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Here are stories about five great Aussie words: FURPHY, FOSSICK, WOWSER, YABBER and DINKUM. They were published a few weeks ago in Anu Garg's global newsletter A Word A Day, and are copied with Anu's permission.

[This week's Guest Wordsmith, Eric Shackle, is a retired journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Straits Times (Singapore), the Sydney Morning Herald, and many other newspapers. He is also copy editor for AWAD, and lives near Sydney, Australia. Anu Garg is traveling in Asia.]


furphy (FUR-fee) noun
A rumor; false story.

[From John Furphy, an Australian blacksmith and engineer, who designed a galvanised iron water-cart on wheels, displaying the name FURPHY in large letters. In World War I the Army bought many Furphy water and sanitation carts for camps in Palestine, Egypt. and Australia. When soldiers gathered around them, the carts became centers of gossip. The word scuttlebutt originated in a similar way.]

"Bookmakers are confident in the integrity of the AFL and the security used to guard the Brownlow Medal votes, believing any leaks are mere gossip and unfounded. Centrebet spokesman Gerard Daffy said last week's leak tipping St Kilda midfielder Robert Harvey winning a third Brownlow was a furphy."
- Darren Cartwright; Voss Still Brownlow Favourite; Fox Sports; Sep 18, 2003.

"If it is proved that the bugs originated from space, then the damage to the ozone layer may also have originated from space. This will render the ozone theory a furphy."
- Rob Horne; Bugs in Space?; The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia); Aug 3, 2001.

When British naval officer and explorer Captain James Cook landed at Botany Bay, near Sydney, in 1770, Australia's indigenous people, the Aborigines, had never seen a white man. Numerous tribes spoke a wide variety of languages, many now extinct.

Kangaroo was the first and best-known borrowing of an Aboriginal word into English, according to the Australian National Dictionary Centre: "In 1770, when Captain Cook was forced to make repairs to the Endeavour in north Queensland, he and his party saw a number of large marsupials. From the local Aborigines Cook elicited kangaroo or kanguru as the name of one of the animals. This was in the Guugu Yimidhirr language of Cooktown. The Aborigines gave the name for a species of kangaroo - the large black or grey kangaroo Macropus robustus. Cook mistakenly thought that this was a general or generic term for all kangaroos (and even wallabies), and this is how the word came into English."

This week, we'll discuss five other words that originated in Australia.

A book is a story for the mind. A song is a story for the soul.
- Eric Pio, poet


fossick (FOS-sik) verb intr.
To search for mineral deposits, usually over ground previously worked by others; to search for small items.

verb tr.
To search; ferret out.

[British (Cornish) dialect: fossick, troublesome person; fussick bustle about, from fuss + -ick.]

"But you need not fossick through old documents for examples."
- Apostrophically Your's; The Economist; May 11, 1996.

"This is, admittedly, not Ackroyd's field; he much prefers to fossick around with ecclesiastical architecture and cross-dressing at early-medieval festivals."
- Christopher Hitchens; That Blessed Plot, That Enigmatic Isle; The Atlantic Monthly; Oct 2003.

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.
- Stanley Horowitz


wowser (WOU-zuhr) noun
A person regarded as excessively puritanical; a killjoy.

Being or relating to a wowser.

[Of obscure origin. One theory attributes the term to dialectal wow (to howl). Also, according to a popular unsubstantiated story, the term is an acronym of We Only Want Social Evils Remedied, a slogan invented by John Norton, eccentric owner of Truth newspaper.]

"Sydney's St Andrew's Cathedral became a hand-clapping hillbilly heaven and a minister many call a wowser led the singing of A Pub With No Beer. There could be no greater metaphor for the influence of Slim Dusty than the fact that the congregation of St Andrew's - from the Prime Minister to the pall bearers - could sing as one, without a script."
- Sydney Morning Herald; Sep 26, 2003.

"Forget that relaxing glass of wine, unless you want the neo-wowsers screaming 'bad role model.' There is a certain type of person ever present in Australian life, devising ways to deny pleasure to the rest of the population. In Norman Lindsay's day wowsers were churchgoers purse-lipped about nudity. But now that the churches are empty and their moral restraints cast aside, today's wowsers have had to find fresh fun to eradicate, like alcohol, cigarettes, Big Macs, vanilla Coke, cars and air-conditioning."
- Miranda Devine; Served Along With Any Fun: A Dose of Guilt; Sydney Morning Herald; Aug 21, 2003.

The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.
- Voltaire, philosopher and writer (1694-1778)


yabber (YAB-uhr) verb tr. intr.
To talk; converse.

noun (also yabberer)
Talk; conversation.

[Australian pidgin, probably from aboriginal yaba.]

"Is it French or Queensland's blacks' yabber? Blest if I can understand a word of it."
- Rolf Boldrewood; Robbery Under Arms; 1888.

"Floating between Australia and England as the Centre does, 'yabber' seems to suit our positioning. We invite any contributions to this column devoted to conversing and sharing news about things Australian."
- Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King's College, University of London, Newsletter, Dec 1999.

To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations--such is a pleasure beyond compare.
- Kenko Yoshida, essayist (1283-1352)


dinkum (DING-kuhm), also dinky-di, fair dinkum, adjective
True; honest; genuine.

[Probably derived, like many other Australian words, from English dialect. The counties of Lincolnshire and Derbyshire had a word dinkum or dincum meaning "work; a fair share of work." The word was first recorded in Australia in Rolf Boldrewood's Robbery Under Arms (1888): "It took us an hour's hard dinkum to get near the peak."]

"You TFF readers are a fair dinkum clever bunch, and you have responded magnificently to my request to send in your best 'I am so old' one-liners. Peter Meadowfair, for example, claims to be so old that, 'I can remember when England could play cricket. And I can remember when the English cared whether England could play cricket.'"
- Peter FitzSimons; A Snapshot of Life in the Land of the Magpies; Sydney Morning Herald; Sep 27, 2003.

"A fair dinkum dictionary. Cobbers everywhere are saying send her down Hughie - but people outside of Australia have no idea what it means. A new book released by the National Museum of Australia today hopes to give overseas visitors an insight into the national lingo. Words such as cobber, and terms such as send her down Hughie and put the moz on are explained in the book."
- A Fair Dinkum Dictionary; AAP Report in The Age, Melbourne, Australia; Jan 24, 2003.

But man, proud man, / Drest in a little brief authority, / Most ignorant of what he's most assured, / His glassy essence, like an angry ape, / Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven / As make the angels weep.
- William Shakespeare, playwright and poet (1564-1616)

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