Language like the weather, is something that everybody wants to talk about, itemise or complain about. All of us have our views about this or that departure from a supposed norm, this or that barbarous neologisms, this quaint local usage, that oddity of pronunciation. Many of us, too, can be as cranky about language as we are about our interpretations of the weather. For myself, I should like to see the apostrophe abolished, as being something which causes much confusion and error while doing virtually no good; but I am sufficiently conventional to use it, after all. In the upshot it’s not worth a cracker kicking against all the pricks. Let the apostrophe live out its natural life.

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The Great War produced its own idiom and slang. Many of the new words and phrases created during the long conflict, such as ‘tank’ and ‘barrage’, became part of standard English, although often with a different nuance of meaning.

The recording of Australian soldier slang was seen as important at the end of the war. It was recognised as being integral ...

'Unsung hero of Australian lexicography' by Sarah Ogilvie

Sarah Ogilvie
Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Historical dictionaries depend on quotations to exemplify how a word is used over time. An unsung hero of Australian lexicography, who contributed more than 100,000 quotations to the Australian National Dictionary (AND) and Oxford English Dictionary (OED) over a period of thirty years, died two years ago this month. Mr Chris ...

'Landmines in lexicography' by Sarah Ogilvie

Sarah Ogilvie
Monday, 23 April 2012

When the ALP conference voted to amend the party platform on same-sex marriage at the end of last year, there was a flurry of debate in magazines, newspapers, and online. The platform now states: ‘Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all adult couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life.’ For lexicographers, thi ...

'Parasitic dictionaries and spam books' by Sarah Ogilvie

Sarah Ogilvie
Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A few years ago, Peter Austin and David Nathan, two Australian linguists working at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London, discovered that their dictionary of Kamilaroi, an Aboriginal language of New South Wales, was for sale on Amazon. The only problem was that they had not put it there and it had someone else’s name on it. Philip M. Parker, having found their Kamilaroi/Ga ...

Every day for the past few months, the Sydney linguist Michael Walsh has been sitting in the Mitchell Library poring over old manuscripts. He is extracting old wordlists of Aboriginal languages from the library’s rich collection of early British settler diaries, missionary field notes, and unpublished historical documents for a project funded by the State Library of New South Wales and Rio Ti ...

We are on the verge of another revolution in dictionary-making. Since the seventeenth century there have been three major revolutions in lexicographic practice. In 1604 Robert Cawdrey produced the first monolingual English dictionary, which was – radically – arranged alphabetically. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson employed literary citations to illus ...

Barry J. Blake: Secret Language

Bruce Moore
Thursday, 14 April 2011

Ludic language

Bruce Moore


Secret Language
by Barry J. Blake
Oxford University Press, $24.95 hb, 339 pp, 9780199579280


The ‘secret language’ of the title of this book covers many kinds and levels of secrecy (things hidden and concealed), and a ...