Aussie Life

Aussie Language

27 November 2021

9:00 AM

27 November 2021

9:00 AM

The hot political word of the moment has to be faction. In Victoria the anti-corruption body, IBAC, is currently investigating the actions of the right-wing faction in the Victorian Labor party (and it may, in due course, also get around to look at its rival—the socialist left faction). And when Dominic Perrottet became the premier of New South Wales there was moaning at the bar that he came from the ‘wrong’ faction—namely the right wing of the Liberal party, rather than the left-wing faction (who laughably call themselves the Moderates).

Hence this word ‘faction’ is being bandied around. The word came into English from Middle French around the 15th century—so it’s a very old word. And behind the French word is a Latin source that meant (roughly) ‘a class of persons either professional or social who came together in the making or doing of something’. It seems that originally each of the companies or organisations of contractors for chariot races and (later) other public entertainments, identified themselves with a particular colour—and these companies or contractors were called ‘factions’. That’s where it started—with blood in the sand events. Today the word means: ‘An organised dissenting group within a larger one, especially in politics or religion; (more generally) a group of people united in maintaining a cause, policy, or opinion in opposition to others; a party, a side’. In other words—it’s still gladiatorial, and still a battle to death, just as it was in the days of the combat in the arena in ancient Rome.

A list of some 800 new words has just been included in the Oxford English Dictionary. Among them is ‘anti-vaxxer’ (already in the Merriam-Webster but still waiting in the wings for entry into the Macquarie and the Collins). Hardly surprising. What is surprising that this expression (with a different spelling) has been around for many years. It appears to have coined as ‘anti-vacks’ by none other Edward Jenner—the inventor of vaccination (in his case using cowpox to vaccinate against smallpox). And the year the term was coined? 1812! As Ecclesiastes says, ‘There is nothing new under the sun’.

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