Bin chickens and maggies step into the spotlight

26 July 2023
Australia's nicknames for its weird and wonderful animals have become almost as iconic as the creatures themselves.   
 
Some are common - think bin chickens, maggies, chooks and mozzies. Others, like Noah's Arks (sharks) and brain-fever birds (pallid cuckoos) might leave most amateur Aussie wordsmiths scratching their heads.  
 
Many colloquial names for flora and fauna are in the dictionary already, but experts at The Australian National University (ANU) are hoping to collect more examples. 
 
The Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC) is looking for new contributions, with a focus on plants and animals. 
 
"They could be names you don't often hear other people use, or names you knew as a child," ANDC Senior Researcher Mark Gwynn said. 
 
"They could also be specific to a particular place, for instance the willy wagtail is often called the djitty djitty in Western Australia." 
 
Some are relatively simple, like gladdy for gladioli and wedgie for wedge-tailed eagles, while some are more colourful, like flying cane toad for the Indian myna bird and bushman's clock for the kookaburra. 
 
"Australians are well-known for their use of colloquialisms and slang, and this certainly extends into the natural environment," Mr Gwynn said. 
 
"From the terrifying saltwater crocodile undergoing the classic Aussie abbreviation with -y suffix to become saltie, to the tiny harmless woodlouse being called the slater or butchy boy, there's probably not too many creatures that have missed out on a nickname. 
 
"We would love to add more of these colloquialisms to our record of Australian English. People might be surprised that some of these types of informal naming are quite widespread and in some cases, quite old. As a kid I certainly knew a few names for different cicadas including the greengrocer and black prince which turn out to have a long history in Australian English." 
 
Each year the ANDC runs an appeal for contributions from the public for the Australian National Dictionary to build on the publication's collection of Australian words and their origins. 
 
"We look forward to seeing some new contributions, but we're also interested in finding out if some of the older colloquialisms are still out there," Mr Gwynn said. 
 
"Are people still calling blowflies dunny budgies, and when was the last time you heard someone say they were having underground mutton for dinner?" 
 

You can share your fauna and flora words via the ANDC Word Box feature or through the ANDC contact page.