Australian Meanings and Origins.

Back in 2015 I linked to Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms to bring you the word neenish, but not only have there been quite a few updates since then (like the entry for that very word, under n) but the URL itself has changed, so I figure it’s time to repost it. Here’s the first entry on the A page:


Michael Davie in ‘Going from A to Z forever’ (an article on the 2nd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary), Age, Saturday Extra, 1 April 1989, writes of his visit to the dictionary section of Oxford University Press:

Before I left, Weiner [one of the two editors of the OED] said he remembered how baffled he had been the first time he heard an Australian talk about the ‘arvo’. Australians used the -o suffix a lot, he reflected. Arvo, smoko, garbo, journo. But not all -o words were Australian, said Simpson [the other of the two editors]: eg ‘aggro’ and ‘cheapo’. I asked if they were familiar with the Oz usage ‘acco’, meaning ‘academic’. They liked that. I hoped, after I left, they would enter it on one of their little slips and add it to their gigantic compost heap – a candidate for admission to the next edition.

We trust that Edmund Weiner and John Simpson did not take a citation, since the Australian abbreviation of academic is not acco but acca (sometimes spelt acker).

The abbreviation first appears in Meanjin (Melbourne, 1977), where Canberra historian Ken Inglis has an article titled ‘Accas and Ockers: Australia’s New Dictionaries’. The editor of Meanjin, Jim Davidson, adds a footnote: ‘acca (slightly derogatory) 1, noun An academic rather than an intellectual, particularly adept at manipulating trendiologies, usually with full scholarly apparatus. Hence 2, noun A particularly sterile piece of academic writing.’ The evidence has become less frequent in recent years.

1993 Age (Melbourne) 24 December: The way such festivals bring together writers, publishers and accas, making them all accountable to the reader – the audience – gives them real value.

What a useful word! The OED is ignorant of it in all its forms, though they have acker ‘A strong or turbulent current in the sea; a flood tide (Obsolete); A current in a river, etc.; a ripple, furrow, or disturbance of the surface of water, a ‘cat’s paw’ (Now rare)” (“Of uncertain origin”) and acker ‘A piastre; gen. Usually in plural. Coins, banknotes, cash; money,’ for which the following amusing etymology is provided:

Origin unknown.
The word was apparently first used by British and allied troops in Egypt. It has sometimes been suggested that it represents a loan < Egyptian Arabic fakka small change, coins collectively (the sense ‘piastre’ is not attested; < fakk to change (money) into smaller units, specific use of fakk to separate, disconnect, to break up). However, this seems unlikely on phonological grounds, since it would require either that variants of the suggested Arabic etymon with initial vowel exist (which is not the case), or that the initial f- of the Arabic word was lost in English, as the difference between the Arabic and English words cannot be accounted for by metanalysis, sandhi, or other common phonological changes.

An even less likely suggestion (made e.g. by E. Partridge Dict. Forces’ Slang (1948) at cited word) is that the word represents an alteration of piastre n.

Thanks, Trevor!


  1. The OED kicks me off at the moment for logging in from far away from where I usually log in, so I can’t access the entry for acker at the moment. /fakːa/ would indeed cry out for some irregular phonetic alteration in English… Surely it wasn’t that the OED editors were too prudish to invoke fuck? There is probably simply no evidence in this direction.

    However, I wonder if acker might not be an English alteration of a local form of the name of the Ottoman akçe, surviving in informal Egyptian usage even after Egypt became independent from the Ottoman Empire; see the article Akçe in the Wikipedia, and note also the history at Egyptian piastre. I don’t have much internet access at the moment to research this possibility further.

  2. J.W. Brewer says

    I am slightly puzzled by the intrusive “r” in the “acker” variant spelling of “acca” and would appreciate more information. Is this the same pattern whereby certain posh English types who would be unlikely to emigrate to Australia call (or used to call?) champagne “champers,” or something else? For me, “acker” evokes the outré (excuse me, “transgressive”) writer, who died too young, although apparently a dispute about her actual and historically factual year of birth makes it difficult to ascertain the exact age at which she died.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    I thought “ackers” was from قروش?

    At any rate, I’m fairly sure that “acker” (in this sense) is a back-formation, like “cherry” and “pea.”

  4. There’s also the famed Aussie band “Acca-Dacca”.

  5. Global superstar clarinettist Acker Bilk acquired his nickname — he was really Bernard Stanley Bilk — from a Somerset word for ‘friend.’ “Citation needed,” warns Wikipedia.

  6. DE, that is ingenious. All of its mentions in Green’s and in the OED are in fact in the plural.

    However, قرش (sg.) is [ʔerʃ] in Egyptian. How do you get from that to [ækǝrz]~[ækǝz]? Even if there were a dialect preserving the [q], there would be no prothetic vowel.

    Could it come from akçe with the transposed to kc to make it into an acceptable English letter sequence? In other words, <akçe> to <acke> to /ækǝ/ to <acker> or something like that?

  7. I’m familiar with ‘acca’ meaning ‘accumulator bet’ from online football/soccer discourse, but don’t remember hearing it in real life. I’m pretty sure it has reasonable currency in the UK, at least among certain classes.

  8. @JWB I am slightly puzzled by the intrusive “r” in the “acker” variant spelling …

    I’d say intrusive trailing ‘r’ is a feature of Aussie slang: first they shorten a word ’til it’s unrecognisable; then they stick on a ‘(ə)r’ to make it authentic. ‘snag’ -> ‘snagger’. Or a ‘-y’/’-ie’: ‘sickie’, ‘stubby’.

    Ocker, also ockerette and ockerina. And as featured in Barry McKenzie.

  9. ‘bitser’, ‘bludger’ [**], ‘bonzer’

    [**] So many Aussie-isms travelled from British Isles slang, picked up different/specific meanings, then travelled back via ‘Neighbours’, Dane Edna/Les Patterson/Barry McKenzie. Did Crocodile Dundee also bring some argot? The international release version had much of the slang cut out, says wikip.

  10. For me, “acker” evokes the outré (excuse me, “transgressive”) writer, who died too young

    For me as well; I still have my copy of Blood and Guts in High School, which I bought… huh, looks like forty years ago now.

  11. I’m not sure what’s surprising about acca > acker? My impression is that unstressed endings -a and -er sound the same in Australian, so the choice of spelling for a novel clipping should be arbitrary, or a master of taste.

    I remember the intrusive-r jingle for Betta Electrical offending my rhotic sensibility.

  12. Moonfriend says

    Okay, I grew up in Melbourne a few decades ago and ‘acker’ (or ‘acca’, same pronunciation) back then meant pimple, as in acne, as in “You’ve got heaps of ackers”.

  13. I recall hearing ‘ackers’ used more than 50 years ago when I lived in London. It was used in expressions like “He has/hasn’t got the ackers”, meaning he can/can’t afford it.
    It sounded slangy, cockney or mockney.

  14. My dad’s an East End cockney who did his National Service in Egypt in the early 1950s, so he’s ticking all the boxes here… I confirm that he used and perhaps might still use “ackers” to mean money, aka dosh.

    For some in the ’70s, Ackers was also the Essex cricketer and Olympic fencer David Acfield, but that’s unlikely to mean anything to anyone.

  15. Michael Vnuk says

    Australian here, born late 1950s. I am pretty sure that mollymooly has it right. From what I hear all around, ‘acca’ and ‘acker’ would be pronounced the same. And you can find a few places on the internet where AC/DC is indeed referred to as ‘Acker-Dacker’, not ‘Acca-Dacca’ (both with varying capitalisation and hyphenation). My guess is that words using the ‘-er’ ending reflect older spelling preferences compared to words ending with ‘-a’.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    The example of acca/acker from acne is very consistent with AntC’s general proposed mechanism of clipping and then semi-random suffixation, perhaps to fill out what would otherwise be an awkwardly short word. But some other proffered examples in this thread don’t seem to result from that process. E.g., “ocker” is said by (conceivably unreliable) internet sources to be a variant pronunciation of “Oscar,” popularized in the sense “boorish or uncouth stereotypical Australian” by some tv personality who jocularly used it to address any such person whose actual first name was unknown. And “bonzer” is said (“perhaps”) to derive from (a non-standard BrEng dialect sense of) “bouncer.” And of course the fact that AustEng has “bikie” instead of AmEng “biker” suggests if anything a certain avoidance of the -er suffix.

    So maybe there are multiple processes at play that just happen to produce superficially similar-looking output?

  17. And today I learn that “Oscar” was once used (per the OED, 2004 entry) thus:

    U.S. slang. Now rare.

    A fellow, guy (esp. one held in contempt by the speaker); a foolish or ignorant man.

    1918 He asks her to show off her skill, but she says, ‘Nothing stirring, Oscar’.
    ‘M. Brand’ in All-story Weekly 31 August 37/1

    1929 I could have killed that dumb Oscar.
    T. Gordon, Born to Be 220

    1946 They were a tough lot of oscars in the Bridewell.
    M. Mezzrow & B. Wolfe, Really Blues 43

    1957 He’s a rough Oscar.
    ‘E. Lacy’, Room to Swing 35

  18. PlasticPaddy says

    What is the distribution of chipper/chippie?

  19. I also learn that there’s a noun ocker ‘The lending of money at (excessive) interest, usury; interest gained from this’ (Obsolete. Chiefly Scottish in later use): “Probably a borrowing from early Scandinavian […] compare Old Icelandic okr usury […] cognate with Old English wōcor, wōcer increase, offspring, usury […] Gothic wōkrs interest, returns, probably < an ablaut variant (lengthened grade) of the Indo-European base of eche v.; compare wax v.¹”

  20. David Marjanović says

    I never noticed that wachsen “grow” and wuchern “grow excessively (like kudzu)”, whence Wucher “usury”, are root-minus-extension cognates, but of course they are.

  21. J.W. Brewer says

    That other “ocker” made me wonder about the etymology of AmEng “to euchre” in the sense “to deceive or outwit,” although obviously that’s most immediately from the card game. Bu supposedly that’s in turn from a similar card game that originally floruit in Alsace known as Jucker or Juckerspiel and was presumably known by some immigrants to 19th-century America.

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    Last question for now is are there AmEng clippings of “academy” or “academic” or “academical” etc. and if so what do they look like? Only one I can think of offhand has been obsolete for approximately a century, viz. “Ac.,” I think pronounced “ack” and referring to the traditional undergraduate college at a particular university that required mandatory study of Latin and Greek as contrasted to the alternative option of the same university’s new-fangled “Scientific School” that relieved those enrolled there of those requirements. But early 20th-century abandonment of the mandatory classical curriculum on the Academical side of the divide led in time to merger and the loss of lexemes that described the no-longer-existent division. But I can sort of feel how the monosyllabic result of clipping might seem unsatisfactory to some and need some softening via lengthening via a filler-syllable suffix.

  23. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Åger is still cromulent in Danish. But I didn’t know there was a connection with vokse = ‘to grow’.

  24. Andrew Dunbar says

    Aussie in my mid 50s, grew up in Melbourne in the ’70s and ’80s and I don’t recall ever hearing acca before now. I was going to bring up acker “pimple” which my mum used to use but it was already old fashioned and we never picked it up.

  25. ə de vivre says

    @JWB, the only thing that comes to mind is “alt-ac” (perhaps not surprisingly two syllables), which refers to a vague field of employment that PhD students can move into when they’re unable to find full-time employment in academia.

  26. David Marjanović says

    Jucker or Juckerspiel

    jucken means “itch”…

  27. J.W. Brewer says

    Yet when sticking to nouns a non-card-game Jucker is supposedly Hochdeutsch for a carriage horse? There’s an uncertain theory that the playing-card sense of “joker” in American English comes from an eggcornish reanalysis of the playing-card-related sense of Jucker, with Euchre being one of the first games (circa the 1850’s?) in which the use of a joker was common.

  28. David Marjanović says

    That’s interesting; it’s not in the DWDS, not in Wiktionary, and while there is a Jucker in Grimm’s dictionary, it is simply equated with Wiegemessermezzaluna“.

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    Jucker I [Jùkər Z.] m. einer, der fortwährend juckt, sich reibt, kratzt; auch von unruhigen Pferden….

    Jucker II m. Kartenspiel, bei welchem der Bauer mehr gilt als das Ass [sic] ….

    juckeren [jùkərə …] Karten spielen. ‘mit em Isaak un mit em David gejuckert’ Str. Wibble Wibble = Strossburjer Wibble (von Karl Bernhard) ….

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    If you look for a German wikipedia article on Juckerspiel you are redirected to, although that pre-emigration name is mentioned in the body of the article. It may always have been an Alsatian-and-maybe-other-side-of-the-Rhine-nearby regionalism.

  31. David Marjanović says


    That’s the reformed spelling; the old one looks like the vowel is long.

  32. Michael Hendry says

    Surprised no one’s mentioned this:

    I believe it was Kingsley Amis who explained ‘ackers’ = money as Cockney rhyming slang, a kind of argot to confuse outsiders. Egyptian piastres were worth very little, ‘piastre’ rhymes with ‘disaster’, a disaster is an ‘accident’, and that gets shortened to ‘acker’, which is generalized to other kinds of money after the war.

    Similar examples, also from Amis (I think) are ‘Seppo’ for an American (because ‘Yank’ rhymes with ‘septic tank’), and ‘pom’, Australian for a British immigrant to Australia (supposedly because ‘immigrant’ sort-of-rhymes with ‘pomegranate’ in Strine). I’d forgotten ‘Seppo’ but someone on Twitter just used it today – don’t know whether he was trying to be offensive or didn’t know any better.

    Which reminds me: twenty-some years ago I worked for a small company in Northern Virginia that had most of the market for computerized control of pharmaceutical manufacturing. They were getting ready to send their salesman, a British guy, to Australia for the first time to see if he could line up new customers for their software there. I warned them that the Australians would probably laugh out loud when the salesman told them he was from the POMS Corporation (I forget what the initials stood for). Never heard how that turned out.

    As for ‘Oscar’, I wonder if that’s an example of what Joseph Epstein somewhere calls the ‘contemptuous familiar’, quite popular in the ’40s and ’50s, where people would rudely assign real names to strangers. Examples: a cab driver saying “Where to, Mack?” or a random stranger saying “Got a light, Jack?”. (The movie I’m All Right, Jack, said to be short for “Fuck You, I’m All Right, Jack”, is from 1959.) Epstein said he was glad that sort of thing had gone out of style. Of course, even more recently some names may be used as insults: ‘John’ = prostitute’s customer, ‘Poindexter’ = nerd, pedant, stuffed shirt, ‘Gomer’ = hick – can’t think of any others off the bat.

  33. I believe it was Kingsley Amis who explained ‘ackers’ = money as Cockney rhyming slang

    I’m afraid Amis was a better novelist than etymologist.

  34. PlasticPaddy says

    What hat said. The Amis etymology sounds more like what Lucky Jim might have come up with after one too many “stiffeners”. Just to take this: “a disaster is an accident and that could be shortened to ‘acker'”. The could is doing a lot of work here. One might think Naxos is very warm (mean yearly temperature recorded in Naxos is 17.4 °C | 63.2 °F), and warmth is tiring and Naxos could be shortened to Nacker from which one naturally derives knackered with silent ‘k’.

  35. David Marjanović says

    a disaster is an ‘accident’

    That’s not how rhyming slang is supposed to work. As far as I understand, it takes a common sequence of two (or three) words and uses the first to mean something the second rhymes with. “Septic tank” is an example; “apples and pears” is another; but was there ever “accident and disaster” or something like that? And the explanation for “pom” falls completely flat.

    can’t think of any others off the bat

    There have been others in environments where specific names were extremely common. In Berlin in the early 20th century, so many men were named Friedrich (nickname: Fritz) that, for example, the way to say “annoying reporters” was Pressefritzen – “Freds from the press”. Closer to home for me, [ˈhɪɐ̯sl̩] remains in use as a more or less mild version of “dumbass”; it must once have been a nickname for the fairly common name Matthias.

    …and surely you know what a Karen is?

  36. Moonfriend says

    PlasticPaddy: What is the distribution of chipper/chippie?

    If you’re talking about a carpenter, never have I heard ‘chipper’ (which is actually a wood-chipping machine), while ‘chippy’ is possibly more common than ‘carpenter’ in everyday speech.

    As for Seppo, it is very common in these parts.

  37. Green’s says oscar started out meaning a gay man, after Wilde, then a general mild derogatory, then a general term for any man. I am not so sure about this scenario, but maybe, sure.

  38. Green’s says oscar started out meaning a gay man, after Wilde, then a general mild derogatory, then a general term for any man. I am not so sure about this scenario, but maybe, sure.

    The typology would be like that of bugger and sod (as in poor sod, etc.) in English, or indeed bougre in French.

    I wonder if LH readers can think of any other examples.

    surviving in informal Egyptian usage even after Egypt became independent from the Ottoman Empire

    I am still wondering if the name of the akçe did in fact persist in informal use in Egypt so that it might be picked up by British and allied troops in Egypt (the way the everyday word sou persisted in French, both in France after the abolition of the sou as an official division of the currency of France in 1795, and in North America long after the conquest of New France by the British in 1763).

    Yesterday evening a twenty-something university student from Egypt was sitting near me in a café and I remembered to ask him about this topic. He said that he only knew Arabic آقجة (the Ottoman آقچه akçe)—to which he gave a Modern Stadard Arabic pronunciation—as word from history, not in any way as a living slang word (compare the informal names here, example). So a sample of one (and at a remove of more than three-quarters of a century, now). Maybe more later.

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    I agree that the Epstein examples in Michael Hendry’s comment are familiar, but I’m not sure they’re contemptuously so. It depends on baseline social conventions and expectations, and sometimes not everyone has the same expectations. If you expect more formality and deference from your cabdrivers and/or strangers asking for a light than they offer, you will find the familiarity overfamiliar and thus insulting. But the insult and/or contempt was only intended if the other party shared your baseline assumptions about the appropriate level of formality etc. for the interaction. American society has at times put a premium on a somewhat forced informality in casual social interaction, in service of what may be an illusion of social equality. I have an anecdotal sense, w/o direct personal experience, that the same may be true of Australian society. You don’t have to like that, but if you don’t understand it you may systematically misunderstand the behavior of others, to your own detriment. You may also of course run the risk of being negatively judged by others who think your disappointed expectations of such-and-such degree of formality and deference in such-and-such context show ignorance of, or disrespect for, the applicable default social norms. I expect Australian vernacular would have plenty of suitable pejoratives that can be directed at those who expect more formality and deference than local norms entitle them to.

  40. PlasticPaddy says

    @mf 29/04:22.02
    As you say, there is no “chipper” for carpenter, only chippie. For the fish-and-chips outlet, I would say chipper and think of chippie as being (Ulster-)Scots / North of England.

  41. ‘Poindexter’ and ‘Gomer’ come from specific fictional characters, and so are not comparable with generics like Jack or Karen. If you are unaware of the original TV shows this may not be obvious, but I postulate that a generic origin correlates with a common name, a specific origin with a rare one.

  42. David Eddyshaw says

    “You gotta light, Mac?”
    “No, but I’ve got a dark brown overcoat.”

  43. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The OED has quotations for ‘pomegranate’ in that sense from the same dates as ‘pom’ and ‘pommy’, sometimes mixed in with earlier ‘jimmygrant’ or ‘Jimmy Grant’. It’s not Cockney rhyming slang, but is there good reason to believe that it’s not rhyming slang of some kind?

  44. David Marjanović says

    the everyday word sou persisted in French

    “Ces saucissons-ci sont six sous ?”
    “Si, ces saucissons-ci sont six sous.”

  45. Kate Bunting says

    Plastic Paddy – A fish-and-chip shop is a chippy/ie here in Derbyshire (East Midlands). To me ‘chipper’ means cheerful and lively, though it isn’t part of my own vocabulary.

  46. “Ces saucissons-ci sont six sous ?”
    “Si, ces saucissons-ci sont six sous.”

    You need a negative in the question, unless you want an impression of surrealist incoherence.

  47. the explanation for “pom” falls completely flat — Oh, really? Not according to the Australian National University lexicographers linked in this post; the explanation from Jen’s comment is the one they give. You can go there to see their citations. Green’s Dictionary of Slang agrees as well. So Amis had that one right, and seppo too; it was just ackers where he went nuts.

  48. @mollymooly: i’m not sure i entirely agree. i think that even the most transparent Very Common Name versions owe a lot to specific pieces of popular culture – sometimes as origin (pejorative “karen”* from a specific Mean Girls line, with some possible earlier precedents), sometimes as reinforcement (dismissive “jack” from “Hit the Road, Jack”, I’m All Right, Jack**, etc). even “john” for a sex work client maintains its currency as much through popular culture as anything else at this point, given the name’s decline. but names-as-slang from popular culture clearly outlast the cultural products that they depend on, regardless of the popularity of the name itself: a lot more people use “poindexter” than know where it comes from (though those numbers may be falling at a similar rate) – and the same goes for “doubting thomas”.

    * which i’d quibble with a bit as a common name, since its use is so dependent on having had a single, very generationally specific, period of popularity.

    ** i didn’t know of the film until this thread; i think of the standard form as “fuck you, jack, i’ve got mine”.

  49. J.W. Brewer says

    I think that vocative use of “Jack” is distinctive because so anciently-rooted. E.g., dictionary senses (using wiktionary for convenience) include “A name applied to a hypothetical or typical man. [from 14th c.]” and “A man, a fellow; a typical man; men in general. [from 16th c.].” And of course compounds like “lumberjack.” A different phenomenon than uses (like the current “Karen”) that pick up on a generationally-marked name, for which a predecessor might be the British usage (dating to the Eighties? Now a bit out-of-date?) of using “Sharon and Tracy” (or the same names in the other order) generically as “A disparaging name for females considered to be working class, unintelligent and vulgarly dressed.” Or

  50. i do think the age makes “jack” distinctive, but i’m not sure that’s separable from popular culture. Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and Jill, Jack O’Lantern, Jack Frost may all come from a pre-existing exemplary use of the name, but that use certainly is sustained largely through their popularity. i wouldn’t want to bet against the exemplary use depending, historically, on the popularity of early stories/songs/rhymes with a protagonist of that name.

  51. is an article with a lot of [citation needed]

  52. I just learned about Spring-heeled Jack today.

  53. J.W. Brewer says

    That time when the hippies repurposed a 14th-century folk-hero Jack for their own use:

  54. David Marjanović says

    You need a negative in the question

    Or just some incredulous intonation that doesn’t interrupt the phonetics. I should have written !?!.

  55. ktschwarz says

    Michael Hendry: “I believe it was Kingsley Amis …” I suspect it wasn’t; at least, Google couldn’t find any comment by Kingsley Amis on any of the words “acker”, “pom”, or “seppo”. It did dig out the “acker” story from Encounter, the Anglo-American intellectual magazine, which in the June 1980 issue filled a page with miscellaneous amusing clippings, including:


    “ACKERS”: Concerning the origin of the slang word “ackers” for money, I believe the following is the true derivation.

    The slang name arose during World War II, particularly in Cairo where most desert troops visited.

    The Egyptian pound contained 100 piastres, which quickly became “disasters” in rhyming slang. To the troops a disaster was an “accident”, hence in short “acker”.


    That may have been repeated elsewhere. But I can’t believe that, if Kingsley Amis had signed that, Encounter would have reprinted it without his signature, especially considering they published 11 (Wikipedia’s count) pieces there under his name.

    You’re probably remembering “seppo” and “pom” from some other (better) source.

  56. ktschwarz says

    “Disaster” as rhyming slang for “piastre” does exist, or at least used to; Green’s has an Australian citation from 1915. It’s the link from that to “accident” to “ackers” that’s dubious. Sidney Baker’s The Australian Language (1945), in a section on World War II slang, says: “Piastres, which had already been dubbed disasters, acquired a new name in ackers” — note that he doesn’t derive “ackers” from the previous name, or give any explanation of it at all. (He was wrong in thinking that “ackers” was new slang in World War II; Green’s has an Australian attestation from the previous war, in 1918. Of course, World War II would have spread it more widely, and to a new generation.)

    Green’s gives the origin of “acker” as “Arab. akka, one piastre”, with no source or locale. I bet that’s a misunderstanding of the entry in Partridge, cited in the OED: “Akka, an Egyptian piastre: Regular Army’s: from ca. 1920.” If akka were really an Egyptian Arabic word, somebody else would have documented it by now. (I once e-mailed Green about an error in an entry, and got a response, but that apparently filled a quota, since after that he ignored me — two or three times — so I’m not going to bother trying again.)

    The OED’s entry for acker doesn’t have a regional label, and it should, since it’s not known in the US. I expect better from the Third Edition. Green’s is devoted to regional labels, as any slang dictionary must be.

  57. I just learned about Spring-heeled Jack today.
    From the linked site
    “At least two people claimed that he was able to speak comprehensible English.”
    Seeing that after an enumeration of mysterious attributes gave me a chuckle, like that was his most mysterious achievement 🙂
    @rozele: you find the same phenomenon of a frequent name used as a stand-in in tales, songs, and as part of appellations with my name, which used to be very popular in Germany. I read somewhere that in the 18th century, there were villages where half the boys were called Hans, and half the girls Grete = Margarete; the Margarete in Goethe’s Faust is called that way because she is an everygirl, a representative of the simple folk of Ireland Germany. The protagonists of Hänsel and Gretel are called that way because those were names many children could identify with. So I rather think both the use in songs & tales and in appellations is based on their usualness. (Of course, in the end their popularity is based on a popular tale, although not some obscure source, but the Bible.)

  58. David Marjanović says

    there were villages

    Also mid-20th-century Spain, where practically everyone was José or María.

  59. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I have to say it had had never occurred to me that Hansel and Gretel were John and Margaret (Jack and Maggie, I suppose). They’re never translated in English, for some reason.

  60. J.W. Brewer says

    I am interested in Hans’ claim that Gretel/Margaret etc. is a name of Biblical origin. Maybe this was just a slip of the fingers, or maybe Luthers Bibel had some sort of transliteration of a Hebrew/Greek name that comes out in German as looking more like Margarethe than it looks like Margaret in the English translations? I suppose if you want to play etymological games you can match up Margaret with the pearl (μαργαρίτην) of great price from Matthew 13:46.

  61. Oops, sorry. I mixed it up with Magdalena (wrt the biblical origin I mean, not wrt to what I wrote about its frequency). Mea maxima culpa.

  62. J.W. Brewer says

    It is true that “Margaret” persisted with considerable frequency over the centuries among the sort of English-speaking Protestants who generally favored “Bible names” and disdained the Popish cult of subsequent saints of uncertain historicity not attested in Scripture. One can easily imagine people like that subconsciously convincing themselves that whatever non-Bible names are in extremely common use in their community (George and Margaret, for example) must be in the Bible somewhere rather than being mere relics of Popery. I don’t know whether that same sort of dynamic could or would have occurred among German-speaking Protestants.

  63. David Eddyshaw says

    All my grandmothers were called Margaret (at least in theory) as were two of my aunts and one of my wife’s aunts.

    I suppose you could concoct an argument along the lines that Margaret is a Bible name, as an oblique reference to the Pearl of Great Price.

    The Kusaasi traditionally didn’t use surnames, and although in principle you can name a child practically anything, in practice parents are mostly pretty unadventurous. I remember calling out the name “Awini” in the waiting room and having about half of the men stand up. (Well, maybe not half …)

  64. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Margaret is a very respectable sort of saint, somehow – not that she doesn’t come under royal names too, but even people very much on the protestant side of the divide tend to say Saint Margaret rather than Queen Margaret.

  65. I have just been to the funeral of my aunt, born 1928. At the reception, many shared reminiscences required sequences of clarification:

    That was Catherine…

    no, *Eoghan*’s Catherine. …

    no, *uncle* Eoghan …

    no, *my* uncle.

    A century ago, the widely observed convention was to name the next generation after specific members of the earlier generation. Nowadays, one actively avoids giving the same name as a living relative, with the occasional exception of a grandchild named after a grandparent.

  66. David Eddyshaw says

    The Inuit convention is (or was) that when someone died, his or her personal name (usually an ordinary common noun) could not be spoken in the community until a child was born to carry it again. (This transfer of the name was done as a matter of practical urgency, so you can perfectly well have a man named Arnaq “Woman.”)

    The custom seems to have contributed to a very high rate of lexical replacement.

  67. I try not to judge cultural conventions as long as they don’t involve things like ripping people’s hearts out with obsidian knives, but that seems like a particularly unhelpful one.

  68. David Eddyshaw says

    I wouldn’t speak ill of ripping people’s hearts out with obsidian knives. Anybody might think that you didn’t actually want the sun to rise tomorrow.

  69. I have heard of this in relation to Australian languages.

    WP Taboo against naming the dead

    It is observed by peoples in many parts of the world, including northern Australia,[1] Siberia, Southern India, the Sahara, Subsaharan Africa, and the Americas

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