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Oh, my word - the unspoken truth about things best seen and not heard


Here’s a word to the wise – when it comes to vocabulary, it’s sometimes better to fake it till you make it, writes Rebecca Levingston

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I’m new at writing words.  Usually, I speak them on the radio so it’s daunting to have words sit on a page and stare back at you rather than disappear into the airwaves.

Three words have prompted people to call for me to be sacked, or at the very least be taken off air: Filip, restaurateur and mandarin.

Sometimes I feel stupid when I don’t know words, but there’s no need for offnungsdiskussionsorgien (Google it, folks) when you don’t know a word, is there?

US President Donald Trump knows lots of words. He has the best words. And Trump says there’s no better word than “stupid”.


So here are a few times people have called me stupid for not knowing words.

It was during a finance report on my radio show when the commentator from Commsec was rattling off the details of the Dow Jones, the Footsie and the NASDAQ. They’re all words I hear a lot but I’m still not sure I completely understand. Tom Piotrowski was the commentator that day I think, the finance guy with the beard – you know the one whose facial hair occasionally reaches wild fisherman proportions?

I find it oddly appealing when someone has a physical attribute incongruous with their vocation. Like Matt the Brisbane accountant, who has lush and spectacular body tattoos. He spent months in Japan under the needle of revered tattoo artist Horiyasu and flew home with dark, intricate swirls of fish, florals and fantasy flooding from his forearms up over his shoulders and across his pierced pectorals. You’d never know his body was a canvas under his freshly pressed white accountant cuffed and collared shirt.

I love the contrast of hidden colour and conservative occupation.  Except for bowties on psychiatrists. No. For some reason, I draw a line at kooky brain expert. Ban the bowtie – it’s a no-brainer.

Anyway, I digress … back to fillip and Tom the hirsute numbers man who observed certain breaking news would be a “fillip” for the finance sector.  Fillip? I asked. What’s that?
I looked it up.  According to the Collins Dictionary:  fillip: something that adds stimulation or enjoyment.

Got it. We moved on, or so I thought. Someone called in to the station to say that the standards at the national broadcaster had dropped if presenters didn’t know basic words. Soz.

The next time I disappointed someone was when I discovered that the word is restaurateur not restauranteur. No “n”.
Say it fast enough, it’s hard to tell the difference. But I decided to share on-air that I had been saying and spelling the word incorrectly for decades. A caller made it clear that I lacked sufficient sophistication to be behind a microphone. My bad.

Not the fruit. I was gearing up to talk to a veteran journalist about an investigation he’d done about senior government bureaucrats speaking out. These mandarins were unshackled after years occupying the upper echelons of power.
Why are they called mandarins?

I resolved to swallow my pride and ask the journo. Peel back the layer of citrus jargon. I alerted my producer and asked her to give the reporter a heads-up. After a few moments, she smirked and informed me that the journo was googling to find out why they’re called mandarins. See, you’re never too experienced to learn a new word – even if words, written or spoken, are your trade.

Covfefe to COVID – we’re learning new words all the time. Some are more valuable than others.  Some lack meaning at first and before you know it – you know it.

JobSeeker, JobKeeper, JobMaker. I’m not even sure if they’re proper nouns but they’re real and they matter.  The next argument becomes political Jobtaker, Jobfaker, Jobtrainer, Jobclaimer.

Sometimes it’s not the word, but the way you say it.
When AC/DC screeched Back in Black, it had a very different meaning to when Treasurer Josh Frydenberg calmly declared the budget was back in black. Turns out we weren’t. But credit where it’s due. At least most Australians understood what Frydenberg meant. Kevin Rudd’s detailed “programmatic specificity” still remains a mystery. But it sounded impressive.

Sometimes sound matters as much as words.
In my first year on radio, I received a handwritten note from a listener saying I didn’t sound right. “You don’t belong on the radio, not with that speech impediment. You should go and see a speech therapist,” the note advised. So I asked a speech pathologist. My mother.

“Mum, do I have a speech impediment?”  She pondered for a moment. My mother is very honest.  Well, no. But … “When you were a little girl, you struggled with the letter R.”

“Webecca,” I said out loud.

“It was cute, but I did give you some therapy to strengthen your ‘R’ sound”.

My name is Rebecca, you can hear me on the radio. I’m thrilled to be writing for InQueensland. I hope my first column has been a fillip for your day, whether you’re a restaurateur or a mandarin.

Rebecca Levingston presents Mornings from 8.30-11am Monday to Friday on ABC Radio Brisbane

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