Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms

This section contains a selection of Australian words, their meanings, and their etymologies.

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To subject (a person) to a torrent of words; to talk at great length to; to harangue. While not a physical beating of the ears, most people can sympathise with a person who has sustained a long taking to (an ear-bashing) by a boring or obnoxious windbag (an earbasher). The verb is first recorded from the 1940s, and possibly comes from Australian military slang of the Second World War period.

1943 Argus (Melbourne) 27 November: I’ve been 'bashed' as the DI’s (drill instructors) call it, on the parade ground, 'ear bashed' by ADI (aerodrome defence instructors) lectures, and have sweated ... and sometimes trembled ... over the fearsome obstacles on the Bivouac Assault Course.

2013 M. Lucashenko Mullumbimby: This valley’s full of people that want to earbash ya.

economic rationalism

A government’s free-market approach to economic management. This approach is typically reflected in the adoption of privatisation, deregulation, ‘user pays’, and low public spending. Most Australians are surprised to discover that this is an Australian term. The corresponding term in Britain is Thatcherism, and in the United States Reaganomics. First recorded from the 1970s.

1979 Patience & Head From Whitlam to Fraser: The second strand of Labor thinking on agricultural policy can be described as economic rationalism. The ALP contains many influential spokesmen who advocate disengagement of governments from existing agricultural assistance measures .. and the encouragement of a pattern of agricultural production that is more in tune with market opportunities.

2014 Age (Melbourne) 14 November: The ideals of higher education are being compromised by economic rationalism.

emu bob

The act or process of picking up litter; a group of people doing this; the act or process of searching an area of ground for something. This term developed out of an earlier verbal form (recorded in the 1920s), emu-bob, meaning 'to pick up pieces of timber, roots, etc., after clearing or burning'. By the 1940s the verb had developed a more specific sense: 'to pick up litter'. By the 1970s the verbal form had developed into the noun. The term is used with allusion to an emu bending its neck toward the ground in search of food.

1978 Canberra Times 13 October: What a vision splendid is Mr Sim's - a nation-wide 'emu bob' of dole-bludgers, singing no doubt as they retrieve the excreta of civilisation.

2008 Northern Territory News (Darwin) 10 November: Maybe the Government could give the prisoners something useful to do and do emu bobs.


A portable insulated container in which food and drink are kept cool. A common sight at barbecues, beaches, parks, and camping grounds in the summer months. Esky is from a proprietary name of a portable insulated container, earlier an ice chest, and also earlier called Eskimo. First recorded from the 1950s.

1952 Sydney Morning Herald 2 December: Take your 'refrigerator' to the picnic or tour. The Esky Auto Box keeps drinks and food cold and fresh wherever you go. Will fit in the boot of any car.

2001 T. Winton Dirt Music: They have a folding table and esky out here on the sand beside the fire.



Updated:  19 October 2017/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications