The expressions and words unique to families, including new lingo developing during the COVID-19 pandemic, are the subject of an Australia-wide search by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU). 

The Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC) is collecting ‘Familyspeak’ for its second annual appeal for contributions to the Australian National Dictionary. 

“We all know Mum’s the word, but what about words that are Mum’s?” said ANDC Director Dr Amanda Laugesen. 

“Most of us have words and expressions that are special to our family. 

“They might be expressions that one member of the family uses – for example, my father-in-law has a lot of these, such as saying someone who doesn’t have any money ‘doesn’t have two pennies to jingle on a tombstone’ and ‘seven pennies of god help me’ to describe someone who’s not well dressed.”

According to Dr Laugesen, ‘Familyspeak’ can come from a number of different sources. 

“They might be variants of traditional expressions or a different meaning for a common word or phrase,” she said. 

“Sometimes they are a euphemism for a less acceptable word, for example, ‘oh cheese’ (for oh Jesus), or they might be derived from wordplay, like ‘washdisher’ (for dishwasher).  

“Children’s words for things, such as ‘wobbellies’ (for wallabies), are another source. In some cases, these are words or expressions that were once more widely known but are now only retained within a small number of families.” 

The ANDC launched their annual appeal in 2019 by calling for nicknames for places across Australia. 

“Contributions from the public are a very important way of alerting us to new words,” said Dr Laugesen.  

“Even though not all these terms will make it into the dictionary, once we’ve researched them, we’ll keep a record of all of them and they will form part of our ongoing archive of the language used by Australians.” 

To be part of the 2020 appeal, visit the ANDC Facebook Page or find @ozworders on Twitter.  You can also add your word or expression to the Centre’s Word Box feature.

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