WIKIPEDIA defines ‘Australian slang’ as an “informal language used in Australia”, although simultaneously warning readers not to rely on their list of Australian idiosyncrasies as a definitive “guide on how to communicate” with Australians.
Many words making the list would be familiar both to Australians and international readers already; phrases such as “G’day” and “mate”, as well as our unusual habit of shortening words and adding “O” to the end — servo, arvo, bottle-o for example.
However, one relatively new word not yet picked up in internet explanations of curious Australianisms is the word “ranga”, used colloquially to describe a person with red hair.
This may soon be set to change with Oxford Australia Dictionary announcing their newest editions will be including for the first time the following definition.
“Ranga: (noun): A person with red hair.”
The move was precipitated by the word been featured by the Australian National Dictionary Centre as its Word of the Month. The Centre provides editorial expertise to the publisher of the Australian Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press Australia.
Examining the history of the word and its role in current Australian society the Centre noted that red-haired people in Australia have long attracted attention and nicknames from their non red-headed brethren, including bluey, ginger, bloodnut, fantapants and Annie.
“They are also popularly stereotyped as emotional, volatile, and quick to anger … it seems that red-haired people are unfairly labeled as a result of their hair colour.”
The word originated from an abbreviation of organ-utan, primates native to the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia known for their reddish-brown hair.
The Centre identifies evidence of the term as applying to red-haired people in Australian newspapers in the early 2000s, and it generally entered popular lexicon as a schoolyard insult during this time.
However it first received wide exposure in 2007 when it was used in the first episode of Chris Lilley’s popular TV satirical mockumentary Summer Heights High.
“Doug: How is it OK for you to bully Ben?
Jonah: ’Cause he’s a ranga.
Doug: A what?
Jonah: A ranga sir. ’Cause he’s got red hair. Orangutan, that’s what we call him.
Doug: And does that make it OK for him to be bullied, because he has red hair?
Jonah: Well, people are racist to FOBs…
Leon: To us.
Jonah: So, so we can be racist to rangas.
Doug: But red-heads aren’t a race, Jonah.
Leon: But sir, there’s heaps of them. They’re everywhere.”
The word is often seen in Australia “by many as a term of abuse associated with bullying and other forms of discrimination”.
There has however been a recent shift to a more positive use of the term, following Julia Gillard’s public support for red-haired people in 2010. Ms Gillard told radio host Steve Vizard that she was “happy to be a ranga icon”, after Steve mentioned his red-haired daughter’s support for Ms Gillard.
Perhaps the inclusion of the word in the latest editions of Australian dictionaries will continue this trend.
Read the full post by the Australian National Dictionary Centre here.
Read our guide to Australian slang.