The ‘Hard Yakka’ of Defining Australian English’s Many Quirks

CANBERRA, Australia — Amanda Laugesen scrolled through the spreadsheet of 7,000 words and idioms being considered for the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary, but no matter how hard she looked, she just couldn’t find the phrase.

“Few bricks short of a pallet” was there. So was “face like a bucket of smashed crabs.”

But where was “face like a half-sucked mango?”

Spinning quickly from the screen, she got up and walked down the hall to ask Mark Gwynn. They’d been working together at the Australian National Dictionary Center in Canberra for more than a decade, and they had both seen phrases go missing in drafts of what a colleague had called their “herbarium of words.”

Mr. Gwynn, a former poetry student, was also stumped by the disappearance. “Well, we know we’ve got ‘face like a twisted sand shoe,’” he said, recalling similar entries in their database. “It’s not under ‘mango’ or ‘sucked’?”

Dr. Laugesen shook her head. The author of a book about Australia’s penchant for off-color language, with a Ph.D in American history, she looked almost as

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