What Australian Slang Has Given the World.

A BBC piece by Mark Gwynn begins:

In 2013, ‘selfie’ became Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year.

It’s become such a ubiquitous word, but few stop to think about where it came from. It may come as a surprise to learn that is has its origins in Australia: the first evidence of the word in use comes from an online forum entry by the Australian Nathan Hope, who posted a photo of his lip, which he says he cut while drinking at a mate’s 21st birthday party.

It certainly came as a surprise to me! Of course, it makes sense, as Gwynn says:

For most Australian English speakers, the ‘-ie’ suffix is a natural part of the language. Unlike similar diminutives in international English, for example ‘birdie’ or ‘doggie’, the ‘-ie’ suffix in Australian English serves as a marker of informality – providing speakers with a shared code of familiarity and solidarity. Australian English is replete with such words: ‘barbie’ (a barbecue), ‘mushie’ (a mushroom), ‘prezzie’ (a present), and ‘sunnies’ (sunglasses) to name just a few. […]

The Australian penchant for abbreviating words is also demonstrated by the use of the ‘-o’ suffix. In Australian English an ‘ambo’ is an ambulance officer, a ‘reffo’ is a refugee, and a ‘rello’ is a relative. A number of these types of abbreviations have made their way into global English including ‘demo’ (a demonstration), ‘muso’ (a musician), and ‘preggo’ (pregnant). Other abbreviations, including ‘perv’ (a sexual pervert) and ‘uni’ (university), have also migrated to global English. […]

As with other varieties of English around the world, Australian English has its fair share of idioms and phrases that are often unfathomable to the non-native speaker. This is certainly true of idioms including ‘to carry on like a pork chop’ (to behave foolishly; to make a fuss), ‘to chuck a sickie’ (to take a day’s sick leave from work – with the implication that the person is not really ill), and ‘to spit the dummy’ (to lose one’s temper).

Lots more interesting stuff in there; thanks, Bathrobe!


  1. Bathrobe says

    OK, I’ll start the comments off.

    In his examples, he missed one of the more outstanding ‘-ie’ examples: Do a U-ie. So informal that I’m not even sure how to spell it. It means ‘do a U-turn’.

    Second: As he points out, both ‘-ie’ and ‘-o’ are common in Australian parlance. But despite the fondness for ‘-ie’ in Australia, what the rest of the world calls ‘commies’ Australians call (or used to call) ‘commos’. Perhaps that’s because ‘-ie’ tends to sound cute. ‘Bikies’ never sounded quite as sinister to me as ‘bikers’.

  2. Bathrobe says

    Oh, one other thing. ‘Greenie’ does mean conservationist, but it can also mean what Americans call ‘boogers’. (You’ve got a greenie hanging out of your nose.)

  3. SFReader says

    English -ie is likely related to Dutch – je.

    And the Dutch do use this suffix very frequently, they love diminutives almost as much as Czechs.

  4. Jim Parish says

    I remember the “U-ie” expression (my youth, California, late ’60s – early ’70s) as “hang a U-ie”, part of a set with “hang a left” (never “leftie”) and “hang a right” (likewise).

  5. Bathrobe says

    So not particularly Australian after all! Damn!

  6. There’s also wog Aussie English.

    Necessary digression: wog in Australia originally meant a migrant or direct descendant of Southern Europe, then expanded to include people from the Levant and Middle East, then also came to be a label to describe a style of behaviour and dress — so I’m considered a wog by blood but not a wog by culture.

    Further digression: the word “wog” can be an insult, a term of endearment or just representing a fact. Context explains everything about its intended meaning.

    Anyway, in wog Aussie English, along with its own slang, nouns are often pluralised. So something like “I love my cars, especially when I drive it down to Northlands and the chicks dig my rides”.

  7. So maybe Sal from Futurama speaks a New York adaptation of Wog Aussie English.

  8. Ken Miner says

    While many languages use diminutives, some languages seem to use them noticeably more than others. We used to call such languages “diminutive languages”. Some of them were: Scots (but not Standard English), Yiddish and other German varieties (but not Standard German), Spanish, Dutch & Afrikaans, etc.

    A typical feature is that the diminutive marker can be attached pretty much anywhere in the sentence. Cf. when in Yiddish a woman says to her puppy “Is fun dayn shisele” (Eat from your little bowl) the endearment is toward the puppy, but the diminutive suffix if attached to ‘bowl’. Or in Spanish “ahorita vendrá” (he’ll come now), where the endearment is toward the person spoken of, but the diminutive ending is attached to the temporal adverb. However this may be a general feature of diminutive affixes.

    Perhaps Aussie English qualifies as a “diminutive language.” Seems to me I’ve also heard “footy” for soccer.

  9. Bathrobe says

    “Footie” is for football, not necessarily soccer.

    When I was still young I had a friend who used to refer to his “footie boots”. For a while it didn’t click that he actually meant his football boots.

  10. I’d always spell it “footy”.

    At least in Melbourne, footy has come to mean specifically Australian Rules Football, to distinguish it from soccer/football and rugby union/league.

  11. Yes, I’m from Melbourne and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it spelt “footie.” (So, unlike barbie, selfie, sickie, etc. where the “-ie” spelling is standard.) Is that usual where you’re from, Bathrobe?

  12. Further to Jim Parish’s comment, in Oklahoma in the late 70’s and early 80’s, we would say “pull a U-ie”, “hang a left” and “hook a right”.

  13. Chris McG says

    It can be “footie” or “footy” in the UK, but either way it always means soccer.

    I had no idea “chuck a sickie” and “spit the dummy” were Australian. When I hear that words/phrases like that claimed to be so Australian as to be ‘unfathomable’ yet I hear in common use in the UK I’ve got to admit I wonder how innovative Australian English really is or perhaps we all just watched far too much Round the Twist/Ocean Girl/Neighbours/etc as children. Though there are plenty of Australian words that we don’t use and are incomprehensible when you first encounter them (“snag”, “sanger”, “troppo”), they just never seem to feature in articles like this… “Fang it” is another one, I get how it means “nab” sometimes, but how did it get from there to “go quicker”.

    Anyone know where does “smellies” (as in, bubble bath, perfume, body lotion, shampoo, etc) come from? Is that originally Australian?

    Incidentally, “U-ie” is used a lot in the game of Mornington Crescent from S43E06 of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, I can’t find it online, but there’s a transcript here.

  14. supernaut says

    “Fang it!” I used to hear it also in “Fang a left!” when driving.

    Also slightly digressing: thongs, jandals, flip-flops, mainly because a thong is a g-banga in Straaaya.

  15. As an informal intransitive verb for ogling, I find ‘perv’ inferior to ‘letch’ in every way except for transparency of spelling.

  16. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    In Polish slang ‘selfie’ has earned the funny (if you speak a Slavic language) name samojebka.

  17. gwenllian says

    The Aussie diminutive that surprised me the most when I first heard it is definitely arvo.

    Like Chris, I had no idea spitting the dummy was Australian. I’m also very surprised that Australia is where perv and uni come from. I didn’t know about the origin of muso and preggo either, but these -o ones coming from Australia doesn’t surprise me at all.

    As for interesting slang that’s still strictly Antipodean (and not likely to spread any time soon), root is one that can cause a bit of confusion with other English speakers.

  18. Not slang, but is a sentence-initial As well – not As well as – an Australian thing?

    Leading Australian trainer David Hayes will formally approach Racing Victoria in coming weeks in a bid to have the Werribee quarantine station opened earlier this year so overseas horses can compete in early spring races.

    Hayes believes that if the opening date, which is usually the first week in October, can be moved back a month it could enhance the chances of international horses competing in early spring.

    As well, Hayes would like nominal Cox Plate favourite Criterion to enter quarantine as soon as he leaves England after competing at Royal Ascot.

    The Age

    And what about surrounds instead of surroundings?

    Australian wildlife also flourishes in these surrounds, so be sure to keep an eye out and your camera ready for cassowaries, crocs, koalas and kangaroos.


  19. Paul (other Paul) says

    The Australian penchant for abbreviating words is also demonstrated by the use of the ‘-o’ suffix. In Australian English an ‘ambo’ is an ambulance officer, a ‘reffo’ is a refugee,
    In the ’50s, ‘reffo’ was a term of abuse, so The Authorities replaced it with ‘New Australian’ – which quickly became a term of abuse… Motorcycle riders were informally called ‘Temporary Australians’ because of the death toll.

    Other idioms: ‘don’t you come the raw prawn with me, mate’ – don’t insult me/my intelligence with that remark. When said in anger, ‘mate’ can be far from friendly.
    ‘Point Percy at the porcelain’ – urinate.
    ‘Flat out like a lizard drinking’ – very busy.
    ‘Technicolor yawn’ – upchuck.

  20. Chris McG says

    ‘don’t you come the raw prawn with me, mate’

    Somehow I’d got the impression that was “put another shrimp on the barbie”-levels of faux-Australian – perhaps because I’ve only heard it from British people pretending to Australian in sitcoms (e.g., this from The Goodies). I’m glad to hear it’s genuinely said, it’s a nice turn of phrase.

  21. Surround ‘vicinity’ is first recorded by the OED in 1922 from the Daily Wail, and there is no entry in the Australian National Dictionary, so it is probably not Australian in origin. Surround as a verb meaning ‘drink’, however, is first recorded in 1904 in the Sydney Bulletin.

    As for initial as well, it is firmly part of the common stock, first recorded by the OED in the 1380s. It has tended over time to migrate to the ends of sentences, but certainly the use above is not archaic.

  22. J. W. Brewer says

    One of the non-highlights of the non-Australian George Harrison’s solo career (non-highlight in the sense that it was neither a commercial nor critical success) was a 1982 LP titled Gone Troppo. The wiki article on it characterizes the title as Australian slang, but I wonder whether the particular bit of slang was in practice baffling/impenetrable to the UK record-buying public of the day.

  23. J. W. Brewer says

    In other 1980’s rock-music corpus data, there’s a song by the late (non-Australian) Kirsty MacColl titled “Don’t Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim,” which seems syntactically parallel to “don’t [you] come the raw prawn with me.” Perhaps the semantics are different depending on the X, but the whole “don’t come the X with me” construction is very unidiomatic and mysterious to my AmEng ears. But is it a common BrEng construction, with the Australianism coming only from using “raw prawn” for X? (Although “prawn” for some variety or other of shellfish is likewise a Briticism to my AmEng ears.)

  24. It’s listed in HDAS from the period 1845-1862 (1845 in Blair & McDavid, Mirth 82: “But our animal knowed how to come the giraffe over him”; 1862 “E. Kirke,” Among Pines 88: “Pshaw, Scip, you’re ‘coming de possum'”), but it seems to have fallen into desuetude over here since then.

  25. Chris McG says

    But is it a common BrEng construction, with the Australianism coming only from using “raw prawn” for X?


  26. J. W. Brewer says

    http://www.time4english.com/aamain/slang/slang.asp is a list for ESL learners of slang terms classified as British, Australian, and/or “international” (which I guess means “should be understood by Americans”?), apparently prepared by a teacher (perhaps of Australian origin?) working in Brunei. I’m not sure everyone would concur with the geographical reach she ascribes to particular examples.

  27. To me, a prawn is a fresh-water shrimp. They tend to be larger than (ocean) shrimp.

  28. Bathrobe says

    I’m not sure everyone would concur with the geographical reach she ascribes to particular examples.

    ‘Barf’, for instance.

  29. J. W. Brewer says

    To me, a prawn is a type of edible crustacean (with some vagueness on my part as to exactly which kinds of crustacean qualify) being talked about by a foreigner.

  30. Jim, bathrobe – California, same era. We definitely used “u-ie”

    “A number of these types of abbreviations have made their way into global English including ‘demo’ (a demonstration), ‘muso’ (a musician), and ‘preggo’ (pregnant). ”

    This must have come into American English a while ago then, because that was the standard term in Germany for pregnant soldiers (US Army). In those days before BDUs (fairly voluminous) pregnant soldiers wore special greens uniforms with a tent front to them, and these were called the “preggo uniform”. I am pretty sure the term started among women.

    “But despite the fondness for ‘-ie’ in Australia, what the rest of the world calls ‘commies’ Australians call (or used to call) ‘commos’. Perhaps that’s because ‘-ie’ tends to sound cute. ‘”

    I think the difference may be that the diminutive you hear as cute is derogatory in the US.

  31. “serves as a marker of informality – providing speakers with a shared code of familiarity and solidarity.”

    Does “formality” necessarily engender a sense of defamiliarization and estrangement? The purging of solemnity and formality continues apace in an all too convenient and self-aggrandized rush to uniform mediocrity. The days when the initiative and solid basis of social cohesion comprised the elements of shared experience have devolved to that of drunken louts informing us of their debauch. From the sublime to the ridiculous, comes information’s deformed step-child informality.

  32. English -ie is likely related to Dutch – je.

    -Je is what the (Northern) Dutch diminutive -tje looks like after certain consonants (e.g. k). The -t- comes from a -k- (preserved in the South – witness the Manneken Pis – and cognate with the German diminutive -chen and the -kin in napkin). Does the English diminutive have the same origin?

  33. I’m unfamiliar with muso. Do other Americans encounter it regularly?

    Also, demo for a demonstration in the sense of showing a product or technique is perfectly ordinary to me, but demo referring to a protest has a fair amount of foreign flavor.

  34. Paul (other Paul) says

    I have had salt-water prawns in Australia that resemble what the British call prawns, but the size of a banana. My mouth waters at the memory. (For Aussies, at the bridge over the Hawkesbury north of Sydney on the old coast road, but many years ago…).

    In northern Scotland, BTW, langoustines, (which the English call Dublin Bay prawns, to confuse matters) which come from those waters, are called prawns. That caused us to miss out on some potentially memorable meals.

    As a foodie site says:

    “Scampi (Italian) and Langoustine (Franch) refer to the same species Nephrops norvegicus, also known as “Dublin Bay Prawns” or just prawns in parts of Scotland. Scampi’s claws distinguish them from Shrimp/Prawns.

    “Scampi don’t occur in North American waters (or are not fished if they do), so “scampi” has evolved to mean a class of food preparation, rather then the animal itself.

    “Generally scampi (coated in breadcrumbs) as sold in UK mass-market pubs, restaurants and shops are ordinary prawns, not langoustines [minus claws] as they should be.

    “Shrimp and Prawn are interchangeable terms, although there are geographic preferences for the use of the terms. “Shrimp” is used in the US English for all sizes of similar decapod crustaceans, where as in British English, shrimp would refer to the smaller species, prawns to the larger species.”

    The French also have “crevettes gris” which are extremely fiddly tiny prawns, not worth the effort of peeling as far as I am concerned.

  35. I’m unfamiliar with muso. Do other Americans encounter it regularly?

    I’m pretty sure the answer is no. As I wrote Bathrobe when he sent me the link, apparently “global English” excludes the US.

  36. Not sure to what extent the world’s been given them, but two Aussie words I’d love to see etymologised one day are goon (box wine) and goom (methylated spirits).

  37. J. W. Brewer says

    I’m certainly familiar with “muso,” but from British sources, and it would sound odd/affected to me coming from an AmEng mouth (or typing fingers). I think I first learned “demo” for political demonstration from Japanese usage rather than Australian, but would likewise find it noteworthy/marked in an AmEng context.

  38. J. W. Brewer says

    E.g. “Ragged around the edges and feeling every inch the muso den that it is, Mojo’s is an excellent primer in vintage music shopping” is a perfectly cromulent yelp review for a place selling vinyl records that happens to be situated in Dublin, but would sound affected to me if it were describing a place located in some hipster part of Brooklyn. “Muso” in the sense I know it, doesn’t mean “musician” as such, but either “music buff/fan/collector/obsessive” (often slightly pejorative) or “musician-overly-concerned-with-formal-technique-for-its-own-sake” (strongly pejorative from a punk-rock sort of perspective).

  39. Re the -o suffix, OED has this to say:

    From the early 20th cent. the addition of the suffix to complete words to form nouns, adjectives, and interjections of all kinds becomes very common, e.g. wino n.1, whacko int., and cheapo adj. The earliest example of the addition of the suffix to a truncated word is probably beano n. (second half of 19th cent.), followed by Salvo n.3, an Australian formation; another (uncertain) example from the same time and place is robbo n. Since the beginning of the 20th cent. formations of this kind have become numerous, e.g. ammo n., arvo n. (one of several later Australian formations), and wacko adj.

    The suffix is not infrequently used to create product names, among the earliest being blanco n. and Oxo n. in the late 19th cent.

    Apologies if the italics didn’t work properly but at least it defines the quoted text.

    OED online was playing up so I couldn’t look up salvo, ammo and arvo, but of the rest, the earliest citation is “beano” (UK 1888), followed by “wino” (US 1915). The rest are whacko (1941 Australia) and “cheapo” (UK 1967).

  40. (I reformatted for clarity.)

  41. My wife (born 1943) uses demo for ‘political demonstration’, and in fact that is the primary meaning of the term for her, though she understands me when I say it meaning ‘product/technical demonstration’.

  42. (Some) Australians have a tendency to deliberately play up the caricature Australianisms, both among themselves and to outsiders – with the result that certain supposed Australianisms, including a few mentioned above, actually hover in a register between ironic self-parody and unselfconscious use. More than a few of these can be sourced back to Barry Humphries. This is hardly unique to Australians: e.g. my impression is that some Texans enjoy playing up to their linguistic caricature, whereas the Irish don’t – but that may simply reflect the Texans and the Irish I’ve encountered. It’s hard to see how any study of this could go beyond the anecdotal.

    As an example of playing up Australianisms, here’s Pride and Prejudice rewritten for the Australian suburbs. This is of course not necessarily how people actually talk in Aussie suburbia, it’s two comedy writers’ version of how people talk.

    “Commos” is still in use in Australia or at least in Sydney, but as an abbreviation for members of the Comanchero bikie gang, one of the biggest criminal outfits in New South Wales. Incidentally, to an Australian/NZer “bikie” sounds very sinister, whereas “biker” evokes a picture of a middle-class commuter cycling to the office on his mountain-bike.

  43. I should also mention that I know a small circle of Indonesians (very small – three going on four people) who, having studied in Australia, have incorporated the phrase “it’s a deffo” (“that’s definite/confirmed”) into their Jakarta idiolect, and gleefully say to one another, itu defo!

  44. marie-lucie says

    “Shrimp” is used in the US English for all sizes of similar decapod crustaceans, where as in British English, shrimp would refer to the smaller species, prawns to the larger species.”

    It seems to me that Canada follows the British usage here.
    initial “as well”

    I use this quite often in writing, probably as a variant for “additionally” or “in addition [to the above]” and I don’t think having it pointed out to me as in any way unusual.

    The French also have “crevettes gris” which are extremely fiddly tiny prawns, not worth the effort of peeling as far as I am concerned.

    You mean crevettes grises (the word is the feminine une crevette). When I was a child, on vacation on the shore of la Manche (a.k.a. the English Channel) it was possible to rent different sizes of push-nets to catch shrimp (crevettes’) in the surf, or (for adults) the much bigger bouquets (large prawns). My sisters and I always managed to catch a few shrimp in our tiny nets but I don’t remember our family eating them.

  45. marie-lucie says

    (Sorry about the formatting – sometimes part of the text hides above or below the line, so an intended insert does not always appear in the position it was planned for).

  46. I remember eating tiny shrimp in Japan. They may have been candied, and I certainly don’t recall the Japanese word for them. But they were so small that it would have been almost impossible to clean them, and so were prepared with head, legs and shell intact. I recall bits of antennae getting stuck between my teeth . . .

  47. I remember the probably-AusE origin of selfie being discussed a couple of years ago when the term became ubiquitous and appeared in various Word of the Year lists. It makes sense – though I wouldn’t be surprised if the word had been coined independently several times. More recently, reading Peter Temple’s novel Truth, I was struck by the wealth of such clippings in the dialect, and decided to collect them all for a blog post. The list was extended considerably in the comments.

  48. JWB: ““Muso” in the sense I know it, doesn’t mean “musician” as such, but either “music buff/fan/collector/obsessive” (often slightly pejorative) or “musician-overly-concerned-with-formal-technique-for-its-own-sake” (strongly pejorative from a punk-rock sort of perspective).”

    In my youth (Galway, 80s) it could mean both, and I knew plenty of both kinds. OED: “2. Brit. A musician or music enthusiast, esp. (freq. mildly depreciative) one who takes himself or herself too seriously.” In reference to fans, it usually denoted an indie obsessive, though maybe there wasn’t much else to be obsessed with.

    “Indie” seems to be originally US, and is not to be confused with the Indo (the Irish Independent newspaper) or the Sindo (the prurient Sunday Independent).

  49. J. W. Brewer says

    “Indie” in the sense of “indie label” as contrasted with “major label” is almost certainly originally American and can be traced back before 1950 in music industry trade publications. But “indie” as a descriptor a particular somewhat vaguely-specified style of music arising in the 1980’s (similar to if not synonymous with “alternative” and in both instances “what evolved out of punk/new wave”) may have gelled first on the other side of the ocean, perhaps in large part (this is my own suggestive hypothesis that has not really been tested) to the structural feature of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Indie_Chart which had no exact parallel in the US market (to the extent airplay/sales charts existed in the US for that style, broadly construed, they were not segregated by label on indie/major grounds, and for quite some time there was no single accepted umbrella term for the genre/style).

  50. the other side of the ocean

    The U.S. is bounded by two oceans. Local context suggests you mean the nation beyond the Atlantic, but the overall theme of this post is the nation beyond the Pacific.

    Two Boston Brahmin ladies in L.A.:

    “Is it not very hot here, Flora?”

    “You must remember, Vera, that we are fully three thousand miles from the ocean!”

  51. Jim Parish says

    The U.S. is bounded by two oceans.

    Three – it also bounds the Arctic. 😉

  52. J. W. Brewer says

    Australia is also bounded by multiple oceans, and if you want to fly from New York to Perth the non-Pacific route (e.g. with a stop in Dubai) is just as convenient as an alternative going round the other way. (And indeed I suspect some versions of the “Pacific” route, e.g. via Hong Kong, involve going over the Arctic, because that’s how the shortest-path great circles work out.)

    But since I have lived over 85% of my life along the Atlantic seaboard, it’s probably fair to say that my default meaning of “across the [not otherwise specified] ocean” is “on the other side of the Atlantic.”

  53. The “ie” suffix words from Austalia seem to be abbreviated versions of nouns, with the same meaning as the original. A barbie is a barbeque; sunnies are sunglasses; etc. The short form is cute but does not add a new meaning.

    In American slang, adding ie or y to an adjective to form a noun, or to a noun operating as a modifier, is very common and usually forms a word with a new meaning, or a single word where a phrase was previously needed, both in well-established words that originated as slang and in current slang:

    brownie, blondie (the baked goods), fixie (a fixed-gear bicycle), stiffy (an erection), shawty (shorty, a pretty woman), softie, cutie, goody, homie, hoodie (hooded sweatshirt), fatty, sweetie, righty, lefty, mixie (a person of mixed race), nighty, smoothie.

    Selfie – meaning a self-portrait photograph taken with a phone and texted or posted – seems to be as or more natural as an Americanism. Not to say that it isn’t Australian in origin, just that use of the ie or y suffix to make a new noun and not just an abbreviation of an existing one seems to be more American.

  54. Bathrobe says

    Selfie – meaning a self-portrait photograph taken with a phone and texted or posted – seems to be as or more natural as an Americanism.

    That’s how I felt.

  55. It’s not slang perhaps, but I’ve noted a couple of usages that seem peculiar to Australia.

    One is the use of “farewell” as a transitive verb, often used to describe funerals. “His family and friends farewelled Phil McCludgie at the Gungahlin Funeral Home last Wednesday.”

    The other is a back-formation from “versus”, interpreted as “verses”. Thus, “In cricket, Paramatta will verse Cronulla next Saturday.”

  56. Maidhc, there’s a Language Log post about “versing” with a bunch of links, including one to a 2005 LH post. It seems it’s common in the US too, among kids at least, but the Log post says it’s been “widely enough accepted in Australia to get an entry in the Macquarie Dictionary.”

  57. Paul (other Paul) says

    Bloix: I heard stiffie, for an erection, used in Australian vaudeville in the 1940s. Unless it came with American troops during WWII, it may be independently Australian.

  58. I almost never hear “stiffy” spoken by Americans. I associate it much more with British usage (and Australian as well, but I have a lot less everyday exposure to Australian speech). However, sexual slang can depend very heavily on subculture, so there may be lots of American usage out there, just not around me.

  59. The OED3 says without hedging that selfie is “orig. Australian”, and gives two Australian citations well before the first American one:

    2002 in www2b.abc.net.au (Online forum) (O.E.D. Archive) 13 Sept. Sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.

    2008 Gold Post Bull. (Austral.) 7 Aug. (Play Mag.) 70/2 Admittedly, there are some great photos, but way too many ‘selfies’—at least 400 self portraits.

    2011 Chicago Tribune (Electronic ed.) 3 Nov. 15 Most of us have taken a selfie at one point. But it’s the constant picture-posters who start to annoy you.

    2013 M. Spencer Responsible Other i. 23 She is taking selfies on her mobile phone, contorting her face into silly expressions.

    So unless more evidence appears, that would appear to be that.

    The discussion of -y | -ie, suffix 6, “used to form pet names and familiar diminutives”, is interesting. OED2 (1921) traces it not to any Germanic cognate, but to the names “Davy, Mathy (= Old French Davi, Mathé), which have the appearance of being pet forms of David, Mathou“. From there the form was generalized to dozens of other Scottish (and later English) names from 1400 onward. Some of these names were then used as ordinary nouns, first for birds (jenny for a wren, polly for a parrot), and then for various “mechanical contrivances”, notably jemmy > jimmy ‘short crowbar, burglar’s tool’. The first known application of the suffix directly to a common noun is laddy in 1546, but it doesn’t really take off even in Scots until the 18C, and in English not till the 19C, whence it presumably spread to Australia. Australia, like Scotland, is a hypocoristic-using culture as England and the U.S. are not, so it effloresced there and spread back to the rest of the Anglosphere.

    The OED says that baby (14C) and puppy (15C) are generally thought to contain this suffix, but they don’t think so: they believe that baby/babe, puppy/pup, mommy/mom/mum, daddy/dad are all twinned from original reduplicated forms *baba, *pupu(p), mama, dada. The origin of puppy/pup < French poupée, with semantic differentiation from ‘plaything’ > ‘toy dog’ > ‘young dog’ on the English side and ‘plaything’ > ‘doll’ on the French side, is not disputed.

  60. Have you guys heard of the “belfie”? You can thank Kim Kardashian…

  61. A “belfie” is apparently a butt selfie. Don’t thank me, just doing my job.

  62. Indeed, and a contraption used to take them is marketed under the name ‘Belfie Stick’.

  63. I have the impression that selfies began as a kind of sexting – young people sending provocative pics of themselves to each other. I don’t think the OED’s sources are likely to pick up the first uses.

  64. Since camera phones (as opposed to devoted digital CCD cameras) only appeared around 2000-2001, you probably aren’t going to see many “selfie” references earlier than that.

  65. David Marjanović says

    The discussion of -y | -ie, suffix 6, “used to form pet names and familiar diminutives”, is interesting. OED2 (1921) traces it not to any Germanic cognate

    Weird, because it’s all over German.

  66. Weird, because it’s all over German.

    Like Handy?

  67. AJP Septic Blagger says

    The OED has two meanings of squiffy, an English 19C one without a known origin and a later Australian shortening of skew-whiff:

    squiffy squiffy, a.slang.
    [Of fanciful formation.]
    1. Intoxicated; drunk.
    ? 1855 Mrs. Gaskell Lett. (1966) 375 Curious enough there is a Lady Erskine, wife of Lord E, her husband’s eldest brother living at Bollington, who tipples & ‘gets squiffy’ just like this Mrs E. 1874 Slang Dict. 307 Squiffy, slightly inebriated. 1884 Mrs. C. Praed Zéro viii, At night she is generally a little squiffy. 1894 G. W. Appleton Co. Respondent ii. 42 You’re a bit squiffy, aren’t you, Dick? No, I’m as sober as a water⁓spout.

    2. Askew, skew-whiff.
    1941 Baker Dict. Austral. Slang 71 Squiffy, askew. 1977 G. Melly Rum, Bum & Concertina vii. 85, I never associated it with an orgy, a term I felt to imply a Roman profusion of grapes, wine, buttocks, breasts, marble chaises-longues, and squiffy laurel crowns.

  68. Jonathan D says

    I can’t say anything about the actual history of “selfie”, but it seems to me that it fits the Australian pattern perfectly well if you take it to be derived from “self portrait” rather than simply “self”.

    (maidhc, you mean that Parramatta will verse Cronulla in rugby league. In cricket, Parramatta will be versing Sutherland at some point, but less people will be talking about that. I don’t usually use it myself, but I think even my mother might have given up objecting to that verb.)

  69. Antonios – “wog” is not originally Australian. It is short for golliwog. The original “Gollywogg” (two g’s) was the blackface hero of a wildly popular series of children’s picture story books, one issued each Christmas, around the turn of the last century, by an Englishwoman named Florence Kate Upton. The first of the series was called “Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg.” A Dutch doll is a wooden, jointed figure used to train artists in drawing.

    The characters in the illustrations are clearly toys – the Dutch dolls being two toy girls and the GolliWogg a Raggedy-Ann type stuffed boy doll who is black in the style of a minstrel show character. Such dolls were popular in the US in the late nineteenth century and Upton had had one when her family lived in the US briefly. She invented the Golliwogg name, perhaps from pollywog.

    Upton’s Golliwogg was an exemplary character – brave, honest, clever, and resourceful. He was the Dutch dolls’ best friend and protector. Dolls of him were as popular in the UK and Europe as teddy bears. Debussy wrote a student piece about him (still assigned) called “The Gollywogg’s Cakewalk.”

    Other children’s writers, notably Enid Blyton, adopted the word “golliwog” – one g – and their characters were more strereotypically racist: lazy, stupid, and cowardly.

    From Blyton’s “The Three Golliwogs” (1944):

    “Once the three bold golliwogs, Golly, Woggie, and Nigger, decided to go for a walk to Bumble-Bee Common. Golly wasn’t quite ready so Woggie and Nigger said they would start off without him, and Golly would catch them up as soon as he could. So off went Woggie and Nigger, arm-in-arm, singing merrily their favourite song — which, as you may guess, was Ten Little Nigger Boys.”

    And that is the origin of “wog.”

  70. Bloix’s usage reminded me that I have always been puzzled by phrases like “turn of the last century” or “turn of the twentieth century.” I always parsed the phrase “turn of the century” as the point where the century is turning—as in, turning the page from nineteenth to twentieth.

    I don’t think people said “turn of the [Nth] century” must when I was a child. I don’t think this is the recency illusion. As 2000 approached and passed, there were obvious pragmatic reasons why that phraseology should have become much more common. For decades, “turn of the century” had been basically unambiguous, but then it became ambiguous.

    So I had analyzed and understood “turn of the century” at a time when it was rarely stated explicitly as “twentieth century.” So the changed in usage seemed deeply illogical to me. It seems to have become very common now, but it still feels wrong. I wonder, though, whether my analysis was ever right to begin with, or whether “turn of the [Nth] century” has always been a standard construction.

  71. J. W. Brewer says

    Google books has plenty of not-incredibly-recent instances of “turn of the Xteenth century” for various values of X. I guess a further research project might be to look at usage between say 1901 and 1930 to see how long it took unspecified “turn of the century” to settle down as unambiguously meaning turn of the 20th and see if that enables predictions as to whether/when it might re-settle down as unambiguously meaning turn of the 21st.

  72. David Marjanović says

    Weird, because it’s all over German.

    Like Handy?

    Heh. 🙂 That is actually an English coinage – the Handie-Talkie, long-forgotten competition to the Walkie-Talkie.

  73. @J. W. Brewer: I scanned the Google listings as well. “Turn of the [Nth] century” is certainly old. I was mostly interested in whether it was originally a malapropism, which appeared after a particular centenary year.

  74. al hakanson says

    is the word ‘create’ used in oz sometimes to mean ‘create a fuss’

  75. ktschwarz says

    The Australian National Dictionary Centre’s twitter (@ozworders) recently retweeted a decent story about them by the New York Times: The ‘Hard Yakka’ of Defining Australian English’s Many Quirks, 2022-06-19. I was surprised to learn that director Bruce Moore is not convinced that “selfie” originated in Australia; he thinks it spread so quickly that the fact that the earliest known evidence is in an Australian newsgroup is not definitive. And one of the other lexicographers there also thinks it’s unresolved. Even in the 21st century, there are still mysteries.

  76. Yeah, I don’t think one could ever be sure of such a thing in this interconnected, instant age, but the fact that the suffix is very common in Australian English makes the origin story at least plausible.

  77. jack morava says

    re Dutch -je (upthread years ago), cf coochie coochi coo….

  78. January First-of-May says

    I recall having seen somewhere an interview with the (Australian) guy who (supposedly) invented the word “selfie”; IIRC he said that he spelled it with -ie because it was the way Australian English spells such contractions, and I don’t recall if he said anything about whether he actually invented the word.
    Looking it up, apparently the guy (the deanonymized author of the 2002 citation) claimed he was merely using a slang term that had already been in common use.

    While I didn’t find the interview I’ve seen many years ago, I did find this article, in which a paragraph jumped out at me for unrelated but also linguistic reasons…

    “In 1914, 13-year-old Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna took a self-portrait using a Kodak Brownie box camera (invented in 1900) and sent the photograph to a friend with the following note “I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling.” Nikolaevna appears to have been the first teenager to take a selfie.”

    …I wonder what part of her name the author (and/or editor) of that article thought “Nikolaevna” was. Of course “Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna” (without the surname) is correct, but a further reference should probably have been “Anastasia” or perhaps “Grand Duchess Anastasia”.
    The article about her in Russian Wikipedia is simply under “Anastasia Nikolaevna” – presumably she is considered to be fundamentally more important than any other bearers of that name pair.

  79. David Marjanović says

    There’s that story (I think it was in my schoolbook) of someone named Lev Nikolaevich apologizing twice every time he introduced himself, because the L. N. is Tolstoy!

  80. I read somewhere that Brezhnev actually liked it when people addressed him as Ilyich instead of the full Leonid Ilyich (although normally that would imply a degree of familiarity / disrespect), because he felt it made him as important as the other Ilyich. Don’t know whether that anecdote is based on fact.

  81. There’s that story (I think it was in my schoolbook) of someone named Lev Nikolaevich apologizing twice every time he introduced himself, because the L. N. is Tolstoy!

    Федот, да не тот.

  82. A thoughtco.com content generator writing an article on “first selfies” might well google “first selfie”, parse “Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna” like “Vice President Kamala Harris”, and lack time to investigate further who this Anastasia person might have been. If it were Old Media, a copyeditor could have fixed the patronymic, but I guess thoughtco.com has automated copyediting. The website has a section for articles about the Russian language but it’s unlikely that section’s content generators have a sideline in factchecking the “Famous Inventions” section.

    When Irish acquaintances of my friend Ms Ní Shé meet her father they often call him Mr Ní Shé instead of Mr Ó Sé. Wikipedia biographical articles are quite good about explaining their names. I prefer the Xi Jinping format to the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia format.

  83. When Irish acquaintances of my friend Ms Ní Shé meet her father they often call him Mr Ní Shé instead of Mr Ó Sé.

    I did a double-take and had to reread the sentence to make sure you said “Irish acquaintances.” I’d expect that of non-Irish people, but I would have thought the Irish would know at least enough of the basics to grasp that “Ní” indicates a woman’s name.

  84. I would have thought the Irish would know

    Many do know. Some never knew; some knew but have forgotten; some know in theory but would never think to apply theory in practice outside a classroom context, and might smile “ohh yeah” if you teachable-momented them.

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