In the December 2012 issue of English Today, Philip Durkin argues that lexis is currently a ‘Cinderella’ subject: he suggests that the methodological problems generated by the study of lexis have led to it being marginalised in contemporary linguistic research (2012: 3). Nevertheless, Durkin notes that ‘lexis (or vocabulary) is probably the area of linguistics that is most accessible and most salient for a non-specialist audience’ (2012: 3). Thus, one cannot overestimate the importance of lexical research with regards to engaging a wider audience in linguistic discourses.
Prior to the advent of the internet, however, researching etymology was a laborious process for English language enthusiasts, especially when the lexical items of interest were considered to be colloquialisms or slang. Indeed, ‘non-standard’ lexis, historically, has been marginalised and sometimes even excluded from dictionaries (Durkin, 2012: 6); however, the rise of the internet and social media has led to the increased visibility of ‘non-standard’ lexis, making information about language use more accessible to researchers outside of the local speech community (Browne & Uribe-Jongbloed, 2013: 23). Moreover, the internet has given language enthusiasts unprecedented access to a range of historical and contextual information which proves invaluable when considering etymology.
This article demonstrates how more conventional language resources such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) can be used alongside a variety of other online resources and fictional and nonfictional texts to identify the etymologies of contemporary English lexical items. Specifically, this essay explores the etymologies of three Australian colloquial nouns (bogan, cobber, and sandgroper) taken from travel website TripAdvisor's (2011) user-generated glossary of Australian English colloquialisms.