Australian National Dictionary – Quarter Century Celebrations

The AND.
What a delightful initialism!* And, arguably, a suitably Australian one: while the British have that renowned and respectable institution, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), we have the almost colloquial the AND (Australian National Dictionary).

The recent celebration of the AND’s 25th Anniversary was similarly toned, beginning with a marvellous speech by Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, Richard White. Rather than list the considerable achievements of the AND chronologically, or wax ad nauseam on the rise and fall of Australian dialectic traits, Richard enthusiastically delineated the stories of some eclectic true blue words: home, bonzer, Australiana, mate and cooee.

As an historian†, Richard is personally indebted to the work of the AND, and has frequented the publications of the AND and the AND Centre itself at the Australian National University.

His stories of the five Aussie words were engaging and humorous. We learned about how “home” in Australia around the 1840s began to develop a capital letter or inverted commas, to self-consciously refer to Britain as the mother-country, and was later used parodically as we developed a sense of our own nationhood. We learned about how cooee was over-used in Australia, attached with such an overbearing sense of nationalism that we ceased using it as often. We learned about how at the same time, cooee had spread so far from its origins in Aboriginal Australian communication that people in New Zealand were looking for a Maori etymology of the word, and the English were claiming it as quintessentially British.
And of course there was audience participation too: someone prompted the discussion of “mate” being used homoerotically, and a linguistic scholar noted that it was now being used by women and English-as-a-second-language people in Australia.

Then we retreated from the conference room to the Australian National Dictionary Centre itself: a brilliantly Australian building reminiscent of a corrugated iron shed.

Photo from WikiCommons (until the author is motivated enough to take a photo of the building herself. It is, after all, the building next to her office...)

Photo from WikiCommons (until the author is motivated enough to take a photo of the building herself. It is, after all, the building next to her office…)

Here we were treated to a selection of food from the The Gods Café, and much better wine than is served at most ANU events. I offered my services as photographer, which allowed me to mingle with the delightful crowd of linguists, AND workers past and present, and people like myself who just like dictionaries.

We all signed ourselves into the 25th Anniversary publication; a short and human series of recollections by people who had worked on the AND over its quarter century history. Although Richard White had done well to resist the temptation to explain the history of the AND to an audience who already knew it (or were even a part of it), the story is actually a great one. The Kiwi Bill Ramson, after moving to Australia and spending some years working on what was to be the Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English, decided to compile a more historically based dictionary in the style of the OED. In a mere decade he’d completed the work, and published it through the Oxford University Press for the bicentenary of the arrival of white settlers in Australia (1988).

Everyone is now turning their eyes to the second edition, due within the next few years, and I certainly hope that I’ll still be in Canberra to celebrate it. You never know – I might learn something new about the word cooee, and follow it up with some more wine!

To access the whole AND, online, for FREE, just click here.

I’d also recommend the AND blog, ozwords.

* Fun fact: While we use the definite article “the” with initialisms (the OED, the NSA) we drop them for acronyms (NASA).

† Footnote from my tame linguist: Despite all the school English teachers who taught you to use the indefinite article “an” instead of “a” before all words starting with an‡ ‘h’, the actual rule is more complicated. “An” should only be used before words whose pronunciation starts with a vowel, regardless of their spelling. Where the first syllable of the word is not stressed, the speaker may abandon the ‘h’ and start the word with a vowel. In that case, “an” is indeed required. However, where the ‘h’ is pronounced, “a” is the correct indefinite article. So should “historian” be preceded by “an” or “a”? The first syllable is unstressed, which means that both are correct, depending on the writer’s pronunciation.‡ In Australia and the UK, the letter ‘h’ is usually pronounced “aitch” and requires the indefinite article “an”. In the US, ‘h’ is pronounced “haitch” and is correctly preceded by “a”.


2 thoughts on “Australian National Dictionary – Quarter Century Celebrations

  1. Pingback: The Next Frontier of Australia | We dream of things that never were and say: "Why not?"

  2. Pingback: Dead Horse Gap: The Brumby Debate | words and wilds

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