We use them all the time during election campaigns, but these words and expressions have meanings that many of us are not aware of

If you are one of those people who likes to follow election campaigns, there are certain words and expressions that you are quite familiar with by now.

Campaigns tend to be themed – this year Labor eagerly accused Scott Morrison of “missing” on key issues, and the Liberal Party struck the moment Anthony Albanese forgot the unemployment rate.

But between these recurring motifs lie other ideas and words that make up the mosaic of this six-week Candidate Carnival.

The experts know their meanings, but many of us may use them without understanding the history of the sentences.

A good thing turns bad

Side by side photos of Anthony Albanese at a microphone and Scott Morrison in front of an Australian flag
As the campaign progresses, certain words and ideas are likely to return as the candidates push themselves for the top job.ABC News: Ian Cutmore, James Carmody

In recent years, allegations of “pig barrels” have cornered the Morrison government.

It’s a funny-sounding phrase that now refers to when a political party finds ways to ensure funding goes to voters held by its own candidates.

But according to researcher Mark Gwynn of the Australian National Dictionary Center, it originally represented something positive.

“It was literally a vat where salt and pork were kept,” Gwynn said.

“It was seen as a place, a resource, a feeling of, you know, ‘this is my wealth, this is where I get my food’.

“And in the 19th century, this was slowly being used as not just something positive, but something negative — that you could use the money here… to keep using it in the electorate or to get you elected, basically to give you to get re-elected.

“I assume it was seen as positive for the people you give money to, but in the case of the national funds, a lot of people missed something.”

Some words come and go, others stay

A man with balding gray hair sits at a desk
Former Prime Minister John Howard had his own favorite terms and idioms on the campaign trail.ABC News: Tony Ibrahim

Another linguistic trope is the use of “the pub test,” which, according to Mr Gwynn, was often rolled out during campaigns to indicate when an idea or statement didn’t sound fair to the average person.

While there is evidence of its use in the UK, he said it was more commonly used in Australia, where the concept of a fair, ‘fair-dinkum’ candidate carried a little more weight.

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“John Howard actually used it quite a bit in the 1990s,” he said.

Other words have had a lasting impact and are now commonplace in the world of politics.

The use of the word candidate, to refer to those standing for reelection, dates back to the earliest days of democracy itself, when it was used by the ancient Greeks.

According to Kate Burridge and Howard Manns of Monash University, “candidate” is a relative of the word “frank,” and has its origins in the Latin word candidus, meaning “pure white, glittering,” referring to the white gowns worn by those looking for a seat in parliament.

It was meant to represent the apparent purity of those seeking office, who would work unaffected by bias.

Time will tell if new words will stick

A composite image made from three separate images of three women in business attire.
The term “teal Independents” has emerged in recent years to refer to such candidates as Zali Steggal, Kylea Tink and Allegra Spender.ABC news: Nick Haggarty, delivered, ABC news: Mridula Amin

Linguists may be experts in language, but even they cannot predict what will become everyday language and what will not.

One we can proudly claim as Australians is “democracy sausage”, which emerged about 10 years ago when polling stations started adding a sausage for the benefit of voters.

And it stuck.

Years later, it’s still a fundamental part of the Election Day process, and today even vegetarian and vegan options are on the menu.

Then there’s what’s known as a “donkey vote” — where a voter selects their preferred candidates in the order they appear on the ballot. Mr Gwynn said this was most likely related to the fact that donkeys had a long history of being dumb animals.

Kevin Rudd sits at a desk with a microphone in front of him
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was known to use the phrase “fair shake of the sauce bottle”.ABC News: Tamara Penniket

Mr Gwynn said the linguistic landscape of last election season was always changing. One of the newer expressions that have appeared is “blue-green independents,” to describe a number of candidates who have appeared on ballots and threaten seats long held by Liberal MPs.

“So that’s been used by these particular independents in some of these seats, and they’re mostly women, and they’re running climate change policies, including against some of the incumbent Liberal members, so that’s an interesting one to keep an eye on.” “, he said.

Mr Gwynn said we should expect more terms like “rorts” and “fair go” as the campaign progressed.

“Both sides of politics like to claim that the other side is using rorts — that’s an Australian term for a fraudulent act and it dates back to the 1940s,” he said.

And whether anyone will bring “honest shake of the sauce bottle” this time — in perhaps a loving nod to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd — remains to be seen.

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