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New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

barbecue stopper also barbeque stopper noun [C] Australian
/bbkju stp/
an issue of major importance which is a frequent topic of conversation, especially a controversial political or social issue

'A new research project examining how family care and housework are shared between the sexes promises to be a barbecue stopper, says Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward.'
(New South Wales Independent Education Union, 23rd February 2005)

'The issue of children's obesity has been one of the barbecue-stoppers of the last political year, with some people saying our kids need to do more sport, and others saying they need less fast food and sugary drinks.'
(ABC Online, 6th September 2004)

In July 2002, Australian prime minister John Howard used the expression barbecue stopper in a discussion about the difficulties many people have in balancing work pressures against family responsibilities:
'And nothing is more important than the debate that goes on in the community, I call it a barbecue stopper, about the balance between work and family. I find that if you really want to get a conversation going, particularly amongst younger people, you'll start talking about the competing challenges of work and family.'
(Aston Electorate Dinner, Melbourne, 16th July 2002)

The prime minister was suggesting that this issue was so important to people that bringing it into a conversation could temporarily suspend the fun of a barbecue. The phrase quickly caught on, not just in discussions on work-life balance, but as a general reference to any issue of particular importance in twenty-first century society, especially something which could potentially be socially or politically divisive. As use of the expression became more established, a secondary sense also developed. Barbecue stopper has subsequently been used as a euphemism for a social gaffe (an embarrassing mistake made in public), in other words, something that could temporarily suspend a conversation or cause awkwardness in a social situation.

Like all aspects of language, neologisms are in part influenced by cultural norms. Those of us who regularly endure the disappointing weather during a British summer would find it more difficult to relate to the concept of a barbecue stopper – British barbecues are more likely to be stopped by a downpour of rain than a conversational indiscretion! The barbecue is of course the stereotypical pastime of the Australian family, and so it's no surprise that citations for barbecue stopper are confined almost exclusively to Australian and New Zealand sources. This is a neologism in Australian English, constrained to this variety and following the cultural model of informal expressions such as three bangers short of a barbie (meaning 'not very intelligent', the Australian equivalent of the British English expression a few sandwiches short of a picnic).

As in British and American English, Australian neologisms often emerge from popular media, especially television and film. One recent example is the term seachanger. This noun refers to a person who makes a significant change in lifestyle by moving to the seaside or country. The term originates from the Australian drama series SeaChange, featuring a lawyer who leaves the pressures of the city to start a new life as a magistrate in the sleepy seaside town of Pearl Bay. The popularity of the series engendered seachanger in general use as a description of someone who feels the need to make a drastic change in their lifestyle for emotional or health reasons. Such an act is often also described as a seachange, a radical transformation in lifestyle, and was highlighted as one of the buzzwords of Australian English in 2004, featuring in academic studies and government reports.

The development of Australian English during the past two or three decades has been significantly influenced by the breadth and diversity of its ethnic communities. Words and concepts from indigenous cultures have enriched the Australian lexicon. Another influence has been the distinction between formal and informal vocabulary, which is less rigid than in American or British English and therefore potentially allows a wider range of colloquial language into more general use.

The Australian lexicon is continually being expanded by shortened forms of established words. Typical suffixes are -o, e.g.: evo (evening), sambo (sandwich) and -ie, e.g.: wallie (wallet), firie (fire-fighter). The word schoolie refers to a secondary school-leaver who is holidaying after finishing final exams. In 2002, the word toolie was coined as a play on schoolie and the word tool, Australian slang for 'an idiot' or 'the penis'. A toolie is a young male who is older than a schoolie, but attends school-leaver celebrations in pursuit of the opposite sex.

Another common mechanism for coining new expressions is the use of rhyming slang, which occurs much more widely in Australian English than British use of the Cockney rhyming slang on which it is based. Examples in current use include: cheese and kisses, meaning 'wife', from the rhyming slang for 'missus', bag of fruit, meaning 'suit', frog and toad, meaning 'road', and Oxford scholar meaning 'dollar'. Like other neologisms, new coinages in rhyming are often inextricably linked to Australian culture, such as Barry, meaning 'a bad mistake or performance' based on the Australian performer Barry Crocker, the rhyming slang for shocker.

As in all varieties of English, the majority of Australian neologisms derive from popular culture. The preoccupations of society at any particular time are a major influence in the formation of new words and expressions. Other recent additions to the Australian lexicon include:

budgie smugglers noun an informal term for men's tight-fitting swimming briefs, on the model of those manufactured by the company Speedo. This is an Australian variant of the American expression grape smugglers, born out of a comparison with the loose fitting swimming shorts which have been a more fashionable alternative in recent years.

ute muster noun a gathering of utility vehicles for display and competition, typically occurring in country towns and villages. Ute is an abbreviated form of the word utility, and muster is the noun derived from the transitive verb muster meaning 'to gather a group of people or things together for a particular purpose'.

double pluggers noun also referred to as double-plugger thongs. Thongs is the Australian term for loose, 'flip-flop' style sandals made of rubber or leather. Double-plugger thongs have an extra plug on either side where the thong (strap) attaches to the sole.

chop chop noun illegal tobacco traded on the black market. The term most likely originates from use of the expression chop chop in Australia to refer to chopped up fodder and sugar cane fibre used for feeding animal stock.

tag dag noun a person who unwittingly displays the manufacturer's tag on the item of clothing that they are wearing. Dag is a colloquial Australian word for an untidy, unfashionable person.

brick venereal noun a derogatory term for a suburban, brick-veneer house, or a housing development in which most of the properties are of a similar, brick-veneer design. The expression is also used adjectivally as in, e.g.: a nondescript brick-venereal residence. It originates with Australian born novelist Kathy Lette, who in 1988 wrote the words:
'Most of this suburb suffers from brick venereal disease – blonde, brick double-garaged houses with pedicured lawns.'


For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.