Why do Australian politicians love nicknames?

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The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia office. Sign up to receive it by email. This week’s issue is written by Natasha Frost, a reporter in Melbourne.

It’s hard to imagine American voters calling President Biden “Bide-o.” It’s even harder to imagine him choosing the nickname for himself. However, Australia’s current and former prime ministers, Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese, not only indulge in ScoMo and Albo, but have actively encouraged the nicknames.

Why do Australians love a nickname, and what currency is there for their political leaders to have one?

“The traditional suggestion has been this principle of informality and ‘motherhood’, which is driven by this notion of egalitarianism,” said Evan Kidd, a linguist at the Australian National University in Canberra.

The belief in a level playing field in Australia runs deep, Dr Kidd added. “Australians pride themselves on not relying on these kinds of hierarchical structures, which other cultures definitely have. So we’re less likely to use terms of address.”

To Australian ears, he said, “Prime Minister Morrison” might sound formal and withdrawn.

“A term like Mr. or Mrs. or Dr. really establishes a form of social distance, which is really different than when you call them ‘Albo,'” said Mr. Kidd. “Politicians probably lean into it because that’s a way they can be seen as approachable and friendly.”

Australian nicknames tend to take one of a few different forms, according to research by Dr. Kidd. They might get an “o” at the end, like “Sammo” or “Robbo” for Sam or Rob. They might get an “ie” – “Angie” from Angela. And they could simply be truncated, from Vivian to “Viv”.

Each of them has its own connotation, said Dr. Kidd. An “o” ending can be more masculine and not necessarily as positive. An “ie” or “y” ending is often more feminine and affectionate and sometimes serves as a diminutive of sorts. It can also be perceived as patronizing.

Dr. Kidd is called “Ev” or sometimes “Evs” by family and friends. “And of course I have ‘Evvie,'” he added. “But that’s reserved for my grandmother and my partner.”

The nickname of Mr. Albanese — “Albo” — has been with him throughout his political career, and was his childhood nickname.

But Mr. Morrison seems to have chosen “ScoMo” himself. In 2018, early in his tenure as prime minister, he approached a fan at an Australian Rules football match and offered him both his hand and that nickname.

Then Peter Hoysted, an opinion writer for The Australian newspaper, described the interaction with a kind of howl of dismay: “The problem with our new Prime Minister’s current nickname is that he commits the unforgivable cultural step of ascribing a nickname to himself. According to my list of Australianisms, this sin ranks at number five, with number four winning the toss and bowling.

At the beginning of his political career, Mr. Morrison underwent something of a rebrand, in which an accessible moniker like ScoMo was a useful asset, political commentator Nick Dyrenfurth of the John Curtin Research Center told me.

“He was someone who grew up in Bronte, in the eastern suburbs,” said Dr Dyrenfurth, an affluent area of ​​Sydney. “But he reinvented himself.”

Mr. Morrison was later given another, less flattering nickname, which he did not choose himself. “Scotty of Marketing”, derivative from an Australian satirical news articleit arose from the perception that he had focused on campaigning on the response to the crisis, as well as on his work before entering politics.

Nicknames like these, positive or otherwise, as well as the simple use of “mate” have a long history in Australia.

“The ‘Mate’ was widely deployed by convicts and others as a kind of tool against agents who essentially locked them in an open-air prison for decades after colonization,” said Dr. Dyrenfurth. “It’s very much a leveling tool.”

He added: “You call someone ‘mate’ – basically he was saying, ‘You may be looking out for us or you may have more wealth or power than the average person in America, but you’re not really that much higher up the social pecking order. of things.’”

Here are the stories of the week.

goodbye to the dead (Again.) Jerry Garcia died in 1995. The band said goodbye to fans in 2015. This weekend, Dead & Company will wrap up their final tour. Why can’t we stop leaving one of rock’s beloved acts?

The missing family. They all have a 50-50 chance of inheriting a cruel genetic mutation, which means disappearing into dementia in middle age. This is the story of what it’s like to live with those odds.

Why were passengers kept on a plane in extreme heat? The flight, from Las Vegas to Atlanta, stopped at Harry Reid International Airport, leaving passengers sweltering in triple-digit temperatures, officials said.

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