how dictionaries mark the evolution of language
When I arrived in Australia 5 months ago, one of the first things that struck me was how different the English here is. When a student pronounced one of the class assignments “a bit naf,” I ran to Jovan to ask him what it meant. He soon delighted in feeding me baffling colloquialisms. (The result is that I have post it notes all over my office shelves with notations like “dinky-die,” “ocker,” “yobbo,” and “bogan,” but I’ve already forgot what all of those mean.) The only rule I’ve managed to glean is that Australians love to use diminutives (“brekkie” being my favorite). Once my undergraduate students cottoned on to how thick I was, they had lots of fun introducing me to new terms.
Yesterday, fellow American Anne Monchamp brought me a little news item about Macquarie Dictionary’s new additions for 2007. I went to the website to pore through the new additions and see if I could learn a little more Australish. Lots of the additions are clearly part of the global evolution of a transnational English:
carbon footprint, carbon market
globesity (noun the phenomenon of obesity in Western countries, seen as a worldwide health problem) – this term coined by the WHO I think
dumpster diving (noun the salvaging of household food items from the stock which has been thrown away by a shop, supermarket, etc., into a dumpster)
flog (noun a blog which is contrived for marketing purposes. [f(ake) + (b)log]) and splog (noun a website created for the purpose of promoting affiliated websites or to increase the search engine ranking of the affiliated sites. [sp(am) + (b)log])
For other entries, I wasn’t sure if they were Australian or used more widely. These ones sounded ambiguous to me:
lady garden (noun Colloquial (euphemistic) a woman’s pubic region)
manscaping (noun a grooming procedure in which hair is shaved or trimmed from a man’s body, as from the back, legs, chest, genitals, etc)
green shoe brigade (noun Colloquial the group of people who stand to profit from dubious practices conducted in the name of environmental protection)
kipper (noun Colloquial an adult child still living in the home of his or her parents, often as a result of pressure in the housing market, from the acronym KIPPERS [(K(ids) I(n) P(arents’) P(ockets) E(roding) R(etirement) S(avings)])
Words that sounded very Australian to me include:
salad dodger (offensive term for overweight person)
toad juice (noun liquid fertiliser produced from pulverised cane toads)
microgrom (noun Colloquial a young surfer, especially one under the age of ten. [micro– + grom(met)])
…and then there was the solitary New Zealand term that left me baffled, ignorant as I am about New Zealand politics:
Helengrad (noun NZ Colloquial (humorous) Wellington, seen as controlled by the government of Prime Minister Helen Clark. [Helen Clark + -grad common Russian ending meaning `town’])
I decided to cross-check these entries with Urban Dictionary to test my theories about which words are Australish and which are the more global neologisms. What would your guess be? To my surprise, the terms that weren’t there were: green shoe brigade, toad juice, kipper, and microgrom. You know you’re a dictionary hip to linguistic evolution when you’re including words and phrases that aren’t even on Urban Dictionary.
But as I mucked around a bit more on the Macquarie Dictionary website, I decided that this was my favorite feature: the Australian Word Map. Here’s how they describe the project:
It is an interactive website that is recording Australian regionalisms into one big database. As yet, most of Australia’s regionalisms haven’t been documented, let alone included in Australian dictionaries. So ABC Online and Macquarie Dictionary have designed an interactive online project that will document this part of our oral history.
What is a regionalism?
It’s a word, phrase or expression used by a particular community in particular parts of the country. For instance, the prepared meat called devon in New South Wales is called Belgium sausage in Tasmania, Empire sausage in Newcastle, fritz in South Australia, polony in Western Australia, Windsor sausage in Queensland and German sausage or Strasburg in Victoria.
So if you’re a foreigner, go explore the regional variation. If you’re Australian, go enter your own regionalism. And if you’re an Eastern Stater, go weigh in on whether “bunghole” means cheese to you, or do they only say that in Perth and Central and Northern West Australia?