Monday, November 28, 2022

Federal election language you need to know before polling day

Sky News Australia’s own resident wordsmith Kyle Richards uncovers the key words and phrases driving this year’s federal election campaign.

Each election has a set of specific words that are used—many of them campaign after campaign, others spend their day during an election cycle and then disappear.

Here are my top ten for the 2022 federal election (plus a bonus period at the end)…

pork barreling

It is a claim that a political party is channeling government money into a voter it wants to win. If you are in the marginalized seat held by the opposition, expect the promises of new roads, swimming pools and playgrounds to win you over.

Mind you, if you are in a marginal government seat you are expected to be rewarded with new roads, swimming pools, sports grounds, etc. to ensure that you stay on edge.

The image comes from 19th century America, and imagines a congressional candidate at a backwoods polling station offering handouts of salted pork from a barrel (paid for by government money) to anyone who voted for him .

But this picture started as a joke. It is first in a piece of fiction, a short story by Edward Everett Hale, published in 1863.

Then ten years later, in 1873, it was used in the critical way we are familiar with. Defiance (Ohio) Democrats In a report complaining about citizens looking for handouts from “public pork-barrels”.

While pork-barrels were good things in themselves (the storage of food for the hungry), the political use of the term pointed to some winning a share and others missing.


Closely related to “pork-barrel” is the very Australian notion of “rort”.

This is ours – a typical Australian slang. It was first recorded in 1926 in a bush ballad by “Dryblower” (nicknamed Edwin Greenslade Murphy), then by the great Sidney J. Baker in his dictionary of Australian slang in 1941, but it appears to be as early as 1950. was not widely caught until the decade of With its current meaning of “corrupt or fraudulent”.

In this election we are being told that one of the reasons for the establishment of the Federal Anti-Corruption Commission is to “prevent mistakes”. (Note, since both sides of politics indulge in a variety of loaves called “pork-barreled”, it’s hard to know how seriously to take that complaint.)

Teal Independent

One phrase that is new in this election is the description of the Climate 200 team as “teal independents”.

While they all claim to be independent in the sense of not representing one party or group, they all use the color “teal” (a greenish blue) in their advertising, all using the same slogan and climate policies. , all target Liberal Party seats, and all receive funding from the same Climate 200 group.

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This has inspired me to forge a new election term that I hope holds up…

trading as

When a clearly linked group of candidates appear to be acting in a coordinated manner similar to a regular political party – while at the same time denying being a party – we need a new way to describe them. is needed.

I suggest calling them the Climate 200 Party trading as “Independent.” Do you think my new election language may take hold? If it does, it will join other Australian contributions to the language of democracy, such as…

barbecue stopper

It was coined by John Howard in 2001. it is defined by Australian National Dictionary As a topic of great public interest, especially a political one (by the assumption that such a hot topic would stymie all other discussions around barbecue—and perhaps the previously friendly group of fierce debaters will split).

The interesting thing about this choice is the total absence of “barbecue stoppers.”

So far no political party has proposed an idea, or come up with an argument that would burn stakes on Barbie as the debate heats up. It seems both sides are covering the same ground with their familiar and cautious policy proposals—ideas that won’t raise an eyebrow at an afternoon tea party, let alone barbeque.

democracy sausage

Australia’s other great contribution to the political language of Western civilization is the “democracy sausage”. It refers to a barbecued sausage that is served on a piece of bread (with or without onions, and with or without sauce) and sold at polling stations on polling day – usually to raise money for charity. for.

This is the equivalent of votives of the famous sausage sold in Bunnings’ carpark on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Historian Judith Brett traces the expression back to the 1980s.

In 1989, then-Western Australian Prime Minister Peter Dowding had to deny that his Labor Party was offering to bribe voters. free Barbecue Sausage.

He, of course, strongly denied the allegation – he said, undermining democracy in Australia if the “democracy sausage” had been used as a bribe. (It would also suggest that Australian voters may be bribed very cheap!)

pub test

It appears to be another coin by John Howard, who used it frequently in the 1990s. Mark Gwynn of the Australian National Dictionary Center says there is some evidence of its use in the United Kingdom, but it is much more common in Australia.

It follows a group of ordinary Australians sipping their beer and debating whether or not the political policy makes sense. It has now been converted into a television format by Paul Murray – so it has become a permanent part of the electoral lexicon.

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Those seeking our votes are called “candidates” – a word that comes from Latin Candidate Which means “wearing white clothes.”

This is because while Hollywood movies always show the ancient Romans wearing a white toga, they actually wore several colors, and it was the candidates for election to the Roman Senate who wore the white toga.

Our familiar English word “candied” comes from the same source – I hope those who want our votes will come out with us clearly, openly and directly.


The paper on which we cast our vote is called the “ballot”. It came into English in the 1500s from a French word for a small ball – because of how votes were cast in those days: a container would be passed between those authorized to vote and different colored balls were placed in the container. will be slipped in. form of secret ballot.

In some private clubs, this type of voting was used when a new member was proposed, with a white ball indicating acceptance and a black ball indicating disapproval. In the clubs with the toughest rules a single black ball was enough to block a membership application (hence the notion of being a “black ball”).

donkey vote

It is the name given to a voter who takes no interest in the candidates or policies, but instead casts his ballot in numerical order from top to bottom. Casting such an ill-considered vote is casting an “ass vote”.

according to oxford english dictionary A fool or a fool has been called a “donkey” since at least 1840 (the earliest quote is from one of Thackeray’s stories). So whatever you do in this election – don’t vote like a donkey!

Bonus Period: Two Sides Preferred

This is the expression pollsters use to report their results, have they assumed a hypothetical distribution of preferences. (How do they do that? Are they just guessing?)

The problem with these kinds of words is that almost a third of Australian voters Not there Give preference to either of the two major parties. The attitude of these voters sounds like “smallpox in both your houses”.

But despite their contempt for large companies, the preference system means that their vote is taken away from whichever independent or smaller party they voted and (apparently against their will) given to a larger party. .

While not a linguistic point, it reflects the absurdity of preferential voting. Meanwhile, “two party favourites” is a phrase that deserves ridicule from disaffected voters.

Kel Richards is a veteran writer, journalist and broadcaster reporting on the Australian language for over 25 years.

To follow Kell’s daily comments on our language, visit his website at


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