Accessibility links

Breaking News

Researchers Focus on Australian Rhyming Slang

A screenshot of the Australian National Dictionary Centre's main website. (Courtesy photo, ANDC)
A screenshot of the Australian National Dictionary Centre's main website. (Courtesy photo, ANDC)

Linguists are to focus on rhyming slang in new research for the Australian National Dictionary. They want to add to an existing and impressive lexicon of Aussie slang.

Barry Crocker is an Australian singer and actor. In the world of rhyming slang, his name is synonymous with having a bad time.

Every year, the Australian National Dictionary Centre looks for new contributions for the Australian National Dictionary. This year’s focus is on rhyming slang for future editions of the dictionary and its database.

Mark Gwynn, an editor at the center, talked about rhyming slang with VOA.

"I’ve got plenty of favorites. I’ve always loved Noah - Noah’s Ark, shark. That’s a good example of the Australian one," Gwynn said. "If someone mentioned Noah, you’d be worried. But one of my favorites are Barry Crocker - shocker.”

Gwynn believes that this type of slang probably emerged in east London in the middle of the 1800s. It found its way from Britain to colonial Australia very soon afterward, where it has developed a distinctive style of its own, although it does have its critics.

"People have made the comment that it is a very masculine thing. People have also made the comment that it’s a very Anglo-Celtic thing," Gwynn said. "So, we’d be interested to know if other communities in other ethnic groups in Australia have picked it up. This is the kind of information we’re interested in, but, like I said, I think its heyday has gone. There are various other forms of slang these days.”

Poetic colloquialisms in Australia are refusing to go away quietly, though. Gwynn says that even the pandemic has yielded more rhyming slang.

"We’ve had 'My Sharona' for corona, for the coronavirus from that 1970s song and I know we’ve also heard, and I think our friends in the U.K. also share, 'Miley Cyrus' for virus," Gwynn said. "So, clearly rhyming is still an aspect of slang that is going on here and elsewhere.”

Australians might not be familiar with less familiar slang terms such as ‘Merv Hughes’ - shoes - or a ‘Dad ‘n Dave,’ shave, but many might know about doing ‘the Harold Holt.’ It means to bolt or leave without explanation. It refers to a former Australian Prime Minister - Harold Holt - who disappeared while swimming at a beach in the state of Victoria in 1967.

Researchers hope that public submissions will help them identify the extent to which rhyming slang is still used in Australia and add new terms to its database.

Any new additions could be included in the Australian National Dictionary to build on the publication’s collection of Australian words and their origins.