the gallows in 1880. The expression was further popularised by its use as the title for Joseph Furphy’s famous novel about rural Australia (1903). Some claim that Kelly’s last words were in fact ‘Ah well, I suppose it has come to this’— not quite as memorable. For a discussion of such is life and other terms associated with Ned Kelly, see the article ‘Who’s Robbing this Coach? Ned Kelly and Australian English’ in our Ozwords newsletter from April 2009.

1918 W. Hay The Escape of the Notorious Sir William Heans: The tragic distresses of portions of our lives ... make at worst a pleasant interest for the young of future ages. Such is life!

2006 Sydney Morning Herald 1 July: It's the first time in my life that I've been sacked but such is life. My pride has been a bit dented.

swag

In early use, the collection of possessions and daily necessaries carried by a person travelling, usually on foot, in the bush; especially the blanket-wrapped roll carried on the back or across the shoulders by an itinerant worker. In later use, such a collection of possessions carried by a worker on a rural station, a camper, or a traveller to the city from a country area; a bed-roll. First recorded in 1836. The Australian sense of swag is a transferred use of swag from British thieves’ slang ‘a thief's plunder or booty’. The transfer of meaning (from the booty itself to the the booty and its container) is recorded by convict James Hardy Vaux in 1812 and published in his Memoirs in 1819. For more on this see the article ‘James Hardy Vaux: Pioneer Australian Lexicographer’ (page 6) in our Ozwords newsletter from April 2008.

1890 Bulletin (Sydney) 30 August:  Did you ever take 'the wallaby' along some dreary track
With that hideous malformation, called a swag, upon your back.

2006 R. Ellis Boats in the Desert: He slid out of it like a banana losing its peel. He began rummaging among his swag looking for something, and as he did so, I saw a brown snake slithering away from Jim's swag as fast as it could go.

The verb to swag meaning 'to carry one's swag' appears in the 1850s, and the compound swagman (a person who carries a swag; an itinerant worker, especially one in search of employment, who carries a swag; a vagrant) appears in the 1860s.

1996 B. Simpson Packhorse Drover: I remember clearly the sad procession of down-at-heel swagmen, many of them returned soldiers, who called at our place in the hope of getting a job or a handout.

For a discussion of other terms associated with swagmen, see the article ‘The Jolly Swagman’ on pages 6-7 of our Ozwords newsletter, October 2007.

tall poppy

A person who is conspicuously successful, especially one who attracts envious notice or hostility. It is often said that Australians have a tendency to cut tall poppies down to size by denigrating them. It may have its origin in an obsolete 17th-century sense of the word poppy, meaning ‘a conspicuous or prominent person or thing, frequently with implication of likely humiliation’. This meaning of poppy is likely to refer to the Roman historian Livy’s account of Tarquinius Superbus, who silently showed how to deal with potential enemies by striking off the heads of the tallest poppies in his garden with a stick.

The Australian tall poppy is first recorded in 1871, and tall poppy syndrome, the practice of denigrating prominent or successful people, is recorded from 1983.

1894 Oakleigh Leader (Melbourne) 29 December: He would avert direct taxation on wealth by retrenching all the low paid civil servants, while carefully protecting the tall poppies who have very little to do.

2005 Sydney Morning Herald 12 March: How do colleagues know when I am having a go at Shane Warne?… They can see my fingers moving on the keyboard. Look, I try not to do it all the time, honest! But sometimes the compulsion just overwhelms me, as a hideous case of Tall Poppy Syndrome grabs me by the throat and, fair dinkum, makes me do it.

tart

A girlfriend or sweetheart; also applied generally to a girl or woman, implying admiration. This Australian sense of tart is recorded from 1892 through to the 1970s, but has now fallen out of use. It is likely to be an abbreviation of jam tart, itself probably rhyming slang for sweetheart.

1937 A.W. Upfield Mr Jelly’s Business: I’m in love with a tart. Her name’s Lucy Jelly. She is the loveliest girl within a thousand miles of Burracoppin.

1972 D. Sheahan Songs From The Canefields: If you fell in love and got on with a tart—’Twas happy she’d be to go out in a cart—And after the wedding she’d chatter for hours Of sight and scenes that she saw at the Towers.

Today a woman is likely to take offence if you call her a tart, since the two current meanings for a female tart are both derogatory: 1. a promiscuous woman or prostitute, and 2. an offensive slang term for a girl or woman. It wasn't always the case. For the best part of the last hundred years, calling a woman a tart in Standard English was not necessarily an insult, and both the positive and negative meanings of tart overlap for much of this time. However the use of tart to mean a girlfriend or sweetheart is unique to Australian English.

things are crook in Tallarook

A rhyming catchphrase used to indicate that things are bad or unpleasant. Its use often prompts a similar response from a listener, such as ‘but things are dead at Birkenhead’.Tallarook is the name of a small town in northern Victoria, and crook is used in the Australian sense ‘bad; inferior; unpleasant; unsatisfactory’. Things are crook in Tallarook is one of several similar phrases based on rhyming reduplication, including ‘there’s no work at Bourke’, ‘got the arse at Bulli Pass’, ‘no lucre at Echuca’, and ‘everything’s wrong at Wollongong’. They are sometimes thought to be associated with the Great Depression of the 1930s, when massive unemployment meant that many people travelled long distances looking for work. However, things are crook in Tallarook is not recorded until the early 1940s.

1988 H. Reade You’ll Die Laughing: How stiff can you get? No tube, no jack, no spare, no car, no bike, no ’phone, no hearse and no bloody undertaker! Things are crook in Tallarook.

2005 Newcastle Herald 26 February (Weekender Section): ‘Things are crook in Tallarook’ was a well-worn exclamation from World War II diggers when they found themselves in a sticky situation.

tickets: to have tickets on yourself

To have an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or value; to be conceited. The evidence for this phrase dates from 1904. It became popular around the time of the First World War, and increasingly so into the 1920s and 30s. The original meaning of the word ticket is uncertain, but it probably refers to betting tickets (a person is so confident in their ability that they would bet on himself or herself). Other suggestions have included raffle tickets, price tags (especially the kind that used to be displayed on the outfit of mannequins in shop windows), or prize ribbons awarded at agricultural shows.

1945 Townsville Daily Bulletin 28 November: Entered a haughty lady with enough rings on her fingers to open a jeweller's shop. One glance convinced me she had ‘tickets on herself’, and in her own mind believed she was superior to the others in the compartment.

2001 Australian (Sydney) 26 September: Freeman is often portrayed as a shy, humble athlete, but she professed the opposite to be true. ‘I think I have always had the overwhelming audacity to believe I could win. I always had tickets on myself, I just didn't speak about it publicly’, she said.

trackie daks

Tracksuit trousers. Trackie is a colloquial term for tracksuit, chiefly used in Australia and Britain and recorded from the 1980s. The word daks began as a proprietary name (trademarked in the 1930s) for a brand of trousers. In Australia daks became used as a generic term for trousers from the 1960s. The two words appear in the compound trackie daks in 1993 and, whether you love them or deride them as daggy, they are Australia’s favourite leisure wear.

1997 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 7 August: Scott Blackwell pops on his trackie daks to write a dag's guide to the Ekka.

2001 Australian (Sydney) 12 May: I like to think she eases herself into some comfy old trackie daks.

troppo: go troppo

To become mentally disturbed; to go crazy or wild. Troppo is formed by the abbreviation of tropic and the addition of –o, and it demonstrates a common Australian way of altering words. The phrase to go troppo was first used by Australian troops in the Pacific during the Second World War, and arose from the idea that long exposure to tropical conditions affected your sanity. It is now used in various contexts.

1945 G. Powell Two Steps To Tokyo: I might have wondered at what stage I had reached in the process of going ‘troppo’. It was a common saying with us that a man was beginning to go ‘troppo’ when he started talking to the lizards.

1994 M. Colman In A League Of Their Own: This was in the middle of the Whitlam government's darkest days and the crowd has gone absolutely troppo when Gough's walked out.

true blue

Very genuine, very loyal; expressing Australian values; Australian. This derives from a  British English sense of true blue, recorded from the 17th century with the meaning ‘faithful, staunch, unwavering in one's commitments or principles; extremely loyal’. Later it also came to mean ‘staunchly conservative’ in a political sense. In Australia true blue expressed a completely different political ideal; the earliest records of the Australian sense date from the 1890s and mean ‘loyal to workers and union values’.

1897 Worker (Sydney) 18 September: Reports from the sheds are cheering, both reps. and men being of the sort called ‘true blue’.

This sense is overtaken in the last decades of the 20th century by a more general use of true blue to refer to something or someone that expresses Australian values, or is very genuine or loyal.

2006 Townsville Bulletin 6 January: The two married after dating for two years. Both were barely 20, she Canadian, he true blue Aussie.

Although true blue is not exclusively Australian, it is of special interest in Australia, and used here without the connotations of conservatism that are usually present elsewhere. For an earlier, detailed discussion of the history of the term from medieval times, see the article ‘How True Blue is True Blue?’ (page 5) in our Ozwords newsletter from October 1996.

turps: on the turps

Drinking heavily. Turps is an abbreviation of turpentine, and is recorded in Australian English from the 1860s with the meaning ‘alcoholic liquor’. It alludes to the use of spirits such as turps and methylated spirits by down-and-out alcoholics. In the earliest uses of the phrase on the turps the alcohol referred to is a spirit such as gin or rum, but more recently it has referred to any kind of alcoholic drink, especially beer.

1968 D. O’Grady A Bottle of Sandwiches: He’s a bastard when he gets on the turps.

2006 Australian (Sydney) 14 June: Drinking coffee after a night on the turps might do more than help you sober up—it could also slash your risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver.

two-up

A gambling game in which two coins are tossed in the air and bets laid as to whether both will fall heads or tails uppermost. It is first recorded in 1855. The two coins, traditionally pre-decimal currency pennies, are placed tails up on a flat board called the kip. The ring-keeper (the person in charge of the two-up ring) calls come in spinner, and the spinner tosses the coins. Two-up was popular with Australian soldiers during the First World War, and has become associated with the Anzacs. The game is traditionally played on Anzac Day, 25 April, in hotels and RSL clubs. For further discussion of two-up, see the article ‘The Language of Two Up’ in our Ozwords newletter from October 2010.

1893 Western Champion (Barcaldine) 27 June: The men were amusing themselves on the ‘off-day’ by playing cards, &c., one group playing ‘two-up’.

2007 Canberra Times 26 April: Ms Brill joined about 100 people yesterday at the club's outdoor two-up ring to watch punters empty their wallets and pint glasses during the traditional Anzac game.

uey

A U-turn. Uey is formed by abbreviating U-turn and adding –y on the end, a common Australian way of altering words. It is often found in the phrases to chuck a uey or to do a uey, meaning ‘to carry out a U-turn’. The earliest evidence of the term is found in 1973.

1975 Australian Women’s Weekly 2 July: My father remarked nervously that we were going the wrong way. ‘Sir’, replied the driver, ‘I will shortly make a turn. I am not in the habit of chucking a U-ey.’

2006 A. Hyland Diamond Dove 205 He did a casual u-ie in the driveway and headed south.

ugg boot

A flat-soled boot made from sheepskin with the wool on the inside. The term is of unknown origin, but is perhaps originally an alteration of ugly boot. Ugg boots (also spelled ugh boots and ug boots) are Australia’s favourite footwear for comfort or cold weather. The early evidence for the term, from the late 1960s, suggests they first became popular with surfers. The name Ugh-boots was registered as a proprietary name for a type of footwear in 1971 by the Shane Clothing Company, but in 2006 ugg boot (and its variants) was removed from the Australian register of trademarks. It is now a generic term for this type of boot in Australia. For a discussion of this and other footwear terms, see our blog ‘Footwear in Australian English’ from May 2015.

1986 Woman's Day (Sydney) 15 December: You can wash your ug boots in the washing machine with a good wool wash.

2003 Sydney Morning Herald 29 November: Is it just us, or has 2003 been the year of the ocker? Everywhere you look, there are ugh boots, thongs and mullet haircuts.

ute

Abbreviation of utility, a small truck with a two-door cab that looks like a sedan, and a tray (with permanent sides) that is part of the body. The word ute is first recorded in 1943. Utes are used for carrying light loads and are a familiar sight on Australian roads, both rural and urban. Many towns have an annual gathering of utes for competitive display, sometimes called a ute muster, with prizes awarded in categories such as ‘best street ute’ and ‘best feral ute’.

1955 Bulletin (Sydney) 2 February: Charley, caught well out in the blacksoil country in his utility .. glanced over his shoulder—the back of the ute was loaded with hailstones!

1994 Age (Melbourne) 26 June: No country road anywhere on this continent is ever entirely free of hoons in utes travelling faster than they ought to.

verandah over the toy shop

A man's large protruding belly; a ‘beer gut’.  This phrase is a jocular allusion to toy shop in the sense ‘sexual wares’ (with reference to the male genitals). In standard English a verandah is ‘a roofed platform along the outside of a house, level with the ground floor’, but in Australia it also refers to the same kind of open-sided roofed structure over a shop or commercial building. The verandah is a significant architectural feature in Australia, and although Australian shops now rarely have such verandahs, the phrase verandah over the toy shop is still current. It is first recorded in 1987. Variants include verandah over the tool shed.

1991 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 10 September: Santa training courses start in October—so pull out that red suit with the fur trimmings, and get accustomed to sticky fingers and wet patches on your knee. A small veranda over the toy shop probably wouldn't hurt either.

2009 J. Castrission Crossing the Ditch: He was looking slimmer and fitter than ever before. Normally, his cheeks had a decent puff in them and his veranda over the toy shop would have no trouble resting on the table edge.

vegemite: happy little vegemite, Vegemite kid

Vegemite is a concentrated yeast extract used as a spread. It was registered as a trademark in 1923, and became one of Australia’s favourite spreads for toast and sandwiches. The phrase happy little vegemite means ‘a cheerful or satisfied person', and is recorded from 1954. The phrase derives from an advertising campaign in the same year that included the jingle: ‘We're happy little Vegemites As bright as bright can be. We all enjoy our Vegemite For breakfast, lunch, and tea.’ (See the video on our blog ‘A History of Vegemite’.)

2001 B. Courtenay Four Fires: So the Owens Valley CFA weren't always happy little Vegemites.

The 1980s saw another term adopted into Australian English from a  Vegemite advertising campaign. Ads included the line ‘I’ll always be a Vegemite kid’, and Vegemite kid came to mean not only 'a child who eats Vegemite', but 'a typical Australian'.

1996 Sydney Morning Herald 19 June: Jane Campion? She's an Aussie. Neil Finn? A true-blue Vegemite kid. Mel Gibson? He fought at Gallipoli, didn't he?… That was just a movie? Oh, close enough.

 

waltzing Matilda: to waltz Matilda

To carry a swag; to travel the road. A matilda is a swag, the roll or bundle of possessions carried by an itinerant worker or swagman. The word waltz in to waltz Matilda is a jocular or ironic way to refer to the hard slog of carrying your possessions as you travel on foot, although waltz may possibly influenced by a German colloquial term, auf die Walze gehen, which means ‘to go a-wandering; to go on one's travels’.

The term to waltz Matilda is first recorded in the late 1880s, and is likely to have had a fairly short life, if it hadn’t been for the poet Banjo Patterson. In 1895 he penned the lyrics to the song about a swagman that became Australia’s famous national song, ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The song became strongly associated with national identity, and has cemented the term waltzing Matilda in the Australian imagination – although it is a fair bet that not all of us know exactly what it means!

1908 Cairns Morning Post 8 April: The population still increases, every coach to Quartz Hill bringing a full complement of passengers who ‘waltz matilda’ the 60 odd miles to the new El Dorado.

1945 J. Devanny Bird of Paradise: Nowadays they waltz Matilda on bikes.

For an earlier discussion of to waltz Matilda see the article ‘Chasing Our Unofficial National Anthem: Who Was Matilda? Why Did She Waltz?' (page 2) in the May 1999 issue of our Ozwords newsletter.

wide brown land

Australia. The phrase originates in the poem ‘My Country’ (originally titled ‘Core of My Heart’) by homesick poet Dorothea Mackellar, a young Australian living in England. It was published in the London Spectator in 1908, and then widely in Australian newspapers. The poem contrasted her experience of the green, orderly English countryside with the extremes of Australian geography and climate. Wide brown land is from the much-quoted second stanza:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

Following the poem’s publication, the phrase wide brown land began to be used from the 1930s to refer to Australia.

1966 J. Smith Ornament of Grace: A nice myth to be dusted off every Anzac Day, about bronzed heroes of the wide brown land.

1999 T. Astley Drylands: Out there all over the wide brown land, was a new generation of kids with telly niblets shoved into their mental gobs from the moment they could sit up in a playpen.

widgie

The female counterpart of a bodgie. Bodgies and widgies had their heyday as a youth subculture in 1950s Australia, and widgies, like bodgies, were readily identified by their style of clothing. In the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 February 1955, there occurs an interesting description of the 1950s widgie:

Constable Waldon said: 'A widgie, as she is known to me, is generally dressed in a very tight blouse, mostly without sleeves, and generally with a deep, plunging front. The blouse closely conforms to the lines of the body. In addition, she usually has a form-fitting skirt, which is very tight, especially around the knees. The skirt flares out a little below the knees and generally has a split either at the side or at the rear to enable her to walk. A widgie wears a short-cropped haircut.' Judge Curlewis said the detective's description of a widgie was the best he had heard in a Court.

Widgie (often spelt weegie in early occurrences) is first recorded in 1950. It is of unknown origin, although suggested origins have included a blend of woman (or women) and bodgie, an allusion to their wedge-shaped hairstyles, or an arbitrary rhyming reduplication on bodgie. The phenomenon of bodgies and widgies peaked in the 1950s. In the 1960s they were replaced by new subcultures such as the sharpies, rockers, mods, and surfies.

1996 Condon & Lawson Smashed: Breezy McCarthy, good-time girl, fast girl, slut, was a sort of widgie, if that word from the fifties still has any meaning.

wigwam: a wigwam for a goose’s bridle

Something absurd or preposterous; used as a snubbing or dismissive reply to an unwanted question. It might be used to answer an inquisitive child who asks ‘What’s in the bag?’ The original English idiom was a whim-wham for a goose’s bridle. Whim-wham meaning 'an ornament' or ‘a trinket’ disappeared from the language in the nineteenth century and survived only in this phrase. In Australia the meaningless whim-wham was altered to the more familiar wigwam (and sometimes to wing-wong). The Australian idiom is first recorded in 1917.

1947 Sydney Morning Herald 12 March:  ‘Where you going?’ he called. ‘To get a wigwam for a goose's bridle’, yelled Smiley insolently, recalling one of the sayings of Granny McKinley, the oldest inhabitant.

2004 Mercury (Hobart) 19 June: And when your dad was busy in the shed and you repeatedly asked ‘What's that dad?’ there were all those variants on ‘A wigwam for a goose's bridle’.

wobbly: to chuck a wobbly

To lose one's self-control in a fit of nerves, panic, temper, annoyance, or the like. To chuck a wobbly is a variant of the Standard English idiom to throw a wobbly, where wobbly means ‘a fit of temper or panic’. In Australian English chuck in the sense of ‘throw’ or ‘stage’ is used in other expressions with the same meaning, such as chuck a mental and chuck a mickey. Chuck a wobbly is first recorded in 1986. In 1992 it appears in the record of a parliamentary debate in the Australian Senate, when one senator chastises another: ‘Stop chucking a wobbly, Senator Ray. Behave yourself. You will have a heart attack.’

2006 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 7 January: If one more cot-case trendy brands us as bogan yobbos, we'll chuck a wobbly.

wog

A microbe or germ, a ‘bug’; an illness such as influenza or gastroenteritis. This wog is not the offensive word used in Australia to mean a migrant from southern Europe, and in Britain to mean a non-white migrant. This Australian wog originally meant ‘an insect or grub’, and referred especially to a predatory or disagreeable one. It then came to mean a germ or illness, and is first recorded in this sense in 1931.

1937 Cairns Post 19 July: This is the season, according to the experience of recent years, for the influenza ‘wog’ to become active, and this year is no exception to the rule.

2006 Newcastle Herald 1 June: I have had this wog for a while, and I was pretty crook when I woke up this morning, so I arranged replacement drivers for my team at Newcastle and then came to the hospital.

Woop Woop

A remote and supposedly backward rural town or district. It is one of several imaginary names Australians use to refer to a typical place in the outback, including Oodnagalahbi, Bullamakanka, and Bandywallop. As with Woop Woop, they allude to remoteness, a lack of sophistication, or both. Woop Woop is a jocular formation that is probably influenced by the use of reduplication in Aboriginal languages to indicate plurality or intensity. A number of real Australian placenames, such as Wagga Wagga, are examples of reduplication. The first evidence for Woop Woop occurs in the 1890s.

1940 Rip (Port Phillip) 29 October: If I go to the dance on Thursday, I’ll have to walk from Woop-Woop.

1993 R. Fitzgerald Eleven Deadly Sins: It is preferable to refer to one's opponent as ‘the honourable member for Woopwoop’ rather than as ‘that idiot scumbag’.

wowser

A person who is publicly censorious of others and the pleasures they seek; a person whose own behaviour is puritanical or prudish; a killjoy. Wowser, still current in Australian usage, is recorded from 1900. Its origin is uncertain. It may be from British dialect wow ‘to howl or bark as a dog; to wail’ and ‘to whine; to grumble, make complaint’, but it is possibly a coinage of John Norton, who was the editor of the Sydney newspaper Truth from 1891–1916. He claimed to have invented it, saying ‘I first gave it public utterance in the [Sydney] City Council, when I applied it to Alderman Waterhouse, whom I referred to as ... the white, woolly, weary, watery, word-wasting wowser from Waverley’. Certainly the earliest evidence for wowser is found in TruthWowser is a productive term that has given rise to words such as wowserish, wowserdom, and wowserism – all of which can be found in use today.

1906 Truth (Sydney) 25 March: A wowser cannot walk through the Art Gallery without being shocked by seeing the picture of some well-proportioned goddess.

1989 Sun (Melbourne) 14 March: And there are plenty of wowsers who believe Dr Ruth should be censored and any talk of sex confined strictly to the bedroom.

For an earlier discussion of the history of wowser see the article ‘Wow for Wowser!’  (page 7) in our Ozwords newsletter from May 1997.

X-ray

Used to designate a style of Aboriginal painting that originated in Western Arnhem Land (Northern Territory). The style is characterised by the depiction of internal as well as external organs of the subject, as if the artist is seeing it with X-ray vision. The first evidence of the term is found in the early 1940s.

1978 R. Edwards Aboriginal Art in Australia: The famous X-ray paintings have their home in the west. In them, the artist portrays not only the external features of the animal, human or spirit being he is painting, but also the spinal column, heart, lungs and other internal organs. It is a conventional way of showing that there is more to a living thing than external appearances.

1999 M. Mahood Crocodile Dreaming: Two big sea turtles and a dugong, X-ray style.

yabby

Any of several freshwater crayfish valued as food, especially the common species Cherax destructor that is native to south-eastern Australia. Fishing for yabbies is often a favourite childhood memory for Australians who lived near a dam or creek. A piece of string lowered into the water, with a bit of fresh meat tied to it for the yabby to latch on to, is the traditional fishing method. Yabbies are good to eat (a number of species can now be found on restaurant menus) and are also used as fishing bait. The word yabby is a borrowing from the Wemba Wemba language of Victoria. The earliest evidence of it dates from the 1840s, and it has generated a number of compound terms such as yabby farming, yabby net, and yabby trap.

1889 Bathurst Free Press 14 March: Luscious Murray cod, with succulent ‘yabbies’ and tempting fruit.

1999 Australian Gold, Gem &Treasure Magazine December: About a kilometre from our camp was a dam brimming over with large yabbies so each night Imy would set a couple of yabby nets he happened to have, baited with some Meaty Bites, and the next morning we would feast on toasted yabby sandwiches.

A second sense of yabby occurs chiefly in Queensland, recorded from 1952. It refers to any of several small burrowing shrimp-like marine crustaceans that are commonly used for bait. Anglers often use a mechanical device called a yabby pump to extract these crustaceans from the sand or mud flats.

1994 P. Horrobin Guide to Favourite Australian Fish (ed. 7): Inside temperate estuaries, there are two small shrimps which are first class baits for a variety of fish. These are the ‘yabbies’ or ‘nippers’.

There are many species of freshwater crayfish in Australia and many different names for them, such as lobby, marron, and crawchie. For a discussion of these and other terms for Australian freshwater crayfish, see our blog ‘The problem with yabbies’ from February 2013.

yakka

Work, strenuous labour. The word is used especially in the phrase hard yakka. Yakka first occurs in the 1840s as a verb meaning ‘to work’, and it derives from yaga meaning ‘work’ in the Yagara language of the Brisbane region. Yakka found its way into nineteenth-century Australian pidgin, and then passed into Australian English. Spelling variants such as yakker and yacker are also found.

1892 Bulletin (Sydney) 19 November: The stevedore must yacker for the bit he gets to eat.

2004 Townsville Bulletin 14 July: We marched out through the thigh-deep mud carrying wallaby jacks, jungle matting lent by the army and railway sleepers. It was hard yakka.

yidaki

A didgeridoo. Yidaki is a borrowing from the Yolgnu languages of north-eastern Arnhem Land (Northern Territory). The instrument was originally used only in Arnhem Land, but became commonly known in Australia as the didgeridoo (not an Aboriginal word, but an imitation of the sound by non-Aboriginal people). The Yolgnu word for the instrument has become widely known in recent decades, and was popularised by the music group Yothu Yindi, formed in 1986, whose members were Yolgnu speakers.

1988 Sydney Morning Herald 12 November: The rock and roll starts. It's a thick sound, made more bass-y by the addition of the yidaki but Bakamana Yunupingu has a strong, appealing voice.

2000 Koori Mail (Lismore) 20 September: With the sound of the yidaki (didgeridoo) echoing off nearby high-rise buildings and apartments, a gathering of Sydney's Aboriginal community celebrates the mid-point of the Budyari ‘Proper Way’ Festival.

yowie

An ape-like monster supposed to inhabit parts of eastern Australia. The yowie is Australia’s equivalent of the Himalayan yeti, or the American bigfoot or sasquatch. Yowie may come from the word yuwi ‘dream spirit’ in the Yuwaalaraay language of northern New South Wales. However, another possiblity is that yowie is an alteration of  the word yahoo, a name given by Aboriginal people to an evil spirit. Yowie is first recorded in the 1970s.

1980 M. McAdoo If Only I’d Listened: ’E’d be about six foot easy tall, broad, an’ a sort of brownish fur lookin’ stuff all over ’im, an’ standing up like a man… We didn’t know what the name of it was then, but .. a lot of people’ve been seein’ them around the eastern parts, an’ they’re known as the ‘Yowie’.

zac

A sixpence. It is probably derived from the Scottish dialect word saxpence. Zac is first recorded in Australian English in the 1890s. Later it is also used to mean ‘a trifling sum of money’, as in the phrase not worth a zac. Australians no longer use pounds, shillings and pence since decimal currency was introduced in 1966, but we have long memories. Despite the fact that there have not been zacs in our wallets for fifty years, the word zac, and the notion that it is not worth a great deal, can still be found in Australian usage. 

1945 Australian Week-End Book: The only one who’d backed it had been his wife who’d had a zac each way.

2006 Age (Melbourne) 29 August: ‘When I started this .. I divested myself of anything I owned’, he said. ‘I'm not worth a zac.’

For a discussion of Australian terms for coins and banknotes, see our blog ‘Two bob each way: money in Australian English’ from February 2016. 

Updated: 27 September 2016/ Responsible Officer:  Centre Director / Page Contact:  Web Publisher