Amanda Laugesen

Amanda Laugesen on swearing and the art of the euphemism

The ABR Podcast
Wednesday, 02 December 2020

Amanda Laugesen, historian and lexicographer, is director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the ANU. In her latest book, the evocatively titled Rooted, Amanda considers the bountiful history of bad language in Australia. Her column in the December issue of ABR is devoted to the quaint old euphemism. Amanda talks about the inventive ways in which writers and editors have tried to placate the censor while also celebrating profanity. 

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Blankety-blank: The art of the euphemism

Amanda Laugesen
Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Disguising the words we dare not print has a long and fascinating history. From the late eighteenth century in particular, it became common in printed works to disguise words such as profanities and curses – from the use of typographical substitutes such as asterisks to the replacement of a swear word with a euphemism. When I was researching my recent book, Rooted, on the history of bad language in Australia, I was struck by the creative ways in which writers, editors, and typesetters, especially through the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, sought to evade censors and allude to profanity.

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Language has always been shaped by the times. In today's episode, Amanda Laugesen, Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, reveals how the national vocabulary has been transformed by recession, depression, financial crises, and periods of high unemployment. A list to which we sombrely might add the current pandemic. 

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From swaggies to snapback

Amanda Laugesen
Monday, 24 August 2020

Financial crises, recessions, and times of high unemployment have periodically affected Australia. They have also shaped our vocabulary. The first recording of the iconic Australian word battler, in the sense of a person who struggles for a livelihood, was in 1896 by Henry Lawson in While the Billy Boils. The ‘swagman, itinerant worker’ sense of battler was first recorded in 1898. The verb to battle in the sense of ‘to struggle for a livelihood’ was first recorded in the 1880s, and in the sense of ‘to seek to subsist while seeking employment’ from the 1890s.

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Coronaspeak: Tracking language in a pandemic

Amanda Laugesen
Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all our lives, and little else has featured in the media for weeks. Unsurprisingly, this has led those of us who work with words to track the language of the pandemic (coronaspeak) closely. Here at the Australian National Dictionary Centre (temporarily WFH, of course), we have been compiling a database of the words emerging from the pandemic; from anti-lockdown protest to zumping (being dumped via Zoom), the Covid-19 isolation lockdown has generated its own vocabulary.

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Kate Lister (historian and curator of the website Whores of Yore) writes in her foreword to Sounds and Furies that language ‘is a powerful agent of social control, and dictates the acceptable, the feminine, and the well behaved’. Slang lexicons have long served to objectify women in all sorts of ways. It is not surprising, she argues, that Green’s Onl ...

Crisis lexicon

Amanda Laugesen
Friday, 21 February 2020

As I write this, Canberra is once again under threat from the Orroral Valley fire south of the city. This comes after a summer of intense and incredibly destructive bushfires and, for Canberra, endless days of smoke haze, followed by a damaging hailstorm. The coronavirus also dominates the daily newsfeeds as a global health emergency takes hold.

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Whither wowser?

Amanda Laugesen
Monday, 16 December 2019

Lexicographers, especially historical ones, are always interested in the way words fall in and out of fashion. But while we spend a lot of time tracing the first usage of a word and trying to figure out its origins, we pay much less attention to when or why a word falls out of common usage.

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One’s last gumtree

Amanda Laugesen
Thursday, 24 October 2019

Sidney (Sid) J. Baker (1912–76) is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the history of Australian slang lexicography. Born in New Zealand, Baker worked in Australia as a journalist, writing for publications such as ABC Weekly, The Daily Telegraph, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He was also the author of a number of books about Australian slang, one of which is A Popular Dictionary of Australian Slang (1941).

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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 ...

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