Aussie lingo: Bung

By Frank Povah 7 November 2013
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Frank Povah on the origins of borrowed words.

AUSTRALIA IS A DILLYBAG of treasures, and not least among them are the hundreds of indigenous languages and dialects. Some, sadly, have vanished – but some thrive and others tenaciously hang on.

Unrelated to any known languages, the Aboriginal language group came to Australia with the first settlers, arguably as long as 50,000 years ago. James Cook made the first known reference to an Australian word, “kangaroo”, in 1770 and following permanent European settlement in 1788 it wasn’t long before Dharuk words began entering the vocabulary of the soldiers and convicts in NSW.

With colonial expansion, words from many other Aboriginal groups were adopted, and today about 400 of them sweeten the icing on Australia’s linguistic cake.

Some of these ‘borrowings’ were absorbed worldwide, but poozle around a bit and you’ll find some real surprises. Ever had a bung eye? “Bung” was how the Europeans around what is now Brisbane heard the Yagara word for “dead” and by 1841 it had come to mean diseased or dysfunctional.

 Source: Australian Geographic Issue 99 (Jul – Sep 2010)