Why ‘youse’ deserves a place in Australia’s national dictionary

Why ‘youse’ deserves its place in Australia’s national dictionary
For 30 years Susan Butler has been at the helm of the Macquarie Dictionary. Here she defends the inclusion of a much-derided word
Sheep near Canberra
Hey, youse ewes! Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP
I like to joke that, as the editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, I am like the woman with the mop and bucket who comes along to clean up after the party is over.

By this I mean that I do not create the mess. I am not devising the new words and bending the language to new uses. That is the consequence of the creative, not to say intoxicated, efforts of the language community. Continue reading

The great Australian Speech Impediment

The great Australian speech impediment
August 4, 2014 – 12:15AM
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Dean Frenkel
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Australia has a national speech problem that nobody is talking about. Despite a healthy rise in literacy and numeracy rates over the past century, most people, including the Prime Minister, still have poor speech skills. Yet this is not widely acknowledged as a problem.

Though verbal expression training is an essential skill for everyone, it is largely absent from our school system and, on the whole, standards of communication are unacceptably low. While Australians are usually more charmed than bothered by this, it should be considered as a national speech impediment. Continue reading

Is Aussie slang dying out?

Is Aussie slang dying out?
After flourishing in the 20th century, slang is going through a quiet phase. Is it merely dormant – or are Australians taking themselves more seriously?

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Gary Nunn
theguardian.com, Monday 26 May 2014 14.02 AEST
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Thongs with Australian flags sit on the field
Australia is progressing from a colloquial lexicon to one reflecting the gravitas of a country viewed with greater global credibility. Photograph: Tim Wimborne/Reuters
From “fair dinkum” to advancing fair, Australia is on an interesting linguistic journey. Once known on a global scale for skulling a tinny in the arvo and having no dramas because she’ll be right, Australia’s lexicon, it appears, is changing. Continue reading

No, Baden Eunson, english is not vulnerable in Straya

No, Baden Eunson, English is not vunerable in Straya


It’s that old conservative chestnut. We’ve lost our way. We’re falling into an amoral, amorphous, or—in the case of linguistic conservatism—ungrammatical purgatory. But fear not! Redemption is at hand! Just some simple alterations to your accent, to reflect centuries-outdated pronunciation preserved in an obscure, inefficient orthography, and you’ll be saved! Continue reading

Culture of hysteria hijacks out language

Culture of hysteria hijacks our language

Date October 24, 2013
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John Watson

Senior writer

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Understatement was a way to keep things in perspective. Now everything’s a disaster


Whatever happened to the Australian gift for laconic understatement? Humour and irony came together in the distinctive expressions we used to greet triumph and disaster. And such words were used sparingly, when nothing else would do to describe extreme events. Linguistic restraint imposed a steady-headed perspective on everything in between. Continue reading

Cactus or crackerjack? The state of Australian English

Cactus or crackerjack? The state of Australian English

David Penberthy

by David Penberthy

24th January 2011



What kind of shape is Australian English in? Is it in top nick, crackerjack, tickety-boo, both beaut and bonza? Or is it showing signs of being cactus, knackered, buggered, stuffed, rooted, possibly even up shit creek, as it succumbs to the continuously rising tide of social media slang, management jargon and Americanisms?It augurs well for the idiom that anyone who has lived in Orstraya for more than six months would have understood every word in the above three sentences.

But at a time when footy coaches urge their stars to be more accountable, when kids are busy LOL-ing and ROTFLMFAO-ing on Facebook, or declaring on Twitter that the latest Hollywood blockbuster is an “epic fail”, when every seven-year-old girl with a Singstar would rather sound like Miley Cyrus than Missy Higgins, pessimists could be forgiven for thinking that Australian English is in more trouble than the early settlers.

In delivering a diagnosis on the condition of Strine – to use the term coined by journalist Alastair Morrison in the 1960s to describe our national tongue – it’s worth looking at what makes Australian English Australian.

It’s a combination of things. There’s place names and nouns, many of which derive from Aboriginal languages, which will always be with us as they define where we are and who we are, from Tumbi Umbi to Tuggeranong and Woy Woy to Wagga Wagga.

There’s our slang, some of it of the foul-mouthed variety, much of which can be traced back to our convict roots and the influence of Cockney and Irish terms in the evolution of our very un-British style of speech.

Many of these terms are more recent – such as the popular use of the prefixes “dead-set”, “rolled-gold” or “card-carrying” for emphasis. As in, she’s a dead-set, rolled-gold hornbag. Or he’s a card-carrying drongo.

Some of these slang terms are now so mainstream as to be enshrined in Government policies and pronouncements. Only last week Anna Bligh warned the people of Queensland to watch out for shonks as the rebuilding of the shattered State gets underway. State Governments have introduced “anti-hoon” laws to target ratbags on the roads. And let’s not forget that the word “ranga” got a decent workout throughout our last election campaign, as our flame-haired PM took on a bloke who copped plenty of flak for getting around in budgie smugglers.

Then there’s euphemisms and similes – that is, those excellent little sentences which draw on comparative comic images to tell an evocative story. Such as the bloke at the pub who dodges rounds, who wouldn’t shout if a shark bit him. Or the unfortunate lady with the face like a dropped pie. Whose husband is as ugly as a hatful of arseholes.

Many of these terms don’t use exclusively Australian words at all but are characterised by an Australian way of assembling words. Regardless of his politics, Paul Keating must be regarded as one of the great creators of Australian phraseology in our public life. When Malcolm Fraser’s lip trembled upon conceding defeat in 1983, Keating described the outgoing Liberal Prime Minister as “looking like an Easter Island statue with an arse full of razor blades”.

But how many of these words and terms remain part of our day to day conversation? Do we use them frequently, subconsciously, or do we just dust them off for dramatic effect when we’re telling an anecdote while on the turps?

One of the great custodians of Australian English is academic Susan Butler, who has worked on the Macquarie Dictionary since its launch in 1981, and has just edited the 30th anniversary Signature Edition of what is rightly described as our most important national book. This was the dictionary which included terms such as “fart sack” for sleeping bag, “barbie” for barbecue and nouns such as spunk, bludger and dill in its first edition. Ms Butler is an erudite and well-spoken woman with an infectious love for our language. She’s also the woman whom some readers may recall was pulled from the Sunrise show a few years back when, in a matter-of-fact observation about the changing impact of words, she said it was probably now ruder in Australia to call somebody “fat” than it was to call them a “f…wit”, prompting a stunned David Koch to cut to a commercial.

Ms Butler is an optimist about the state of Australian English. She says people fail to grasp how our language has never been static, rather constantly evolving by adopting or shedding terms.

“Language is like clothing, it is subject to fashion and change, and some of the things we regard as quintessentially Australian have changed over time. There’s a view that a term such as ridgey-didge was something which Captain Cook was saying when he first got off the boat, when the reality is our language has always been evolving.”

Ms Butler says that in the 19th century there was an elite view that Australians were developing a horribly bastardised version of English, and that anyone who valued standards and decency should strive to speak the Queen’s English. Since World War II the dominant fear has been that our language is being Americanised.

Ms Butler says the rise of social media and the ongoing influence of American television and cinema on our culture – much more so than the 1960s and 1970s when the BBC was our dominant cultural influence – has definitely had an effect on the language.

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Differences are just a slip of the mother tongue

Differences are just a slip of the mother tongue

February 17,  2013

Ian Rose

There’s no worries about celebrating Australian English

  • Likewise, breezy conversation closers such as ”no dramas”, ”too easy” or  (my personal favourite) ”good on ya” convey the kind of casual optimism that  is the secret envy of my morose compatriots. We Brits, at least those of my  generation, born and bred on a soggy little island, raised on fish-fingers,  mushy peas and Margaret Thatcher, can find a positive outlook something of a  stretch.

    There is an almost athletic vigour to many Australian expressions, which  again concurs with the outdoorsy, boisterous national stereotype. You lot don’t  just arrive, turn up or get there. No, you insist on ”rocking up”. I don’t  believe I’ve ever rocked up anywhere, and I doubt I ever will, no matter how  long I remain here. It sounds so energetic. It’s telling that the sedate British  greeting of ”How are you?” is rendered more dynamic, with its emphasis on  motion, by the Aussie variant, ”How ya goin’?”

    There’s one word, used more widely here than in Britain, that strikes an odd  chord for me. The first time I heard a violent physical assault described as a  ”bashing” on a news bulletin, I almost choked on my (Marmite on) toast.  Getting ”bashed” always sounds a bit cartoonish to me.

    Naturally, my own speech these days betrays the time I have spent in  Australia. I no longer correct myself on the occasions I mistake flip-flops for  thongs or a beer bottle for a stubby. I love saying ”No worries” and I’m even  beginning to mean it when I do. My language is changing, and so is everyone  else’s.

    Language doesn’t stand still, not even the fusty old English language. Right  now it seems in the throes of some kind of seismic shift, getting freaky with  hash tags and acronyms. It seems likely that a hundred years from now,  whatever’s being spoken and ”written” around these parts won’t look a hell of  a lot like what we have now. Which is why it’s also worth reflecting, on  International Mother Language Day, that Australia is the custodian of the oldest  known languages on earth. And that most of them are endangered.

    Ian Rose is a freelance writer.

    Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/differences-are-just-a-slip-of-the-mother-tongue-20130216-2ek07.html#ixzz2aK1oFk4Q