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2002-12, 328, Australiana, Brian Taylor, Language


Perhaps of more interest to the collector than the general dictionaries are the dictionaries of Australian slang, colloquialisms and vulgarisms. Those compiled by Sidney Baker and the Macquarie University Dictionary Research Centre have already been mentioned earlier, but this sort of work began much earlier than that, as we saw from James Hardy Vaux’s very early compilation of flash language and the Sydney slang dictionary…. of the 1880s. There was also the 3rd edition from 1796 of Francis Grose’s A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue (reprinted London: Routledge/New York: Barnes & Noble, 1962), which contains some Australian material and was used by the Australian-born researcher into English slang, Eric Partridge, in his famous 1937 book A dictionary of slang and unconventional English. Colloquialisms and catch phrases, nicknames, vulgarisms and such Americanisms as have been naturalized (Harmondsworth: Penguin). Partridge had already published in 1933 Slang today and yesterday. With a shorthistorical sketch and vocabulary of English, American and Australian slang (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), which had its 4th edition as late as 1970.

The German visitor to Australia, Karl Lentzner, who spent some time teaching at Sydney Grammar School, published in 1891 Colonial English: a glossary of Australian, Anglo-Indian, pidgin English, West Indian, and South African word (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.) and in his homeland in 1892 Dictionary of the slang-English of Australia and of some mixed languages (Halle-Leipzig: Erhart Karras), but on inspection they proved to be the same and the former was slated by a contemporary viewer in the Sydney Bulletin magazine as containing much that was not genuine. Another unreliable early publication is the 1895 book The Australian slang dictionary, containing the words and phrases of the thieving fraternity, together with the unauthorised, though popular expressions now in vogue with all classes in Australia (Fitzroy, Vic.: Robert Barr) compiled by Cornelius Crowe, “author of the Manual on the Duties of a Police Constable”. Judith Robertson has shown in a recent article that “almost every entry in Crowe’s dictionary has been plagiarised from other dictionaries”, and she lists five of these and mentions especially two American dictionaries, G.W. Matsell’s Secret language of crime (1859) and the anonymousThe slang dictionary of New York, London and Paris: collected and arranged by a well-known detective published in Chicago in 1880.1 Unfortunately, bothBaker and Partridge took Crowe’s book at face value and used it as a genuine source of Australian English slang in their publications.

Worth mentioning too amongst the earlier publications, apart from The Australian comic dictionary of words and phrases by the pseudonymous T.O. Lingo and published by Coles Book Arcade of Melbourne in 1916, is the more genuine little book that emerged from the First World War, W.H. Downing’s 1919 Digger dialects. A collection of slang phrases used by the Australian soldiers on active service (Melbourne/Sydney: Lothian Books)(Illustration 1), which was published again in 1990, edited by Jay Arthur and William Ramson, two of the staff of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, as W.H. Downing’s digger dialects (Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia in association with the Australian War Memorial). The editors have updated it by the inclusion of words in use today and of examples.

And a very rare item is G.H. Lawson’s A dictionary of Australian words and terms published in Sydney in 1924 by the Direct Hosiery Company and printed in Balmain by O.M. Selig (whose printery was still up around the corner from my Pashley Street house when I lived there as a little boy twenty years later). This book was produced to assist participants in the Direct Hosiery Company’s advertising competitions.

Illustration 1

(from a copy in the University of Sydney Library)

From the 1960s on, further popular dictionaries of Australian slang begin to be published in a crescendo that has so far reached its peak in the 1990s. John O’Grady, who, under the pseudonym Nino Culotta, was already known for his famous humorous fictional account of an Italian migrant’s encounter with Australian culture and language, They’re a weird mob (Sydney: Ure Smith/Wellington, NZ: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1964), published in 1965 his Aussie English: an explanation of the idiom (Sydney: Ure Smith;viii + (9-)104; d/w). In 1967 there was H.E. Ward’s Down under without a blunder. Guide to the English spoken Australia with a random sample of Australian words and phrases and translations of some Australian pronunciations (Rutland, USA/ Tokyo: C.E.Tuttle & Co).

Relevant in the 70s for their narrower (if more broad-minded) variety of vocabulary are Arthur Chipper’s 1972 Aussie swearer’s guide. A handbook of more or less foul language and abusive phrases (Melbourne: Gold Star Publications; 96 pp.) (Illustration 2) and Bill Wannan’s 1973 book With malice aforethought. Australian insults, invective, ridicule and abuse (Melbourne: Landsdowne).

Illustration 2

In 1977 J. Ramsay published his Cop it sweet. A dictionary of Australian slang and common usage (Darlinghurst, NSW: Allegheney News Service), and in 1978 came what is probably the best known of these books, G.A. Wilkes’s A dictionary of Australian colloquialisms (Sydney: Sydney University Press, published simultaneously London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; and Melbourne: Fontana, who reprinted it in 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1985, in which year a 2nd edition appeared). Gerry Wilkes was Foundation Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney (the first ever chair in this field) and, as I have heard, enjoyed a tremendous ability to read at very high speed. He collected these colloquialisms as he read Australian literary works in his academic capacity. His 1979 book Dinkum oil. Meanings of things Aussies and Kiwis say (Sydney: Reader’s Digest) is based on his dictionary. The use of actual slang in the titles of many of these books – “Aussie English”, “Down under” (= ‘in Australia’), “Cop it sweet” (= ‘Take it without complaint’) and “Dinkum oil” (= ‘the genuine thing’) signals to book buyers and readers that they are more or less popular treatments of the subject. I cannot leave this decade before mentioning the 1979 self-published book by my predecessor as Director of the University of Sydney Language Centre, then called the Language Study Centre, Alex McAndrew, The language we speak in Australia ([Sydney]: University of Sydney, Language Study Centre; 317 pp.), which, despite its university origins, is very much in the popular vein.

The 80s brought in 1980 Bill Hornadge’s The Australian slanguage: what we say and how we say it (North Ryde, NSW: Cassell; 1986, rev. ed. Port Melbourne, Vic.: Methuen; 1989, Port Melbourne: Mandarin) and in 1982, by a woman about women’s language, the Australian author Nancy Keesing’s Lily on the dustbin: slang of Australian women and families (Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin; [x] + 188),2 in 1983 Ryan Aven-Bray’s Ridgey didge Oz jack lang (Potts Point, NSW.: Ryan Aven-Bray), whose title is translatable as “true Australian slang” – though I’d say ridgerdy didge for ‘true’ – and which was obtainable from the author at P.O. Box 1235, Macleay Street, Potts Point, NSW 2011. That same year came J. Hibberd and G. Hutchinson’s The barracker’s bible. A dictionary of sporting slang (Melbourne: McPhee Gribble), and in 1984 J. Meredith’s Learn to talk old Jack Lang. A handbook of Australian rhyming slang (Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press; the 2nd edition of 1991 being retitled Dinkum Aussie slang. A handbook of Australian rhyming slang) and J. and F. Weaver’s Everyman’s guide to down under (Adelaide: Rigby), which contains a guide to Australian slang. In 1986 we have Bob Hudson’s The first Australian dictionary of vulgarities and obscenities illustrated by the cartoonist Larry Pickering – (Frenchs Forest, NSW: Lilyfield Publishers; republished 1987 Newton Abbot, London: David & Charles; there seems to have been no second one), and The dinkum Aussie dictionary (Frenchs Forest, NSW: Child & Associates) by Crooked Mick of the Speewa, the pseudonym of R. Beckett, which was republished in 1988 as The dinkum Queensland dictionary. In 1987 came D. Martin’s Australians say G’day (Melbourne: Ozmarket; reprinted in 1987 and 1988), which, though it contains only an abridged list of terms, was accompanied by an audiocassette. In 1988 appeared H. Jonsen’s Kangaroo’s comments and wallaby’s words: the Aussie word book (New York: Hippocrene Books) and, this one also by a woman, Lenie (Midge) Johansen’s The dinkum dictionary: a ripper guide to Aussie English (Sydney: Viking O’Neill), which was republished in 1996 as the Penguin book of Australian slang (Melbourne: Penguin).

Apart from the aforementioned republications and Gary Simes’s dictionary of underworld slang (referred to earlier erroneously in Part 1 as by Garry Grimes), the 1990s saw the publication of, in 1990, J. Blackman’s Australian slang dictionary for old and new Australians (Melbourne: Sun Books) and, in 1991, hisDon’t come the raw prawn! The Aussie phrase book (Chippendale, NSW: Sun Books). Later, in 1995, he published Best of Aussie slang. Great Australian slang and phrases explained in basic English (or is it …Basic English?) (Sydney: Sun Books). In 1992 there was the tiny Aussie slang dictionary (Balwyn, Vic.: Whitehouse Publishing) followed that year by the equally tiny More Aussie slang (Balwyn, Vic.: The Five Mile Press), republished in 1994 (Knoxfield, Vic.: The Five Mile Press; 80 x 95 mm; 94 pp.; d/w). While no compiler is specified, the colophon at the back gives Maggie Pinkney as the editor.  S. Gard published in 1994 Fantastic Australians: a rough and ready reckoner of the people and places which exist only in the Australian language (Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press), which is really a brief dictionary of mainly slang terms. In that year too appeared the tourists’ Australian phrasebook. Understanding Aussies and their culture (Hawthorn, Vic.: Lonely Planet Publications) compiled by half a dozen folk beginning with my former student Denise Angelo, who, after moving from the German to the Linguistics Department at Sydney University, was later Director of the Katherine Aboriginal Language Centre in the Northern Territory, which perhaps accounts for this booklet’s containing not just material too on AusE grammar but also on the Aboriginal creole language called Kriol. By the time of the second edition (Footscray, Vic: Lonely Planet Publications, 1998; 90 x 140 mm; 254 pp.) the number of compilers on the title page had risen to ten (Illustrations 3 and 4). In 1995 K. Allan published China plate = mate: a collection of rhyming slang (Port Melbourne: Heinemann Australia) and J.M. Lloyd Fair dinkum Aussie lingo (Frankston, Vic.: Pen & Ink). In 1997 came Eric Spilsted’s self-published The great Aussie slang book (Sydney: Eric Spilsted Publishing; 2nd, revised edition 1998) and P. Howard’s Oz slang (Rose Bay, NSW: Jim Coroneos; reprinted 1998). Near the end of the decade, in 1999, appeared Sarah Dawson’s Aussie slang (Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin) and Graham Seal’s The lingo: listening to Australian English (Sydney: University of NSW Press).

James Lambert, who works in the Macquarie University Dictionary Research Centre and has been of considerable help in drawing items to my attention that I would not have known about, is the general editor of the 1996 Macquarie book of slang. Australian slang in the 90s (Macquarie University, NSW: Macquarie Library Pty Ltd.), which he revised for republication in 2000 under the, to my mind, very neat title: Macquarie book of slang. Australian slang in the noughties. To James I owe my knowledge of two rare and intriguing, but undated items: Australian slang dictionary, [no date]. [Sydney?]: Qantas [Airline], clearly a little booklet for Qantas travellers to Australia from overseas, and Australian slang generator , [circa 2000?] (Melbourne: Dynamo House), which is not a book, but a set of three concealed cardboard wheels enclosed in a folded over card containing slit windows on either side and the instruction: “If you want to make use of powerful Australian language, set the phrase you want to express on this [the plain English translations] side and turn over for a dinky-di [= ‘genuine’] Australian translation.” And, of course, the reverse is possible if the non-Australian user needs a translation of a slang expression.

Illustration 5

Not to be ignored completely in passing are bilingual dictionaries, of which I will mention here just Mike Zeedel and Conrad Stein’s 1991 AusE-German Aussie Slang. Das Englisch Australiens [The English of Australia](Bielefeld, Ger.: Reise Know-How Verlag Peter Rumpf), which by 2000 had reached its 6th edition with the title Australian-Slang. Englisch Down Under (105 x 145 mm; 104 pp.) (Illustration 5).3 There are other, more general dictionaries too. A very rare item is, on its cover, Taschen-Wörterbuch für Deutsch sprechende Immigranten [pocket dictionary for German-speaking immigrants] –, on its title page instead, Das deutsche Einkaufs-Wörterbuch [The German shopping dictionary] – (Sydney: Percival Publishing Company; 123 x 150 mm; 176 pp.) (Illustrations 6 and 7). There are so many mistakes in the German of this book that it was evidently compiled by a local, perhaps an Australian schoolteacher or else a former migrant whose German had got very rusty indeed.

Illustration 6

Before we leave this what must seem an overlong section on dictionaries – and I have by no means mentioned them all -, one might ask what became of John Gunn’s wish for research into Australian English regional vocabulary mentioned in Part 1 (p.64). This has, in fact, been taking place through the Australian National Dictionary Centre and has resulted in publications. The most profiled researcher in this area is Pauline Bryant, originally one of the part-time research assistants on the AND, who wrote her 1992 PhD thesis for the Department of Linguistics at the Australian National University on “Regional variation in the lexicon of Australian English”, but has, to my knowledge, published only journal articles and book chapters, no actual books. Others of those research assistants have compiled vocabularies in book form. There are M. Brookes and J. Ritchie’s 1994 book Words from the West: a glossary of Western Australian terms and their 1995 one Tassie terms: a glossary of Tasmanian words (both Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia). Julia Robinson’s 2001 Voices of Queensland: words from the Sunshine State (South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press Australia) contains chapters by Dorothy Jaunce, Bruce Moore, Linden Wolfe and the editor herself listing specifically Queensland English vocabulary.

Illustration 7

Australian English pronunciation

Although Ruby Board published a book titled Australian pronunciation (Sydney: Teachers’ College Press) as long ago as 1927 and Sidney Baker published his Australian pronunciation in 1947, published academic research into Australian English, as we saw earlier, really began with investigations of the accent by Mitchell alone in his 1940 booklet (Illustration 8) and later with Delbridge till the mid-1960s, and those investigations appeared for the most part in book form.4

Illustration 8

Since then, however, although many very sophisticated investigations, very often using electric and electronic equipment, have been carried out, the results have tended to appear either in unpublished theses or in articles in journals rather than in collectible monographs. The reader may have observed in the listing of the Occasional Papers of the University of Sydney Australian Language Research Centre that two of the booklets did concern pronunciation, namely no.7, Rates of utterance in Australian dialect groups from 1965 by John Bernard, who, on the basis of his use of instrumental equipment, has published prolifically and interestingly on AusE pronunciation, but not otherwise in monographs, and no.8, An outline of word phonology of Australian English from 1966 by Alex Jones, who still teaches at the University of Sydney and whose ideas I have long considered particularly interesting. Jones did at one stage, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, produce a booklet for use in the Department of English – A.I. Jones, Phonetics: a phonological introduction ([Sydney]: University of Sydney, [no date]; 121 pp., the pages being numbered by chapters from 1.i to 6.iii) – which, while it is meant as a general introduction to the subject, transcribes words into a fairly Broad form of Australian English, as can most readily been seen from the listed transcriptions of vowels and vowel combinations on pp.6.iif., which I will not exemplify here because of our lack of a phonetics font for Biblionews.

I will digress here for a moment to mention that Mitchell in his earlier writings distinguished two major accents of Australian English: Broad Australian and Educated Australian. Later, on the basis of their great survey, he and Delbridge refined the analysis by moving to three categories: Broad Australian, General Australian and Cultivated Australian. In the early 1970s I began to research swearing and the language of abuse in Australian English. I was to give a paper on this at a conference of the Linguistics Society of Australia (now the Australian Linguistic Society), but it was being held in a women’s college run by Catholic nuns at the University of Queensland, thus in the state ruled then by the archconservative National Party premier Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, so there could hardly have been a more dangerous place in the Australia of those days to give a paper on such a topic. I therefore decided to transcribe all example words and sentences into Broad Australian on the excuse that this was the sort of AusE that swearing typically occurred in, but it also made my material that much more inaccessible for potential wowserish persecutors.5 And it was the system at the back of Alex Jones’s coursebook that I used as my key (though I did later write a note of apology to him for my having “prostituted” his scholarship like that). The paper was later published as two articles, one, “Toward a sociolinguistic analysis of ‘swearing’ and the language of abuse in Australian English”, on pp. 43-62 of Michael Clyne’s 1976 Australia talks, mentioned again under Anthologies below, the other in the Linguistic Society of Australia’s then journal Talanya, where it appeared as “Towards a structural and lexical analysis of ‘swearing’ and the language of abuse in Australian English” (Talanya 2 (1975), pp.17-43), though that particular issue was reprinted as an issue of an international journal published in Holland (Linguistics 164) and later reviewed by a Dutch linguist from whose comments on my article it was obvious that he hadn’t been able to penetrate transcribed Broad Australian too well at all.

Relevant here too are scholarly writings on the origin of Australian English, since this topic has essentially been dealt with in terms of the origin of the accent. While much has been written on the subject beginning with Mitchell’s 1940 booklet, not much has appeared in monograph form, but rather as journal articles or chapters in books, the argument mainly being about whether the amalgam of varieties that gave rise to Australian English developed in England, specifically London, before the convicts and their overseers left for Australia, or whether after arrival in Port Jackson, i.e. Sydney. One study that did appear in book form is that by the Swede Göran Hammarström, former Professor of Linguistics at Monash University, the first in Australia to have a Chair of Linguistics. That book, from 1980, is Australian English: its origin and status (Hamburg, Ger.: Buske; no.19 in the series Forum Phoneticum), but there is also the 1985 book Variation in Australian English: the sociolects of Sydney(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; xii + 200) by Barbara M. Horvath, who came to the Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney from the USA. (A sociolect is a dialect determined by social class rather than by region.)

Not to be omitted before we leave this section is the topic of Strine, unacademic though it may seem. The story goes that the British author Monica Dickens, a descendent of the great Charles, was autographing copies of one of her books in a Sydney bookshop some years ago. As the customers came up with their copies and said their name she would write her little dedication incorporating the name, so that one elderly lady ended up with her book containing a dedication “To Emma Chisit”. However, to Dickens’s dismay and amusement it turned out that what the good lady had said to her in her Aussie accent was: “How much is it?”. The reporting of this little incident in a Sydney newspaper set A.A. Morrison thinking and he came up in 1965 with that minor Australian classic Let stalk Strine: a lexicon of modern Strine usage “compiled and annotated by Afferbeck Lauder, Professor of Strine Studies, University of Sinny” (Sydney: Ure Smith/London: Wolfe Publishers Ltd; 47 pp.; repr. 1965; 1981, Sydney: Landsdowne Press). Its popularity saw the appearance the next year of Nose tone unturned , published by the original Sydney and London publishers, and in 1982 the two in one volume (Sydney: Landsdowne Press).

Its relevance to the theme of the Australian accent derives from the fact that it exaggeratedly exploits the tendency in Broad Australian for speakers to reduce or drop unaccented syllables, to use vowels, particularly diphthongs and triphthongs, differently from in more standard forms of English, to voice consonants between vowels (e.g. t becoming d), to drop l before i pronounced y,6 and not observe the rules of what is called in linguistics “juncture”, i.e. the subtle indications of where one word or syllable finishes and the next begins (the difference in pronunciation between nitrate and night rate). Thus Australian loses its initial syllable, the diphthong “ay” sounds to the more cultivated ear like “I”, and “li” becomes just “y” and is absorbed by the “n”, so that the whole process results in the word Strine. And the failure to employ the juncture rules causes let’s talk to become let stalk (and Nose tone unturned is, of course, No stone unturned). In a similar way the pseudonymous authorial Strine name Afferbeck Lauder can be reconstructed as General Australian Alphabetical Order.

Strine has attracted some scholarly notice, for example Stephen Muecke’s chapter “Stereotyping and ‘strine’” in Clyne’s Australiatalks , to be mentioned again further below, and in section 8.1 “Australia” in J.C. Wells’s Accents of English 3. Beyond the British Isles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp.594- 595). J.C.L. Ingram’s article “Connected speech processes in Australian English” (Australian Journal of Linguistics 9(1) June 1989, pp.21-49, an issue entirely on aspects of Australian English), while it nowhere mentions Strine, deals very technically with precisely the sort of phenomena that inspired the idea of Strine.

One book that is NOT relevant here is the Scottish-born journalist John Douglas Pringle’s Australian accent (London: Chatto & Windus, 1958; 204 pp.; d/w), which has next to nothing to say about our language.

(To be concluded in the next issue.)


1  Judith Robertson, “The perils of lexicography”, Ozwords  (Canberra: The Australian National Dictionary Centre), 9(1) (June 2002), pp.1-3.

2  In my day we said of anyone, especially a female, dressed up in some way, e.g. with a new hat: “You look like a lily on a dirt tin” or “… dirt box”. “Dust bin” strikes me as Pommy English, i.e. English English.

Reise = ‘trip, travel’, Verlag = ‘publishing house’.

4  Some years after his retirement from Macquarie University in 1975 Mitchell recommenced his research into Australian English but rather on the demographic aspects of its history and development than on pronunciation. He was working towards a book on the subject, albeit in its very early stages, on the day he died in 1997. His only publication from this period is of a public lecture he gave on 12 October 1993, published in 1995 as The story of Australian English: users and environment (Macquarie University, NSW: Dictionary Research Centre; 37 pp.).

5  I encountered persecution of sorts years later at the hands of Western Australian politicians and police after giving a radio talk on AusE swearing for the then Australian Broadcasting Commission. The details are recounted in my article “Unseemly language and the law in New South Wales”, ARTS. The journal of the Sydney University Arts Association 17 (1994-95), pp.23-45.

6  I have always felt it somewhat unfair that Australians who do this, most notoriously Pauline Hanson, the former leader of the One Nation Party, are so roundly criticised for it (specifically, calling our country “Ostraiya” instead of “Ostrailya”), when it is a fairly natural development, called by linguists “assimilation”, and accounts in French, for instance, for ll being pronounced “y” in the word fille  ‘girl, daughter’, so “feey” – from Latin filia  ‘daughter’, pronounced “feelya” –, but as “l” in ville ‘town’, so “veel” – from Latin villa pronounced “villa”, so without “y”.



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