Today, 40 years have passed since the launch of the first edition of the Macquarie Dictionary – the first comprehensive and truly Australian publication of its kind.
The publication of the Macquarie was a symbolic abandonment of colonial English and cultural cringe. (The word “bludger” appeared early on – but “bogan” had to wait for the second edition.)
Historian Manning Clark wrote in the introduction to this 1981 book that this was “evidence of Australia’s contribution to the conversation of humanity.”
Author Thomas Keneally wrote shortly after its publication that the dictionary would “declare for the first time that Australian English is not a bastard of convicts but a rightful heir”.
Alison Moore – now the dictionary editor – was in attendance on September 21 as the crowd raised their glasses towards the big Macquarie University company.
“There was a cocktail created – the Macquarie cocktail – there is champagne, mango juice, Grand Marnier and a strawberry with the green left on, for the green, and the room was full of acacia. [for the gold]said Moore, who was working in phonetics at the time. (Sadly, then Vice Chancellor Edwin Webb was allergic and left in a “pretty terrible state.”)
Moore said it was a “terribly important moment” as it was the first dictionary of “shameless Australian English”.
“There were other dictionaries that contained Australianisms, English dictionaries with ‘bonzer’ and ‘dinkum’ and ‘sheila’, but there had been no dictionary from the Australian English speaking perspective. It was a first, ”she said.
“People loved it. They loved looking for all those words. They loved to look for “rest” and find that it was not just a bit on the side of the road as it is in British dictionaries, but buying something with scheduled payments. Our meanings for different words were there. People were very proud of it. It was lovely. “
The process was not easy. Moore said “the cultural crisis was very real.” Even the ABC had British sounding presenters. Then there was the funding and the publishing model. For 11 years, the project bounced back until it ended at Macquarie University. Now in its eighth edition, it is published by Pan Macmillan.
The words reflect the changing times. Poet Les Murray was a contributor and editor looking for new words to add – and submitted “poddledonk” (for a frog) and kiddy-fiddler (for a pedophile).
In 2012, following former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech to parliament on misogyny, editor-in-chief Sue Butler decided to broaden the definition the word.
Last year’s word was ‘doomscrolling’: the practice of continuing to read news feeds online or on social media, despite the news being overwhelmingly negative and often upsetting. (“Karen” received an honorable mention).
In years past, choices have included robodebt, muffin top, fake news, and mansplain.
Moore says the pandemic has brought out the ‘playfulness’ of Australians with words – by proposing phrases such as ‘covidiot’, ‘Rona’, ‘quarantini’ and ‘locky d’.
Then there are the important words that are part of it, especially indigenous terms like “nangkari” (an indigenous practitioner of bush medicine; healer), she says.
Butler, meanwhile, wrote a book on words, Rebel Without A Clause, in which she veered “from tolerance to outrage.” She crosses complicated terrains such as “irregardless”, “inconceivable”, “flaunt” versus “fout”, and so on.
His argument is that words and meanings change, but they should only change “from a solid foundation of concern for language and avoidance of unnecessary errors and confusions that cloud our writing and make our meanings opaque.” “.