Australian National Dictionary Centre
Research School of Humanities
Australian Words: A-B
Michael Davie in "Going from A to Z forever" (an article on the recently released 2nd edn of the Oxford English Dictionary), The Age, Saturday Extra, 1 April 1989, writes of his visit to the dictionary section of Oxford University Press:
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.'
Aerial ping-pong is a jocular (and frequently derisive) name for Australian National 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.
It is used largely by people from States in which Rugby and not Australian Rules is the major football code. This interstate rivalry is evident in the citations in the Australian National Dictionary:
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 areas, yet have drawn very large crowds, and have been very successful. It will be interesting to see if the term aerial ping-pong survives.
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, Akubra was first recorded in 1930. Its origin is unknown, but it is possibly from an Aboriginal language.
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.
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.
View Australian National Dictionary entry for ANZAC (PDF file).
A traditional Australian biscuit made from 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. Here is a recipe from 1923: '2 breakfast cups John Bull oats, 1/2 breakfast cup sugar, 1 scant cup plain flour, 1/2 cup melted butter, 1 tablespoon golden syrup, 2 ditto. boiling water, 1 teaspoon carb. soda. Mix butter, golden syrup and soda together, pour boiling water on, then add dry ingredients. Put on oven sheet or scone tray with teaspoon. Slow oven till browned.'
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.
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’.
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 1957. In recent years it has also been used with reference to gender confusion, and in this sense it has been exported to other countries.
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:
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:
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:
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'.
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. The association of bananas with Queensland (bananaland) 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. The term was first recorded in 1964.
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:
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. Citations from the Australian National Dictionary include:
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. The expression ‘miserable as a bandicoot’ was first recorded in 1845. A person can also be as ‘bald as a bandicoot’, as ‘blind as a bandicoot’, or be isolated ‘like a bandicoot on a burnt ridge’.
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'.
A topic of conversation that is interesting or controversial enough to 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 July 2002 in the context of balancing work pressures with family responsibilities. The word is now used in a wide range of contexts: 'It might not be a barbecue stopper, but certainly is a front-bar head nodder: Tell fellow drinkers that Hicks is a mongrel but deserves better treatment and you will get agreement.' (2007).
The name of the Barcoo River in western Queensland has been used since the 1880s 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.
To support or encourage, especially by shouting and cheering. Some claim barrack comes from Australian pidgin to poke borak at 'to deride', but its origin is Northern Irish barrack 'to brag'. 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 1890.
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).
2. It has also been used of an unemployed or irregularly employed person.
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.
4. A prostitute.
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)'.
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. Some twenty years later the report of a New South Wales Royal Commission into Fisheries notes: ‘The bait should be crabs. It is usual to wrench legs and shell off the back, and cast them out for berley.’ This is the earliest occurrence of the word as a noun. The origin of the word is unknown.
To brag about yourself in order to impress. In the 1950s a big note man 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.
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 (between Walgett and Lightning Ridge).
The word first appears in English in 1885 in Once a Month (Melbourne):
The bilby is known as dalgite in Western Australia and pinkie in South Australia.
In recent years there have been attempts to replace the Easter bunny with the Australian bilby. At Easter it is now possible to buy chocolate bilbies.
A pool or lagoon left behind in a river or in a branch of a river when the water flow ceases. Billabongs are often formed when floodwaters recede. The word comes from the south-western New South Wales indigenous language Wiradhuri: bila ‘river’ + bang ‘continuing in time or space’. First recorded 1836.
A tin or enamel cooking pot with a lid and wire handle, used outdoors, especially for making tea. It comes from the Scottish dialect word billy meaning ‘cooking utensil’. It is not, as popularly thought, related to the Aboriginal word billabong, and probably not related to the nineteenth-century bouilli tins which contained beef or beef stew. First recorded 1849.
A child’s four-wheeled go-cart. Billy comes from billy goat. In the past 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. First recorded 1923.
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’.
The black stump of Australian legend first appears in 1954, and is an imaginary marker at the limits of settlement: ‘Head west of the Black Stump, sail right past Woop Woop, keep on going and finally you might hit Urandangi, the town without a postcode.’ 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 (‘Wolfy.. turned out to be one of the best bastards this side of the black stump’). 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 burnt and blackened tree stumps, ubiquitous in the outback, were used as markers when giving directions to travellers, as this early extract from the Bulletin in suggests: ‘A rigmarole of details concerning the turns and hollows, the big tree, the dog-leg fence, and the black stump.’ More recently, the Black Stump was coined as a nickname for the State Office Block, a dark grey building, in Sydney.
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 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!’
This word is a form 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 end of the nineteenth century it is in use in Australia, its meaning somewhat more specific. Crowe, in his Australian Slang Dictionary (1882), defines a bludger as `a thief who will use his bludgeon and lives on the gains of immoral women'. Crowe gives: `Bludgers, or Stick Lingers, plunderers in company with prostitutes'.
Thus bludger came to mean `one who lives on the earnings of a prostitute'. It retained this meaning until the 1950s. 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 1976, in the Bulletin: `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'. 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' - but it was shortlived.
For more information on the word bludger consult The Australian National Dictionary.
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 citation in The Australian National Dictionary for bluey as a swag is 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 Australian National Dictionary's 1899 citation for bluey:
The association of the swaggie and his bluey continues in the dictionary's most recent citation:
That bluey is later transferred to luggage in general, is perhaps not surprising in an urban society which romanticises its `bush' tradition:
In Tasmania, a bluey or Tasmanian bluey is:
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 1910) 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):
Perhaps the most Australian use of bluey is the curious use of it to describe a red-headed person:
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:
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 it meant: 'Something (or occasionally someone) which is fake, false, or worthless'. The noun was also used adjectivally. Typical uses:
The word bodger was altered to bodgie, and this is now the standard form:
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':
This sense of bodgie seems to be an abbreviation of the word bodger with the addition of the -Y suffix. One explanation for the development of the teenage larrikin sense was offered in The Age (Melbourne) in 1983:
This sense of bodgie belongs to the 1950s, but bodgie in the sense 'fake, false, inferior, worthless' is alive and flourishing in Australian English.
Bogan is Australian (especially teenage) slang for someone who is not `with it' in terms of behaviour and appearance, someone who is 'not us'; hence, someone horrible, contemptible.
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".
Judith Clarke, The Heroic Life of Al Capsella (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1988) p. 127: "Beyond these the landscape changed suddenly. It was still flat, and the houses all the same as one another, but they were poorer houses, small shabby fibro ones with their paint all washed away, their scraggly yards full of dust and weeds and rusting pieces of iron. I was nervous; it looked the kind of place where you might find Bogans hanging about, the kind of place you could get bashed up.... Sure enough, in the yard of a house across the street, I saw a gang of Bogans in tight jeans and long checked shirts, mucking about with a big fancy car, vintage model, complete with brass lamps and running-board. I felt sure they'd ripped it off: for one thing, they were taking off the number plates".
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)?"
Bogey (also spelt bogie) is a borrowing into Australian English from Dharuk, the Aboriginal language of the Sydney region, where it meant 'to bathe or swim'.
The earliest records show the term being used in the pidgin English of Aborigines:
By the 1840s it was naturalised in Australian English:
In Australian English a noun meaning 'a swim or bathe; a bath' was formed from the verb:
A bogey-hole is a 'swimming or bathing hole'.
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 also used for the reef or rock itself. This word probably derives from Dharuk, an Aboriginal language of the Sydney region. The term is mostly used in New South Wales, where there are several bomboras along the coast, usually 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).
Bondi tram: shoot through like a Bondi tram
Make a hasty departure. Bondi is the Sydney suburb renowned worldwide for its surf beach. The phrase (first recorded in 1945) 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.
Outstandingly good. Also used as a noun meaning ‘something outstandingly good of its kind’. Bonzer is possibly an alteration of the American bonanza, or from French bon ‘good’. In the early records the spelling bonzer alternates with bonser, and it is just possible that it is from British dialect bouncer ‘anything very large of its kind’. First recorded 1904.
An absolutely stupid person or (less commonly) a person with a big head. It comes from bufflehead ‘buffalo-head’ which also meant ‘a stupid person’. Bufflehead has disappeared from standard English, but survives in its Australian form boofhead. In the 1940s Boofhead was the name of a cartoon character in a Sydney newspaper.
Boomerang is an Australian word which has moved into International English. It was borrowed from Dharuk, the Aboriginal language spoken in 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.
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:
By the 1890s boomerang had also developed as a verb in Australian English, meaning 'to return in the manner of a boomerang; to recoil (upon the author); to ricochet. The earliest evidence for the verb form occurs in 1891 in The Worker (Brisbane):
In 1979 the Canberra Times reported 'Greg Chappell's decision to send England in appeared to have boomeranged'.
This verbal sense of boomerang has also moved into International English.
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 nineteenth-century British term no bottle ‘no good’ (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’.
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.
bride’s nightie: be off like a bride’s nightie
Depart quickly, move with a sudden burst of 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’—’they took one look at dad’s face and were 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.
A wild or unbroken 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 around 1880. The origin for this term is still disputed. Some have suggested that it comes from an Aboriginal language, including E.E. Morris who in his seminal Austral English (1898) refers to the Pitjara language of southern Queensland where booramby means 'wild'. 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 more detail see Ozwords: Wild Horses Running Wild.
No chance at all. Often abbreviated to Buckley’s: you’ve got Buckley’s, mate! Some claim it comes from the name of the convict William Buckley, who escaped from Port Phillip in 1803 and lived for 32 years with Aborigines in southern Victoria. Others suggest a punning reference to the Melbourne department store Buckley & Nunn—You have two chances, Buckley’s and none. First recorded 1895.
A skimpy male swimming costume, synonymous with Speedos. 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 dick pointers and togs), and it has become extremely popular on the Internet and in newspaper reports: 'Given that Australians don't have a national dress as such, perhaps we need to adopt budgie-smugglers as our official male costume' (2003). 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.
A kind of fine powdery soil 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 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.
bull’s roar: not within a bull’s roar
Not anywhere 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.
Incapacitated, exhausted, broken (as in the telly’s bung). It comes from bang meaning ‘dead’ (first recorded 1841) in the Yagara indigenous language of the Brisbane region. It found its way into nineteenth-century Australian pidgin, where the phrase to go bung meant ‘to die’. By the end of the nineteenth century the present sense had developed.
A man-eating monster of Australian Aboriginal legend. Descriptions of it vary greatly. Some give it a frightful human head and an animal body. Most descriptions emphasise its threat to humans and its loud booming at night. It inhabits inland rivers, swamps, and billabongs. The word comes from the indigenous Wergaia language of western Victoria. First recorded 1845.
burl: give it a burl
Give it a try, make an attempt. Burl is one of almost 200 words that Australian English borrowed from British dialects. It is a Scots word for a ‘spin’ or ‘whirl’, and in Australia we have varied the standard English ‘give it a whirl’ by replacing the last word with the Scots ‘burl’—‘The mower should start now Mum—give it a burl!’
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 country people come to town, and the phrase implies that they are easily fooled by the more sophisticated city slickers. The speaker resents being mistaken for a country bumpkin.
In some regions of Australia butcher is a name for a measure of beer or the glass holding it.
The first use of butcher recorded in The Australian National Dictionary is in the 1889 W.R. Thomas publication, Early Days: Over a good fat `butcher' of beer he told me how he was getting on.
Almost a century later, in 1984, butcher is still in use, as in B. Driscoll's, Great Aussie Beer Book: The South Australian six ounce... has Australia's oddest glass name, a butcher.
Despite this long currency there has been some disagreement about just how big a butcher is. Some writers suggest it is a large measure, for example M. Vivienne in, Sunny South Australia (1908): He gives away a good few of what they call `butchers of beer', which is a long, wide glass holding more than a pint. Other, more recent, commentators say it is a small one, so J. O'Grady in It's Your Shout Mate! (1972): A... six-ounce glass became the butcher. In fact, since metric standardisation was applied to Australian beer measures, a butcher is the South Australian name for a 170 ml. glass.
There are a few competing theories concerning the origin of butcher. One of the more popular contenders is described by S. Hope in, Digger's Paradise (1956): And what is called a 'lady's waist' in some parts of the country is generally known as a 'butcher'. This originated in bygone days when workers from the abattoirs came unwashed to the pubs after their day's toil. A proportion of drinking mugs was kept separate for them, and a mob of slaughtermen would announce themselves as 'butchers' and be given those mugs.
More plausible, however, is the theory that butcher came into Australian English from the German word Becher, a glass or tumbler.
Added weight is given to this theory when it is realised that butcher is well known in South Australia but is little used outside that State. South Australia of course has a strong German component in its heritage, with many German immigrants - religious dissenters and agricultural workers - settling around Hahndorf and Kapunda from the late 1830s. The editor of The Australian National Dictionary, W.S. Ramson, thought that the German word was the most likely origin for butcher.