22 May 2024

Strewth, selfie, eshay: Aussie slang dictionary notches up 17k entries

10:41 am on 22 May 2024
Paul Hogan


'Straya is a country with a genius for the pithy phrase or shortened word, and etymologist Mark Gwynn has the job of recording the 17,000 and counting that make up the Aussie lexicon.

Gwynn is the editor of numerous Australian Oxford dictionaries and thesauruses and senior researcher with the Australian National Dictionary Centre.

Crickey and strewth, two of Aussie's oldest colloquialisms, are both euphemisms, he tells Nine to Noon.

"Crikey has got to do with Christ's blood and strewth is God's truth."

And bloody, the "great Australian adjective" has been around just as long, he said.

"It was seen as a very taboo word, even in Australia or New Zealand, but it became ubiquitous.

"It was used so frequently it was often commented upon from visitors from the US In the UK that it's used every in every sentence."

Fast forward a century or so and Australia gives the world the word selfie, he said.

"My colleagues over at the Oxford English Dictionary in the UK certainly think that the earliest examples are from Australia.

"That's the earliest evidence I've been able to find as well. Most people would recognise that classic Australian 'ie' suffix that we put on the end of words such as barbie, sunnies, pressies, mushies."

The word spread around the world quickly, as does all language now, he said.

"Now these words are migrating more quickly and vice versa too, we find American-English and British-English being used very quickly in in the Antipodes."

A new entrant into the dictionary is 'eshay' a pig Latin form of slang originating in Aussie youth culture.

"Eshay might come from yes, or 'eshyay', or sesh as in a session of smoking."

It's a word associated with western Sydney youth culture, but has made its way overseas, he said, as programmes such as Heartbreak High are shown on Netflix.

"People are wondering where this, or who this, 'eshay' is."

The Aussie abbreviation is legendary, it's all about familiarity and being part of the group, he said.

"To lower the tone, to be informal and to talk about barbies and sunnies and mushies, it's a classic way that language brings people closer to you."

'G'day maaaate' the classic greeting got a 1980s boost with a Paul Hogan-fronted tourist campaign, he said. Although 'throw another shrimp on the barbie' was more of an Americanism, as no Aussie calls a prawn a shrimp.

The origin of bogan remains an etymological mystery, Gwynn said.

"Originally it was thought it was a word that emerged in the early '80s here in eastern Australia, around Sydney, and that kind of area, and possibly might have been related the Bogan River in New South Wales, which is out west.

"People in Australia might talk about Westies, and people from the west are a little bit rough. And not as sophisticated."

New evidence suggests the word comes from much further west, he said.

"We've found the earliest evidence is coming from Western Australia, the opposite side of the country, which is nowhere near the Bogan River."

For now, this word is classed "origin unknown", he said.

Phrases wax and wane, he said, 'spit the dummy' is not as widely used as it once was.

"Australia is quite creative, but also self-deprecating 'you've got a head like a half-sucked mango' for instance, or 'head like a robber's dog'.

"I mean, these are kind of expressions that that sound cruel, but they're often used on oneself. 'A face like a dropped pie' is one of my favourites."

New phrases entering the lexicon are 'bachelor's handbag' for supermarket cooked chicken and 'flog', he said.

"Flog is quite a well-known one here now, meaning an idiot or a fool. I mean, Australian-English is well known for drongos, ningnongs, boofheads, all sorts of terms for someone that might be a bit of a fool. But flog seems to be the newer version."

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