Continuing my fascination with Aussie slang, I present my latest find (courtesy of Mark Liberman at Language Log): furphy.

furphy n. (pl. furphies) 1 a false report or rumour. 2 an absurd story. • adj. (furphier, furphiest) absurdly false, unbelievable: that’s the furphiest bit of news I ever heard.
This Ozword comes from the name of [John] Furphy, a blacksmith and general engineer, who went to Shepparton from Kyneton in 1871 and set up a foundry. John Furphy designed a galvanised iron water-cart on wheels and his firm, J. Furphy & Sons, manufactured them. Each cart had the name FURPHY written large on the body. So successful were these carts that during World War 1 the Department of the Army bought many Furphy carts to supply water to camps in Australia and especially to camps in Palestine, and Egypt.

And how did John Furphy’s name wind up meaning what it does? Go read the essay! (Which, by the way, is from Ozwords, an online periodical I should obviously keep an eye on.)


  1. Regarding “to root”. Here in Oz we barrack for our teams. Use the Yank expression “rooting” and your audience will dissolve in laughter. Similar comments regarding the name Randy.
    We also have distinct differences of meaning between “pissed” and “pissed off”
    Many Australian expressions are also colourful but may be UK in origin. A sample:
    “As flash as a rat with a gold tooth”
    “Done up like a pox doctor’s clerk”
    “As useless as tits on bull”
    “If that works I’ll walk barefoot to the Gulf”
    “So useless he’d get bogged on the bitumen”
    “You can keep doing that for as long as your arse points to the ground”

  2. Norm Stuart says

    A furphy is taken from novelist Josephy Furphy (1843-1912), the brother of John Furphy. His fictional books on rural Australia convey the truth of situations through obvious exaggeration.
    This is best exemplified in “Such Is Life (Being Certain Extracts from the Diary of Tom Collins)”.

  3. Jenni Ibrahim says

    The link to the Nov 1997 Ozwords essay on Furphy has changed to:
    It suggests a quite different origin from the one Norm Stuart posted in August 2004. They’re all just theories I guess.
    In the course of finding the correxct link I discovered the wealth of knowledge that is in the Ozwords journal. Thanks for helping me find it!

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