Thirty years of bonza ‘Australianisms’

‘Democracy sausage’ was the 2016 phrase of the year. Photo of Zed Seselja and Tony Abbott

“DOING a Johhny Farnham”, the “thongophone” and Australia’s “koala diplomacy” are all contenders for the 30th edition of the Australian National Dictionary (AND).

First published in 1988 by Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand (OUP ANZ), AND records the history of uniquely Australian words from their first appearance in print to their most recent usage.

Dr Amanda Laugesen, director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, which is based at ANU, says a perception that Australian English is being displaced by American English is simply not true.

“Certainly we see American terms, especially slang, coming into our language, but our research reveals a lot of new words continue to enter Australian English,” she says.

“Phrases like ‘koala diplomacy’, where we use koalas as gifts to other countries as a form of Australian soft power diplomacy, or ‘doing a Johnny Farnham’ – a reappearance after an apparent retirement, are evidence that our distinct brand of the English language is flourishing.

“In our anniversary year, we’re looking back over 30 years of words that have emerged as a result of political influences, lifestyle changes, events or social and cultural trends which have shaped the language.

“Words like ‘sheila’, ‘bonza’ and ‘cobber’ recognised as typically Australian have largely fallen out of use, but many new Australianisms have entered the language. For example, Invasion Day, stolen generation, and welcome to country have entered the language as a reflection of the impact of indigenous politics.

“Demographic shifts have given us seachangers and grey nomads and in some cases, one word such as bogan has been adopted nationally, largely replacing regional terms such as chigga (Tasmania), westie (NSW), booner (ACT), and bevan (Qld).”

Dr Laugesen says over the last 30 years, politicians have given some new words too.

“John Howard gave us the barbecue stopper, Julia Gillard gave us the captain’s call and Tony Abbott popularised shirtfront,” she says.

“Our tendency to add ‘-ie’, ‘-y’ or ‘-o’ to the ends of words continues to be an Australian trademark,” says Dr Laugesen, citing recent examples such as firie, ambo, schnitty, exxy, deso and devo.

“Australian English continues to be very much marked by its acceptance of informality and use of slang.”

The second edition of the AND was published by OUP ANZ in 2016 and a third edition is underway, with online content under consideration.

To mark its 30th year, the ANDC has highlighted words emanating from each of the three decades of its existence:

From the 1980s:
enterprise bargaining
economic rationalism
the Accord
Invasion day
Survival day
stolen generation
native title
terra nullius
flat white

From the 1990s:
budgie smugglers
muggachino, babychino, magic
barbecue stopper
headland speech
Sorry Day
welcome to country
grey nomad

From the 2000s:
tree-Change, Desert change
captain’s pick, captain’s call
democracy sausage (word of the year for 2016)
not happy Jan

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