Pinned to the wall of one of the offices of the Australian National Dictionary Centre in Canberra is a cartoon of a monk being interrupted as he patiently illuminates the Book of Kells.
The caption: “Deadline? Nobody told me anything about a deadline.”
Such was the journey of the Australian National Dictionary, a tome that last emerged from its hermit’s grotto in 1988, to reappear 28 years later in even greater splendour.
Late last year the manuscript was piled on a desk and illuminated in red ink:
And here it is now, all bound and jacketed:
The continuity on this project is truly remarkable with a number of the same lexicographers contributing to both the 1988 and 2016 editions.
I would like to think that since 1988, attitudes to Australian English have matured. In linguistic research, more and more regional diversity is being detected, and despite the occasional self-hating wacko most speakers recognise the richness, expressiveness and sheer oddness of our lexicon.
When I read British or American stories to my children I often flip the text into Oz English. I’m not being a nationalist, I just enjoy owning the words.
I worked on the new edition of the AND for a mere six months in 2011, plodding through Aboriginal words in Australian English beginning with ‘M’; marn grook and Moomba are particularly memorable.
As an historical dictionary the AND is not only a record of the words we now choose but an account of how we once spoke. Many of the terms I investigated were utterly unfamiliar to me and may have entered into speech for a decade or less. These words are lexical polaroids of a society in transition, and a reminder that even if relatively new and popular terms like budgie smugglers eventually pass into obscurity, they will still be remembered by the AND.