Ain’t Nothing But A Hamdog

In a recent game around my dinner table, my wife was challenged to invent a product which would appeal to football fans. Her creation – a Furger – was deemed a great success which we all wanted to try.

The Furger was a football-shaped burger, with layers of different meat from the centre, fanning outwards to the traditional burger layer around the outside. It was a fantasy feast for fast-food junkies.

As we know, truth is normally stranger than fiction. Because while the Furger existed merely in our dreaks, the Hamdog is only too real. The brainchild of Australian Mark Murray, the Hamdog is a combined burger and hot dog, with the burger split to allow the hot dog to run through the middle of it, while it is all encased in a specially shaped bun to hold the meat and traditional salads and sauces.

The Hamdog has been patented, and despite Mr Murray’s lack of success on Shark Tank, the Australian equivalent of Dragons’ Den, he has now started selling them in Australia to both national and international attention.

From a linguistic point of view, it is not a surprise that Hamdog was eventually chosen as the appropriate term – I don’t think that Dogburger would have fared quite so well. And while I am no gastronomy expert and therefore cannot predict whether the Hamdog is short-term sensation or long-term fast-food fixture, it would be great if it heralded a new era of combined foodstuffs with names we can all enjoy. Jerk Tikka Masala, Bangers and Squeak, Lemon Meringue Alaska – the possibilities are endless.

My only hope though would be that people don’t try to combine sweet and savoury. For me, it never works. And I don’t want to imagine how a combination of Toad in the Hole and Spotted Dick might come out.

Shirtfronting Front and Centre

I have spent many happy months in Australia. My wife is Australian. I got married there. So it’s always good to see a good old Aussie term taking centre stage in the English language.

Australian rules football has always been a game of joyous thuggery, where men in tight shorts run incomprehensibly round a large field and knock each other over in the name of sport. And it has spawned the term to shirtfront, meaning to aggressively knock someone to the ground, usually by ramming them hard in the chest with your arm. Other definitions are available, but the end result is broadly the same. Opponent, in pain, lying on the ground.

But now the definition of shirtfront has widened after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatened to shirtfront Rusisian President Vladimir Putin at an upcoming diplomatic event. Mr Abbott was rekindling a wider usage that had flourished briefly in the 1980s, but his quote led the Macquarie Dictionary, the authority on Australian English, to update its definition.

From January, the online edition will include definition “to confront (someone) aggressively with a complaint or grievance”. Dictionary editor Susan Butler said his statement had made dictionary editors realise “there was this older usage around, and we had not covered it, so now we’re catching up.”

This isn’t the first time that Toby Abbott has been at the centre of a change in the Macquarie Dictionary. Back in 2012, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard accused him of being a misogynist, a controversy which saw the word’s definition expanded to include prejudice against women, as well as downright hatred.

If Mr Abbott felt at all aggrieved by that decision be is probably feeling more buoyant about his latest contribution to his language’s heritage. I doubt he will feel the need to shirtfront a lexicographer any time soon.

The Rise of the Mega-Fire

The bushfires raging in Australia have ravaged large parts of New South Wales. They also serve to highlight that sometimes a theoretical new word can become real in devastating ways.

The term Mega-Fire appears to have been coined two years ago, and though some fires began to be described in this way immediately, it was more of a theory than anything else. A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization used the term, and said that the definition is more to do with the impact on people and the environment than their specific size.

But in many ways, it was just a theory then. Robert Keane, a research ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, said: “Mega-fire is more of a concept than a construct. What I interpret it to mean is not only is it large, but it affects a lot of people.”

Now of course it is anything but theoretical, as fire continues to take hold in Australia and the term Mega-Fire is all over the headlines.

What I think is particularly interesting is that this is really a technical term and will continue to be used to describe a particular scale and type of fire. At first, it was easy to assume it was a shorthand coined by journalists to boost headlines. But it isn’t, and is something that has a specific meaning for those whose job it is to fight and contain such disasters.

If our climate is changing and fires are going to get worse, this year will not be the only time that mega-fires dominate the news.

Canberra Bashing Comes of Age

I must admit to never having heard the word Canberra Bashing. I am a little ashamed of this, given my Australian wife and reasonable lengths of time spent in the country as a result. But no matter.

Canberra Bashing has been added to the Australian National Dictionary. This publication catalogues words which are quintessentially Australian and say something about the history and culture of the country, and lexicographers feel that Canberra Bashing is a term which fits the bill.

The word has two meanings: one is the act of criticising the Australian federal government and its beaurocracy, giving it a more generic meaning of knocking authority; the other is the more parochial act of criticising the city of Canberra and its inhabitants. I have been to the Australian capital once in my life and, as I recall, l was probably guilty of Canberra bashing on my return, albeit that I didn’t know there was a handy word which to describe it.

This is clearly an Australian word, with local resonance, so it is virtually certain that it will not become a part of vocabulary in the wider English-speaking word. However, it would be nice to think that bashing could start to take on suffix duties in the manner of a -gate or a -leaks. Imagine the bashing fun we could have by appending it to all manner of places and people who provoke our ire. It’s a whole new world of word formation which I am fully in favour of.

I also think that changes in Australian English really encapsulate the straight-talking nature of its people. A word localised to Canberra which has also just achieved official recognition by the Australian National Dictionary is the one used as a term for public servants. They are referred to as Pubes. It’s a great example of an apparently simple term which says so much about what people really think.

Say I Don’t To Sarriage

The subject of gay marriage is never far from the headlines, and the linguistic aspects of the debate also froth constantly near the surface.

Last year I looked at the discussions around the naming of the whole institution, and in particular the efforts of some to introduce a brand new word for it.

At the time I said that this completely missed the point at the heart of these issues, and that by giving this institution a different name it automatically became a different institution and therefore did not achieve the equality for which its adherents are fighting.

But despite this, some people still don’t get it. One such person is New Zealander Russell Morrison, whose contribution to a lively discussion among his country’s MPs was to suggest legislation for a brand new word – Sarriage.

He said: “Then a person can be asked whether he or she is married or sarried, and the response will make the situation clear for everybody.”

No Mr Morrison. What it will make clear to everybody is that parliament has failed in its role to give equality to people and has instead continued to sideline them by creating a brand new word. Or as Australian Marriage Equality’s national convener Rodney Croome eloquently put it: “What is the point of assigning same-sex couples a different word when ‘marriage’ describes exactly what many same-sex couples already have, a loving, committed, long-term relationship?

“The effect of alternate words like ‘sarriage’ would be to set same-sex partners apart, re-inforce discrimination against us and suggest our relationships are somehow less valuable and less serious than our heterosexual counterparts.”

Mr Croome is absolutely right. New words come in when there is a gap which needs filling. That is not the case here. But it will not stop the suggestions coming in.

A Sombre Way To End The Year

A sombre word of the year to end 2012. Lexicographers at the Australian National Dictionary Centre have recognised the growing trend in Afghanistan for soldiers to die at the hands of their supposed Afghan colleagues. ‘Green-on–blue’ deaths have shot up in the last 12 months, affecting Australians in particular, and so ‘green-on-blue’ is the Australian word of the year.

The move typifies the downbeat nature of many of this year’s choices, from Omnishambles to Bluster, reflecting a sense that the last 12 months have been a difficult affair. And while that has been true, it has not been wholly the case. The Olympics-engendered feelgood summer in England was anything but depressing, and even though all of us who lived it knew it was an oasis away from the daily storm, it was no less enjoyable for all of that and no less a part of the year that has been.

Only the Van Dale dictionary in the Netherlands seems have come up with something more positive, with its Dutch word of the year unveiled as Project X-feest, a party organised via social media which ends up in a riot. Positive with a hint of negative, really.

The complexity of the year, together with the sense that one negative word doesn’t do it justice, was the reason for Wordability’s decision to go with five words of the year, each summing up a particular aspect of 2012. And if you want to rediscover those words in print as well as on your kindle, you now can,  as Eastwooding with the Mother Flame: The Words of 2012 is now available as a paperback in addition to the electronic version.

So as the year draws to a close, what can we expect in 2013. Well, assuming the Mayans were wrong, we can reasonably expect more depression, more hardship and more new words which reflect the dispirited mood which pervades the globe.

But I hope we see more than that, and we see linguistic creativity continue to flourish in a positive way, giving us new words which not only make us smile but also sum up things which have occurred which have made people’s lives a little richer.