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Review of  Diggerspeak

Reviewer: Clemens Fritz
Book Title: Diggerspeak
Book Author: Amanda A. Laugesen
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 17.1212

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AUTHOR: Laugesen, Amanda
TITLE: Diggerspeak
SUBTITLE: The Language of Australians at War
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2005

Clemens Fritz, Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin


'Diggerspeak' is a glossary of Australian military jargon covering a
span of almost a century. Care was taken to filter out genuine
Australian words and usages, leaving a comparatively small, but also
well-researched and carefully documented set of some 400 lexical
items. The glossary is ordered alphabetically and allows for easy


The book is one of a number of recent publications emerging from the
Australian National Dictionary Research Centre (ANDRC). Some of
these cover regional vocabulary, e.g. Brooks and Ritchie (1994,
Western Australia) and Robinson (2001, Queensland), others
historical periods, e.g. Laugesen (2002, Convict Words) and Moore
(2000, The Language of Nineteenth Century Australian Goldrushes).
The ANDRC at the Australian National University, Canberra, was
founded in order to conduct research into Australian English (AusE)
and to provide Oxford Australian dictionaries with lexicographical
expertise; both purposes have been expertly served as most of its
publications have shown.

There are a number of related works 'Diggerspeak' can and should be
evaluated against. For example, there are Arthur and Ramson (1990,
Digger Dialects), a recent edition of a glossary of military slang used
by Australians in World War I, and Moore (2003, A Lexicon of Cadet
Language) covering modern Australian military jargon.

Laugesen today does not work as a linguist, but as a historian at the
University of Southern Queensland. This is no drawback as can be
seen in her thoughtful choice of sources and in the meticulous editing
evident in this book.


Diggerspeak is divided into several sections, viz. 'Introduction', a guide
to 'The Entries', a 'Guide to Sources', i.e. a bibliography of the
sources used and some works for further reading, and an 'A to Z of

The 'Introduction' is a superb account of theoretical and practical
matters pertaining to the publication of a dictionary of Australian
military slang.

Laugesen rejects lexis that is in general use in the military of the
English-speaking world. Her rationale is that ''The dictionary thus
focuses primarily on 'Australian-only' words - that is, those words that
became part of Australian English and were uniquely Australian.
However, it also includes a selection of words shared with other
English-speaking nations for which there is extensive evidence of
Australian usage. These latter words have been included because
they help to reveal something about the Australian experience of war.''
(Laugesen 2005:vii)

She also makes clear that hers is not an exhaustive collection of slang
terms used by Australians during wartime. Only if a word could be
attested in several sources and could be shown to have been used
with some frequency, it qualified for inclusion. This decision leaves her
with a limited number of entries, but, on the other hand, it also
ensures that the items included are well-documented and can be
rightly called an important part of AusE.

Laugesen cautiously points out that some of the words she looks at
may have been around prior to the war when they were first
recognized. Rather than being 'created' by war and wartime
experiences, the use and applicability of these words was enhanced
by certain circumstances to the extent that they entered mainstream

After these theoretical discussions Laugesen starts by recounting the
major wars Australians have taken part in, from the Boer War (1899-
1902) to the Vietnam War (1957-75), thereby further delimiting her
field of study. She critically evaluates the contribution of all of these
conflicts to AusE. Since after the Vietnam War the army no longer
contained any conscripted members and was an entirely professional
one, she argues that it is at this point that ''diggerspeak'' ceases to be
a feature of AusE in general and becomes just one of the many
jargons used in that variety of English. Therefore she does not include
material from later wars, a justifiable point of view.

Contributions to the Australian lexicon from the Boer War were fairly
limited and often shared with their British brothers-in-arms. Food,
fighting and a colonial identity have added a few, rare words to AusE,
e.g. 'scoff', 'food'.

The case is much different for the next war. It is often argued that the
First World War was a major step in the development of an Australian
identity. It was here that 'digger' was first used as the common term for
the honest and brave Australian soldier. There was also a clear
recognition of the fact that Australians and the soldiers from other
countries spoke distinct varieties of English and that they also differed
culturally from each other.

Sheer numbers made the impact of the Great War on Australia
remarkable. More than ten per cent of the entire population of
Australia served in the army, an astonishing number.

Contact with other Englishes as well as contact with other languages
contributed to the formation of army slang, which was further
elaborated by the application of the distinctively Australian suffixes -o
and -ie. These started life around 1900 and for instance distinguished
the Australianism 'wakie', the last day of a soldier's duty, from the
Americanism 'wake-up' with the same meaning.

Some Arabic words were borrowed between 1914-18 and
rediscovered in 1939-45, e.g. 'faloosh', 'money'.

The Second World War was to some extent a different type of war
from the previous one. There were different experiences, theatres of
fighting, a new major enemy, the Japanese, and new types of warfare
and military technology. No more trench-digging was required in an
age ruled by tanks and powerful air forces. The experiences of
Prisoner of War camps also added new lexis, specifically within
Japanese camps.

The Korean War (1950-53) and the Malayan Emergency (1948-60)
saw some Australian contingents, but almost no development in AusE
military jargon.

The last conflict covered by Laugesen is the Vietnam War (1957-75).
Language had become less censored with fewer restraints exercised
by the army and the soldiers themselves. Although there were still
genuine Australian coinages, the public view of this war became
increasingly focused on America and Americanisms. The latter were
even used by Australian soldiers writing about their experiences and
the Australian media (Laugesen 2005:xvii).

'The Entries' all begin with a headword and a definition. This is
followed by the term's etymology, at least as far as possible. The
definitions and etymologies are extensive and add an ''encyclopedic
touch'' to the entries. This sets 'Diggerspeak' clearly apart from the
hundreds of glossaries that simply list military jargon.

After that the wars when this word was important are noted and
representative quotes from each of these are given.

Next follows a 'Guide to Sources'. Laugesen has not tried to provide
an exhaustive list of lexicons, glossaries and word lists. She has only
selected those sources that seemed reliable and made clear where
their terms, etymologies and definitions come from. The 31
publications she does provide are, however, not her only sources.
She also frequently quotes from many other sources, especially trench
newspapers and memoirs. These should have been listed in this
section, too, one of the few points of criticism that can be made
about 'Diggerspeak'.

A list of books for 'Further Reading' concludes this section.

The main body of the book is comprised by the 'A to Z' glossary,
covering 206 pages and approximately 400 entries. The first entry is
ABDUL, a nickname for a Turkish soldier, the last ZIFF, a beard.

Some entries are now discussed in greater detail.

DIGGER, ''an Australian soldier who serves in wartime, often used as
a form of address in both military and civilian contexts''.

Laugesen discusses the possibility that New Zealand soldiers were
called 'digger' first and that this epithet was extended to Australian
soldiers only later. But it seems unlikely that New Zealand 'gum-
diggers' could have committed such an act of linguistic imperialism,
especially when 'digger' was so well established in AusE since the
goldrushes of 1850s and already back then connoting qualities like
bravery and honesty. Laugesen should have pointed this out with
greater force and not present both as alternative explanations.

The Australian National Dictionary (AND), the leading historical
dictionary of AusE, does not comment on the etymology of the term,
but naturally has a much wider range of quotes to support its definition
which is congruent with the one in 'Diggerspeak'.

Laugesen's entry covers more than three pages and is thus much
more informative and useful than the entry of the same word in Arthur
and Ramson (1990) which spans only half a page.

FURPHY, ''a rumour or false report; an absurd story''.

The etymology given is based on the theory that rumours spread with
water carts manufactured by the firm J. Furphy and Sons, in WW I.
This is in line with the AND and Arthur and Ramson (1990).

HUN, ''a German serviceman, the German military forces collectively;
also the Germans as a people''.

This entry illustrates Laugesen's careful editing. From a number of
disputed etymologies, disputed especially in Germany, she chose the
right one and put it in the right historical context. Her entry contains
much useful historical information which is laudable since neither the
AND nor Arthur and Ramson (1990) list the term at all. Of course it
must be mentioned here that HUN is neither a genuine AusE word nor
that it has a special use in AusE that would distinguish it from other
Englishes. But it certainly belongs in a dictionary of 'Australians at
war'. On the other hand, this word shows how difficult it often is to
decide whether the inclusion of a word is justified or justifiable.

POSSIE, ''an individual soldier's place of shelter or firing position; a
position of advantage''.

The word is a real Australianism as the suffix clearly tells. In no other
variety of English such a word formation would sound natural. POSSIE
is also one the terms that made it into general AusE and which is still
used today. The AND has a quote from a Tasmanian newspaper
which wrote in 1984 ''locals say it could provide a good fishing possie''.


'Diggerspeak' can certainly be recommended for linguists and
historians interested in AusE and the language and culture of
Australians at war. The entries are of great quality and only
restrictions of space sometimes seem to cut short the in-depth
discussion of a term.

Since it restricts itself to a comparatively small number of lexemes, it
does not suffice as a stand-alone reference work on Australian military
slang. But the words covered are excellently discussed in comparison
to other publications in this field. It could have been an even better
book if Laugesen had listed all her sources which would have enabled
the researcher to dig in deeper in his/her special points of interest.

Finally, from a corpus-linguistic point of view, it would also have been
good to include frequencies telling the reader how peripheral or
central a certain term was in AusE army slang. But this is a point that
could be raised for most, if not all historical dictionaries.


Arthur, J. M. and William S. Ramson (1990) W.H. Downing's Digger
Dialects. Melbourne: Oxford UP.

Brooks, Maureen and Joan Ritchie (1994) Words from the West: A
Glossary of Western Australian Terms. Melbourne: Oxford UP.

Laugesen, Amanda (2002) Convict Words: Language in Early Colonial
Australia. Melbourne: Oxford UP.

Moore, Bruce (2000) Gold! Gold! Gold!: The Language of the
Nineteenth Century Gold Rushes. Melbourne: Oxford UP.

Moore, Burce (2003) A Lexicon of Cadet Language. Duntroon Slang
1983-85. Melbourne: Oxford UP.

Ramson, William S. (1988) The Australian National Dictionary: A
Dictionary of Australianisms on Historical Principles. Melbourne:
Oxford University Press.

Robinson, Julia (2001) Voices of Queensland: Words from the
Sunshine State.

After studies in Regensburg, Germany, and Galway, Ireland, Clemens
Fritz graduated with a master's degree in English and History in 1995.
For ten years now he has worked and published on early Australian
English. A particular focus is on Irish English and its survival in
Australia. In 1998 he started a two-year teacher training programme
and has been teaching English, history and drama in a German
secondary school since 2000.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0195551826
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 232
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