Monday, 13 May 2013

Australia and Wombats

I'm toddling down to the Sydney Writer's Festival next week. For anybody who is around and about at that end of the world I'll be doing a talk with David Astle on Thursday (NOT WEDNESDAY AS I JUST ERRONEOUSLY WROTE) on Why People Should Read Dictionaries. Then on Saturday I'll be giving a talk called Around The World in 80 Etymologies. I should point out beforehand that the actual number of etymologies may vary and that your statutory rights are affected.

In the meantime, I thought you should have a video about Australian English vs British (based on cricket). And a poem about the wombat. In fact, there's an awful lot of beautiful wombat poetry and I might make it a theme of this week.

Wombat comes from the aboriginal Dharuk language, which was spoken in Sydney before Sydney existed. So it's appropriately local. The first reference to the word (1798) has several slightly different pronunciations and spellings.

Called by the natives, womat, wombat, or womback, according to the different dialects, or perhaps to the different rendering of the wood rangers who brought the information.

And if we hadn't picked the right one, this week's poems would be unwritten, and the world a sadder and less beautiful place. This by Ogden Nash (from whom I derive all my knowledge of the natural world):

The wombat lives across the seas,
Among the far Antipodes.
He may exist on nuts and berries,
Or then again, on missionaries;
His distant habitat precludes
Conclusive knowledge of his moods,
But I would not engage the wombat
In any form of mortal combat.


  1. First of all, I love that poem. I have never heard of it before. Secondly, please pop up to Brisbane. I'll take you out for a coffee and we can explore etymology. My friends think I'm nuts when I find word origin interesting. Thirdly, I love the intensity of "The Ashes." Hehe
    Nicki Noo

  2. I think you're going to have to do a whole Australian tour, Mark. In case that doesn't happen, I'm travelling up to Sydney from Melbourne just for the day for the 80 etymologies event.

  3. Great. I look forward to seeing you. Do come and say hello.

  4. Oh I see. The picture is a book and the Opera House in one. Have a great time in my beautiful country.

  5. I cant wait! Im forsaking the last week of semester at uni just to make the trip up to sydney-I particularly look forward to your talk on 'Why read dictionaries'. I recently received your books for my birthday (after specifically requesting them) and I have adored them-thank you for writing them, although I'm afraid I've dropped The Horologicon in the shower a few times.

    1. Were you reading the Horologion in the shower? I'm intrigued.

  6. I like the wombat poem too - of course I am a fan of poetry in general! I've never been to Australia but it does fascinate me somewhat.