Australian hypocoristics

« previous post | next post »

I was surprised that someone of Victor Mair's broad and deep erudition was unfamiliar with mozzie ("Magic grass of queerness", 7/26/2013). So for other Americans who have not been following the adventures of our Commonwealth cousins in developing the nickname-like vocabulary items known technically as hypocoristics, here's an attempt by the Australian branch of McDonald's to join the club:

An amateur (but apparently well-informed) attempt to explain the principles of Australian hypocoristic formation can be found here. Some more professional references (including a couple of reactions to the Macca's ad):

Jane Simpson, “Hypocoristics of place-names in Australian English”,  in P. Collins & D. Blair (eds.), Varieties of English: Australian English, 2001
Roland Sussex, "Australian hypocoristics: putting the -ie into Aussie", Australian Style, 2004
Sarah Chevalier, "Nicknames in Australia", Bulletin Suisse de Linguistique Appliquée, 2004
Jane Simpson, "Hypocoristics in Australian English", in Bernd Kortmann et al (eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English: A Multimedia reference tool, 2004
Dianne Bardsley & Jane Simpson, "Hypocoristics in New Zealand and Australian English", in Pam Peters et al., (eds.), Comparative Studies in Australian and New Zealand English, 2009
Dianne Bardsley, "The Increasing Presence of Hypocoristics in New Zealand English", New Zealand English Journal, 2010
Evan Kidd,, Nenagh Kemp, and Sara Quinn, "Did you have a choccie bickie this arvo? A quantitative look at Australian hypocoristics", Language Sciences, 2011
"How Australians use hypocoristics", La Trobe University podcast, 7/19/2011.
Donna Starks, Kerry-Taylor Leech, & Louisa Willoughby, "Nicknames in Australian Secondary Schools: Insights into Nicknames and Adolescent Views of Self", Names: A Journal of Onomastics, 2012
"Is 'Stevo' not Aussie enough for the new Macca’s ad?", Fully (sic) 1/10/2013
"Are we talking Aussie?", Fully (sic), 1/24/2013

There is a also a detailed description of the formation of new English words by clipping, and by embellishment of the clipped result, in pp. 1634-1636 of CGEL. Many of the examples in that section are Aussie hypocorries, and in particular there's a discussion of the semi-regular pattern of intervocalic voicing between the clipping and the embellishment suffix: "mosquito" has [s] but "mozzie" has [z], "Australian" has [s] but "Aussie" has [z] (despite the spelling), "costume" has [s] but "cozzie" has [z], etc.

Update — For some evidence that automatic speech recognition is not yet perfect, here's the automatically-generated transcript from that Macca's YouTube video, compared with the true transcript — the alignment is so unclear that I'm not sure how to calculate the word error rate in a fair way:

0:00 his guest of the embattled reasonable little maya pen and mom with the ankle
0:04 biter resign from ten elena brown from arena image in the land with the
0:08 visiting reliance on bag from the marriott body in the mean with bette
0:11 midler recent palestinian hope balancing winning
0:15 just talk
0:17 misguided fellas
0:18 they still have the list
0:20 dusty in less than ten times and writers and actors
0:23 but there's only one finds on the win
0:26 detracts

Here’s Gazza the ambo who’s pulled an all-nighter.
Nan and mum with the ankle biter.
Stevo from Paddo on a break from a reno,
havin’ a chinwag with the visiting relos.
Back from the Murray are Hoddy ‘n’ Binny,
with pav McFlurries ‘n’ towin’ a tinnie.
Porko ‘n’ Simmo in a ute that’s chockers.
Best behaviour fellas: these two are coppers.
Yep, there’s Jimbos ‘n’ Bennos ‘n’ Rachs ‘n’ Ackers.
But there’s only one place on earth where you can get Macca’s.



59 Comments

  1. Levantine said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    I was surprised to learn recently that Americans sound the first syllable of 'McDonald's' as 'Mick', whereas we Brits pronounce it with a schwa or as 'Mac'. Hence the American hypocorism 'Mickey D's', and the British one 'Maccy D's'.

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 10:55 am

    As far as I can tell, we pronounce it with a schwa but (many of us) say "Mickey D's" anyway.

  3. Levantine said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    Jerry, it was two Michiganders who insisted on the 'Mick' pronunciation of the first syllable, and that was certainly what I was hearing when I listened carefully to how they said the whole word. But it might well vary across the States.

  4. Steven said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

    The word begins with 'Muck', to my ears (currently southern US)

  5. Levantine said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

    I'm not sure if this reflects any sort of US standard (if one can speak of such a thing), but: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPwO9CD9w9I

  6. Ken Brown said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

    Those ruled for personal names are pretty much the same as the ones used in England. Darren is Daz or Dal. Gareth might be Gary but Gary is Gaz or Gal. Robert is always Bob No-one ever uses the final syllable of your name except your Mum when she's cross with you. Or other women actin in loco maternis, such as barmaids, teachers, or nurses.

  7. Eric Miller said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

    The "Mc" will be pronounced however one pronounces that as an element of a name (an abbreviation of "Mac"); in most parts of the U.S. it seems to be closer to "mick," as evidenced by "Mickey D's" and the use of "mick" as an American ethnic slur.

  8. Jeff DeMarco said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

    Is mozzie related to McOzzie?

  9. Ralph said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

    I wonder what the connection is between "Macca's" and the so-called Oxford "-er". Keep in mind that for Aussies and most English people, "Macca's" and "Maccer's" (or "Macker's", if you prefer) would be pronounced the same. It also mentions the "Bazza" (or "Bazzer"?) thing in that article.

  10. mike said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

    re: differences in pronouncing the name "MacDonald's," don't Americans and Brits also stress the name differently? e.g.

    Brit: MACK-don-ald's.
    Am: muck-DON-ald's

    Thus the schwa-ness of the first syllable in Am English. (?)

  11. Levantine said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

    mike, I'm British, and I stress the second syllable and pronounce the first with a schwa. I believe this is how most Brits say it.

  12. SK said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    As another British data point: I'm with Levantine on this, and I can't remember ever hearing a British person (or indeed anyone!) put the stress on the 'Mc'.

  13. Picky said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    @mike: that's an astonishing comment! I can't conceive of a BrE pronunciation that stresses the opening syllable — it would contravene, surely, the normal rule for pronunciation of mc/mac names. And wasn't it suggested above that the schwa was BrE? You may well be right, of course, and if you are I'll actually eat one of their curious products.

  14. Eric P Smith said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

    @mike: I'm British; Scottish, even. In my experience, throughout Britain, 'Macdonalds' is stressed on the second syllable. In Scotland, the first syllable is unstressed, and may be either [a], or a partly reduced /a/ close to [ʌ], or a schwa. In my experience, English speakers pronouncing the first syllable as [a] tend to put a secondary stress on the first syllable, and that may be behind your perception of MACK-don-ald's. In Scottish phonology, unlike English phonology, the vowel [a] can be completely unstressed.

  15. Ellen K. said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

    I think those of us who pronounce the first syllable in McDonald's as "mick", it's really what I think of as an /ɪ/-schwa. (ih-schwa, if you want an attempt at regular alphabet spelling rather than using IPA, but there's really no good way to represent it in English spelling; I think it, not write it.) I think I've seen it called a schwi. It seems to get represented in IPA as ɨ. And it may not always be noticably different in sound from a standard schwa.

  16. Ellen K. said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

    P.S. I see some people writing "MacDonald's" instead of "McDonald's". Does Mac vs. Mc ever make a difference in pronunciation?

  17. Tom said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

    In my American accent, the first vowel in "McDonald's" sounds [ɪ]-like. It seems that this is the case for other Americans too, hence "Mickey D's." I'm not sure what this vowel is underlyingly though, if that makes sense.

  18. Levantine said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    Ellen, I was always taught to pronounce 'Mac' as it's spelt, and 'Mc' with a schwa. So I would say 'Macdonald' and 'McDonald' differently.

  19. AJD said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

    It's interesting to me that—in the US— the abbreviation for "McDonald's" is "Mickey D's" (with "mick"), while the abbreviation for "Macbeth" is "Mackers", even though as far as I can tell the "Mc-" and "Mac-" in those words are pronounced the same.

  20. Levantine said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

    AJD, I've definitely heard Americans pronounce the first syllable of McDonald's as a clear 'mick', and this is the pronunciation given in the YouTube video I provided the link for above. I can't see why people would say 'Micky D's' otherwise.

  21. Brett said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

    I'm an American, and I definitely do not pronounce "McDonald's" with the first syllable "mick." It's much closer to "muck," but I'm sure the variety of schwa present varies a lot with how I'm speaking. When I first heard the nickname "Mickey D's" as a child in the late 1980s (which may or may not have been when that name was first emerging), I thought it sounded totally wrong, since the "mick" just didn't fit with how I thought of the name.

  22. michael farris said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 4:27 am

    AFAICT my SAE pronunciation of the first syllable of McDonalds vacilates between a schwa and a very reduced [æ] (with a degree of secondary stress).

    I can easily see this reduced [æ] getting raised in some accents.

    The first time I heard Micky D's I understood but didn't relate it to the first syllable of the name. If anything I related it to the use of "Mickey mouse" as something of dubious/poor quality.

  23. Matt McIrvin said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 6:56 am

    I think that there are regional and other differences in pronunciation of these names in the US. I pronounce the first syllable of "McDonald's" the same way I pronounce it in my own family name. I think that's closer to "mick" when I'm pronouncing it emphatically, maybe more like "muck" with a schwa sound otherwise.

    I've noticed that my father (who is from Nebraska) instead uses the "mac" pronunciation when speaking his name emphatically. I only use the "mac" pronunciation with names spelled "Mac".

  24. Jonathan said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 6:57 am

    "Does Mac vs. Mc ever make a difference in pronunciation?"

    I know at least one MacMullan family in the US who insists that their name is pronounced nothing like McMullen. And the names McKay and Mackay are usually pronounced differently, as evidenced by the discapitalization of the K.

  25. John Ch said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 7:38 am

    Well, I'd probably say that I don't pronounce any vowel at all in that first "syllable", just /mk/ that goes by too fast to hear any actual vowel. (My native dialect is US Northwest, the Seattle area, though my family moved around a bit and my actual accent is a jumble).

  26. weaver said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 7:53 am

    Just to throw confusion on the Mac/Mc thing – although the nickname is Macca's, Australians pronounce it Mickdonalds, not MackDonalds, just like we proniounce it MickQuarie and not MacQuarie as spelt.

    Oz -ie ending hypocoristics don't seem always to convey quite the pet name effect they do elsewhere (where dogs are doggies and horses are horsies). For example:

    firey – fireman
    bikey – member of a motorcycle gang
    noey – noah's ark (i.e. shark)

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    There seems to be a lot of variation in the U.S. In addition to what people have said above, some of the comments at Levantine's YouTube link suggest other pronunciations, including the "book" vowel. (Some Americans think of the schwa as that vowel, /ʊ/.) On the other hand, here's a commercial I remember all too well with what sounds to me like a definite /ɪ/.

    Eric Miller: The OED's etymology of the ethnic slur "mick" is

    "Etymology: < Mick, pet-form of the male forename Michael (see MICHAEL n.). Compare slightly earlier MICKEY n.1

    "According to Oxf. Dict. Christian Names s.v. Michael, ‘The name was not used in Ireland much before the 17th cent., but is now one of the commonest Irish names, often abbreviated to Mick, Micky, or Mike.’ Use of the word was perhaps reinforced by the numerous Irish surnames in Mc-, Mac-."

    (The description "slightly earlier" seems to have been overlooked in revision. Their first date for "mick" is 1850 and for "mickey" is 1851.)

    Americans with names beginning "Mc-" and "Mac-" are or were often nicknamed "Mac", not "Mick". By the way, I had never dreamed that anyone would pronounce the prefixes differently from each other.

    The first time I heard "Mickey D's" I didn't understand it. When it was explained, I assumed the reason was that "Mickey" was an affectionate nickname, while "Mackey" didn't mean anything. I didn't consider "Mucky" or "Mookie", but there are a few hits on "Mucky D's" used by people who don't like the place.

  28. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 9:00 am

    weaver: Is there a difference between Aussie "-ie" and "-o"? And can you or anyone translate the commercial?

  29. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 9:07 am

    I'll start, to save people work on the easy ones:

    Here’s Gary the ambulance driver who’s pulled an all-nighter.
    Grandma and mom with the ankle biter.
    Steve from Paddo? on a break from a reno?,
    havin’ a chat with the visiting relatives.
    Back from the Murray? are Hoddy? ‘n’ Binny?,
    with pav? McFlurries [must be a frozen dessert] ‘n’ towin’ a motorboat.
    Porko [he's swinish?] ‘n’ Simmo? in a pickup truck that’s chockers?.
    Best behaviour fellas: these two are coppers.
    Yep, there’s Jimbos ‘n’ Bennys ‘n’ Raches ‘n’ Ackers?.
    But there’s only one place on earth where you can get Macca’s.

    "Only one place on earth" is pretty funny for a chain restaurant. (For some of our friends across the water: "restaurant" in American English includes fast-food places.)

  30. Matt_M said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 9:47 am

    @ Weaver: what part of Australia are you from?

    I'm an Australian, and I'm absolutely sure I've never pronounced "McDonald's" with an initial syllable that sounds like "MIck", and I'm pretty sure I've never heard any other Australian say it that way either (I'm from NSW, but I have relatives in other states).

    I've only ever heard the vowel in the first syllable of MacDonald's pronounced as a schwa.

  31. Nick said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 10:01 am

    I don't know what part of Australia Weaver is from but in my Sydney accent it's definitely a schwa. I've *never* heard McDonald's pronounced with [ɪ] (or even [ɨ]).

  32. Matt_M said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 10:22 am

    To fill in some gaps, Jerry:

    Paddo = Paddington, the name of a suburb in Sydney
    reno = (house) renovation
    Murray = the (real) name of the biggest river in Australia
    pav = pavlova, a baked dessert made from beaten egg whites
    Simmo = Simmons (or some similar surname)
    chockers = chock-a-block, completely full
    Acker = a well-known (now retired) Australian footballer called Jason Akermanis

  33. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 10:29 am

    Thanks, Matt_M!

    To pass on an answer to one of my questions, the "How Australians use hypocoristics link" says "-ie" is typical with words of Germanic origin and "-o+ with words of Latin origin, but for some words both suffixes occur in free variation.

  34. Matt_M said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 10:42 am

    No worries, Jerry.

    The Fully (sic) blog (the last link in the list in the article above) refers to research indicating that the "-ie" suffix is more likely to be applied to things that are perceived as small and dainty, while the "-o" suffix is more likely to be applied to things that are large or dirty.

  35. Bobbie said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 10:56 am

    Weaver: Please explain this one –"noey – noah's ark (i.e. shark)" How does shark derive from Noah's Ark??? Or is it just the rhyme of SHARK/ARK which is /was a Cockney type of thing?

  36. Christian Hege said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

    I couldn't help noticing, after listening to the text twice, that it's in the same meter as Waltzing Matilda – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwvazMc5EfE – the word "billabong" cements the understood triplet throughout the line.

    Then I clicked back to hear this again, and sure enough, there was Waltzing Matilda playing in the background. I guess it was subliminal all along.

    Ah, advertising. A constant feedback loop for popular culture.

  37. Milan said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

    I'm surprised to learn about "macca's" being a nickname of McDonald's in Australia. That is because "Mecces" is a slang term for McDonald's used by youths and young adults here in Germany too. It's pronounced [mɛkəs], exactls the way a German or an Aussie whose accent features [ɛ] for /æ/ would pronounce macca's. I really wonder whether there is any connection; on the one hand I don't know any parallel formations of nicknames in German, but on the other neither do I know any other loan word directly from Australian slang. English loans, while being a common are typically from American or British English. Could macca's might have taken some ground in one of those varieties, so that this could explain its borrowing into the German language?

  38. Ted said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

    What I find odd about this is that the stressed syllable in the hypocoristic is unstressed in the original. (This has troubled me since I first saw a headline in an English tabloid refer to Sir Paul as "Macca.")

    To my American ears, skeeter sounds fine, because the stress matches that of mosquito, and mossie sounds wrong because it doesn't.

  39. Levantine said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

    But Ted, isn't that common for nicknames? Compare 'Vicky' to 'Victoria' and 'Alex' to 'Alexander', for example.

  40. tuncay said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

    jesus christ – thanks for the transcription and the explanation in the comments. i am a fluent speaker of english (non-native nonetheless) that had no idea about most of what was being said the first time around..

  41. Ethan said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

    I am bemused that the automatic speech recognition system is apparently primed to recognize Bette Midler as a fixed phrase. Granted, "pav McFlurries" would have flummoxed this human speech recognition system as well, but the jump from there to "Bette Midler" is evidence of an audio equivalent to computer animation's uncanny valley.

  42. weaver said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

    Matt_M, Nick:

    /me looks up "schwa"

    Ah, well, yes, more like that than the short i.

    Incidentally, I'd be pretty surprised if the -o/-ie distinction has to do with anything other than the resulting sound. A cursory sampling suggests hard consonants tend to get -ie and nasals &c get the -o ending, but, as I just demonstrated with the schwa thing, I'm not an expert. But then there's nothing dainty about bikies.

    Bobbie:

    Yes, Noah's Ark/shark is Australian rhyming slang. I've never heard someone from England use the term but some internet sources say it's also Cockney rhyming slang. Possibly the opportunies to speak of sharks aren't as frequent in the Old Country, unless you're about to be nudged by a porbeagle

  43. Andrew (yet another one) said,

    July 29, 2013 @ 1:53 am

    I should point out, since some posters seem to be unaware of it, what seems to me obvious: that any male person in Australia whose name begins with "Mc" is a candidate to acquire the nickname "Macca". I personally know a McGregor and a (not Ronald) McDonald with that soubriquet.

    Hence the semi-affectionate name for the chain. Or not so affectionate: see http://www.burgeroff.org/

  44. Góðan daginn said,

    July 29, 2013 @ 8:55 am

    "Does Mac vs. Mc ever make a difference in pronunciation?"

    Here I was wondering how often it had *no* effect on pronunciation.

    In Anchorage, Alaska, the local Scottish goods shop has been for decades The Mc Mac Shoppe, pronounced "muck-MACK."

  45. Levantine said,

    July 29, 2013 @ 9:44 am

    Regarding the difference in pronunciation between 'Mac' and 'Mc', I said above that I pronounced the first as spelt and the second with a schwa, but thinking about it more, I'm likely to use either pronunciation when saying 'Macbeth'. However, I would always use a schwa for a name starting with 'Mc'.

  46. Jon Weinberg said,

    July 29, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

    "Micky D's" started out as AAVE slang, apparently as early as the mid-1970s. (The earliest citation I can find is http://books.google.com/books?id=SCgEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA67&dq=%22mickey+d's%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=evr2UfXxAovS9ASG9oGADw&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22mickey%20d's%22&f=false ). Plausibly, it was coined via the same sort of process that gave us "Spoonie Gee", the late-70s hip-hop artist. That doesn't speak to "Micky" versus "Maccy", though.

  47. Jon Weinberg said,

    July 29, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    Apologies – I now see that JW Brewer anticipated my point with his comment in a subsequent thread.

  48. David Nash said,

    July 29, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

    hypocorries – ugh! I guess this was meant to be jocular, Mark, but it busts the template (that the stem have the shape of a minimal word)!
    Another, earlier, reference, on the semantics: Anna Wierzbicka. Does language reflect culture? evidence from Australian English" Language in Society 15.3,349–373, 1986

  49. Picky said,

    July 30, 2013 @ 5:39 am

    @Levantine: does that include McEnroe, John? McNamara and McNamee?

  50. Levantine said,

    July 30, 2013 @ 6:57 am

    Picky, good point regarding McEnroe, but there I would pronounce it 'Mac' only because I know that's how it should be said. Had I read the name without having heard of the tennis player, I would have pronounced 'Mc' with a schwa, placing the emphasis on the second syllable. In fact, this is what I do with the other two names you mention, as I've never heard either of them spoken.

  51. Levantine said,

    July 30, 2013 @ 7:06 am

    Good point regarding McEnroe, but there I would pronounce it 'Mac' only because I know that's how it should be said. Had I read the name without having heard of the tennis player, I would have pronounced 'Mc' with a schwa, placing the emphasis on the second syllable. In fact, this is what I do with the other two names you mention, as I've never heard either of them spoken.

  52. pj said,

    July 30, 2013 @ 8:16 am

    Off-topic, but nice little misnegation in the penultimate article linked, from 'Fully (sic)':

    Negatives [of Australia Day]: cringeworthy patriotism, a window in which cultural assimiliationist attitudes become socially acceptable, plus it’s really hard to see the day as nothing but a huge slap in the face to Indigenous Australians.

  53. Levantine said,

    July 30, 2013 @ 9:33 am

    Picky, this video concerning McAfee ties in with your question (I've apparently been saying it wrong all these years): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvun7e9luoc

  54. Robert said,

    August 2, 2013 @ 11:00 am

    There's also McIntyre, McIntosh and McIlroy, which all have /mæk/, at least in the traditional pronunciations.

  55. Levantine said,

    August 2, 2013 @ 7:50 pm

    Very true, Robert. I guess I shouldn't rely on the Mc/Mac distinction as any kind of guide to pronunciation, then!

  56. Meaty Link Loving: Get it while it’s hot! | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured said,

    August 3, 2013 @ 2:39 am

    [...] discussion in this language log blog is [...]

  57. Alon Lischinsky said,

    August 12, 2013 @ 3:24 am

    @Ken Brown:

    Robert is always Bob No-one ever uses the final syllable of your name except your Mum when she's cross with you.

    My initial impulse was to disagree with you (I know some working-class Roberts who go by ‘Bert’, not ‘Bob’), but corpus evidence points your way.

  58. Zythophile said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 5:30 am

    @Ken Brown:

    Robert is always Bob

    I think my many friends called Rob would disagree with you

  59. Ngamudgi said,

    March 19, 2014 @ 9:58 pm

    The thing that stands out to me with that ad is the mismatch between accent and content. It sounds contrived. To sound authentic, the pronunciation should be broader. I think you linguists refer to it as "register"? It's a bit like the Peter Sellers reading of "A Hard Day's Night" in the voice of a Shakespearean actor.

    Incidentally, I heard the name of the driver of the ute as "Hawko" (for a person named Hawkins), not "porko". That is not a nickname used for a large person and would be very offensive. "Slim" might be used by close friends, though I haven't heard it for years.

RSS feed for comments on this post