Lovers of language rejoice

Macquarie Dictionary editor and regular commentator on Australian English, Susan Butler, will talk in Katoomba next Monday about Australia's national dictionary. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Macquarie Dictionary editor and regular commentator on Australian English, Susan Butler, will talk in Katoomba next Monday about Australia's national dictionary. Photo: Anthony Johnson

In the world of words, she's a bigwig.

That's a colloquial noun for a very important person, not that you need to explain that to Susan Butler, who took on the very British Oxford Dictionary more than 40 years ago and won.

She's been working on the Macquarie Dictionary (a project originally commissioned by Macquarie University's Linguistics head, Arthur Delbridge) since 1970, starting as a research assistant, before later becoming editor and then publisher.

Next Monday, the university graduate of ancient Greek, Latin and linguistics, will bring that lively exploration of language to the Mountains. Ms Butler, 64, says it took 10 years to get the dictionary to the presses with that first edition publisher famously saying to her, after a tough day persuading people it would work, that "this dictionary better be as bloody good as you say it is".

"It was very difficult for people to get hold of the concept ... it was the whole variety of how we speak, our formal and informal words, everything - up to that point everyone assumed we spoke British English with a bit of colourful slang thrown in."

Words she's picked up on buses and trains, at dinner parties, heard on TV or radio, seen in papers and written down in a notepad she constantly carries, have all ended up in the Australian dictionary.

Those words, like onesie (a bodysuit originally for children but now not uncommon amongst adults), or muffin top (the fold of fat hanging over tight, low jeans), all made their way into the dictionary's pages after rigorous follow-up research of where and how much it was used. Muffin top now even appears on front pages of American papers, thanks to TV's Kath and Kim, she said and "spag bol" was another popular word in the dictionary ("not the dish the Italians would recognise") whereas bromance nearly didn't make it ("but it's had enormous staying power"). The most popular one worldwide has been "selfie", which made the online edition a few years ago.

"As long as we can find the word is being used in some sections of the community... we can say that word has currency."

The ever evolving dictionary is now in its sixth print edition but the words are also annually updated online from a regular supply of modern suggestions from those online users.

A child of journalist parents, Susan Butler will talk to the crowd at The Clarendon Guesthouse next Monday August 4 on dictionaries as cultural documents.

"In digital form they ... can truly aim to be as complete a record of the language of the community they represent as possible," she said.

She will also launch her new book, The Aitch Factor, "a collection of little essays about Australian English" available in stores next week.

The free event, from 5.30pm to 7pm, has been organised by the Creative Industries Cluster, part of the Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise and CEO Jacqueline Brinkman said it was a coup for the Mountains to have the founding Macquarie Dictionary editor visit.

"More than 30 years ago, Australian publishing history was made with the birth of The Macquarie Dictionary. Australians finally had a dictionary they could call their own."

She added the creative cluster was the third greatest contributor to gross regional product and "events such as these are one part of a whole range of exciting initiatives taking place across a number of creative industry sectors".

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop