15 July 2022

Scallop or potato cake? ANU wants to know what you call your food for new Aussie dictionary

| James Coleman
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potato scallops

The scallops have it. Photo: Daniella Jukic – We Are Found.

It’s official: it’s scallop.

“Victoria calls it a potato cake, but NSW calls it potato scallop. We follow NSW.”

So says the general manager of food and beverage at the Canberra Southern Cross Club, Anurag Gautam, who also oversees the menus at both of the Snapper fish and chip shops. It’s not the only debated food term he comes across.

“When someone orders a well-done steak, we call it ‘cremated’,” he says.

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Then there is “honey puck” for a well-done hamburger, and “nuke it” which means to microwave something. It turns out even the number 86 carries meaning in hospitality circles.

“86 means sold out,” Anurag says.

“There are two branches of a restaurant here in Canberra that get its name from this number. It’s basically a term hospitality uses for sold out, and I have no idea why.”

The term is thought to have first emerged during the US prohibition era in the early 1930s. The Chumley’s bar in New York City would direct all of its patrons out the door onto 86 Bedford Street while police came in through the main entrance. But we’ll never know for sure.

Anurag Gautam

Canberra Southern Cross Club general manager of food and beverage Anurag Gautam. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

There are more.

Do you add chicken salt to your parmy and schnitty? Do you go for a HSP (halal snack pack) or servo food after a night out? Perhaps you prefer bum nuts to smashed avo on toast.

The list goes on, and word boffins from the Australian National University (ANU) want to hear them all so they can officially add them to the national lexicon. Based on the Acton campus, the Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC) is looking for contributions to a new edition of The Australian National Dictionary.

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Published by the Oxford University Press since 1998, the “dictionary of Australianisms” includes words and meanings that have originated in the homes, businesses, farms and probably toilets of our slang-loving country. The first edition included 10,000 headwords, compounds, idioms and derivatives, while the second edition rose to over 16,000.

This time, the focus is on the kitchen.

Vegemite, pavlovas, lamingtons and snags on the barbie are all a bit last century, and the ANU experts say there is a wide range of new and exciting food choices for the average Australian.

It seems more of us are settling down to souvas and potato gems in the evening and waking up to a Tim Tam slam and a flattie in the morning, for example.

The Australian National Dictionary.

The Australian National Dictionary. Photo: The Australian National Dictionary.

ANDC director and chief editor of the dictionary Dr Amanda Laugesen says that as culinary culture changes in Australia, so too does the language we use to describe food and the dining experience.

“There is a much wider range of food choices available now – multicultural dishes, street food, ingredients from native plants and animals,” she says.

“We also like our less formal ways of enjoying food, from sausage sizzles to food festivals.”

Dr Laugesen says all these changes are reflected in the language we use and expects there are many more terms not recorded yet.

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“We’ve collected some older words that should have gone into the dictionary before such as honey joy, tank loaf, bushman brownie and smiley fritz to name a few. We also welcome contributions that may not be new but you think should be recorded.”

Each year the ANDC runs an appeal for contributions from the public for The Australian National Dictionary to build on the publication’s collection of Aussie words and their origins.

“Contributions from the public are a very important way of alerting us to new words, or words that may’ve been overlooked in the past,” Dr Laugesen says.

“We look forward to seeing what we discover with this latest appeal.”

Maybe we’ll find out just how many heathens call it a potato cake.

You can share your food terms via the ANDC Word Box feature or through the ANDC contact page.

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Potato scallop for sure 🙂

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