Aborigines, Aborigine, Aboriginal

(generally a reference to indigenous people in general; being the first or earliest known of its kind present in a region: aboriginal forests, aboriginal rocks; of or relating to Aborigines or people of Australia)

From an Ancient People Living near Rome to "Primitive Peoples" in Various Parts of the World

Other than names of some native plants and animals, very few Australian words have been taken into American English.

The Aborigines were an ancient people who lived near Rome before the Romans took over. The name appears to be from the Latin phrase ab origine meaning "from the beginning"; but since it was always used as a proper noun, it is probably a version of the tribe's real name, altered by the Romans to mean "the people here since the beginning".

The plural noun aborigines is now used to refer to primitive people in various parts of the world. The adjective aboriginal means "being the earliest known (inhabitants) in an area."

In North America both terms are occasionally applied to Indians, Innuit (Eskimos), or other pre-Columbian peoples.

Where else but from Nantucket did those aboriginal whalemen, the Redmen, first went out in canoes to give chase to the Leviathan?

—Herman Melville, in Moby-Dick

Probably the most common usage of the word aborigines is in Australia, where the pre-European people are now always, and officially, called the Aborigines. Although the singular form Aborigines exists, Aboriginal or Aboriginal person is preferred for an individual.

Australian Aboriginal Words

The Australian Aborigines, who were the sole inhabitants of the island-continent for as much as 40,000 years, spoke about 230 different languages. Some of the words that have been borrowed from them into English are shown in the word entries above.

Australian English

Australian English has never formed any regional dialects. It has a large quantity of unique vocabulary, some borrowed from the Aborigines, some surviving from words that have died out in Britain, but most were developed from the resources and history of the Australian people.

  • beauty!, excellent! great!
  • billy, metal vessel for making tea
  • bludger, shirker, freeloader
  • bushranger, outlaw, robber
  • capsicum, (everyday word for) bell pepper
  • chook, chicken
  • cocky, small farmer
  • dinkum, genuine, sincere
  • fossick, (1) to pick over old mineral digginge (2) to rummage
  • galvo, galvanized sheet iron
  • good day! Good morning!
  • greenie, environmental activist
  • grog, any alcoholic drink, typically beer
  • interstate (adverb, out of state
  • knock back, to reject
  • mateship, affectionate solidarity among Australian men
  • migrant, immigrant
  • ocker, young Australian man with no pretensions to culture
  • offsider, assistant, sidekick
  • outback, backcountry, desert
  • paddock, any field or enclosure, up to thousands of acres in size
  • Pom, Pommy; English person
  • port, suitcase
  • push, cliquey social group
  • ropeable, angry
  • run, grazing land, ranch
  • sheila, Australian woman
  • squatter, gentleman rancher
  • station, ranch
  • stockman, cowhand
  • stubbies, short shorts
  • stubby, small glass of beer
  • tucker, food
  • whinge, to complain irritatingly
Reader's Digest, Success with Words,
A Guide to the American Language; The Reader's Digest Association, Inc;
Pleasantville, New York; 1983; page 4.

More about the term Aborigine

William Hone, in his Table Book (1827-28) wrote that aborigine "is explained in every dictionary . . . as a general name for the indigenous inhabitants of a country. In reality, it is the proper name of a peculiar people of Italy, who were not indigenous but were supposed to be a colony of Arcadians."

Nevertheless, these people of Latium were thought by some Romans to have been residents of Italy from the beginning, ab originie, which gave us the Latin word aborigines for the original inhabitants of a country.

Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,
Revised and Expanded Edition by Robert Hendrickson;
Facts On File Inc.; New York; 1997; page 3.

See the other word histories here.

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