AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT HOUSE
TUESDAY, 23 AUGUST 2016
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I acknowledge we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
I acknowledge Peter van Noorden, Professor Margaret Harding, Bruce Moore and the editorial team.
I was delighted to receive the call-up to speak today. But it only came yesterday, so I have been – as they say – lucubrating over the evening in preparing my remarks today.
This is the Second Edition of Oxford’s Australian National Dictionary. The first one to come along in 28 years – since 1988. It has indeed been a long time between verbs.
I've been asked to say a few words today and I'm happy to do that.
Apophany. Ultracrepidarian. Stemwinder.
Let me take you through those in turn.
An “apophany” is a word was taught to me by Professor John Quiggin of the University of Queensland. It sounds very much like an epiphany – which is when a moment of truth comes to you. But an apophany is slightly different. An apophany is when what has come to you is not a flash of blinding insight but an erroneous falsehood. An apophany was the moment when we saw our Prime Minister reach for a fresh onion and bite down into it. And it is the first time when I used a word in Parliament I had Hansard call me up afterwards and say, "How would you like Hansard to spell this word for you?"
“Ultracrepidarian” is a favourite word of Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics. An ultracrepidarian is somebody who speaks outside their area of expertise. Not a crepidarian like the dictionary editors, who stick to the things they know, an ultracrepidarian goes beyond the limits of their knowledge to speak of which they know little. It is a word most perfectly matched to this building.
And a stemwinder.
A “stemwinder” is a speech so good that it winds the audience, like a tightly-wound watch. A stemwinder was a term frequently used for speeches at the turn of the 20th Century, which has fallen out of use a little these days but one which I believe ought to come back, awarded only to speeches of the highest calibre. If you enjoyed my speech today, I would ask that you say to your friends, "That was a stemwinder."
Now of course, dictionaries date back to Sumerian times, but for the words of the English language, we look back to Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary – a work which showed us that the understanding of words can be leavened with a little wit. Take Johnson's description of “lexicographer”, defined in his dictionary as; "A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge, but busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words."
This dictionary today, as you've heard, includes some wonderful new Australian words; “callithumpian”, “rurosexual”, “sea changer”. It includes Indigenous words; “bilma” – a clapstick, “gubinge” – a kind of plum, “migaloo” – a white person.
It includes some wonderful phrases and idioms; “doesn't know whether he's Arthur or Martha”, “your blood's worth bottling”, “do a Bradbury”, “carry on like a pork chop”, “happy as a bastard on father’s day”, “straight to the pool room”, “wouldn't know if a tram was up him unless the conductor rang the bell”.
To read a dictionary like this is to delight in the richness of the Australian language, and to recognise that it is a language that is always changing. The greatest changer of the English language is, of course, Shakespeare – who introduced some 1700 words into our language, including “blushing”, “bump”, “buzzer”, “compromise”, “countless”, “equivocal”, “elbow”, “label”, “lonely”, “mountaineer”, “ode”, “scuffle” and “secure”. Indeed, Shakespeare introduced so many words into the English language that praising him has its own word: “bardolatry”.
To recognise the value of language is also to recognise those who've worked to shape it in the most beautiful ways. I love reading Roald Dahl to my boys. Those words created in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But going further still is the children's writer Louis Carroll who has brought to the English language words like “chortle”, “frabjous”, and “mimsy”. He created the word “portmanteau”, which is of course the way in which he built his words, and indeed an inspiration for others who would build words themselves.
And then there's those words that will probably never find their way into this book. I refer, of course, to Douglas Adams' Meaning of Liff – a dictionary designed for words that really should be in the English language but aren't. Words such as “alcoy” – wanting to be bullied into having another drink, “brindle” – to remember suddenly where you're meant to be going after you've been driving for ten minutes, “coodardy” – to be astounded at what you've just managed to get away with, “darvel” – to hold out for a better invitation until the last minute, “fiunary” – the safe place you put something and forgot where it was, and “gaffney” – somebody who deliberately misunderstands things for what he hopes is humorous effect.
I may have spoken too long today. If so, you can accuse me of having “Logorrhoea”. But it is, as a speaker, a great joy to be here today to be launching the second edition of the Oxford’s Australian National Dictionary. And may the third edition not be 28 years away.