In a Manner of Speaking…

The talk-back radio host captured my attention when he announced that the Australian National Dictionary had been updated (after 28 years) and more than 6 000 words had been added to it.  The key word which grabbed me was “Dictionary” but the notion of an “Australian National” Dictionary, was most intruiging.

As writers we all have a working relationship with dictionaries and we teach our students how to use them, both in print and on-line.  We all have our preferences for a particular publication, be it an Oxford, Cambridge, Collins or any of the plethora of on-line versions available.  But I thought they were all English Dictionaries designed to demystify English words?  What then was this “Australian National Dictionary” he was spruiking?

There, in a word, lies the answer.

[verb   Australian  informal]
gerund or present participle: spruiking
1. speak in public, especially to advertise a show.
“men who spruik outside striptease joints”
2. to promote or publicize.
“the company forked out $15 million to spruik its digital revolution”  (source: Google Search instant result.)

This wonderful dictionary should be a national treasure.  It is a collection of words, phrases and idioms which are uniquely Australian and it is an historical record of the development of Australian English.  As chief editor, Bruce Moore, says:

“It is a unique lexical map of Australian history and culture.”

We do have a few pearlers in our version of the Queen’s English and it would be hard to beat the way Aussies award nicknames, cutting immediately to the crux or essence of a person.  For example, he was called “Showbag” because he was always full of rubbish; the word “mongrel” is a very derogatory and aggressive expression here (usually applied to the human species), whereas a “bitser” means a ‘mongrel dog which is not a pure breed’ because “it’s bits of this and bits of that”.

One of the newly added terms in the Dictionary was “grey nomads”, which struck a chord as we’d just returned from a two month camping trip, rubbing shoulders with grey nomads along the way. These are retirees (hence the ‘grey’) who make an annual pilgrimage by road from the southern states of Australia in winter, heading north in search of warmer weather.  Their style of camping is usually known as “glamping” (glamour+camping) as they usually travel in very expensive caravans with all the mod cons. The grey nomads gather at popular camping spots and form communities for the time they are there, gathering for the obligatory ‘happy hour’ drinks at 5 pm, where they get to know one another and share stories of their travels.

Immediately, a lady rang in to express her delight that ‘grey nomads’ was now an official term and she talked about how happy that made her.  It was an acknowledgement of a ‘cultural phenomenon’ in Australia, of which she was a part.

I smiled quietly as a warm, fuzzy feeling stole around my heart.  It’s not ‘manners’ but “words which maketh man” and how and what we say simply reflects who and where we are.  So, next time I confer with a student and we’re looking at the words he or she is using to create a character, setting or emotion, it might be a thesaurus instead of a dictionary that we’ll turn to, or maybe, just maybe, this new edition of the “Dictionary of Australianisms”.

1 Comment

  1. How interesting! I love learning words and phrases. I was a teacher of the Deaf for 11 years and love(d) learning their language.

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