Monday, 13 May 2013
Australia and Wombats
Posted by M.H. Forsyth
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.