Rooted in the colloquial English of transported convicts, modified by contact with native languages and more recently by the creations of other regional Englishes, Australian English has always been in a class of its own.
Historically it wasn’t well served by lexicographers, some of whom seem to have shared the common nineteenth-century prejudice that such uncouth colonial variations on the English language were corrupting its purity. That began to change when James Murray worked hard to include Australianisms in early fascicles of what was then known as the New English Dictionary. The first local work, Austral English, was compiled by Edward Morris and published in 1898.
Australians had to wait until the 1970s before works such as the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary and the Heinemann Australian Dictionary were addressed to them, though they were no more than modified editions of British dictionaries. Even the Macquarie Dictionary, first published in 1981, was a local version of Hamlyn’s Encyclopedic World Dictionary of 1971, itself based on a Random House dictionary dated 1947. In the decades since, the Macquarie Dictionary has evolved into a genuinely local dictionary of Australian English and is now the standard authority.
A principal aspiration has been to record specifically Australian words and phrases, such as the horseracing sense of blouse, an odd term that evolved in the 1980s to mean to narrowly win a race. It’s most probably from the application of the noun to a jockey’s upper-body garment. What could be a narrower win than by a neck or a nose? Why, a blouse. This new edition includes many additional Australianisms, often regional: nointer, a Tasmanian term for a spoiled or difficult child; black snow, detritus from the burning of sugarcane fields carried on the wind; schnitter, a sandwich in South Australia; and names for animals and plants, such as bush banana, a vine of dry regions in inland Australia, and marron, a freshwater crayfish of Western Australia.
Like other regional Englishes, Australian English has been heavily influenced by developments in American English and the creation of terms that reflect issues of international importance. The current editor, Susan Butler (who, by the way, is another example of a lexicographer who has been with a project for decades: she started with the precursor of the dictionary in 1970) has been quoted as saying that in the 1980s you might expect US expressions to take 10 or 15 years to reach Australia, but now with universal communications, they take only a few months.
Such trends explain several classes among the 5,000 new words and phrases added to this fifth edition. One records matters involving the environment and climate change (carbon capture, cap-and-trade, ecological footprint, global commons). A second set are terms relating to the global financial crisis (ninja loan, toxic debt, moral hazard). A third group is of vocabulary from fashion and popular culture and includes junk sleep (sleep which is too short or too disturbed to be restorative), pimp cup (a decorated glass goblet, which often has the owner’s name picked out in rhinestones, also called a crunk cup), scene kid (a young person who likes offbeat musical styles and adopts unconventional dress styles), shwopping (combined shopping and swapping through the Internet), and treggings (tight-fitting women’s jeans but made from a fabric other than denim).
This edition has gone electronic, with a free Web-based version accessible by a password presented in print copies, and an app for the iPhone (an app is a computer application, and yes, it’s in the new edition).
[Susan Butler [ed], Macquarie Dictionary, Fifth Edition, published by Macquarie Dictionary Publishers on 27 October 2009; hardback, pp1940; ISBN-13: 978-1-8764-2966-9, ISBN-10: 1-8764-2966-6; publisher’s list price A$129.95.]