Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Dingo and the Macquarie Dictionary

In 1987 a lady wrote to the publishers of the Macquarie Dictionary suggesting the definitions of "dingo" which relate the word to a cowardly or contemptible person be deleted. The writer explained that these definitions had been deleted from The Handy Macquarie Dictionary because it contains a number of entries and the information in them had to be restricted due to lack of space, not as an editorial decision.

The representative of the Editorial Committee pointed out the purpose of the dictionary is to offer an account of Australian English; quoting Professor Delbridge “Words have been included on the evidence of their being current, or of having been current in Australia at any time." She added:

“There are many words in the dictionary to which people could and do object, but they are words which are used and will be used regardless of whether or not we include them.

“In the case of "dingo", deleting this sense of the word from the dictionary is not going to stop people using it this way. On the other hand, by including it, we feel we are not condoning its use, but rather simply recording it as part of our language. Even to add a label of "formerly" to it, would be a "false representation" of the word because its use is quite widespread and recent.

“Unfortunately as dictionary writers, we can only describe or reflect the language as it is used, not prescribe how it should be used.”
I would have liked to be able to check what the actual definition was at the time but had to settle for the definition of dingo according to the online Macquarie Dictionary:

noun (plural dingoes or dingos)
1.  a wild dog, Canis lupus dingo, usually tawny-yellow in colour, with erect ears, a bushy tail and distinctive gait, and with a call resembling a howl or yelp rather than a bark, found throughout mainland Australia, New Guinea and South-East Asia; brought to Australia about 4000 years ago probably by Indonesian seafarers; pure populations endangered by hybridisation with feral domestic dog; native dog.

a.  a contemptible person; coward.
b.  someone who shirks responsibility or evades difficult situations.

verb (dingoed, dingoing)
verb (i) 3.  to act in a cowardly manner.
verb (t) 4.  to shirk, evade, or avoid; to spoil or ruin.
phrase 5.  dingo on someone, to betray someone. [Phrase Origin: from the view held of the dingo by early pastoralists in Australia who despised it as a predator of sheep and other domestic animals and regarded it as both treacherous and cowardly]

So the derogatory terms are still there. What do you think?

Blogger’s Note: Incidentally I have sent them a note about changing the species name from Canis Lupis Dingo to Canis Dingo – I will post the reply in the comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment