Know your ‘Australianisms’? The Oxford English Dictionary wants to hear from you

The Oxford English Dictionary is calling on Australians to share their ‘Australianisms.’ Source: AAP

The Oxford English Dictionary is turning 90 this year and to celebrate is inviting Australians to submit words that are unique to this part of the world.

The Oxford English dictionary is a guide to the meaning and history of some 800,000 words and compounds – both past and present.

To be included in the dictionary, it requires proof of several examples of the word being used, along with evidence the word has reached a level of currency where it is used with the expectation of being understood.

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Some words, such as “robustious” (a manner which is strongly assertive or boisterous), and “brainsickly” (deranged or mentally disturbed) date back to the age of classical literature, while others such as “gorpcore” (a noun describing a style of dress incorporating practical clothing for outdoors), and “broflake” (a man upset by progressive attitudes conflicting with his more conservative views) are more recent inclusions.

The Oxford English Dictionary is turning 90 this year and has launched the “Words Where You Are” campaign, which asks for people around the world to share words and phrases unique to their country to create a snapshot of how they speak.

Amanda Laugesen, Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, says she’d like to see as many 'Australianisms' - a term or slang unique to the Australian lexicon - in the dictionary as possible.

The Oxford English Dictionary wants to create a snapshot of how Australians speak.
The Oxford English Dictionary is looking to create snapshot of sorts about how Australians speak.

“The Australian variety of English has a long history and is very colourful and full of interesting things,” she told SBS News.

“(It) also reflects our historical development and things that have influenced Australian society and culture."

Examples of 'Australianisms' already included in the Oxford English Dictionary include “budgie smugglers” (men's brief, tight-fitting swimming trunks) and “tall poppy syndrome” (a perceived tendency to discredit those who have achieved prominence in public life).

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Some Australian words for things are different to those used in other countries: for example, most Australians call flip-flops “thongs”, while in New Zealand they are “jandals”.

Australia also has a range of regional terms subject to light-hearted debate over which is better: Melbournians will typically call a deep-fried, battered potato a “potato cake”, while someone in Sydney might argue for “potato scallop”.

Michael Proffitt, the Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, said regional words are among the most inventive and evocative in language.

“They can create a sense of belonging - of childhood, family, or home - or a sense of difference,” he said.

“Because many regional words occur in speech more than in writing, they don’t always get the recognition they deserve in dictionaries. 

“[Our] comprehensive record of the English language is an index of sorts to people’s tireless creativity and diversity over many centuries.”

Ms Laugesen agrees.

“In terms of regionalisms, I think there are some fun ones,” she said.

“South Australia has their "frogcakes" (a dessert in the shape of a frog's head) and "piefloaters" (a meat pie in a bowl of green pea soup). In Tasmania they've retained some British dialect terms like "nointer" for a naughty child and "yassler" for someone who's particularly loud and obnoxious."

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'Yeah, nah'

Alfonso Elifonce was born in Mexico and moved to Australia in 2006.

He says he struggled with Australian slang when he first arrived, but he found embracing it to be hugely beneficial.

"I think its important foreigners get into learning the slang, the Australian slang. I think it does give you a bit of acceptance - people like it when you use the slang. It helps you adapt a little bit socially,” he told SBS News.

He says one particular 'Australianism' confused him when he first heard it, though he's learned to love it.

"At the beginning I think I was a bit obsessed with "yeah, nah". I think "yeah, nah" is my favourite slang because it's a bit confusing still."

'Australianisms' can be shared with the Oxford Dictionary by jumping online or onto Twitter and using the hashtags #wordswhereyouare and #ozwords.

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