Australian English

Jun 21, 2012

Bogan in the Oxford English Dictionary

Lauren Gawne writes: Every three months the Oxford English Dictionary announces a brace [Thanks to pedants Terry Reilly and Cyberfish - Ed.] a bevy of words that

Lauren Gawne

Lauren is a Postdoctoral Reserach Fellow, currently at NTU Singapore. She works on Tibeto-Burman languages, gesture and LOLcats, but generally not all at once. When not hanging out at Fully (Sic) she can be found at

Lauren Gawne writes:

Every three months the Oxford English Dictionary announces a brace [Thanks to pedants Terry Reilly and Cyberfish – Ed.] a bevy of words that have found a new and legitimising home in its venerable list. This quarter there were such excellent additions as bling, dance-off and Super PAC, as well as those that show what a technological world we live in, like cybercast, BitTorrent and paywall. But there is one word we can be especially proud of in this installment, because bogan has made the cut. It’s a word that has been in both the Australian National Dictionary and the Macquarie dictionary for some time but has only just made it into the hallowed pages of the OED.

The OED gives the following definition:

bogan, n. An unfashionable, uncouth, or unsophisticated person, esp. regarded as being of low social status.

This captures some of the sense of being a bogan – and let’s not deny that any Australian English native speakers has a very keen sense of who they think of as a bogan (if your bogan sensibilities aren’t that strong may I direct you to Things Bogans Like as a good overview). For me though, this misses out on the fact that many who are labeled bogans aren’t necessarily of low socio-economic status. As Fully (Sic) regular Piers Kelly pointed out back in 2008, conspicuous consumerism is a key part of much of the cashed up bogan-ness of Kath and Kimor the early days of the Bec Cartwright and Lleyton Hewitt marriage.The definition also doesn’t quite capture the fact that being a bogan is quite a relative thing, not to mention that there are a lot of people out there who are proud to identify as bogan (hello to my brother if he’s reading this).

The earliest citation that the OED give for bogan is from a 1985 edition of surfing magazine ‘Tracks’ – which is the earliest citation found by the Australian National Dictionary Project. The origin of bogan is still shrouded in mystery. There was an episode of Lingua Franca a few years ago where it was suggested that it may be an Indigenous Australian borrowing, and the Wikipedia page on bogans suggested a fairly spurious link to Scots Gaelic bòcan (a mythical mischief-making beast). The best guess of the OED is that it relates to the surname Bogan. The term not only had currency in Australia, where it appears to have started life, but also New Zealand.

It’s great to have a local word make it into the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s also an indication that it has become the general term in Australia and New Zealand for the most dinky-di representatives of what we like to think of as our uncultured culture. It has taken over bevan in Queensland, and to a large extent replaced the word feral in many a Victorian’s vocab. The Macquarie also lists a few other colourful synonyms you’d be less likely to hear these days, including barry, boonie, bog (WA), charnie bum (ACT), chigger (Tas), mocca (Melb), scozzer (Vic) and westie (Syd).

Bogan, an iconic item of the local vernacular, has achieved recognition in the global pantheon of English, joining the ranks of internationally recognised Australian words such as ambo, barbie, f-ckwit and goolies, and we at Fully (sic) feel a bit more pride that a word so dear to our hearts has finally been accepted by the good folks at Oxford.

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13 thoughts on “Bogan in the Oxford English Dictionary

  1. Martin Clark

    The first citation for ‘bogan’ may be 1985 but it must be a fair bit older. The term was in heavy use in Wellington in the mid-to-late ’80s when I was growing up. For it to have crossed the Tasman and caught on so widely must have required a certain amount of time. Unless, that is, it appeared on some Aussie sit-com, in which case it would have taken about 30 minutes.

    A further note. For a New Zealander, a bogan is not merely uncouth. An association with heavy metal (or at very least 80s hair rock) is a necessary prerequisite. In fact it is possible to be a certain (albeit soft) sort of bogan even if one is fairly well-behaved, merely by liking heavy metal, wearing appropriately metal clothing, being interested in cars and the fixing of them, and drinking beer.

  2. Peterh

    From my extensive “yoof” growing up in what was known as a northern suburb slum, in Canberra, Bogan was not a word that I or my mates knew ourselves to be. Wearing trakky daks & ugg boots was one way to ensure that you survived the canberra winter with all your toes.

    we were broken into two camps in those days, the Ford followers and the Holden followers, and debates raged about which car brand was the better, usually when the Hardie 1000 was on.

    we wore black jeans, sometimes blue – it all depended which ones were on special at K-mart and Target (Tarjay) at the time. We wore flannie shirts, no clan tartan here, flannies were for keeping you warm, and somewhere to put your smokes.

    Ferals are beneath bogans. both are grammatically challenged, but ferals are looked upon as the lowest caste in a strange society. Bogans can earn money, they can (shudder) adapt to wearing a suit and tie, and not just for court appearances, and when the bogan has money, they are called a cashed up bogan (CUB).

    They grow mullets, rat tails, and some even tie up their hair for neatness at work.

    Most bogans are just people earning money for the family, they certainly aren’t afraid of hard work and they work hard then play hard.

    Ferals avoid work at all costs.

    Bogans are proud to be called a bogan. They care not for the middle class slur by using the name, they wear it with pride. For them, and me, it is not a put-down, it tells you who we are, where we came from and that what you see on the outside probably won’t be different to our core.

  3. Adam Schembri

    Does anyone wonder too if at some future point our terminology around social status will seem as outdated, insensitive and offensive as racist, sexist and homophobic abuse does now? It seems like use of word ‘bogan’ as put-down is still acceptable in middle-class, educated circles in a way these other terms are not, or do others think it’s used in a different way?

  4. Aidan Wilson

    I agree Adam, that the Bogan Shire etymology doesn’t have much going for it, and I agree also with you and Cajela that ‘feral’, from a Sydney perspective is very different from bogan. While a feral will be highly interested in environmental issues, a bogan will stereotypically not care about the environment at all. A feral takes their environmental concern so seriously that they eschew clothes made from unsustainable products, and they avoid soap made from animal fats, and deoderant of any kind. They will often be seen in clothes made from offcuts of felted wool and other natural fibres. They are also often seen without shoes.

    Think of forestry protesters in Tasmania, blocking logging trucks and chaining themselves to trees.

    In Victoria however, the meaning of ‘feral’ is significantly different; they are more bogan than bogans. But I’d best leave it to someone else to describe.

  5. Adam Schembri

    I must agree with Cajela’s take on the term of ‘feral’ – that was always my understanding of it in Sydney. As someone who grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney (but now living in Melbourne), I can certainly say that we didn’t use the term ‘bogan’ there until recently, and it has always seemed like a Melbourne term to my Sydneysider ears. I’m thus inclined to think that, unlike what Maybury James claims above, that the link between this term and Bogan Shire is some kind of folk etymology/post-hoc explanation (at least for Sydney).

  6. Cajela

    So hey, “feral” meant bogan in Victoria? Are you sure?

    In my experience (Sydney, Canberra, plus TV), a feral is a young hippie-style greenie, usually keen on dreadlocks and tie-dye, piercings, tats and beads – but with more of a rave-sensibility in their fashion than the older hippie might have. Pretty much the opposite of a bogan.


  7. Aidan Wilson

    Ari, that’s brilliant! Thanks for the great addition to the discussion.

    Terry and Cyberfish, sorry for [Lauren] offending your sensibilities by the misuse of an uncommon word. The word in question has been replaced and the subeditor has been shot and their job moved to New Zealand.


  8. ari

    From a recent exhibition in Darwin:

    Triumph of the Bogans

    Jeff Blamey, Melbourne, 2012

    If you thought the most important events in the non-Aboriginal history of the Northern Territory were the expeditions of discovery of Stuart, or the surveying parties of Goyder, think again. The arrival of the Bogans from the late 20th century is having far greater effect in shaping the Northern Territory than trifling events such as the Bombing of Darwin, Cyclone Tracy or self-government.

    We tend to judge Bogans in material terms, but these are misconceived; it is Bogan culture that has been wholly successful. It is not a culture embedded in bourgeois cultural items, such as original books, paintings or music, but in the act of adoption and consumption of a narrow and conformist range of artefacts. Their creativity lies not in the vapid pursuit of “the new”, but in a cultural hegemony through conformity: in remixed songs rather than new ones, prêt-à-porter foods rather than cordon bleu, the derivative rather than the daring.

    Bogans have a vital knowledge about the pursuit of happiness which few other Australians have tried to acquire. Other Australians crossing lonely suburbs have died of thirst within a mile of hidden Bundy or VB which, with the aid of Bogans, they could have tapped. Lost, they wander aimlessly through environments which display the hidden signs of plasma televisions. They often conclude that the world is mean and hungry, not realising that some regions in the course of four seasons provide a wider variety of KFC and McDonald’s than a gourmet in Paris would eat in an extravagant year.

    Indeed, if a Bogan from Karama in the early 21st century had been captured as a curiosity by a Stokes Hill Wharf cruise ship, and if he had travelled all the way to Double Bay and on to Toorak, and seen how the average Australian lived, he might have said to himself that he had now seen the Third World and all its material poverty, hardship and cultural sterility.

    In the Northern Territory, the Bogans have thrived in their newly discovered Eden, nowhere less than in the northern suburbs of Darwin and the pioneering outposts of Palmerston and beyond: this paradise is indeed witnessing the triumph of the Bogans.
    As scholars, we must learn to understand the Bogan and celebrate—perhaps even embrace—this way of life: the wearing of high vis chic clothing, their ritual displays of Southern Cross tattoos, their harmony with the environment, and the fact that their apparent wanderings actually form a regular pattern of movements between work and play, between drinks and fishing.

    As other researchers have pointed out[1]:

    The bogan today defies income, class, race, creed, gender and logic. The bogan is defined by what it does, what it says and, most importantly, what it buys. Those who choose to deny the bogan on the basis of their … home, their stockbroking career or their massive trust fund choose not to see the bogan. They merely see old class battles revisited. Likewise, the bogan is no mere “tradie”. Even if tradies remained low-income workers, many bogans are affluent. And they set themselves apart by their efforts to stand out by conforming as furiously, and conspicuously, as possible.
    … (i)t is time to bring to the world’s attention the means by which we can keep the world’s bogans happy. The word bogan has had a bad rap of late—still associated with wife beaters, flannelette, VB, utes and mullets. But this conceals the new, modern bogan. The bogan with money. The bogan with aspirations. The bogan with Ed Hardy t-shirts.

    I can only concur, and the Northern Territory provides the perfect environment for that happiness to be achieved.

    [1], accessed 1 March 2012.

  9. cyberfysh

    Sadly, I must agree with Terry – as an unreconstructed pedant seeing “a brace of words” in the opening sentence, I was surprised to see 7 newly-accepted words listed (including “bogan”). Surely a “language blog” could be a bit more particular about the meaning of words … or am I just showing that I’ve missed the irony here?

  10. Terry Reilly

    I must take Lauren Gawne to task over her use of the word brace in… “announces a brace of words….”
    Quite clearly she then lists up to 6 words added to the O.E.D. this quarter.
    A brace of words cannot be more than two!

  11. Arty

    Is it not interesting that in both Oz and Enzed the virtual suburb of Westie has been created for the occupants of bogans?

    What is is about western suburbs?

    Is it no more than a geographical area of which the inhabitants travel to and from work every day with the sun in their eyes? As opposed to Easties who due to their greater wealth have the sun at their backs.

  12. Michael Beggs

    What I took ‘bogan’ to mean has shifted over the years, but it’s hard for me to tell how much is due to growing up, how much to shifting location, and how much to a drift in meaning ‘out there’ in the language.

    When I was a middle-class kid in Lower Hutt, NZ, ‘bogan’ was in my understanding the name for a somewhat frightening youth subculture, i.e. like ‘hippy’ or ‘goth’! I thought they were something like skinheads with hair, their main distinguishing feature being that they dressed in black. This is associated in my mind with a night when I was about 12 or 13, in the early 1990s, when an old primary school friend who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years showed up on the doorstep in the middle of the night saying he was being chased by bogans.

    Later, moving to Auckland, ‘bogan’ was a more general term, like ‘Westie’ for working class West Aucklanders, but I still associated it with young men in particular, and maybe eventually their girlfriends. It wasn’t until I shifted to Sydney in the mid-2000s that it started to have the OED definition.

  13. Maybury James

    I think “bogan” derives from the Bogan Shire in the far west of NSW. It’s linked in Sydney vernacular to “Westies” ie Bogans from the Western Suburbs of Sydney.

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