We use them all the time during election campaigns, but these words and phrases have meanings that many of us are unaware of.

If you’re one of those people who likes to follow election campaigns, there are some words and expressions that you already know quite well.

Campaigns tend to have themes – this year the Labor Party strongly accused Scott Morrison of “disappearing” on key issues, and the Liberal Party jumped on when Anthony Albanese forgot what the unemployment rate was.

But littered among these recurring motifs are other ideas and words that make up the mosaic of this six-week carnival of candidates.

Experts know their meaning, but many of us can use them without understanding the history of the phrases.

A good thing becomes bad

As the campaign progresses, certain words and ideas are likely to come back as candidates vie for the top job.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore, James Carmody)

In recent years, “hog barrel” charges have thrown the Morrison government into hot water.

It’s a fun phrase that now refers to when a political party finds ways to ensure funding goes to voters held by its own candidates.

But according to researcher Mark Gwynn of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, it originally represented something positive.

“It was literally a barrel where the salt and pork was kept,” Mr Gwynn said.

“It’s become a place, a resource, a feeling of, you know, ‘this is my wealth, this is where I get my food’.

“And in the 19th century, that slowly was used not just as a positive thing, but as a negative thing – that was where you could use the funds… to continue using it in the electorate or to make you elected, basically to get you re-elected.

“I guess it was seen as a positive for the people you provide money to, but in the case of national funds, a lot of people missed out.”

Some words come and go, some stay

A bald gray-haired man sits at a desk
Former Prime Minister John Howard had his own favorite terms and idioms during the election campaign.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

Another linguistic trope is the use of the “ad test”, which Mr Gwynn said was often deployed during campaigns to signify when an idea or statement didn’t sound right to the average person.

Although there is evidence of its use in the UK, he said it was used more frequently in Australia, where the concept of an honest, “fair-dinkum” candidate carried a bit more weight.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows for volume.
Audio playback.  Duration: 7 minutes 48 seconds

Where do the bizarre and goofy phrases of the election come from?
To download 3.6 MB

“John Howard used it a lot in the 1990s,” he said.

Other words have had a more lasting impact and are now commonplace in the political world.

The use of the word candidate, to refer to candidates for re-election, dates back to the earliest days of democracy itself, when it was used by the ancient Greeks.

According to Kate Burridge and Howard Manns of Monash University, “candidate” is a cognate of the word “frank”, and has its origin in the Latin word candidus, meaning “pure white, shimmering”, in reference to the white togas worn by those seeking to sit in parliament.

It was meant to represent the apparent purity of those seeking employment, who would work unsullied by prejudice.

Time will tell if new words will remain

A composite image made up of three separate images of three women in business attire.
The term “teal independents” has emerged in recent years to refer to candidates such as Zali Steggal, Kylea Tink and Allegra Spender.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty, Supplied, ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Linguists may be language experts, but even they cannot predict what will become common language and what will not.

One that we can proudly claim to be Australian is the ‘democracy sausage’, which first emerged about 10 years ago when polling stations started adding a sizzle of sausages for the benefit of voters.

And it stuck.

Years later, it’s still a staple of the Election Day process, and even vegetarian and vegan options are on the menu these days.

Then there’s what’s called a “donkey ballot” – where a voter selects their preferred candidates in the order they appear on the ballot. Mr Gwynn said this was most likely linked to the fact that donkeys had long been considered stupid animals.

Kevin Rudd sits at a desk with a microphone in front of him
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was known for using the phrase ‘just shake the bottle of sauce’.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Mr. Gwynn said the linguistic landscape of the last election season was constantly changing. One of the most recent phrases to appear has been “teal independents”, to describe a number of candidates who have appeared on ballots, posing a threat to seats long held by Liberal MPs.

“So it’s been used for these particular independents in some of these seats, and they’re mostly women, and they’re running for climate change policy among other things against some of the incumbent Liberal MPs, so it’s is interesting to keep an eye on,” he said.

Mr Gwynn said we could expect to hear more terms such as ‘rorts’ and ‘fair go’ as the campaign progresses.

“Both sides of politics like to pretend the other side is using rorts – it’s an Australian term for a fraudulent act and it dates back to the 1940s,” he said.

And whether anyone will pull out “fair shake of the sauce bottle” this time around – perhaps in an affectionate nod to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – remains to be seen.

Loading the form…

Comments are closed.